Chapter 1: A Simple Sweep and Clear
There are some stories you never want to tell, and hope you'll never have to. Bianca's the story I can never tell, but what happened at the Alienage is the story I have only told once.
In a brief and welcome breath between one target and the next, Varric managed to think, if we get out of this at all, it's going to make one bloody good story. He could see a shadow of his Donnen Brennokovic in himself and in his companions that night; in Aveline shouting taunts and challenges to attract the brunt of the attacks and allowing them to glance off her shield before using it to pummel them mercilessly, in his own tendency to smack people upside the head with Bianca if they got too close, and most of all in Hawke's deadly, devil-may-care approach to knifework, complete with witty quips.
But in all of them, mostly what he saw was Brennokovic's tendency to get his ass kicked. The fight was that unbalanced.
It should have been a simple sweep and clear - that was, in fact, going to be the opening line for the bit of his serial that would incorporate this bugger of a fight. Varric and Aveline had both received word that another group of slavers were operating somewhere in Kirkwall, taking advantage of the turmoil following the recent ousting of the Qunari from the city ... not to mention the week or so that Kirkwall had been out a Champion when he, Hawke, Bethany and Fenris had trekked out to the Vimmark Mountains to take care of that 'Carta trying to kill the Hawke siblings' problem. It was Merrill who'd let them know that there was suspicious activity in the Alienage, which was hardly a surprise when they thought about it. After all, no one would miss a few elves, or so went the apparent sentiment of the slavers in question. They'd normally have been dead on, but Hawke was Champion of Kirkwall and had a friend in the Alienage besides. Thus, people were going to die screaming, sure as dusk followed day.
The fight she'd picked, however, seemed to be a little out of the ordinary for the usual take-down of slaver gangs. Usually there were three waves of maybe a dozen or so, with one mage if they were unlucky. Now, as wave number five bore down upon them, Varric counted two mages, both of them in those fuzzy hats the Tevinter magisters tended to go for. The elf is going to be sorry he missed this, thought Varric, swivelling to target the nearest mage. Killing magisters with the blessing of the Captain of the Guard; he'd think it was his birthday.
The mage he'd sighted got one of those damnable shields up just as Varric fired, and he muttered a curse and turned his eyes to more vulnerable targets, sending a volley of bolts at a nasty-looking character trying to cave Merrill's head in with a mace. Hawke abandoned her deadly dance around Aveline and vanished into the nighttime shadows, and then Varric heard a gurgle and a thump from behind him. "You know that's creepy," he muttered.
"But useful!" Hawke sidestepped into his peripheral vision and stabbed backwards with both blades - a rather attractive stiletto dagger and that ugly-looking Key thing - to take out a sword-wielding slaver who'd been going for Varric's exposed right flank. Varric rolled his eyes and smirked acknowledgement as he scanned for more targets, shooting a man who threatened to stab Aveline from behind. Even when everything else was going to nug-nuggets, he could always count on the fact that Hawke had his back.
Then he noticed the third mage - hatless, unshielded, and probably at least halfway through casting some spell or other. Varric couldn't feel the hum in the air when magic was coming the way the humans and elves of his acquaintance said they could, but he knew the look well enough by now. He aimed at the magister, knowing he was more than likely going to be too late to stop him but hoping like hell that his dwarven nature would make him at least partially immune...
Hawke grabbed him by the lapels, turned him towards the vhenedahl and shoved hard enough that Varric's feet actually left the ground as he flew out of harm's way. Then the magic hit, forming a swirling circle of reddish light that Varric could barely see. He imagined that humans and elves could see it more clearly, and mages most of all. Lucky bastards. It was no fun realising you were partially blind by nature. He didn't spend long contemplating that, a little too stunned at what had just happened - not to mention trying to get his feet back under him - to worry about the stupid shit he couldn't fix right now. What he did seem to dwell on was that he'd always wondered whether Hawke would take a shot or stab or other sort of hit for him, if it came to it. Now, as he watched her back arch with pain and her dagger hit the floor, going deathly pale and looking like the life was being quite literally drained out of her, it seemed that she would. He didn't know entirely what to think about that ... except that the elf was going to kill him for letting her do that.
Then he noticed that the circle was centred right where Hawke was standing, and Varric realised that he hadn't been the target of the spell at all. Hawke had.
Still, she could have used the time to get out of the way instead of getting me clear. With that, he aimed at the nug-humping bastard of a magister and fired, shouting, "Hang on, Hawke! I'll get you out of this!" But the nug-humping magister put up one of those shields himself, and Varric swore and looked for Merrill, being pretty sure that she could dispel the magic in that spot before Hawke got seriously dead. Merrill, unfortunately, was soaring through the air to hit the wall of her own house, having been broadsided by that second mage while Aveline was busily being pummelled into a thin paste by fully eight slavers with mauls.
Varric's eyes widened in realisation just as the third mage let loose and a wave of pure physical force sent Varric smashing head-first into the vhenedahl.
"Should we take these ones? They'll fetch a price when they're healed up a bit..."
That ... sounded bad. Varric tried to move, but found himself quite unable. He only registered the words, spoken high above him and sounding farther away than they were, in a vague, nearly abstract sort of way, and his abused body had gone on strike. Still, it probably meant that the others were alive. That ... was better than he'd hoped, given the beating they'd taken.
"Leave them." Another voice, and even in his concussed and semiconscious state, Varric recognised, not the voice itself, but the 'iron fist in a velvet glove' tone it took. It denoted leadership, status and, more than likely, an utter living shit of a human being. "These three are a message ... and they'll pass along another for me."
And again with the bad. The Maker really was not cutting them a break today.
...Wait. These three? Shit.
Brought to some semblance of cognition by those words, Varric redoubled his efforts to move. He managed a twitch of an arm, just enough to knock Bianca's stock with his hand, and feel something heavy and sharp in his inside coat pocket that hadn't been there before this fight started. Still, he didn't have time to wonder about that little mystery, because when he managed to open his eyes a fraction, he found himself looking at feet, and the hem of a magister's robes.
Well ... shit.
"Tell him this," said the magister, and apparently paused to consider wording while Varric wondered who by the Void this lunatic meant by 'him'.
Then the magister spoke eleven simple words that announced not only the identity of the nebulous 'him', but of the magister himself. There were no good enough swear words to express Varric's dismay, and he was a wordsmith by trade.
When someone standing behind him kicked him in the head, Varric was nearly grateful. Getting kicked into unconsciousness was a lot more respectable than passing out from a combination of pain and a sinking horror draining all the blood out of your head.
There were worse sights to wake up to, Varric decided, than Daisy's face hovering inches from his own. That was his first thought, muddled and blessedly disengaged from time and place ... but the worry in her eyes brought it all back to him.
He hurt less, at least. Merrill must have broken out her limited healing magics.
"Varric!" The near-panic in her voice probably meant that she'd been calling his name for awhile now. "Varric, can you hear me? I am so, so sorry; I couldn't stop them! I know my healing magics aren't as good as the ones Anders knows but I can't get either of you to wake up and I can't find Hawke and Varric, please talk to me!"
With a groan, Varric sat up and raised a hand to his face so he could rub at his temples. "I kind of wish I couldn't - no offense, Daisy. Got any of those elfroot cocktails of Elegant's? I think mine broke."
After making a squeaking noise that sounded a bit like a poker-stuck nug and pierced his head like a bolt from Bianca, Merrill reached out and hugged him, only pulling away when he made a pained sound. "Oh, I'm so sorry - I think I have some potions, though, except they're in the house and we should probably get Aveline inside so she can lie down on something softer. And also so that early risers don't try to steal her boots or something." She bit her lower lip and then defended the Alienage folk as best she could by saying, "Boots are very expensive, you see, and most of them don't see enough coin for a really good pair in a month's work and..." She winced and offered Varric a hand. "I'm babbling, sorry, and this really isn't the time, is it?"
"No offense, Daisy, but ... it's really not. C'mon; we'll get Aveline off the street and you can stay with her while I make a few house calls." He groaned again, though not from the bruises and assorted wounds this time, and it was more of a sigh. "Here's hoping the elf doesn't hold to traditions about killing messengers when the news is bad."
Even when worried, even while nervously babbling, Merrill could really get her shit together when she had to. She helped Varric haul himself to his feet and then moved to the spot where Aveline lay battered and unconscious beside a sewer grate. For his own part, Varric had to pause when he was upright to rummage in the inside pocket of his coat, to work out what that sharp and slightly stabby weight was. When he drew out that dagger Key thing Hawke had been wielding, he froze, staring at the blade in his hands. She must have slipped it into his pocket before she got him out of harm's way, so as not to let the Tevinters get their grubby little mitts on the powerful magical artefact. Still, Varric winced to see it. Hawke hadn't let it out of her sight since the trip to the Warden prison, it being all she had left of her father, and it being bound to her in unknown ways besides.
