Merrill had dreamed of Tamlen for years after he died, he’d visit her in the alienage or just be there amongst the clan like he’d never been gone, and for a few happy moments after waking it would feel right and true. She’d dreamed of Mahariel too, and of those like Isabela and Keeper Marethari who might still live but were regardless lost to her.
This was not like that.
Justice looked different than he had the last time she’d met him in the Fade. There was still something of Anders in the lines of his pale gaunt face but you’d never mistake him for anything but a spirit. Despite wearing full armour he moved so smoothly he was almost floating, his translucent body glowing an eerie blue.
“Hello again, Justice,” she said. “I thought you were dead. More fool me I suppose. Have you come to try and turn me into an abomination? Because if it’s all the same I’d rather you didn’t.”
“I have no such intention,” he said, in a calm gravelly voice that had little in it of Anders’ warmth or humour. “I am no demon.”
“Demon is as demon does, if you don’t mind my saying,” she said. “And I’d rather not end up like Anders.”
“Yet you willingly travel with his murderer. It was not I who killed him.”
You started it she thought, but bit her tongue before saying anything so childish. And of course he was right, Hawke had killed Anders, not to mention many other mages with much less blood on their hands. Hawke was a fierce, implacable woman, her commitment to her principles was genuine but her principles lead only to injustice and death. How long would it be before she decided to kill Merrill too? It was only a matter of time, and there was so much work left for Merrill to do in the mortal world. If only there was some way…
“Get out of my head, Justice!” she snapped. She could feel his influence, the subtle pull of his thoughts. “You want to show you’re not a demon? Prove it and leave me alone.”
“As you wish,” said Justice. He stared silently at her for a moment and then gently faded away into the landscape.
Of course he didn’t stay away. That’s not how demons work.
Merrill didn’t stop sleeping, that would have been stupid. She needed to be strong, not strung out and exhausted. But the longer she slept at any one time the longer Justice had to try and influence her, talking of the injustices of the Chantry, the wrongs her people had suffered which he could help her right, the power he was willing to offer her in exchange for a chance to make up for his past mistakes. She tried to make do with little cat naps, finding what comfortable dark corners she could between meals and meetings when noone was looking. But the strain of arguing with Justice began to wear her down, especially once she started hearing him during the day as well. When she stared into the piece of the Eluvian she kept with her the eyes reflected back at her were bloodshot and shadowed.
Life had been tiring enough lately as it was. The old smuggler caverns on the coast had seemed like the perfect place for everyone to hide when they were still reeling from the shock of the fall of the Gallows, but after a few days of living together relations were starting to strain. Varric and Aveline tried their best, but even their steady natures chafed at the tense claustrophobic atmosphere. Meanwhile Sebastian was a mess of grief, with Hawke not much better, and neither they nor Fenris was in any state to be patient with apostate mages seeking help. Which was unfortunate, because the mages kept trickling in, first the few who’d survived Meredith’s attempt at annulment and then others from the city and surrounds. Word was spreading that the Champion of Kirkwall had finally stood up to the Knight Commander, and the fact that she’d been incredibly reluctant to do so seemed not to make much difference. The more people arrived, the more crowded the caverns became, and the more difficult it was to organise a secret journey to Starkhaven. Everyone was too distracted preparing for the trek across the mountains to notice Merrill acting a little strangely, and it wasn’t like people didn’t expect her to be peculiar anyway.
Varric was the first to notice that something was wrong.
“Are you alright Daisy?” He put his hand on her shoulder, and the warm solid weight felt like an anchor holding her to reality. “I haven’t seen you around much lately. Well, not awake, at any rate. I know it’s a lot to deal with, all this chaos with Meredith and the Templars. But you know Hawke, she’ll work things out if she has to travel all the way to Orlais and convince the Divine herself that her actions were justified.”
Merrill smiled weakly. “I’m fine, Varric.” Maybe she should tell him about Justice. Surely he’d understand, even if he was in no position to help. You can’t trust him whispered the voice in her mind. He cares nothing for justice, for mages, for our people. He would have happily joined in the slaughter of the Circle if Rowan had let him. Suddenly Varric felt stiflingly close, his hand like a trap. She shook him off. “I’m fine. Look, I have to go, I’ll speak to you later.”
Things had gotten bad if she couldn’t even talk to Varric. Maybe the spirit in Sundermount could help. They were heading in that general direction anyway, and it bothered her that after everything she’d done the Eluvian remained unfinished. Living in the alienage had been difficult, but she’d always told herself she’d be back with her clan one day. If she moved to Starkhaven she’d be cut off from her people completely.
Justice wasn’t happy with this idea of course. “You are playing into the demon’s hands,” he said coldly. He almost reminded her of Anders when he got all disapproving.
