-- Kirkwall, the Gallows
Cullen glared at me, his breath heaving in the sudden silence after Meredith ceased to be mortal. The other Templar checked on the new statue even as the last echoes from the broken statues' fall stopped too. I could feel Justice watching around us warily, his rage slightly drained.
Cullen knew me from when I was still frequently getting out from the Circle in Ferelden, and for years he didn't quite take me seriously as escaping was almost a game for me there. Before my last recapture, I'd always come back peacefully, never again. Irving was long dead now, and Cullen had been hardened by what had happened there after my last escape. The Warden knew more than I did about that disaster and I'd believed what she'd said about what happened to Cullen there.
I'd been surprised when Cullen tried to relieve Meredith of her command, they'd presented such a united front in public.
Hawke had stilled when Cullen spoke for an instant, could it have been that simple? Yet Meredith refused to step down, and... lyrium spawned giants walked and killed in the Gallows.
I shouldn't have been surprised, but Meredith made me far more of a target than Bethany or Aldera. So I fought on two fronts, keeping away from the strange abomination that was Meredith enough to heal others as she attacked, and arguing to Justice that Hawke's group would do far more damage that I could alone against the Templars, let alone whatever Meredith became. Justice still sometimes forgot he wasn't a warrior anymore. Unspoken was my knowing Hawke would be in the thick of the fighting, and she did not have the same toughness as Aveline or Fenris. Bethany had grown in power since her Joining, and Merrill was strong too, but neither of them had much of the healing magics, so I had to be careful if I wanted to heal Hawke. In the dark of the last few nights I'd held Hawke as she slept and I treasured the last dregs of her serenity, knowing that something like this was to come.
More of Hawke's people stayed with her or rejoined than I'd expected after my strike at the Chantry. Not that I expected what Meredith became, I'd have expected to have to fight a lot of Templars to get to her. The slaughter of the Templars within the Gallows and in the first few seconds of Meredith's rampage, said this had moved beyond a Rite of Annulment.
I could see the frustration in Cullen's eyes but he stepped back, as did all the other fresh and uninjured Templars who entered the square only after the battle was over. A few looked familiar from the last few years, but they all stepped back, leaving us a path to the gate without a word.
Hawke took the first step towards the gate, and then we all began a tired march away, watching for attacks. Aveline and Donnic drifted closer as they marched, and she smiled at her husband grimly. Fenris glared at me between his visual sweeps, looking for attackers. I'd been sure both of them were going to try to imprison or kill me from what they usually said about mages and what I'd done. Strangely, Merrill seemed to get more cheerful as we got further from the Gallows. Varric kept to the far side of Dera, and there was deep anger in his eyes, far, far more than I'd seen from him about anything but his brother.
Bethany had gotten nearer to her older sister who now wasn't moving very smoothly, even if it wasn't safe yet to pause for healing. Nathaniel moved closer to Bethany, his bow still drawn, in a spacing I still remembered from Amaranthine and the Deep Roads with the Wardens. They didn't look at me, so they'd heard rumors already, even if they still came during the emergency. Wardens were nothing if not pragmatists when destruction looms.
These were the people I'd known the best over the last few years, and all were avoiding meeting my eyes, or was it Vengeance's eyes. He may be still glowing inside of me with satisfaction, but I couldn't.
What hurt the most was that Aldera had not drifted to walk closer to me as she usually did, She just marched, not really paying attention, her green eyes dull and lifeless, her brown hair caked with dust from the statues and Chantry. She didn't even look at me, as if I was dead to her. My stomach became a pit of ice, as this was the first really quiet moment since... since the glow shining from the Hightown ruins began.
No one spoke as we made our way back to the harbor where Dera's mabari guarded our skiff. There were no sounds of panic and looting here, unlike the city earlier, just silence and occasional moans of pain or despair that carried. The veil to the Fade would be even thinner here now, which might partly explain what Meredith did. Not that I cared that much right now, as all those being made tranquil probably thinned the Veil too. The sailor who'd helped us cross was almost cornered by the dog, far away from safety of the gangplank. A small smile almost hurt my lips, but Varric laughed aloud when he saw it.
When we boarded the boat, Hawke shook herself and drew weapons as she moved towards the stern. The sailor had looked relieved as she'd approached until he saw her wicked long knives were out and pointed at him.