Merrill stopped and turned to look at Varric when she realised he'd stopped, worry creasing her brow and changing the shape of her tattoos. "I ... did I miss something? I landed in the dressmaker's stall, you see, and--"
"That was Danarius and his goons that attacked." Merrill's face went bone white, and Varric nodded as he crouched to loop one of Aveline's arms over his shoulder. "He left a message for the elf. And I have to deliver it," he added with a wince. "Like I said, not looking forward to that one."
With Aveline's other arm over her shoulder, Merrill helped Varric lift Aveline between them, and together they began to drag her towards Merrill's place. "...What ... what was the message, Varric?"
Varric sighed. He really hadn't wanted to tell daisy the whole thing, but she obviously had a lot on her mind and had missed an obvious connection. So, after steeling himself for the inevitable reaction, Varric told her, "He said if he couldn't make his wolf behave, he'd take a hawk instead".
Another decision made: People with faces like Merrill's should never have to wear that look of fear and grief and horror. He hated to leave her with the unconscious, badly-beaten Aveline while he ran errands, but someone who could at least heal a little bit needed to stay behind until he could find someone to get hold of Anders.
But first ... Varric had a message to deliver. He hoped he could convince the elf not to be near anything breakable when he did it.
A quarter-hour later, half of Hightown heard a scream of anguished rage from an abandoned mansion in an unconsidered side street, followed by the sound of breaking furniture.
Anyone who dared get close enough would have heard a voice, as if from someone huddled right up against the front door for his own safety, muttering, "...Yeah. That went well."
Chapter 2: Hunting the Hunters
With Hawke taken captive and taken Maker knows where, her friends must work together to rescue her. But they have to find her first...
Slavers have been operating in Lowtown, in and around the Alienage. May have moved on to Docks. If sighted, do not engage. Instead, report sighting to Guard-Captain immediately, day or night.
--Guard-Captain Aveline Vallen, on a notice posted to the duty roster of the Kirkwall Guard
The first thing Aveline saw when she opened her eyes was Anders' face, his features sagging in relief and exhaustion as he broke off from casting his healing magic. The second, nudging Anders out of the way, was Donnic with a suspicious shine in his eyes and a smile on his lips that he only ever wore for Aveline. He took her hands - few human hands were large enough to make hers seem small and dainty, but her hand fit well in Donnic's, comfortable as it would in a well-made gauntlet. "Good to have you back, Captain," he said, and Aveline had to return his smile for a moment at his determination to maintain propriety in front of someone who had once told him to "Just kiss her, you idiot!"
She only allowed herself a moment to bask in Donnic's concern and affection before she pushed it away, cursing herself for wasting time. She remembered the circumstances of her wounding all too well. She tried to speak but found her throat too dry, so cleared her throat and swallowed painfully. Then she tried again. "Hawke?"
That was Fenris, his voice full of rage and loathing. Beyond that, though, Aveline could hear the near-imperceptible fear, grief and guilt threaded into those four syllables ... but Maker knew she was sensitive to hearing that, because she felt it herself. She remembered seeing Hawke trapped by blood magic as she staggered and fell under the blow of maul-wielding slave-hunters. At least Fenris hadn't been there, trapped and beaten and helpless - a state that galled Aveline at the best of times, but when it kept her from a friend in need...
She turned her head to try to meet Fenris' eyes, to somehow tell him how sorry she was for allowing Hawke to be taken, but he was up and pacing, avoiding the eyes of everyone in the room. All she saw was his hands, clenched into tight fists, and Hawke's dagger worn at his belt next to the Hawke family crest. She decided that apologies would be yet another waste of time, as well as earn her the sort of backlash of emotion that Fenris wanted to keep bottled up for the time being. She had lost him his lover - however idiotic he had been in turning her away so comprehensively when all he needed was time - so she could at least allow him his self-control.
Aveline tried to sit up and only managed it with Donnic's help, as she was still bruised, sore and dizzy from the multiple blows to the head. She found herself in Merrill's bedroom, now severely overcrowded. Donnic knelt at the side of the bed, still holding her hand. Anders sat in a corner, face tired and haggard as Merrill, all concern and desire to help, offered him a cup of water. Sebastian knelt at the foot of the bed, as far from the eluvian as he could get, murmuring what Aveline assumed were prayers of thanks for her recovery and pleas for Him to watch over Hawke in her time of peril. Fenris paced the little floor space that remained in the room, all caged agitation, and Varric stood in the doorway with what looked like a bowl of soup in his hands. While it was good to see them well and whole, aside from the copious bruises still visible on Varric and Merrill's faces, the strain and worry on their faces was obvious and contagious. "How long?"
Varric sighed and handed Donnic the soup. "Two days," he said as Donnic passed the soup - little more than broth, really - to Aveline. "I've been reaching out to my contacts, trying to see if anything suspicious shipped out of the docks, but if anything has, it hasn't shown up as even a whisper on a manifest yet. Meanwhile, Choirboy and Daisy have been helping the elf hunt for slavers--"
"One group so far," Fenris added in a cheated snarl. "None of them talked."
Aveline sighed and pressed a hand over her eyes for a moment, her soup ignored despite the demanding rumble of her stomach. "Right. We'll treat this like a by-the-book missing persons investigation. Gather for orders."
While Fenris, all impatience, wanted to head straight for Minrathous, Aveline shut him down hard. "We check the closest targets first, Fenris. If you're right, we lose maybe a week by checking for evidence and being thorough. If you're wrong, we stand to lose over a month in travel time alone, only to come back to a cold trail. That won't help Hawke." The only response Aveline got to that was a snarl, but Fenris never pushed it far beyond that.
Merrill, also impatient, suggested using the bond between Hawke and the Warden prison key-dagger to track Hawke down by whatever means necessary. The hint at blood magic as a necessary evil in that scenario was obvious, and the reaction from the rest of the group was negative and bordered on violent, as Anders nearly slapped her for suggesting the use of blood magic in Hawke's name. Sebastian, by contrast, lambasted her with sermons and quotes from the Chant of Light for two solid hours. Varric, meanwhile, pointed out that without in-depth knowledge of the magic used to create the bond in the first place, Merrill stood to break that bond by accident and leave them with less than nothing. Aveline simply kept Merrill on field missions as much as possible to deny her the time needed to think up a ritual, never mind perform one. None of it mattered anyway, as Fenris refused to let the dagger leave his belt.
Therefore, they stuck to Aveline's plans. By day, Aveline led Fenris, Merrill and Sebastian on searches of the caves along the Wounded Coast, guided by Fenris because his knowledge of every slave holding cavern in the area was invaluable. Nights they spent on the streets and docks of Kirkwall, on the lookout from slaver gangs. Aveline hoped to track one of the groups to a home base where they might find Hawke or at least a clue to her whereabouts. Meanwhile, Varric kept checking his contacts for any word of clandestine shipments out of the docks, and sometimes accompanied Anders on his searches of the escape tunnels and sewers under Kirkwall. Despite the constant bickering, the six of them managed to carry out a clean, by-the-book investigation.
That pride became less of a comfort as days went by and 'by the book' only netted them empty caves and a great many dead slavers ... until, on the sixth day after Hawke's capture, they finally found a clue.
The note found on the body of the leader of the slaver pack pointed to a warehouse on the far west side of the docks as their base of operations, its door almost entirely hidden by crates and shadows. They slipped through the door into spice-scented silence and paused in the entryway, listening. Aveline, a four-year veteran of warehouse raids, murmured, "Someone's been here recently. Might still be here," she added.
She meant to warn them to be quiet and careful, but Fenris launched himself through the door and into the main warehouse with a shout of "Hawke!"
Sebastian stared after him in horror, saw where the elf's mostly-bare foot was going to land and cried, "Fenris, don't--!" The warning came too late; Fenris put his foot down on the trigger plate and went flying through the air as a nearby barrel exploded. "...step there," murmured Sebastian, apparently determined to finish his sentence no matter what.
Then the air filled with shouts and lit lanterns as the warehouse flooded with slavers. Aveline sighed and drew her sword. "Try to leave one alive," she ordered, and then waded into the fray, shield first to deflect a volley of arrows aimed at Fenris, prone on the floor.
What followed was a full ten minutes of combat that best fit the description of 'farce'. They were all too used to having someone quick and stealthy with a knife watching their backs, and while fighting in alleys and caverns allowed them to keep their backs to a wall, when they remembered to do so, the open space of the warehouse did not lend itself well for that kind of fighting. Sebastian took a sensible tack, keeping his back to the one wall not supporting a balcony and trying to cover the vulnerable backs of his companions, but the others were not granted such an opportunity. Merrill ended up backed into a corner with little room to manoeuvre and Sebastian had to keep shifting his focus from the melee fighters to Merrill so that he could shoot down slavers trying to stab the insufficiently armoured mage to death. This left Aveline to spend most of her time trying to keep attackers away from Fenris' unprotected back. Fenris, of course, was far too busy dealing death to those who had participated in Hawke's abduction to worry about little matters like his own survival, and Aveline vowed to explain to Fenris that he could not rescue Hawke and make Danarius pay if he died before the rescue could even begin.