“Oh no, we can’t have that. Talking to demons, what am I thinking?” she replied. “Honestly, you’re impossible to please.” A cloud drifted by. She’d been dreaming of flying before Justice had interrupted, and the two of them hung like motes of dust against an impossibly blue sky. “You’re always complaining that Hawke isn’t doing enough, and how you can help me save my people. Well, now you’ll have your chance.”
“So you will let me join with you?”
“Noooo, nobody’s going to be joining with anyone if I can help it. But you can help me stop the spirit from overstepping it’s bounds too. I mean, I’m no good to you as a vessel if I’m already occupied am I?”
Justice frowned. “I do not wish for a vessel, I offer an equal partnership,” he said. “But I will help you in this.”
It was a calculated risk, using one demon as a buffer against the other. But it wasn’t like she had any other options, Hawke had already refused to go to Sundermount with her and she couldn’t see the others choosing to get involved independently. It was only the strength of Hawke’s personality that had kept Fenris and Sebastian from handing Merrill to the templars years ago.
Merrill hadn’t expected anyone to notice her sneaking out. People often ducked out from time to time, whether it was Aveline liaising with the city guard or Varric meeting with less savoury contacts. Nobody should have paid the slightest attention when she said she was going out to gather supplies.
“Talk to the apostates,” said Hawke. “They keep turning up and wanting to help, I’m sure one of them has whatever you need.”
“Dalish magic isn’t the same as human…as Circle magic,” said Merrill, amending her statement when she noticed one of the nearby elf mages frown in annoyance. “There’s some herbs I need that don’t grow around here, and I doubt any Circle mage would have a use for them.”
“That sounds interesting,” said Bethany. “Mind if I tag along?”
“Oh, well, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to…” Rowan’s dark eyes flicked up from the map she was looking at to assess Merrill with a familiar keen gaze. “Um. It’s very boring, a lot of mucking about in the dirt looking for funny looking little plants. But you can come if you like.”
“Be careful,” said Rowan. “You don’t want to get caught by Templars looking for revenge.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t want us to hand ourselves in to them?” asked Merrill, then wanted to slap her hand over her mouth.
She had Rowan’s full attention now. “You dare?” she asked coldly. “After everything I’ve done for you mages? Everything I’ve sacrificed? Because I refuse to pretend you’re all innocent and harmless you accuse me of wanting to harm to come my sister?”
“No! I don’t! I know you’re not like that I…I’m sorry. I’ll just go.”
Merill had emerged from the caves and was blinking into the sunlight before she thought to notice whether or not Bethany had followed her. She had. Ah, well. Merrill did actually need to gather some supplies.
“So, where are we going?” asked Bethany.
“A little copse to the north. There’s a spring, it has all sorts of plants growing around it.”
“Sounds nice. The fresh air will do me some good.” Bethany smiled and stretched her arms, her hair flying around her face in the breeze. It was strange seeing her again after all this time. She looked older, more mature. Well, she would, wouldn’t she?
“Do you not get much fresh air with the Grey Wardens? I hope you’re not always down in the Deep Roads fighting darkspawn, that would get boring. I’ve never been, but And…everyone said they were very unpleasant. It’s no wonder Varric’s family left, though I suppose Orzamarr is nicer.”
“I prefer fighting darkspawn in the Deep Roads to hunting them when they’ve gone up to the surface and started attacking people,” said Bethany.
“Oh. Yes, I suppose you would.”
“But yes, Orzammarr is nicer.”
“You’ve really seen it?”
“Once or twice. It’s quite pretty, in a dwarven sort of way.”
They talked about life in the Grey Wardens for a little while, and of what had happened over the last few years in Kirkwall. Merrill gave her point of view of the events leading up to the crisis at the Gallows, and she tried to give a positive spin on Rowan’s insistence on taking Meredith’s side right up until near the end, though it was hard not to sound a little bitter.
She noticed that Bethany was looking at her with a searching expression eerily like her sister’s, though not as sharp. “If you don’t trust Rowan, why are you still here?”
“I do trust her!” said Merrill. “I don’t agree with her about a great many things, but she’s a good person. I don’t know why I said that before, I was just…um…” Possessed. Not for the first time, Merrill wished she was a better liar. “I do find it strange that she hates magic so so much, though. She grew up around you, and you’re the sweetest, least scary mage in the world. And you father sounds like he was a very nice man.”
“He was. But the way he talked about the dangers of magic…he always made it sound like the threat of demonic possession was only a few steps away. Which makes sense now that I know what he saw in the Deep Roads. I feel sorry for him. I think his life would have been easier if he was just an ordinary man. I think that’s why he took so much comfort from his faith in the Maker, and why he made sure to pass that faith onto us. It’s different for you, I think, your religion teaches you to see magic very differently than ours.”