My stomach dropped further, what had I done to her? I'd wanted her safe from my demon, if nothing else.
A couple of the others started to protest, but she growled at them with only glances around the still-empty dock. Then she shouted at them or him, “He will help us get across the harbor, if he wants to...”
Aveline looked angry and started a lunge, but Hawke whispered with a tiny gesture, “He can't be seen to help us voluntarily. He can say whatever he wants in a month or so, or nothing and we'll leave ten sovereigns for his silence.”
The sailor had whitened, but shakily nodded. Aveline and her husband relaxed a bit at that, even if the Watch Captain looked like she now wanted to have words with Hawke. Nathaniel was more pragmatic, he'd been hunted before his Joining and had heard the same tales as I had of the wardens being hunted fugitives during the Blight, and he nodded as he'd tried his hand at assassination once. I wished I'd paid more attention now, as a group of fugitives is much different than just myself alone.
Bethany nodded too without any other reaction, and I suddenly remembered their whole family had been on the run for years from the Templars. Far longer than I had, their lifetimes.
We settled on the deck, and I wanted to look over their injuries and do some light healing as soon as I could. I wondered if any would let me. Fenris was the most angry, but the mabari seemed to be the only one to welcome a visit from me. He had no injuries but was happy to slobber all over me. Dogs.
The archers and us mages had been the lesser injured, mostly by spillover from sweeping attack from the massive statues or Meredith. Aveline, Donnic, Fenris, and of course Hawke, had been in the thick of the fighting. At least I didn't have to heal Cullen after, he's been the only Templar to last through the combat.
I hadn't seen Hawke cornered enough to take any of the heavy blows, but she was starting to move stiffly as we marched and I worried she had internal injuries.
Hawke had looked menacing as the skiff left the dock. Partway across the water she tossed a small pouch at the sailor's feet, and began to speak.
Varric coughed and she stopped. Silence ruled as Aveline looked at the city wistfully while we approached the port. She and her lieutenant had already cleaned their weapons and armor of blood and gore.
Hawke started, “I...” but Varric coughed again. She glared at him a moment and said firmly, “I want to thank you all for your help in that battle. I don't know what caused that magic or how badly they will be hunting us now. You'd be far safer far away from me,” With only a brief quirk of a smile towards the still-distant statue in the docks, she added, “I should have known my days of being a Champion were numbered.”
“Sounds like a plan, Hawke, though I think we all should avoid Starkhaven,” Varric said with the ghost of his usual ironic smile that didn't reach his eyes.
Maker, yes. Vael was angry enough to explode himself when he left after Hawke spared me. I still don't know why he didn't attack right then, he might have been successful. I was not planning to be here when he got back, so an army was pointless. How stupid did he think I was, or that he wouldn't kill as many innocents invading Kirkwall to get at me?
Maybe he now had his own vengeance demon. That irony could almost make me smile, even now.
Bethany and Nathaniel looked puzzled and then shrugged at Varric's comment. They'd never really met Vael. Lucky them, they should be able to disappear back into the Grey Wardens and relative anonymity. I couldn't fool myself into thinking that I could after this, even Templars could become Wardens, not that that was approved by the Chantry either, They didn't want to give away anyone. What I did here was not related to the Blight, so I didn't think the First Warden would approve of anyone sheltering me.
It was getting towards sunset when we docked, and the reddish orange glow from the ruins of the Chantry was finally starting to fade from the upper city. The sounds of rioting and looting carried faintly towards the boat, but the docks were mostly empty of people where we put in. The sailor hid in the small hold before Varric even tied up the line. How long until people came out of hiding to flee the city or hunt for those to blame?
The streets were much darker as lamps were broken or just not lit when we looked around. We ran into a few looters who were accosting a woman, and Hawke and Fenris killed them in sprays of blood before I could do any more than raise a defensive spell. Aveline seemed surprised at how fast it went, and looked at Hawke with worry.
The allegorical statue of Hawke was still there, even if she only looked at the ground as we passed beside it. The only thing that was at all accurate was the Qunari head, she used to laugh at it and threaten to drape beads or tie brightly colored bows to it. She should still be special, damn it.