Thankfully, they ran out of slavers before they ran out of endurance, though the icing on the whole mess came when Sebastian went to pin a slaver's shoulder to a wall; the slaver slipped in a pool of his fellows' blood and Sebastian's arrow caught him in the throat instead. Aveline sighed and rubbed her temples. "Search the place," she said, striving for her Guard-Captain's voice and taking appalled note of how tired she sounded. "See if they left any clues."
From the office area upstairs, there was a yell and a thump, and a lone man in leather armour careened backwards out the door and over the balcony to land on the stairs with a sickening crack. The four stepped forward, cautious and curious, to find that the man had a small dagger sticking out of his left eye as a familiar voice above them said, "No need."
They all looked up, surprised, to stare at the new arrival leaning over the balcony rail with varying degrees of wariness. After a moment, Merrill smiled and broke the silence. "Isabela! What are you doing here? None of us have seen you about in ages!"
Isabela sauntered down the stairs, a sheaf of paper in her hand and a slightly wry smirk on her face. "Well, after Lady Man-Hands here locked me in jail for a fortnight..."
Aveline glared at Isabela. "You were disturbing the peace!"
As if the whole subject was of no moment, Isabela shrugged. "Anyway, I was trying to keep out of your hair, but ... well, let's just say that word gets around when the Champion stops championing and Varric's contacts start nosing around the ... special imports business. So I did my own investigations, and they led me here. Coincidence; what can I say? How've you been, Kitten?"
Fenris glared. "Never mind that; what have you found?"
"I think it's an informal shipping manifest, mostly," Isabela told them, holding up her roll of papers. "Hard to say, since I don't really read Arcanum. There's a map, too, though; looks like they sailed out of here in a hurry, bound for Tevinter. Maybe a week ago."
"Six. Days." Fenris hissed the words, glaring at Aveline. "We could have been right on their rudders if--"
Aveline threw up her hands in exasperation. "With what ship, Fenris? What crew? Varric's been lining up some potentials, but who can we trust to take us out to Minrathous and wait for us to mount a rescue mission? And no, we can't fly under Kirkwall colours; even if the Viscount was alive to ask, Tevinter would take it as an act of war!"
Isabela leaned against a wall and smirked. "I might be able to help with that." As the three of them stared, Isabela went on to explain, "A friend of Martin's caught a bad case of the chokedamp and won't be seaworthy for at least a month. He owes me a favour; I think he'd let me have use of his ship and his crew for a modest fee, and his men'll be glad of the pay."
Aveline raised an eyebrow. "You expect us to trust you after you stole the Tome of Koslun when you knew we needed it to appease the Qunari?"
Sebastian cleared his throat. "Pardon me, but ... she did return it, and at considerable risk to herself. Andraste teaches forgiveness and absolution in the face of true repentance."
"If she hadn't stolen it in the first place," Aveline pointed out, "Hawke might not have had to fight that pointless duel. She nearly died."
"But ... Aveline, if it gets us a ship..." Merrill fixed big pleading elven eyes on Aveline. "They've already had her for six days. We don't have another week to waste finding another ship and captain. Anyway, she did the right thing in the end," she added, raising her chin. "I say we trust her."
Fenris nodded. "Agreed. Gather this crew, Isabela."
When Aveline still looked undecided, Isabela stepped down the stairs and over to Aveline. Face inches from that of the Guard-Captain and fire in her eyes, she said, "Hawke fought that duel for me. I owe her. You going to let me pay my debt, or what?"
Aveline studied Isabela's face for a long moment, then nodded with a small approving smile. "You and Varric see to the ship and supplies. The rest of us will work out some kind of plan."
Merrill beamed and said, "I hear Tevinter's lovely this time of year!" Then she met the glares that comment earned her and, after a moment, added, "Well, you all just groan and smile when Hawke says things like that, so someone had to!"
They stood and contemplated that for a moment, then shrugged to concede the point. Then they got to work.
Chapter 3: A Cunning Plan
Amidst discoveries, heart-to-hearts and attempts to keep optimistic, the crew head for Tevinter and plan a rescue.
When we find that son of a bitch, I'm going to kick him in the balls. Then I'm going to hold him upright so that Hawke can cut them off and stuff them down his throat. Then I'll pass around the rum and bar snacks while we watch Fenris remove his internal organs in alphabetical order. I should sell tickets.
Isabela watched with amusement and something that might have been awe as everyone pooled their available coin to pay for ship, crew and supplies. Aveline, after a talk with Donnic, contributed the little fund they'd put together for a family home in the nicer end of Lowtown. Anders put in what little he could - a handful of coppers, three silver and a single gold coin - and insisted that he had enough to keep the clinic going for awhile. Merrill, who occasionally sold herbal remedies at the Alienage's little market, threw in a handful of silver of her own, and Sebastian put in the entirety of his monthly stipend, eschewing even his tithe to the Chantry. "Her Grace will understand," he assured them. "And if she doesn't, the Maker will." Varric matched every contribution made and threw in another five gold besides with a quip along the lines that his last serial was more or less based on Hawke so she might as well see the profits. Isabela, not to be outdone, put in three gold and a handful of silver that she'd won at Wicked Grace, and actually found herself chagrined that she had drunk the rest away.
Then Isabela went with Varric to visit Bodhann, for his connections with food traders, and the whole thing turned out to be unnecessary. "I thought you might ask about something like this," he said, having more or less recovered from the panic attack he'd had when they'd told him Hawke was missing. "If you'll come through to the study, there's some things set aside for you." With that, he bustled off in the direction of the study.
Isabela looked at Varric, who shrugged. "When we get her out of this, Hawke can kill him for using her study to store salt beef and ... whatever else sailors eat."
When they followed Bodhann into the study, they were almost disappointed at the lack of crates of sailor's rations cluttering up the room. Instead, they found Bodhann knelt in front of a chest in a corner of the room - the one whose lock Isabela couldn't pick no matter how hard she tried. The reason for the extra-secure lock became clear when Bodhann lifted out a bag and tossed it to Varric, who opened it to show that it was full of gold coins. "Take what you need from there, but do put the rest back when you've the chance," he said. I'll get you a list of suppliers I know about from the expedition and you can see to payment on delivery. Any of you need weapons, feel free to browse. Any enchantments need doing on your arms and armour, see my boy."
"Enchantment!" piped Sandal from the front room.
Isabela looked at Bodhann, incredibly confused. "You're just ... handing us a sack of gold. Hawke's gold. That just happens to be lying around."
"It's the adventure fund," Bodhann said, as if it should be obvious. "Everything left over from adventures and such after the cost of upkeep on the estate and wages goes in here, for when she needs it for new weapons or armour for anyone, or the bits she has me slip Lirene for Anders' clinic and so on." When Varric and Isabela still looked stunned, he gave them a small, sad smile. "You keep her safe, messeres, at risk to yourselves. She always says the least she could do was keep you fed and armoured while you're doing it." Faced with yet more blank stares, Bodhann shrugged and said, "I'll be in the front room if you need me, compiling that list."
After Bodhann left, there was a long moment of silence in which Isabela and Varric just looked at each other. Varric finally broke the silence with, "...When we get her out of this, Rivaini, remind me to put her on my tab."
"She's already on your tab, Varric."
"Well ... I dunno. Something, anyway."
"You're about to go storm a magister's manor to save her delectable ass. I'm pretty sure that counts."
"Nah; that about makes up for my stupid brother's stupid crazy getting her sister tainted and Wardened in the Deep Roads." Varric looked positively brooding at that point. "Or possibly thanks her for getting me out of the way of awful life-draining blood magic back in the alienage."
Isabela sighed and clapped Varric on the shoulder. She knew a thing or two about things Hawke had done that were damn near impossible to repay. "You're a storyteller. You're inventive. You'll think of something."
Varric mustered a ghost of his usual smile. "I'll get her something nice from Tevinter. Maybe Danarius' head on a spike."
Isabela put on a look of wide-eyed woundedness. "But then what will Fenris get her for her birthday?"
Finally, Varric laughed. "Oh, I thought he'd give her Danarius' heart! But I forgot; he probably doesn't have one." It only occurred to him how frightening a concept that was in the metaphorical sense once the words had left his mouth and winced. "C'mon, Rivaini. Rescue first, divvy up magister body part gifting later."
Isabela, who had hidden her wince a little better, smirked. "You say the sweetest things, Varric."