Which is why mine is better thought Merrill, but she wasn’t quite so tactless as to say it.
“Rowan always took the Chantry’s teachings about magic very much to heart. She seems different now,” said Bethany. “Maybe it was seeing the way mages were treated in the Circle, but she’s not as rigid about everyone having to follow Chantry law as I remember.”
“I think Anders had something to do with that,” said Merrill. “Mage freedom was pretty much all he ever talked about, and he could be quite convincing when he put his mind to it.”
Bethany gave a sad smile. “Well, he obviously couldn’t convince her about everything. Do you think she was right to kill him?”
“Um…” No said the voice in her head. “Not really. I don’t like killing people, it seems…wasteful somehow. And he was my friend. Sort of. And I don’t think the Grand Cleric was as blameless as people say. But still, I don’t think she and the other Chantry sisters deserved to die, so I guess Anders’ death was sort of…Um. Justice. To be honest I’m not sure it really was Anders any more. He…” The words were getting harder to think, let alone say. “I don’t think Anders would have done that. He wanted to help people. Hawke says he was mostly Justice, the…the spirit he’d joined with by the time he died. And she’d know, wouldn’t she?”
“Yes, I suppose she would.” Bethany gave a little sigh. “It’s strange to think of them living together, I always thought she didn’t like Anders. She certainly gave me a talking to about what a dangerous man he was when I wanted to… to spend time with him. But I guess that makes sense in retrospect.”
“Because you’re her baby sister? I don’t think she ever gave Varric or Isabela a talking to about it.”
“No, I imagine she didn’t.”
“I know it seems strange, but they didn’t argue all the time. They were actually quite sweet together. Sometimes. Not so much at the end.” Merrill’s heart ached with wistful melancholy.
“I wish I could have seen it. And I wish things hadn’t ended so badly, that Anders had been able to stay the man I knew and not…whatever it is he became. But there’s no point in wishing is there?”
They’s reached the top of the hill, and could see all the way down to Kirkwall in the distance. It looked quite pretty from up here. Merrill wondered if Bethany had had a chance to see the Amell estate now that it was done up nicely, and whether anyone was watering Hawke’s plants.
“Varric tells me he’s worried about you,” said Bethany.
“Why would Varric be worried about me? I’m fine!”
“Merrill. I really don’t think you are. If you need to talk about anything, I’d be willing to listen. I may be Rowan’s sister, but I’m also a mage, and I know how difficult that can be.”
“I’m just a bit…sleepy is all. I’ve been having trouble sleeping.”
Merrill thought about telling her about Justice. Bethany was a mage, surely she wouldn’t revile Merrill as an abomination. Justice was uncharacteristically silent, it seemed even he had trouble thinking of anything nasty to say about Bethany. Still, Merrill wasn’t sure she wanted to drag her into this mess. Not to mention the fact that they hadn’t seen each other in six years, she didn’t really know what sort of person Bethany was now.
“I know you’re still using blood magic. And Varric said something about a corrupted mirror, and a demon? He seemed to think you might go do something stupid and get yourself killed.”
“I’m not going to do anything stupid. It’s not…” The mirror was the least of her problems right now. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“I realise I can’t ever fully understand what your history means to you, but dealing with demons is always a bad idea. Too many people I know have died, Merrill. Promise me you won’t do anything dangerous by yourself without talking to me first.”
“So you can tell me not to do it, like Hawke?”
“Not necessarily. My sister means well, but she can be very rigid, especially about anything involving magic. Convince me that it’s a good idea, and I’ll help you out if I can. I’m sure Varric will as well.”
“And you promise you won’t tell Hawke?”
“Not if I can help it.”
“Well then. Let me tell you about this mirror…”
Keeping a secret from Hawke was easier said than done. She wasn’t sneaky like Varric or Isabela, but she had a way of looking at you that made you want to spill out all your secrets before she got any scarier.
“How was your trip?” she asked, absently, when Merrill and Bethany got back.
“Oh, yes, it was, uh….” Merrill stammered. “I and Bethany had a nice chat. About, um…”
“It was great!” interrupted Bethany. “Look at all the herbs we gathered!”
Hawke looked at her sister with something approaching affection, her eyes settling in the massive bunch of plants in Bethany’s arms. “Just don’t leave leaves everywhere,” she said. “I don’t want to end up with rashvine in my shoes again.”
“That was one time…”
Seeing the two of them together, Merrill was struck by how different they looked. She’d always thought Bethany the prettier of the two, she wasn’t as intimidatingly tall as most humans, and she had friendly face behind all that soft brown hair. Rowan, by comparison, was statuesque and formidable, her white-gold hair messily tied back to frame an equally pale face criss-crossed with scars and worry lines. Even now, in light hearted conversation, her eyes held a spark of dangerous intensity.