Aveline and Donnic started to move towards some larger skirmish noise from further away, but stopped with unhappy looks at each other. They were fugitives too, and not city guard right now. Merrill looked at the fires visible in the distance as if it were for some kind of unusual plant or entertaining light. Fenris looked disgusted, but then again he nearly always looked that way when I was around. Still he had helped, despite our frequent arguments and his hatred of the magisters. In the gathering dusk and odd light, Hawke waved to get our attention and led us off towards some warehouses. Varric, unslung his Bianca and he melted out of sight for a change. He usually liked attention. Both Nathaniel and Bethany had that detached look of seeking attack from any direction, they were silent, which was a large change from how she'd been before her joining.
We didn't move very fast when we were above ground, but we traveled though several passages and tunnels underground, some that were familiar to me. I didn't see too many stirring as we moved through narrow tunnels or larger caverns which had been divided and redivided in the many years since Tevinter had their slaves here. Any refugees still living down here were keeping their heads low. They were probably safer here than those in the city above.
We moved in stages so that Hawke or Nathaniel scouted ahead before we moved forward. I prayed we wouldn't run into anyone else. I really didn't know if Vael was as familiar with the darker parts of Kirkwall anymore closer to my clinic. Hawke had set Aveline and Varric behind us mages, while the others were in point. It was almost strange to have so many with us, but there would be so many looking for booty or blood in today's upheaval.
There had been more than enough deaths today. Prayers of mine weren't answered very often, and when we were strung out in a tunnel we were attacked. Looters, bandits, or even hunting Templars, I guessed they weren't smart enough to recognize how many or dangerous we were in the dimness down here.
Even so, I was tired enough that it was harder to cast some spells, and I saw I wasn't the only one having problems. Nathaniel swapped weapons, using sword and dagger like when we'd met, fresh blood in a trickle from a scalp wound from the first.
Our spells provided extra flashes of light as we were attacked by a group coming from ahead of us in the tunnel. Several looked afraid when they saw Fenris' glowing, but they had closed quickly so they crowded him enough in the narrow tunnel he couldn't swing his great sword very well. Hawke judged a backstab too close and three more appeared behind her before she could tumble away. Donnic barreled into several, but they were becoming a mass of combatants, too crowded to see to what exactly was happening. I could hear Aveline growling with wanting to fight, but we were in her way and the tunnel narrow.
I cast to spell to heal our group, while Bethany and Merril were attacking, being careful with how close the fighting was.
Aveline grunted, and I was hit by a heavy weight from behind. I managed to keep on my feet and turned and saw more attacking from behind us and heard their shouts. I was casting another spell, when the magic drained away even as I was slashed by blades and knocked down.
Dazed I saw the group behind us was at least as large as ours, and Varric and Aveline had been overwhelmed. I managed to croak out, “Templar!” to warn Bethany and Merrill amidst the other battle cries.
Hawke appeared behind me, and barreled into the swordsman with a yell as I tried to concentrate to heal myself even as I realized the blades must have had magebane poison by my magic's stuttering. Bethany turned to attack even as Hawke vaulted over the others to attack the Templar from behind, slipping badly before her knife found his back. Both groups attacking us started losing ground, and only a handful even tried to flee.
Soon we were the only survivors, and Bethany lit the site as Varric checked the bodies for information and valuables. Hawke and Nathaniel had the worst wounds, her badly wrenched shoulder and his slashes, neither of them were that well armored. I could only wrap them with bandaging for now, while Bethany and Merrill did their minor healings.
The poison wouldn't kill me alone, but I'd lost my feel for Fade energies, and Justice was silent. I'd wanted us to be free of each other, but I doubted living on magebane like most Templars sneaked their lyrium would keep me alive very long. Could I give up magic like that and live, either from hunters or from starving?
By the time we'd made it to the tunnel I'd used to go to and from Hawke's mansion, Justice managed to tell me that he was still present and my energy had been restored. From above the ground I could hear an odd rumbling and wondered if the Hawke estate was still there.
“Should be safe enough here, Hawke,” Varric told her. “Gather close to speak. Though we should be quick and quiet after.”
I set about quickly healing as much as I could while the others spoke, trying to ignore any wary looks. Their wariness about my healing saddened me, though I should have expected it. I still hadn't quite said goodbye to healing others, like this and at my clinic.
“Strip the mansion of anything of use,” Hawke said grimly. “Quickly though, it will either be destroyed or confiscated.”
With a faintly nasty smile, Bethany added, “Maybe Gamlen might claim it back. Guess you'll get to live on the road like I have these few years.”