Between gathering and loading supplies and dragging the crew out of various dockside drinking holes to sober them up for the voyage, it took another four days to get underway. Anders found an apostate from the underground to run the clinic in his absence ("It seems a safe enough place for someone to hide out for the moment," Anders added, glaring at Varric who just gave him an innocent look), Varric dealt with enough business for his affairs to run themselves for a couple of months or so, and Aveline set Brennan as temporary Captain of the Guard in her absence after a gruelling decision-making process. They finally sailed after their quarry on a grey and balmy day in Cloudreach, chafing under the knowledge that their quary had a head start of nearly a fortnight.
Isabela wanted to feel more frustrated and angry and impatient than she did. She was impatient and worried and angry - she had no precise idea of what Tevinters did to break their slaves, but the very idea of Hawke being submissive for anything other than a bit of bedroom play sat badly wrong with Isabela. However, nothing could take the joy from the fact that Hawke's misery had given her back a ship, even if only for a little while. She spent the whole first day happily shouting orders to her crew and planning their heading while the others huddled in the hold, discussing strategy. She felt bad about that, but also felt a certain amount of guilt that she was actually enjoying this rescue mission, rather than just driven to it by a sense of loyalty or duty. Or maybe that was just Isabela, able to see the bright side in nearly everything. Except maybe getting handed over to the Qunari. Hard to see a bright side to that one, except for maybe an exciting escape later.
Guilt and pleasure, all rolled up into one slightly nauseating package ... and too much to really contemplate while there was a crew to run. Rather than dwell on it, she pushed it aside for later consideration - maybe, if she felt like it - and turned her attention to her crew.
Much later, when the sun had vanished and the sky had turned twilight purple-grey, Isabela stood at the bow of the ship to feel the wind on her face. She only got to enjoy it for a moment, though, before a mildly accusatory voice said, "You're enjoying this."
Isabela turned to look at Fenris, eyebrow raised. "Look, I'm good at things I enjoy. All of the things I enjoy," she added, with a bit of a smirk - no serious flirting, but more of a friendly reflex. The glare she got from Fenris dragged a sigh out of her and she leaned her elbows on the rail, striking a somewhat relaxed pose. "Anyway, I perform at my best when I'm having fun. You need me at my best right now. And so does Hawke. Take all the fun out of it, and it'll just be a chore. I'll get distracted by something shiny and the whole thing goes to nug-nuggets. No one wants that." After a second's pause, she looked away from him, towards the horizon, and admitted, "Especially not me."
Fenris watched her for a moment, and then moved to stand beside her at the rail, leaning forward to face the open sea while Isabela leaned back to survey the borrowed ship. "You ... care for her, don't you."
Isabela shrugged. "And you're in love with her. Boy, you must be kicking yourself right now."
Fenris glared in her general direction - mostly at her hair, considering the angle. "So what if I am? Is it any business of yours?"
"Not really," Isabela made the admission with no reticence or hint at withdrawing the line of questioning. "She still loves you too, in case you were curious."
"She--" Fenris stiffened, then sighed and dropped his head so that his hair hung in his face. "She shouldn't. Her just knowing me has led her to this." After a pause, he added, "...it's been over a week, Isabela. I ... know what Danarius can do to someone in over a week. Even in a ship's cabin. She is strong, but..."
Isabela reached out a foot and kicked him in the ankle, and Fenris hissed and jerked away to rub his ankle and glare at her. She met the glare with equanimity and said, "Look, whatever happens, we're going to find her. Because of course Danarius is going to keep her alive to sort of flaunt his evil plan in your face or ... whatever it is that evil storybook moo-hoo-ha-ha magisters do. She's going to know that too, so she'll hold out as long as it takes. Because she is strong. And then we're going to hand Danarius his balls, his ass and his black festering boil of a heart. And then you're going to tell her that you love her too and whatever issues you need time to sort out will sort out with her help and it'll all be storybook happy ending sailing into the sunset tra-la-la. I swear, Fenris; you deny me my post-happy-ending friend fiction by being stubborn angsty porcupine broody-elf and I will set your smalls on fire."
For a long moment, Fenris just stared at her. Then, clearly in spite of himself, he gave a single dry chuckle. "You speak your mind; I'll give you that." He straightened to lean on the railing again. "Must be why you and Hawke get along so well."
"Varric, too," Isabela reminded him. "Don't forget Varric. We're sort of a not-so-secret guild of smart-assery."
While Fenris kept his face mostly hidden by his hair, Isabela was sure she heard a raised eyebrow and a shred of a smirk in his voice when he said, "So I've noticed."
They spent a long moment in companionable silence before a thought occurred to Isabela, who turned to Fenris and asked, "What are you doing out here, anyway? I thought great rescue missions were being planned down there."
Fenris' shoulders stiffened and he paused before replying in clipped tones. "We are. I ... needed some air. There are ... certain elements of the plan that need some refinement."
It was Isabela's turn to raise an eyebrow. "So ... kicking in the door's not on the cards anymore? I was looking forward to that."
"In order to pass unremarked through the streets of Minrathous," Fenris explained, every word sounding like it pained him, "one of us should appear as a magister. Preferably an actual mage. The others would be servants ... or slaves ... and thus beneath notice. That should get us to the doors of the manor without incident. Or at least," Fenris added with a roll of his eyes, "so Aveline suggests. I would prefer a more ... direct approach, but I suppose that would waste time and alert Danarius to our presence before we might wish him to know."
By that point, Isabela found herself outright staring at Fenris. "So ... wait a minute. One of those two is going to have to ... pretend to be a magister. With you and whoever else in their service." When Fenris responded with a miserable nod, Isabela chuckled. "Oh, have fun with that."
"Your sympathy warms my heart," Fenris growled at her.
To his further annoyance, Isabela only laughed. "Well, it could be worse. It can't be Anders. He's going to have to stay to help guard the ship. I mean, think about it; get him out on the streets of Minrathous for two minutes. He sees a slave being abused. Or a slave market. Or just a slave would do. Justice kicks off and suddenly it's blazing blue eyes and fights breaking out and the whole plan collapses from the start!"
Fenris looked at her for a moment, face suspiciously composed in contrast to the intensity of his glare. Then he nodded to her in that courteous way that was almost but not quite a bow. Then he headed back into the direction of the hold, where Isabela heard him call, "In answer to your question, apostate, I have a reason that you should not play the part of magister that goes beyond 'I will eat Sebastian's smalls before I take orders from you'."
Isabela's laughter could probably be heard in Ostwick.
Isabela was almost grateful that she didn't have time to watch Fenris coach Merrill in how to behave like a magister. She caught a few moments here and there, however, like the time she heard Fenris shouting, "Venhedis! This entire plan depends on your ability to behave like a cruel, entitled bitch on command! Now when I tell you to glare and bark orders, do so!"
Varric, sounding a little peeved, said, "Just do what he's doing to you now, Daisy, and you'll be fine."
"Oh, be serious." Anders had clearly had more than enough of the whole thing. "You're honestly telling me that every mage in Tevinter is a complete ass?" Then, with a scoffing sound, he added, "Well, now I begin to see where you got it from."
Aveline smacked Anders in the shoulder with one gauntlet-clad hand and barked a single word. "Hawke."
That word was their new shorthand, as they had been on the ship for a week and Aveline's speech about how Hawke was their friend and was relying on them to work together and they would only be able to save her if they set aside their differences or at least stopped bickering long enough to get something done once in awhile was getting a little repetitive. So she boiled it down to simply saying Hawke's name, counting on that to get them focused again. It generally worked, mostly because it was the one word no one really wanted to say but the one at the forefront of everyone's mind.
Unfortunately, they spent an extra three days becalmed at the mouth of Rialto Bay, which gave them yet more time to try to practice Merrill's magister act and complain to each other. Usually this was the part of the voyage where Isabela broke out the emergency rum, but it seemed like a bad idea when dealing with volatile men who wielded swords nearly as long as they were tall or threw fireballs for fun. Instead, she left them to it by day, occasionally seeing Fenris pace the deck or Merrill practicing her magister impression or Varric and Sebastian practicing archery. By night, she organised card games, including a memorable night of strip Diamondback when they all discovered that Fenris and Anders were not the only men among them with tattoos. Sebastian refused to talk about the rose tattooed on his right butt-cheek, but the teasing lasted a week and was a welcome distraction from the stress ... for everyone but Sebastian, anyway.
Finally, after three weeks of sailing, they saw the high stone walls and marble spires of Minrathous in the distance. Fenris watched their approach from the bow, an unreadable look on his face. All Isabela could do was squeeze his shoulder in passing and murmur, so no one else could hear, "We'll find her, Fenris." Then she gave him a light swat on the rump and added, "And you'll be a hero, and apologise for being an ass, and happy ending tra-la-la..." Then she moved to the tiller and started ordering her borrowed crew to make land.
Chapter 4: Welcome to Minrathous
Fenris arrives in Minrathous, expecting an attack. When it comes, it's in a form that none of them could have expected.