She wasn’t pretty, she was beautiful.
She was also staring at Merrill.
“What is it? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Nothing, no reason!” Merrill felt herself blushing. “I’ll just…go put these plants away. I’ll see you later, Bethany, …Hawke.”
Merrill slammed her hand into the table.
“You can’t stop now!” she shouted angrily. “What was the point of saving the Circle if you’re not going to finish the job? If we don’t take advantage of this forward momentum to help the other Circles the Templars will destroy us all. You might as well have sided with Meredith in the first place!”
“It certainly would have made my life easier,” said Rowan. It was statements like this that complicated her reputation as a saviour amongst the other mages. “You seem determined to turn me into something I’m not, so let me make this clear. I may not have been willing to murder innocent mages in retaliation for a crime they had nothing to do with. But I am also unwilling to murder innocent Templars just trying to defend themselves against mages run amuck. These fools think the tragedy here signals some sort of revolution, and if we get involved it will just confirm that misconception. I don’t think we can do anything for either side now, the best we can do is try and keep safe and hope things blow over.”
“Hope things blow over? Is that what your principles have been reduced to? Are you so blinded by your loyalty to the Chantry that you cannot see what an opportunity this is, not just for mages but for the future of everyone in Thedas?”
“Since when do you care about the future?” asked Fenris. “I thought you cared only for our people’s oh-so-glorious past. But I suppose that when it comes down to it a mage is always a mage. You made a nice show of thinking Anders had gone too far, but you obviously want to continue the madness he started.”
“Well what if I do?” Fenris widened his eyes and Sebastian looked at her in horror. “I see that…” See what? She didn’t agree with Anders’ actions did she? And her priority was the clan, not other mages. “Wait, no, that’s wrong. I don’t want to…” Everyone was staring at her now. Varric and Bethany looked particularly worried. She took a deep breath and calmed her mind. She tried to pick apart her own thoughts from the seductive pull of Justice’s convictions, so much more sure than her own. They were going to have to go to Sundermount soon, if she was to become consumed she wanted to give something back to her clan while she still could.
“This isn’t going to blow over,” she said, filled with an unexpected certainty as facts slipped into place. “Whatever you intended, this is revolution, and it’s been building for months, even years. Anders wasn’t acting alone, there are people he never told you…us about, like minded mages all over Thedas who’ve been waiting for a sign to bring the circles down.”
“How can you be so sure?” asked Rowan, warily. “You were never involved in Anders work. I lived with him and knew nothing of this.”
“I…I do pay some attention you know,” she said weakly. And maybe she should have done, or this wouldn’t have all come as such a surprise.
“It does make sense,” said Aveline. “Circles have rebelled in the past, and there was never this sort of reaction. If these mages have been planning revolution from the start, there may be no stopping them now things have gotten started.”
“Brilliant,” said Rowan darkly.
Later that night Merrill carefully made her way through the dark twisting passages to find where Bethany was sleeping. The situation with Justice was getting out of hand, and there was noone else she could think of to talk to. Not wanting to wake anyone, she cast the faintest light spell she could manage and tried to slip through the passages without stepping on anyone. The small network of caves was becoming quite crowded.
Merrill neatly swerved to avoid an unexpected wall only to to bump into a soft body in the darkness. To her relief the profile looked familiar.
“Not quite,” replied Rowan. In this half light she actually did resemble her sister, though Bethany had never looked at Merrill with so much irritation. “What are you doing wandering around at this time of night?”
“I was…going to talk to Bethany.”
Rowan blinked. “I see.” She sighed. “Well, it’s none of my business. You want to follow this wall past the pile of boxes and then turn left.”
Merrill was fairly sure that Rowan would consider it her business if she knew what Merrill and Bethany were up to, but she wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Thankyou, Rowan” she said, starting off in what she hoped was the right direction. “Pleasant dreams.”
“What did you just call me?”
“Come back here.” Merrill turned back, regretfully. Hawke looked at Merrill now, with that look she had that made it feel like she was staring into your soul. “You’ve been acting very oddly lately, and I don’t like it. Tell me what’s going on.”
Merrill laughed nervously. “Nothing’s wrong with me, Hawke. I’m fine. It’s just been very stressful, you know, recently. With all the fighting and demons and such. And then there’s the Chantry, they could be here any day and what are we going to do about it? Since you don’t want us using blood magic, even though I…um…not that I think Orsino had the right idea or anything.” Yes, that was totally the right thing to say to get Hawke to trust her. Smart move, Merrill.
“You think I should let the mages use blood magic? That’s what got us in this mess in the first place!” Hawke was whispering, but it was a very loud whisper. “They’re all ticking time bombs as it is, they don’t need active encouragement to consort with demons.”