With a sigh, Hawke admitted, “It was always more Mother's home than mine. I never did have the heart to disturb her room after her death.”
I saw in a glimpse out of the corner of my eye that Bethany frowned at that, but I wasn't sure why.
“Good, then you can get some different clothing, Hawke. Your armor is too distinct right now,” Varric said musingly.
“Where now, Hawke?” Aveline asked.
A long silence greeted the former captain's question and I felt the brush of a touch from Hawke's direction, too short to be sure it was hers with the way we crowded together.
“I don't know,” Hawke said in a rough voice so different than her normally sweet one. “I shouldn't know. You'll be much safer if I don't know exactly where you plan to go, but I'll miss you all.”
I heard Nathaniel snort, and I suspected the Wardens might be able to track me by my taint. I could only hope those ranked Wardens who could order this wouldn't decide to. They all knew a thing or two about obsession. I didn't think Attryne would, but she was only really ranking senior in Ferelden despite the blight. I hadn't heard from her in years.
I felt a pang as I realized again that Hawke might fly freer without me.
Justice rumbled approval of that thought yet again and I howled back at him like I had for years; Dera was still the largest thing we truly disagreed on. I could never agree to that. She even helped Templars if they were wronged, despite our disapproval.
“...been a long road, Hawke,” Aveline was saying. “I hope we find a quieter place than the last...”
“Enough talk,” Fenris interrupted. “If we are to scavenge supplies we must go now.”
Merrill patted Hawke's shoulder when she wilted a little at that. I'd met enough blood mages and killed most, that I still didn't quite understand how she could stay so naive and innocent.
Still not meeting my eyes or touching me, Hawke straightened her shoulders and led us into what had been my first real home so we could abandon it.
When we got there, the cellars were intact. Varric and Hawke scouted through the place and found there was no one here. Bodahn, his boy and their effects were gone, as was the meek elf girl. It looked like the locks had held.
A thousand memories were here, overshadowing my many years in the Circle. I had thought that letting go of my life while awaiting a quick execution was hard earlier today...
I was holding myself still, waiting for an attack from one of the others, or Hawke using one of her daggers in a flick of an eye. I dimly realized I was rocking myself as I awaited that blade. I couldn't disagree that I deserved death after all I'd done. I was an innocent healer once, but not with this much blood on my hands. Hawke would be mercifully quick. Justice was restive again, what so rarely had happened since I'd gone to her house the night after I'd read Aldrik's failed petition. I remembered as I spoke slowly to Hawke that Justice had trouble remembering innocents anymore. I did not want him taking over and hurting her, I would lock myself still so he could not harm her. And so I did not even try to look her in the eyes as I waited my execution, while I still had some shreds of control over his rage. During that long moment that she said nothing and I felt no air movement, I even wondered if she'd ask them for opinions. The silence went too long and I realized I already knew pretty much what they'd all say, and so would she by now. I was holding my breath, wondering if I'd even feel her blade enter. I'd seen her kill from behind so many times in a splash of gore. Would I even have coherent thought long enough to even try to heal if my survival instinct or Justice broke free? Justice raged, roaring for Meredith, but I would not let him out to harm Hawke.
I expected that she'd execute me, and she at least would be merciful and quick, unlike anyone else after today. But Dera didn't kill me, to my shock. I could see anger in her eyes like the others, despite her words. I ached to take her in my arms, but she hated what I'd done even if she let me live. This wasn't the time to touch her, it may never be that time again. And still there was Meredith to stop.
My dying as an abomination at Hawke's hand should have prevented her from being held to blame for what I'd done, I knew she would still help any surviving mages after I was gone. But she didn't execute me, even if I was holding myself so still, to not resist, and to remember all my happy times. Almost all had her in them. Well, aside for Ser Pounce-a-lot.
All too soon we were fighting Templars and abominations in the Gallows, with only our brief conversation after Orsino's stupid death to give me any hope even if we didn't touch. I'd thought he was only a lap dog to bow down too much, but some academic curiosity led him to know enough to screw blood magic magic up and not even accomplish anything. At least Merrill knew what she was doing. I'd heard once that Jowan had stopped running, but he was nowhere as dangerous as what Orsino tried and failed. I fully expected to die in that battle, but didn't.
I felt closer to her when awaiting her blade, than I did right now while we planned escaping the city together...