I once knew a people who were bold, strong, free with their affections. I was in awe of them, and owed them everything ... and I destroyed them all the same. Now I know a woman who is bold, strong, free with her affections. I am in awe of her, and owe her everything, and more. The pattern will not repeat. If it means my own life, she will be safe.
Fenris watched Merrill fidget with her magister robes with a disapproving expression. "You must stop fidgeting. A magister of Tevinter does not 'fidget'. Comport yourself with more arrogance, or this will never get us off the ship without notice, much less through the city."
It was easier to give free rein to his irritation than it was to actually deal with the situation at hand. His sleep had been poor for weeks, plagued as he was with nightmares. Most involved what Hawke might even now suffer at the hands of Danarius, and those were bad enough - to see her bound and bruised and bloody, helpless and afraid, every time he closed his eyes was torture. Then there was the other dream; the recurring nightmare that started as a memory. Once Hawke's grievous wounds were healed after the duel with the Arishok, the nobility of Kirkwall held a banquet in her honour, and all of her companions attended as guests of honour at her insistence. He met her at her estate, watched her descend the stairs in a dress of cream and red, and reached out a hand to her. In reality, he only took her arm and stepped out at her side, as a friend-escort and no more.
In the dream, it happened differently, and instead of merely tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow, he took her in his arms and pulled her close, as he had longed to do every moment since he left her bed, and Void take what memories and confusion might come afterwards. In the dream, she tilted her face up to his, his name unspoken on her lips and invitation in her eyes, and he bent his head to kiss her, hand reaching to bury itself in her soft dark hair. He felt it, in the dream, when the lyrium in his skin betrayed him, and instead of tousling hair, his hand sank into her skull, to rake into the tender meat beneath. He pulled back to see her eyes widen with pain and confusion, and then he pushed her away, watching frozen and horrified as the pain in her eyes faded and left only a confused blank of an expression, and she staggered backwards into the waiting arms of Danarius, who laughed...
Even in his waking hours, Fenris had a hard time driving that image out of his mind.
In times like these, Fenris found himself glad that he had never managed to let go of his hatred of Danarius, even if it did seep out to colour his view of mages in general. While often a handicap, in this situation he made use of it, channeled it into strength and determination. Guilt was not a luxury he could afford; it would only make him weak. Hawke needed his strength now more than ever, and he would provide it. The weakness of guilt could come later, when there was leisure to beg her forgiveness for what nightmare her association with him had made of her life this last month. Now he brought the hatred to the fore, cursed Danarius for his cowardice, for his refusal to face his former slave directly. For hiding behind Hawke, of all people. It was a relief to be free of self-loathing for awhile, even if it was only because all of his hatred was aimed at Danarius like a bolt from Bianca - sure-aimed, powerful and singularly deadly.
So he glowered at Merrill as the witch gave one last tug of the neckline of her robes and grumbled, "But they itch! And I feel ... well, naked and wrapped up like a parcel, all at the same time." Still, after that last fidget, she straightened her spine, drew her shoulders back and raised her chin. It would serve.
As Fenris gave her an abbreviated nod that was as close to approving as he would ever get, Aveline adjusted a strap on her own armour - not her Guard-Captain uniform but a particularly handsome piece that Sebastian said was an heirloom of the Champion of Starkhaven but Varric said was of dwarven make - and said, "All right. You have your story straight?"
Merrill cleared her throat and, in the voice Fenris had coached her on for weeks, said, "My name is Devera, a magister of Carastes. I have come to Minrathous to speak to Magister Danarius concerning his property, found washed up on the shore near to my estate." Then, in her own accent, she added, "Are we sure this will work? Danarius and his people ... they know all four of our faces. Shouldn't we take Sebastian and Isabela, even if we can't take Anders?"
Varric shook his head. "No can do, Daisy. We're probably going to come barreling out of the city like someone lit our asses on fire - which they might do, given magisters and all - and Rivaini needs to have us ready to cast off the second we get aboard. She and Blondie could use some help keeping anyone from boarding, too. And we can't take a Prince of Starkhaven in; Choirboy starts shooting and we've got an international incident on our hands."
"I don't know about you," Anders pointed out, still angry at not being able to participate more directly in the rescue, "but I'd say kidnapping the Champion of Kirkwall counts as an international incident all on its own. Would adding Starkhaven's Prince be any worse? You know, what with his giving up the throne and all."
Fenris saw another argument brewing, and was grateful when Varric stopped it dead. "Look, all the goons we saw in Kirkwall were hired from Kirkwall, or else left there to collect more ... 'merchandise'. The few we didn't kill for information, anyway. Look, this'll get us as far as the district where the magisters hang out, and we'll worry about the rest later. Now can we go before the elf explodes?"
They all looked at Fenris, who gave them a curt nod. "I will lead," he told them. "It would be my place to clear a path for..." He could not bring the words 'my mistress' to leave his mouth, so he simply gestured at Merrill and started over. "I am a shield against the common rabble. Varric, Aveline - flank her. Watch her back. The appearance of protective watchfulness will not be noticed; Minrathous is a perilous place. For all the power of the magisters, their dominance is often earned with the blood of their fellows."
Merrill nodded, took a deep breath and drew herself up just a little taller. "All right," she said, in her hard-won Tevinter imitation. "Let's go rescue Hawke."
"One moment." Fenris hesitated, then drew Hawke's blade - the key to the Warden prison bound to her by blood. After another second's pause, he handed it to Anders. The words nearly choked him, but he said them all the same: "Keep it safe."
Anders studied Fenris for a long moment - Anders who had never approved of Fenris, and had his own feelings for Hawke besides - and looked set to say all manner of things, none of them pleasant or helpful. Instead, he simply nodded and took the dagger. "Bring her back," he said.
Fenris nodded, then turned to take his place at the head of Merrill's 'entourage'. He left to the sound of Sebastian's prayers and Isabela's murmur of, "Good luck..."
It amazed Fenris, in a small way, that he had never realised how similar Minrathous was to Kirkwall. It was easy to forget that Kirkwall had once been a Tevinter colony, peopled with slaves, but the similarities in the architecture reminded any onlooker of Kirkwall's roots. The streets and slums were the same in both cities, all filth and rot and refugees - just from the war with the Qunari instead of the Blight. The only difference was that Hightown was higher, huge towers and spires at the city's heart ... and entirely devoted to the Circle of Magi. No Gallows prison for the mages here; in Minrathous, the Circle served the same purpose as the Viscount's Keep and Chantry did in Kirkwall.
It didn't feel like home anymore, if it ever truly had. He might take pleasure in that realisation if he didn't have so much else on his mind. However, he busied his mind with other things as his body went through the motions of bodyguard work as if he'd never been away; mostly, he hoped that Merrill managed not to betray her relative innocence in the ways of cities and decidedly un-magisterish conduct by staring at the market stalls, some of which openly sold components for blood rituals as they approached the city's heart. There had been none of Merrill's usual cheerful babble, however, and a distinct lack of gleeful squeaking, for which Fenris was profoundly grateful.
The entourage of elf, dwarf, human and elven 'magister' drew stares from the market crowd as they went. Most of them were simply stallkeepers and shoppers - servants and slaves, for the most part - and the general feeling from onlookers was nervous curiosity for the most part. Luckily, they turned their eyes back to their own business when Fenris glared at them. It made it difficult to tell if they had been recognised, but it kept the scrutiny of Merrill to a minimum, and that was the important thing. An elven woman with red hair caught his eye in one of the more prosperous parts of the marketplace, mostly because she appeared to be staring at them, but she turned away when he looked at her, and he only got a good look of the back of her head for a moment before she vanished into the crowd. Varric noticed Fenris' pause, the tightening of his shoulders, and muttered, "Problem, elf?"
Fenris pressed his lips together in frustration as he tried to put into words a concern he did not entirely understand. The red-haired elf hadn't been one of Danarius' servants during his time, not that he remembered, but Fenris had the distinct feeling that she had been watching them. "No," he replied, obviously meaning Yes, but nothing I can express out in the open like this. "We should move on. By your leave," he added, as an afterthought but still with a respect he never used with Merrill as he bowed to his 'mistress'.
Merrill, who had been covering their brief pause by casting an eye over a selection of staves on offer at a nearby market stall, nodded with an arrogant pride that chilled Fenris' heart a little. He hoped that the witch would revert to her usual good-natured ways when their mission was over. The world had enough arrogant, overbearing blood mages without adding another to their ranks.
With an effort, he pushed the thought aside as one more distraction they didn't need and carried on through the marketplace, watchful for that bright red hair as much as for any more obvious threat.