“Ticking time bombs? Is that what we are to you, abominations waiting to happen?”
“Some of you,” she said, darkly.
“Well then, I suppose I should expect a knife to the back, same as Anders, seeing as I’m an evil blood mage and all.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Rowan.
“Well why not? If you would kill the man you love why wouldn’t you kill me?” Merrill’s voice caught. She wasn’t whispering any more.
“Do you think I made that decision easily? But the man I loved died years ago,” she said bitterly. “If it wasn’t for that demon, Anders would never have…” Rowan’s eyes were shadowed with pain. She made a fist and then let it go. “Or perhaps he would have, I was never really able to tell the two of them apart. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.” She put a hand on Merrill’s shoulder and looked her in the eye. “I’m not going to kill you, Merrill, because I trust you. You’ve always been honest with me, even about this cursed demon of yours. Your use of blood magic horrifies me, but while I don’t agree with all of your goals unlike Anders you don’t go around sacrificing innocent people to achieve them.”
“Oh. Well, that’s good to hear. Thankyou. ”
Rowan sighed. “Go find Bethany,” she said. “I’m sure she’ll make you feel better. And don’t let this situation get you down, we’ll get through it. Although, Merrill…”
“If you break her heart I will kill you.”
“Why would I…” It suddenly occurred to Merrill how it must look, her sneaking off to find Bethany in the middle of the night. “Oh, no!” she said, giggling and feeling like she’d gone bright red. “Do you think we’re…that I…really, it’s not like that!”
Hawke just smiled. “Good night, Merrill,” she said.
Merrill followed the wall and then turned left, and sure enough there was Bethany, curled up asleep on her bedroll like she didn’t have a worry in the world. Merrill stood there silently for a while, thinking, and then turned around and went back the way she’d come.
“And you’re sure it’s Justice?” Hawke stared at Merrill seriously.
“Yes,” said Merrill. “Who else would it be?”
“Some other demon, trying to trick you into trusting it.” When Merrill had found Rowan again she’d pulled the two of them into a little side cave, and the light from Merrill’s staff reflected off the walls to create weird shadows across their faces. It was strange seeing Rowan like this, hair out and wearing a soft robe instead of her usual armour. Strange and oddly familiar.
“Oh. You know, that hadn’t occurred to me. Not that I trust Justice anyway.” Merrill considered the possibility for a while. How careless of her not to have thought of it already. “No,” she said eventually, “It’s definitely Justice. He hasn’t just being trying to influence me on purpose, it’s like I can sense what he’s thinking, and he’s not…I don’t think a normal demon would think these sorts of things.”
“What sort of things?”
“Well, you know, about wanting to help mages be free. And about, um. About you.” This was all very awkward.
“Justice hates me,” said Rowan starkly. “I doubt he differs from any other demon in that.” There was a bitter tone to her voice that made something inside Merrill twist in pain.
“He doesn’t hate you,” she said. “He never hated you. He just thought you were a distraction.”Merrill was quite sure at this point that some part of Anders’ soul had been mixed up with Justice when he’d escaped into the Fade. And Anders had loved Rowan intensely, for all that he had resented her distrust of magic and mages. As much as it made sense to make the distinction, Justice seemed to merely respect Rowan, which was a much less disturbing emotion to find yourself feeling towards a friend. But all in all Merrill sometimes found herself wishing she'd been saddled with an ordinary demon who'd fill her head with more innocent thoughts like a desire for world domination.
“A distraction. Yes that does sound like something he’d say.” Rowan looked away. Merrill’s eyes were drawn to the way the light caught on Rowan’s eyelashes, the way her mouth curved prettily, even when narrowed in unhappiness. She had a brief dizzying memory of kissing her, a flash of passion and need and some very embarrassing mental images.
“It certainly felt like he hated me. Why else would he…” Rowan sniffed and wiped her eyes, and for the first time in all their years of knowing each other she looked young to Merrill, young and vulnerable, for all that she was a few years older. “I thought I was done with this. First he destroys the man I love, then my city, now he’s tormenting me from beyond the grave. It never ends. ”
“This isn’t about you,” said Merrill.
“Of course not. And it’s not about you, either. It doesn’t matter what happens to any of us mortals, as long as Justice prevails.”
“That’s not…argh!” Merrill gritted her teeth in frustration. “I’m sorry, it’s hard to…he gets in my head. But you believe me now?”
“Oh yes, I believe you” said Rowan. “Now what are we going to do about it?”
Merrill had never been more unhappy to see her clan.
“I thought you said they’d all be gone by now,” said Hawke.
“They should be! I just assumed…something isn’t right.” The clan had been here far too long. The path to the encampment was well worn by years of use, and someone had put flat stones on some of the uneven patches to prevent people’s feet from slipping in the mud when it rained. It was practically a pavement.
