It was nearly two full weeks before Eliza heard from the knight-captain. They were two weeks fraught with pacing and annoyed, expectant looks at Varric, who simply shook his head in silent answer to her equally silent question. Then, one day, Varric sent a note summoning her to the Hanged Man for a friendly pint. When she arrived, he held a folded letter between his fingers. The wax seal bore the templar crest.
"Looks like the templar's come to a decision," he said, handing her the envelope.
Taking it into her hands, Eliza marveled at the weight of the envelope, then turned it over in her hands and stared down at the dark red splotch of wax. "It would appear so," she murmured. And yet, she still hesitated.
Nearly a full minute ticked by before Varric said anything. "Are you going to open that up or paint a picture of it?"
She sighed, finally popping the seal; the wax snapped audibly. "It would have made a very poor mural, I suppose." Her fingers faltered momentarily before she pushed through her hesitation and flipped the envelope open, pulling free the note. It was a single sheet of parchment, bearing one short line of text and a signature. Eliza read the line several times to her herself before Varric spoke up.
"For crying out loud, Hawke, I always considered myself a master of suspense, but you're putting me to shame here. What's it say?"
She blinked, reading and then re-reading the words to make sure she hadn't misunderstood anything. "I'm… I'm to meet him in three days time at the Wounded Coast," she read faintly, looking at Varric over the sheet of paper. "He's agreed to train me."
Varric watched her carefully for a few moments; when he didn't see whatever he'd expected to see in her reaction, he asked, "And that's... good, right?"
Eliza frowned, folding the note again and sinking down into a chair. "Maker, I don't even know anymore." She dropped the note on the table and rested her head in her hands. Before she knew it, Varric had plunked down beside her.
"It seems to me the last time we talked about this, you were in a rush. So maybe it's time we talked about this. Blondie's my friend too. So spill it. What's going on?"
She folded the note in half again, and then once more, folding and refolding as she organized her thoughts. "The sela petrae and drakestone," she said quietly. "You… I'm sure you recall hunting for it."
"I'm not liable to forget a stink like that anytime too soon, no," he said, grimacing at the memory of the stink in those tunnels.
"It was meant to be a… potion, to separate him from Justice." She went back to folding the note and unfolding it. The words lodged in her throat, which turned out not to matter a great deal.
"And when you say meant to be, what you're actually saying is that it wasn't."
"That's precisely what I'm saying. He told me what I wanted to hear to ensure my help." Grimacing, Eliza picked up the discarded envelope and began tearing it into thin strips. "Which, as I'm sure you've by now figured out, means that whatever it is he's concocting, it's nothing he wants me to know about." She sent Varric a sidelong glance and found him watching her with a troubled, disappointed expression. "Which means it can't be anything good."
"Yeah, I'm… putting that together myself, thanks."
"So I'm not quite sure what my options are. I could… I suppose I could… look the other way while he does whatever he's planning, but," here she stopped and let out a sharp breath. "When in all the Void did this happen? How? How is it I can keep tabs on what's going on in a whole city, but my own relationship is falling down around my ears? How does that make any sense?"
There was a swell of raucous laughter from below, surging up the stairwell like a cresting wave; the noise subsided with clinking tankards and cries of "Deal again!" Whatever game was going on downstairs, Eliza envied the players; she was beginning to feel as if she were stuck in an interminable game of Wicked Grace, trying to play her way through with a hand of blank cards.
Varric glanced up at the noise, smiling mirthlessly at either it or Eliza, before saying, "Oh, it makes sense, and you wouldn't be the first person to tell that story. Don't beat yourself up for not noticing. Could be Blondie didn't want you to notice."
She swept up what remained of the envelope into cupped hands and rose from her chair, dumping the strips of paper into the fire. They caught and curled and blackened into flakes of ash almost immediately. "And what if that's the case?" she asked.
"You try talking to him?"
Eliza shook her head with a frown. "I haven't been able to. Any sort of conversation is awkward these days. If I want to talk, he evades the topic, deflecting, talking circles around it, changing the subject..." She stared down into the flames a moment. "I can accomplish a great deal with brute force, but I can't make the man who presumes to love me talk about a subject he doesn't want to. It's not even diplomacy I'm lacking, it's…"
"Oh, I know exactly what you're lacking. In fact, it's not what you're lacking; it's what you've got that's making this so hard."
Turning back to the table, Eliza plucked up the knight-captain's note and returned to the fire. "And what's that?"
"You're too... forthright," he said, stretching his legs out in front of him, watching as she tore tiny pieces off the note, dropping them into the flames. "Not your fault; it's just who you are. You shoot straight and you're, well. Hate to be the one to tell you, Hawke, but you're honest. You are a travesty to play cards with, and I'm not the only one who says so."
"I am not a travesty at the card table," she shot back, glaring at him.
The note in her hands forgotten, Eliza stared at Varric for several very long beats of silence, pushing past his remark about cards—definitely not a travesty—and read the look in Varric's eyes and the set of his jaw more closely. "Are you saying I shouldn't... expect honesty from Anders?" Because, truly, she'd started to come to that conclusion on her own.
Varric shook his head. "What I'm saying, is that's why it took you this long to see it in the first place."
She looked away, staring into the flames dancing in the hearth, muttering, "And now that I see it, I wish I could un-see it." With a frustrated flick of her wrist, she dropped the rest of the letter into the fire.
At that, Varric pushed out of his chair and came over to hers, clapping a hand on her back and saying, "No, I don't think you really do. Listen—meet with this templar. With all the blood-mages we've come across so far, it can't hurt having a little bit of an edge if you can get it. If Blondie wants to take this personally? Well, that's his decision."
She looked down at the note as flames licked hungrily at the paper, swallowing it up on all sides. The knight-captain's writing was small and controlled, but meticulously neat. He wrote in an unerringly straight line — not the hand of someone who made a habit of bending rules. Then, in almost no time at all, the fire ate away the parchment, turning it as black as the ink the knight-captain had used. "It still feels… wrong," she admitted quietly. "Like I'm, like I'm siding with the enemy after all this time."
This made Varric let out a deep sigh as he returned to his seat and leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table. "Listen, Hawke. It's probably not the most popular opinion you're going to hear, but since you're the only one to hear it, I'm not about to start losing any sleep over it. But this mess we've got in Kirkwall? I don't think any one side is the single enemy here. Both are kinda shitty, if you ask me. Even I've noticed Blondie's getting pretty..." he trailed off, shifting uncomfortably in his chair, clearly possessing the words, but not wanting to say them out loud.
Eliza had a fair guess what he was getting at. The same had occurred to her. "Obsessed?"
"Single-minded with a healthy dose of paranoia," Varric answered, with a distracted flick of his hand. "So yeah, I'm worried he's blasting fireballs at shadows. And if he's not careful, he's going to hit someone who doesn't deserve it." He shot her a pointed look and there was no question to whom he was referring.
Eliza brushed a flake of red wax off the table. "So you think I'm merely broadening my horizons. Acquiring new skills?"
Varric nodded, adding, "I think you learn anything that keeps a blood-mage from doing harm to yours truly can't be a bad thing. And I think that knight-captain seems like he'd listen to reason, at least. All I'm saying is no harm can come from talking to the guy."
"While leaving out the part where I'm sleeping with one of Kirkwall's most noted apostates."
The look Varric gave her was shrewd. "My understanding was you had to be in a bed with someone at the same time for you to be sleeping with them."