They reached the stairs leading up to the Circle District without further incident, if not without many more stares from those they passed on the streets. Not an optimistic person by nature, Fenris wondered how many of them had his description, if runners had already been sent to Danarius' manor to inform him of the return of 'his property' to the city, and what would greet them at the manor gates. As he led the way, letting his feet choose their own path through Minrathous' most prosperous district, he pondered tactics for various combat scenarios, starting with a squad of guards in the Circle District's main courtyard and working his way to kicking in Danarius' front door. For once, he indulged in an uncharacteristic level of trust in his companions; they had fought at his side, if only for Hawke's sake in the case of the witch, for years. They could not fail to do so now, when the battles to come literally were for Hawke's sake. The thought of trusting so completely was nearly as stressful as the fight to come, and almost as much of a relief. Stealth and patience were not his stocks in trade. Fenris, still raging at the events that had led him back to the last place on earth he wanted to be and the plight of the one person he had allowed himself to care for in so many years, just wanted someone to fight.
Be careful what you wish for occurred to him perhaps a second too late. The attacker came from literally nowhere - one moment, he felt the empty space between himself and Merrill (four paces, as custom and safety demanded), and the next he felt another presence intruding on his personal space. He reached for his sword and began to twist his body to face the sudden threat--
Before his hand reached halfway to his sword hilt, Fenris felt an all-too-familiar buzz of lyrium, and then a hand plunged itself into his back to the wrist without so much as parting the skin.
While he had reached into the internal organs of many people since receiving his markings, Fenris had never given any consideration to what his victims felt beyond the fact that their facial expressions suggested great pain. The reality of it was beyond pain; he had no words to describe it. The sensation was of a living hand of frozen lyrium, cold enough to burn, invading his body, disrupting its functions. It passed through his spine and robbed his legs of strength. It stirred the contents of his stomach until he was too nauseous to even vomit, then pressed his lungs until he could not breathe. Finally, most terrifying of all, he felt those cold astringent fingers gently cup his heart and squeeze as if testing its ripeness.
Then it was gone, leaving him to collapse to his hands and knees, choking and retching, too shaken to even wonder at how...
And then something hard struck the side of his head in an explosion of a far less complicated pain, and the world went black.
Chapter 5: Recapture and Bargaining
On finding himself back in Danarius' possession, Fenris makes a bargain to secure freedom for his friends, and for Hawke. It does not go as expected.
In conversation with Fenris once, he said that some things were worse than slavery, and I said that some were worse than death. I never wondered what would happen if anyone had to make the choice between one or the other for someone else.
Fenris woke in a small, windowless cell with his hands chained behind his back, too groggy and sick to process much beyond his immediate surroundings and what they meant in terms of his mission. He could not fade through his bonds - likely they were threaded with the same lyrium as his armour - and the light of a single torch set high into the wall opposite him illuminated the thick stone walls and heavy wooden door. Even if he could get out of his chains, he would find it impossible to escape unless his captors gave him a great deal of recovery time before coming to check on him, as the violation of someone's hand in his torso had robbed him of the ability to ambush anyone who came through the door even given his freedom. All he could think was, Forgive me, Hawke... over and over again. He had set out to rescue her, and had failed in spectacular fashion.
Not long after Fenris woke, when his head finally began to clear a little, the door to his cell opened. Danarius stepped in, wearing the self-satisfied smirk he wore in all of Fenris' recent nightmares, and the sight of him made Fenris sick all over again, though this time the source of his nausea was pure hate. "Ah, my dear Fenris," he said, that oily voice almost more than Fenris could bear. "How I've missed you, dear boy."
It took an awkward tilt of his head and neck, but Fenris looked the magister in the eye. "I am no longer yours, Danarius." Then he tried a small smirk of his own and answered as Hawke might have done. "Besides, isn't claiming two such gifted bodyguards a little greedy? One would think a magister powerful as you claim to be would not need so much protection."
To Fenris' chagrin, Danarius only chuckled, an indulgent sound that carried hints of cruelty. "Ah, Fenris. How little you understand. But your concern is touching. You have not forgotten your duties, then, to come all this way to assure yourself of my well-being."
"I am not here for your well-being, Danarius. Quite the opposite." Fenris struggled into a sitting position - difficult with the chains fastened to the wall as they were, but not impossible.
"Ah, you are here for your Champion, then." The self-satisfied smile, infuriating and galling, deepened just a fraction as Danarius inspected his nails as if to check for accumulated grime. Dried blood, perhaps, from a certain Champion - or at least, so said Fenris' rapidly sinking heart. "She is mine, now. Although I imagine you intended that to be a topic for negotiation?"
Fenris took a deep breath and swallowed pride and bile both. He had hoped it would not come to this, but in the event that combat failed, he had one last plan to secure Hawke's freedom. It was a longer shot than he would have liked now, considering how he had been captured, but as Danarius had not had him killed outright, there was still a chance. "Free Hawke, and the others, and ... I will return to your service. Willingly, and without a fight."
It cost him everything to say those words. He had fought for his freedom for so long that he knew no other way, and the idea of returning to slavery would have made him vomit had he anything in his stomach to bring up. The fact remained, however, that his friends - Varric and Aveline, and even Merrill - and the only person he could remember loving were prisoners of Danarius, and it was all because of him. If offering himself would make it right, perhaps slavery would be worth it. In the moment's pause as he waited for Danarius' reply, his mind went over the terms he would need to set - he would need to be allowed to speak to Hawke, and perhaps Varric, before they were released. He would have to tell them not to rescue him; to risk themselves again for something he had willingly undertaken would be pointless. If he could only convince them that it was for the best--
His chain of thought broke as Danarius gave his response, and it took the form of fond, amused laughter. Danarius was laughing at him, and Fenris snarled and strained against his bonds, seeing nothing but red rage and not a thought in his head beyond ripping Danarius' laughing, smirking head from his body. At that reaction, Danarius only laughed a little louder. "With a reaction such as that, my little wolf, you wonder why I doubt your offer?" Then he shook his head. "Besides, you are no longer as ... unique as you once were. I see little benefit in this for me." With that, he turned his back on Fenris and walked towards the door to the cell.
"Let me fight this other, then!" Rage and desperation ripped the words out of Fenris without his brain being particularly involved. "You set the terms. If I win, Hawke is freed. My companions as well. If I lose ... you have your slave, regardless."
Danarius paused in the doorway and turned to Fenris. While he wore a thoughtful expression, there was a glint in his eye that Fenris found unsettling. "That ... could be interesting. I am hosting a banquet this evening, and entertainment would be most welcome."
Fenris glared at his former master. "I will strive to make the occasion memorable."
A moment passed, and then Danarius nodded, that disturbing glint still in his eye and satisfaction in his smile. "Agreed, then. You should rest, my dear boy. You will need it."
Even as Fenris framed a comeback in his head, Danarius raised a hand and Fenris felt the sleep spell take hold. He opened his mouth to curse the blighted magister, but passed out of consciousness without knowing if he ever spoke the words.
When Fenris woke, he found himself unchained, lying on a cot in a room he recognised as quarters for Danarius' kitchen slaves. His sword - a gift from Hawke; a greatsword with a serrated edge as well as a smooth one, with a beautifully worked pommel done in heartwood and gold filigree - lay on the floor at his side. Two guards stood at the door, faces impassive. Had Fenris wanted to escape alone, he could simply have cut them down and been out the window with no one the wiser.
But there was Hawke to consider. Varric and Aveline, and Merrill to an extent, but mostly Hawke. So he stood up and, instead of taking up his sword to cut his way to freedom, he picked it up and slung it into its familiar position on his back. Then he simply waited.
He just had time to wonder what the reaction would be to his taking a drink from the pitcher of water on a nearby table when an elven woman entered the room - a red-haired elven woman, and now he saw her face. The features were familiar, somehow; the slope of the nose, the shape and shade of the eyes ... it was, in a way, like looking in a mirror, but he could not fathom why until she spoke. "It really is you."
Memories assaulted him then - of a childhood wiped nearly clean from him, only returned in ghosts and shadows after one night of pleasure and pain in equal measure ... and of words spoken by a magister he hated nearly as much as Danarius himself. You have a sister, Hadriana had told him ... and the resemblance between this woman and what he saw in the mirror the few times he bothered to look sparked off enough recall to give him a name. "...Varania." He shook his head to clear it, to dismiss memory to its rightful place in the depths of his mind. He had a battle to fight, and Hawke's freedom hung in the balance; he should be planning strategy, not focusing on a past long lost. Yet it stood before him, and all he could see was a very old memory, of a time when he was young and unmarked, when his hair was dark and his face far more innocent and... "We played together. While Mother worked."
Varania sighed. "Yes. Your name - the name Mother gave you - is Leto."
Confused, Fenris blurted, "What are you doing here? I heard you were not a slave. Are you Danarius' servant, then?"
She looked away from him, bit her lower lip. "No. I am his apprentice. He will make me a magister, in time. For reporting your arrival."