Once Hawke had gotten over her anger at Bethany and Varric for keeping their plans from her, the three of them had banded together to try and persuade Merrill to let the mirror stay broken rather than risking her soul. She’d eventually convinced them that if they didn’t go with her she’d leave and go by herself, but Hawke had clearly thought it might be better to let her leave than be party to demon summoning. Merrill was incredibly grateful to Varric and Bethany for making it clear that this was not acceptable to them. Hawke still wasn’t happy about the situation, though, and had glared unhappily all the way to the camp.
“On the plus side, maybe I can find Marethari and get her to talk some sense into you,” said Hawke.
“Good luck with that,” said Varric.
In the alienage it was easy to romanticise the clan, to remember them as a supportive and close knit community, her true people, an oasis in a sea of humans and human culture. She missed them constantly when she was away. But every time Merrill came back she was reminded that she was as much an outsider here now as Varric or Hawke, and that all that closeness did was exclude her even further. Walking up the hill towards Marethari’s caravan Merrill could feel the eyes of the clan upon her. Some were more pitying than angry or fearful, but none saw her as family. Not any more.
Well, it didn’t matter. She’d probably be dead soon anyway. Whatever the clan thought of her work, when the Eluvian was complete they would still benefit from it’s power, from the connection it offered to the past they all shared. She felt a stab of anger that she was forced rely on outsiders to restore the Eluvian, when it was nothing to them but an old broken mirror. Humans and dwarves still had their cities, their history, when all her people had was a few broken scraps the invaders hadn’t wanted. It wasn’t right, and she was going to do what she could to fix it.
Marethari was the same as always, acting like Merrill was abandoning her duty to the clan when she was the only one who was willing to really do anything. She stared at Merrill with an extra special level of sorrow as she explained to Hawke that even if you did manage to reverse an abomination, the mage would be forever left vulnerable to further attack.
“Perhaps that’s why you’re having trouble resisting Justice,” said Bethany. “Because of the effect of the other demon.”
“Not you too,” said Merrill. “Believe me, I’ve never felt the spirit interfere with my thoughts the way I have with Justice. That’s how I know it hasn’t affected me.”
“Maybe it’s just more clever about it,” said Bethany. “I’ve met plenty of other mages who thought they weren’t being affected by demons until they…until it became clear that they were. Demons can be very subtle with their influence.”
“Bethany’s right,” said Varric. “They’re sneaky these demons.”
“I know what I’m doing,” said Merrill, firmly.
Merrill leaned against Bethany and stumbled along the path down the mountain. Varric was saying something about her wounds, but it wasn’t like she knew any healing magic. It wasn’t like she knew how to do anything but cause people pain. The Keeper was dead and it was all her fault. Everything else seemed unimportant.
Justice had been worse than useless, resisting his offers of “help” had been a dangerous distraction making the fight more difficult. But her plan to have one demon help her resist another did have some merit: it seemed the demon of Sundermount had been resisting Justice on her behalf, and now that he had unobstructed access to her mind his voice had gone from a nagging whisper to an aggravating roar. Even so, she felt more herself than she had in years. Now that the demon was gone, she could finally see how much it had been controlling her thoughts, it’s subtle influence twisting her wish to help her people into pride and self-destruction. Justice’s attempts seemed crude and amateurish by comparison.
Merrill had been saddened by the way the clan had stared at her before, but their previous resentful wariness was nothing to the hatred rolling off them now. And why shouldn’t they hate her? She’d led the Keeper to her death, and all for nothing. Her previous self justifications turned to ash in her throat. They didn’t need her, or her mirror. It was important for the elvehn to hold onto their history, yes, but by working together and supporting the living people of the clan, creating a new life for the Dalish in the world as it existed now, not some dream of the world as it used to be. What good had she done the clan, had she done anyone since she’d arrived in Kirkwall?
Well, that was going to change. Even if she would never be allowed back into this clan, even if she was exiled from the Dalish forever, she could still work to help them. There were other relics, ones not tainted by evil, and the research she’d done on the Eluvian could help her find them and restore them. And there was work to be done for the other elves as well, how could she have stayed so long in the alienage without using her skills to help those around her? She could help the elves of the alienage fight back against the City Guard and anyone else who would mistreat them. Perhaps she should stay with Hawke, encourage her to work with the apostate mages to make a better Thedas, one where everyone was treated equally, whether they were a mage or an elf or anything else. And if Hawke refused, well, she would have to be made to see. There were enough mages in the caves now that she could organise them into a force to be reckoned with, and…
Merrill rubbed her eyes and tried to clear her head. Perhaps Justice wasn’t as crude as all that after all. Or were these really her own thoughts? She couldn’t tell any more.