Fenris could only stare at her for a long moment, his mind almost entirely blank. He did not remember whether or not magic ran in his family, that his sister was a mage, what she had to do with Danarius. Part of him wanted to kill her for betraying him, but while he had some designs on tracking down the sister Hadriana had mentioned with her last few breaths, he had not been able to invest much time or effort into the search. Now his rage was tempered with relief that he had not spent coin and time on someone who would betray her own blood kin without so much as a thought if it meant advancement for her. "Why are you even here? If you willingly hand me over to Danarius, why find me now? If you want me to ease your conscience, don't bother."
"He told me to come," she told him, still not meeting his eyes. "I'm supposed to bring you to the courtyard; the duel will be held there. He ... wants you distracted, Leto--"
"Don't." Fenris turned his face away from her. "Don't call me that." Fenris was the name that Danarius gave him, true ... but it was also the name his friends knew. The name Hawke knew. He wanted no other name. Particularly not from this witch who shared his blood. "Just ... do your duty. Bring me to this duel. And don't speak to me again."
Varania stepped forward, hand extended as if to touch his arm, his shoulder, maybe even his face. "L-- Fenris, listen. You don't--"
He slapped her hand away and glared at her. "Don't touch me. Just get on with it. And be grateful circumstances are as they are," he added, venom in his tone. "If I were free, you would be dead by now."
A long moment ticked by as Varania looked at him, clearly struggling and remorseful. Fenris took no satisfaction from her troubled expression and simply stared her down. Finally, she bowed her head and said, "This way."
"I know the way." Still, he followed her, flanked by the guards, through the dining room in which he had poured so much Aggregio Pavali - and likely would again, things being as they were - and out the wide glass doors into the courtyard.
Sunset threw the shadow of the manor across the stone-paved space that Danarius used for outdoor parties and occasional large-scale blood rituals. On the upper-floor balconies, Fenris saw magisters on comfortable padded benches, their slaves behind them. Danarius sat in a chair that more resembled a throne than anything else, which sat in a place of honour right above the doors to the dining room. Fenris finally had a moment to wonder why the mind games, why Danarius had taken such pains to keep him from being able to think about this duel overmuch. The sleep spell, his betraying witch of a sister - there was purpose to it, as there were to all the games Danarius played. And now he had no time to puzzle out the answer, as Danarius gave a brisk double-clap of his hands and announced him: "The challenger - my Fenris."
There was polite applause, and more than a few titters of anticipation. Protocol demanded he bow, but for the moment at least, he was free of such things. Instead, he stood and fixed them all with his most intimidating stare before locking his eyes on Danarius.
"And my new champion," said Danarius, and made a beckoning motion to the shadows behind his chair.
A shadow moved, and a black-clad figure with silver-white hair stepped around the chair, rested a foot on the balcony railing and leapt, twisting in mid-air to land in a deep bow before Danarius, one knee bent, arms extended with her fingers nearly brushing the stone flooring. And it was 'her', Fenris noted, his heart starting to flutter in his chest; the curves under the close-fitting black leather armour, rather less bulky than his own, were female, and clearly human - she was too tall, too sturdy to be an elf, and there was no tell-tale protrusion of pointed ears from her short, shaggy mop of white hair so like his own. He could see the lyrium tattoos on what of her skin showed beneath her armour, noted that the skin around them was still red and irritated. The markings were recent, surely no more than a week old.
"Face your opponent, my dear," Danarius called from his high seat, and Fenris closed his eyes, pleading with a Maker he was unsure whether to believe in that he was wrong, that it wasn't...
She stood and turned in one smooth, graceful motion, and her bright blue eyes skated over him, assessing and cataloguing. There was not even a glimmer of recognition in those eyes as she studied him as she had hundreds of bandits, slavers, darkspawn and kossith over the years. Worse, because there had been glimmers of challenge and humour when she looked at those other opponents, and now there was nothing but a cold, emotionless blank. Fenris could only stand and stare at her, and tremble, and fail to bite back the hitching indrawn breath and the whisper, "...Hawke..."
She did not react or respond until Danarius spoke again, and his heart broke as he realised that Danarius had made his hell hers. And then the magister's words registered, and the terms ripped his heart all over again.
"The duel is to the death." Hawke drew her blades and took a defensive stance Fenris knew all too well. "And ... fight!"
Chapter 6: The Duel
Fenris fights a duel that puts Hawke's life and freedom - and his own - in his hands.
Oh, I know it seems worrying now, but it wouldn't be a good story if things didn't get a little tense. I mean, things always work out in the end, don't they? At least in Varric's stories, they do. And Hawke always says she's ... um ... 'epic narrative's bitch' and ... that's good, isn't it?
Fenris dodged left on instinct, which was all that spared him from getting Hawke's right-hand dagger plunged through his throat. That same instinct had his sword drawn and angled protectively across his body before he even knew what his hands were doing. Hawke's backswing skated across the greatsword's blade and Fenris leapt backwards, trying to put some distance between them. He needed time to think - just a moment would do - but he was fairly sure he didn't have that kind of time. Four years and more had taught him just how deadly Hawke could be, and unlike in their sparring sessions, she would not content herself with showing him the flats of her blades this time.
Her master had ordered a fight to the death, after all.
Fenris forced the thought away and kept his sword angled between his body and Hawke's daggers as she danced right, searching for an opening. There was no time for grief; he had to decide what to do, however unpalatable the options seemed. More to the point, he had to stay alive long enough to decide. Which would be harder than he liked to consider, he realised as Hawke exploited his moment of distraction and opened a gash in Fenris' left shoulder before he could avoid it.
He could, theoretically, kill Hawke. It would spare her a life of servitude to Danarius, at least, and having killed Hawke would ensure that the others did not risk themselves to rescue him. They would see it as betrayal, and rightly so, and leaving him to Danarius would be justice enough for them, surely. He would have the punishment he richly deserved, and Hawke would be free, just as Danarius had said - oh, and how bitter that thought was now.
He lashed out with the greatsword in an experimental strike, as much to see if he could move against her as anything else. If he was honest with himself, he expected her to dodge; even if Hawke's mind held no memory of her life prior to the markings, her body had a memory of its own, and it obviously remembered combat well enough. She dodged, but either she misjudged the length of the blade or his arm, because she didn't dodge fast or far enough, and the graceful dive turned into a stagger and stumble as he tore a furrow through her leather armour and her upper arm both. In the second it took her to regain her balance, he saw his opening. A single, merciful blow to the neck would serve.
Once a slave, always a slave?
He had killed the Fog Warriors once, on his master's command. He had only known freedom for a few months, then. Now he had years of it, and killing on command did not come so easily when the victim was someone he admired. For someone he loved, it did not come at all. There was a chance that she might yet be rescued, or that she could achieve her freedom as he had his own, and he could not take it from her. Particularly as he doubted that Danarius would be merciful enough to erase his memory when this was over, preferring to let guilt and grief break his spirit instead.
Instead of following up his strike, he stepped back, lowering his sword. The other option, as he saw it, was to let Hawke kill him. She would live, and one way or another, she would gain her freedom; if he could manage it, Hawke definitely would. Circumstances seemed to bend themselves that way for her. And, of course, there was the high likelihood of rescue from outside sources - Danarius now not only held the Champion of Kirkwall hostage, but the Captain of the Guard as well, and a well-known merchant prince of a dwarf who kept his affairs in so convoluted an order that no one could make heads nor tails of them, let alone profit from them, without said dwarf around to decipher things. And sooner or later, Hawke would regain her life and perhaps even parts of her memory...
...and she would remember killing someone she cared about. That would kill her more surely than any blade, and Fenris knew it. He could not kill her, but he could not subject her to that guilt, either.
He got his sword up just in time to deflect Hawke's rush and strike, but was knocked staggering by the impact. By some chance, she stumbled over one of his feet and staggered herself, which bought Fenris a moment of breathing space even as her boot bruised his instep and turned his faltering backward progress into a half-drunk stagger that almost landed him on his ass.
The third option - the only one that had any hope of not ending in tears - was so alien to him that he barely understood it when it crossed his mind. Varric was on the premises somewhere, surely, and he was a wonder with locks. If anyone could break out of a cell, it was Varric. Even if not, they were still not alone in Minrathous. Isabela, Sebastian and Anders must be worried by now; they had surely been gone too long. Word of an event like this duel would pass quickly through the marketplace, and Isabela was very good at ferreting out gossip. Fenris had never had back-up to rely on before, and had difficulty accepting even the possibility of it now, but given his other options, he would gladly take the risk of trust this once. If he could just hold out for long enough, keep Hawke from killing him without hurting her too badly in the process, rescue would come.
And if it didn't ... he would burn that bridge when he came to it.