“Are you alright?” asked Bethany. “I think I’ve got enough mana spare now to have another look at that leg of yours.”
Merrill stared at her blankly.
“Here, hold still.”
Merrill noted the sensation as Bethany’s magic knit the cracks in her bones from when the Keeper…the demon had tried to crush her beneath it’s feet, but the pain seemed very far away and unimportant. “Thankyou,” she said.
They’d reached a little clearing on the path away from Sundermount, far enough away that none of the clan were likely to follow. It occurred to Merrill that she was probably never going to see any of them ever again.
She sat down on the ground and put her head in her hands.
“It’s all my fault,” she said, stricken. “You all told me and I refused to listen. Why did I have to be so stupid?”
“There there, Daisy, don’t blame yourself,” said Varric. “You meant well, it was just that damned demon got into your head. Thank the Maker you’re finally free of it.”
“I’ll never be free,” she said.
She turned to Hawke, who was looking at her with sadness and concern. “The Keeper was right…she was right about everything. It’s too late for me, even now the demon is gone it’s left my mind too weak to hold out against other demons. If you let me live I’ll just become like Anders, or worse. You have to kill me now.”
“Stop talking crazy,” said Varric. “If things get bad, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but we didn’t go to all this trouble to save you only to kill you at the end of it. That’s just silly.”
“But I’m a danger to all of you,” said Merrill.
“Void take you!” said Hawke. She kneeled down next to Merrill, grabbed her chin and stared into her eyes. “Are you punishing me, is that it, Justice? For killing Anders? For not realising sooner that Meredith was just as twisted by magic as everyone else in this city? For making you…” Her voice cracked and she scrunched her eyes closed for a moment. When she opened her eyes again they had lost their anger and were filled only with sadness. "I'm so sorry it's come to this, Merrill," she said , softly. "If I had known that this is what would happen...". Hawke shifted her hand to rest softly on Merrill’s cheek. “Justice, do remember Anders telling me how you and Anders met? You’d dedicated yourself to protecting a village of humans trapped in the Fade, and then these funny looking mortals come along and you got pulled into our world. And then you made friends with Anders and the others, and dedicated yourself to saving innocent people out here as well. You care about people, I know you do. How is it just that Merrill should suffer because you can’t let the mortal world go? What higher purpose is served by staying here only to die again?”
“I, he…” Merrill’s mind filled with alien thoughts and emotions. She felt like the string in a game of cat’s cradle, being twisted into odd shapes by someone else’s whim. It wasn’t very pleasant. A thought appeared in her mind presenting itself as undeniable fact, and yet she found it hard to accept. “Justice…believes that if it wasn’t for him influencing you, you would have sided with the Templars and annulled the Circle. I think he feels that he needs to stay here to…to make sure you don’t interfere with what they started.”
Rowan drew back as if stung.
“Influenced me? How…I…but I’m not a mage!” Merrill could see that Rowan believed it, though. They had seen plenty of examples of non-mages falling under the sway of demons after repeated exposure, and Rowan and Anders had lived in the same house for years. Perhaps he’d even influenced her before then, Merrill would never have expected the Hawke she met seven years ago to have allowed an apostate mage to use her house as a base of operations for defying the Templars.
“Maker save me,” said Rowan. “What have you done to me?” She looked at Merrill now not with compassion or anger but with horrified understanding. It was no petty whim that made her ask for death, not when the alternative was to feel her sense of self waste away in the face of Justice’s unrelenting certainty.
“I don’t think he understands what it’s like for us,” said Merrill. “He really does think he’s helping.”
“Did Anders know what Justice was doing?” asked Rowan in a small voice.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know,” said Merrill.
Rowan drew a slow, shuddering breath and then stood up, dusting off her knees. “Well, I suppose that makes my decision easier. I refuse to be any demon’s plaything.” She drew her sword and pointed it at Merrill. “I'm sorry, Merrill. Justice, leave this woman or know that you are causing her death.”
“Hawke, no!” cried Varric. “You pressure him like this he might go full-on abomination on us!”
Bethany looked like she was building up the conviction to fight her sister. “Rowan, would you really do this? Surely there’s some other way.”
“I waited for some other way with Anders, and innocent people died because of my indecision. I’ll not make that mistake again.”
Merrill stood to face her. She felt strangely calm. Rowan stared at her without anger, her sword steady.
“Merrill, do you still want me to kill you?”
“Wait,” said Bethany. “Is it Merrill who wants to die? Or Justice?”
Oh. That was a good question. She tried to untangle her motivations. “I can’t tell,” she admitted at last. “I know I don’t want to become an abomination. And I think…I think what’s left of Anders doesn’t want me to be one either.”
“If you die like Anders did, what’s to stop Justice deciding to come bother me? Or some other mage? Don’t give up, Merrill. You can do so much more the for the world if you live. Life can be hard when you think you’ve lost everything, but trust me, there’s still a lot left to live for.”
Rowan’s expression wavered, but her sword did not. She didn’t look like she entirely agreed with Bethany.
Varric walked up to Merrill and tapped her gently on the forehead. “Anders, you in there? I always thought you were one of the good mages. Sure you did that weird glowy thing but you were always pretty clear about demons being bad news. You really want to be one? I know you’re mad at Hawke, but this whole situation is wrong and you know it.”
Merrill felt by turns angry, hopeful, guilty, and then sad. She’d given up trying to figure out where each emotion was coming from.
“Plus you owe me money,” said Varric. “And I charge double interest for dead people.”
Merrill found herself laughing. This whole situation was so ridiculous. She felt a burst of affection for them all, for everything they’d done together. Varric and Bethany were so kind, and even Hawke had overcome her prejudices enough to stay with her to the end. Such good friends deserved better than this.
And then she felt a wrenching sensation, like the wind had been knocked out of her. She fell back to her knees. “Oh,” she said.
“What is it?” asked Hawke, suspiciously. She suddenly looked much taller than she had a moment before.
“I think…I think Justice just left me,” said Merrill.
“Just like that?” asked Varric.
“Yes. I think he was waiting until the demon was gone to decide if he wanted to stay. I think he knew he was becoming a demon and he didn't want to be.” She felt so much lighter, and the world seemed much more promising. But things also suddenly seemed a lot less clear cut, she almost missed the single minded purpose and certainty the demon and then Justice had given her. At least she didn’t feel like dying any more.
“This isn’t the first time today I’ve heard someone claim to be suddenly free of a demon,” said Hawke, her stance unchanged.
“Well, I can’t prove it to you,” said Merrill. “But I’m not so enthusiastic about you killing me any more, so I’d rather you put down your sword, please.”
“Bethany, what do you think?”
“I can’t sense anything, but if it was that easy to tell demons wouldn’t be so dangerous. I think we should trust her anyway.”
“You would,” said Hawke. But she put down her sword.
Varric gave Merrill a giant grin and pulled her into a hug. “Glad to have you back, Daisy,” he said. “Even if I’m not going to get my seven silvers.”
“I’ll be sure to lose to you next time we play diamondback,” said Merrill. “I always do, anyway.” She smiled back at him, then her lower lip quivered. “Oh, I am such a fool. Look at all the trouble I’ve caused. I’m so sorry.”
“There, there,” he said. “Do you remember me and that idol? Or Fenris in the Fade?”
Hawke gave a grim smile. “Look at Meredith, or me. None of us are immune to demonic influence, some of us are just lucky enough to escape with our lives.” She sighed. “Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge mages for being susceptible. I find myself wondering if any of my decisions in the last few years have truly been my own.”
Hawke helped Merrill stand up off the ground. Merrill was glad to note that Hawke’s touch no longer brought up embarrassing or painful memories, though she still looked prettier to her than she had before. Perhaps she'd just needed to have her eyes opened. They started walking back towards camp. The mood between them was sombre, but much less tense than it had been walking towards Sundermount.
“Would you really have chosen differently without Justice’s influence?” asked Bethany. “I can’t imagine you murdering innocent people just because you were told to.”
“Neither can I, that’s what’s so maddening about it,” said Hawke. “Everything Anders persuaded me to believe, it all still makes sense.”
“Me too,” said Merrill. “I still want to use my magic to help restore Dalish history, hopefully find a new clan, but I feel like right now my place is with you, helping the mages from the Circles.” There was nothing left for her in Kirkwall now. If she was to find a new clan, she would be as likely to succeed in Starkhaven as anywhere else, and she needed some purpose to fill the empty hole in her life.
Hawke shot her a worried look. “But I really do think Justice is gone!” said Merrill hurriedly. “He was just right about about some things, is all.”
“If it helps, none of that sounds very demonic to me,” said Bethany.
“Me, I have no idea,” said Varric. “Maybe we’re all possessed and just haven’t realised it yet. But right now I just want to get back to what passes for home these day and have a drink. Things could be worse right?”
“You’re right,” said Merrill. “I think I’m going to get drunk.”
“Ok, now I know you’re not Justice,” said Varric. “Just for that I’m having two drinks, one for me and one for him. One for Anders too, poor bastard.”
Hawke smiled. “It’s a nice thought,” she said. “I hope he’s forgiven me, wherever he is.”
“I’m sure he has,” said Merrill, although she wasn’t certain that this was true. She was fairly sure the Keeper hadn't, if she was still around to look down on her.
"Come on, let's get going," said Varric. "To home, and the promise of slightly stale beer."