When she faded into the shadows cast by the manor, Fenris readied himself and watched the shadows carefully, waiting for her to appear--
--at his back, as she had with so many opponents before him. But he was prepared for it, and timed the swing of his blade just right. The flat of the blade struck her shoulder and sent her flying to land in a carefully calculated crouch ten paces away. She held that tense pose and eyed him for a moment, expression one of calculation and assessment. There was still no recognition in her face, but Fenris clung to that one second with a surge of stupid hope and murmured, so that only she could hear, "Hawke ... please. Remember."
Instead, she leapt, aiming the metal spur attached to her boot for his head and her blades for the relatively unprotected spot below his breastplate. He turned his head and raised his blade as he dodged and managed to keep both blows from doing too much damage, but Hawke had always been faster than he was, and now was no exception. The dagger scored a line of blood and pain across his side, and the heel spur scraped across his cheekbone before he could swat her away with the flat of his blade again. "Hawke!"
Fenris kept hoping that she would react to the name, but he might as well have been speaking of the bird for all the recognition she showed. Her next attack was almost tentative, and as Fenris swatted her away again, he realised that she was testing his defences, looking for a weakness to exploit. He gritted his teeth and tightened his grip on his sword hilt as he followed her with his eyes, determined not to give her one. He decided to view it as just another training exercise, to forget about the eyes of the magisters watching from above and make it into the friendly sparring game of the sort he and Hawke had played for the last four years. If - no, when they both got out of this, it would be good practice for whatever battles would come to them next.
It went on like that for some time - Fenris lost track soon after he made the decision to stall matters and pray for rescue. Sometimes he used the flat of his sword as a shield to deflect point-first strikes of Hawke's daggers; other times he parried, keeping the edge of his sword between her dagger-edges and his vulnerable hamstrings, abdomen, throat and eyes. Mostly, though, he took every opportunity to swat her away from him with the flat of his blade or knock her aside with a pulse from his lyrium markings, as distance was the best defence against her close-range attacks. Neither of them escaped this unscathed - both bore nicks and cuts and bruises from the other's attacks - but none of the wounds were life-threatening, and Fenris began to feel hopeful in spite of himself as the light faded from the sky and the magisters used magic to illuminate the courtyard. Soon, flickering shadows and an eerie blue glow spread across the field of battle.
Unfortunately, the new shadows gave Hawke a new advantage - unlike Fenris, Hawke fought best from stealth and shadows. He kept a close watch every time she faded into the darkness, and somehow managed to meet her oncoming strike in time to prevent her from landing a killing blow, but each time it got a little harder, and keeping one step ahead of Hawke pushed Fenris to the limits of his endurance. So when Hawke melted into the shadows yet again, Fenris tried to keep an eye on her but mostly he used the moment to catch his breath, praying that whatever rescue might be impending would happen soon, before one or both of them flagged so badly that an incapacitating strike became inevitable.
A movement in the shadows caught his eye, and a second later, a small vial smashed to pieces at his feet. The air filled with a sweet, cloying scent and Fenris suddenly found it hard to focus. She still has those flasks...
Then even that thought was gone, and all he could cling to was that he was in combat, and a dual-wielder was involved - perhaps one of those rogues from the Coterie - and then he caught movement behind him, just at the edge of his peripheral vision. He spun on his heel and lashed out at the attacker on instinct.
And this time he used the edge of his blade.
His head cleared almost immediately, as if the fumes from the flask had conspired with Danarius to bring Fenris the utmost suffering. He saw Hawke soar, trailing heavy drops of blood, until her back hit the wall to the left of the manor's double doors. She landed on her knees and dropped both daggers so that she could press her hands to the bloody gouge across her upper abdomen. For a moment, she simply knelt there, peeling one hand from the wound with dazed, pained disbelief. Then she looked up at Fenris, and for the first time since her disappearance, he saw recognition in her face - not of him (or at least he prayed she didn't; surely the Maker was not so cruel as to let her remember him as being her killer...), but of mortality, of her own imminent death.
Then Hawke pitched forward to lie, bleeding and immobile, face-down on the stones of Danarius' courtyard.
Over the sudden ringing blankness in his head, Fenris barely heard the clatter of his sword on the flagstones as it fell from his hand, or Danarius, voice full of smug self-satisfaction, call out, "My champion!"
Chapter 7: Life After Death
Fenris faces Danarius for the last time as rescue comes entirely out of left field.
Someone really needs to remind my sister that she is not immortal, whatever Varric says about his stories.
Fenris slowly realised that he was spattered with Hawke's blood. What had once flowed through her veins, stained her cheeks with blushes, even opened the prison of a Blight-tainted magister now lay wet and heavy on his face, his forearm, the breastplate of his armour. He was, he realised, wearing the last of her life, and found himself unable to decide whether to leave it there until it wore off on its own or to wash it away as soon as he was allowed. It was the last thing he would have of her - reminder and recrimination both - and for all the magisters talked of the power of blood magic, the true magic of this blood was that it had once been Hawke's, had fueled her mind and body, had held her life. He did not want to part with it, but he did not feel worthy of it either.
All of this thought of blood was far easier than the ever-present knowledge that he had been the one to spill it.
Fenris ached to run to Hawke, to lift her face from the paving stones of the courtyard and hold her in his arms. To kiss her good-bye, to apologise. To beg her to open her eyes and breathe. Something. Anything. Hawke deserved better than this, than to be killed by a magister's cruelty and a single dazed elf and be left in a careless, lifeless, bloody sprawl to be discarded by house-slaves like day-old rubbish. He knew he owed it to her to do something, say something, somehow honour and mark her passing, but he could not seem to move. He felt so heavy all of a sudden, as if someone had encased him in a layer of stone and left him frozen in place so that all he could manage was to stand and stare Hawke's outstretched hand in its smear of blood a few paces away.
The one thing he would not do was weep. To shed tears here, under the eyes of magisters and slaves and Danarius ... Tevinter had taken everything except his tears, and if he had to shed them, it would be in private. He would keep that much. They might see him submit and serve, but they would not see him grieve. So perhaps it was just as well that he could not move to touch Hawke now.
Time must have passed, though Fenris barely noticed until the hem of a magister's robes filtered into his peripheral vision. He tilted his head a little and found himself looking at what had to be Danarius' shoes, peeping out from the bottom of his robes. That was when he noticed the silence. The other magisters had left, probably to allow Danarius to deal with his runaway slave in peace. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore except the fact that he would not shed tears here. Instead, he closed his eyes, head still lowered, and waited.
"I see you remember your training," Danarius said, and Fenris could hear the whip-crack smirk in the magister's voice, and hated him. "And added a few new tricks to your repertoire. You have done me proud, my pet."
Fenris shut his eyes tighter and pressed his lips together, letting his hair hide the expression. He might not deserve the indulgence of showing his emotions on his face, but he would have it, if only once more. He let that and the slight tightening of his shoulders be his only response to the praise. He waited.
"Nothing to say?" Danarius made a soft tutting sound. "Well, I suppose you always did serve best as strong but silent."
The silence spun out between them as Danarius let the implication sink in, as Fenris tried to frame the words he would need to say and force them out past the lump in his throat. "The dwarf. The human. The elf." He struggled with phrasing, tried not to frame it as a request or a question, tried not to inject need into his words. "The arrangement was that they be released."
"The arrangement was that they be freed, dear boy. Perhaps as your erstwhile replacement was freed; we never specified." Danarius let the widened smile be heard in his voice, let his words hang in the air, but Fenris did not react beyond a mild further tightening of his shoulders. He had years of practice in refusing to react to Danarius' little cruelties, and while he was out of practice, he at least knew enough not to explode - not now, when one wrong word or twitch would end with the blood of more friends on his hands. After a long moment, Danarius sighed. "I could be persuaded to return them to Kirkwall, I suppose. Given incentive enough."
Eyes still closed, head still bowed, Fenris knew what he should say. He also knew that it would be better if he offered it freely. Danarius would be pleased with that, enough so to keep his word and set the others free. Perhaps even pleased enough to wipe Fenris' memory again, and that was more incentive than he could say, because he did not want his memories anymore, not if they included Hawke looking at him with the cold, indifferent eyes of a stranger, or her falling on her face in a smear of her own blood from his killing blow.
The problem was, every time he tried to fit the words past his teeth, he heard Hawke's voice in his head, crying Fenris is a free man! All she had ever wanted for him was his freedom, and he was about to throw it away. However much that was his intention, he could not make the first move towards returning to his life of servitude in so blatant a way, not when Hawke stood to gain nothing from it - not when she had fought so many slavers over the years so that he could be free, and now lay dead as a nearly direct result. It was an insult to her memory. Instead, he gritted his teeth and, head still lowered, said, "Name your terms."
Danarius let out a small snort of laughter and said, "Very well, then. To allay your ... squeamishness." Which would be dealt with, said the magister's tone, and dealt with severely. "Will you return to your rightful place in my service?"
Fenris took a deep breath. This, he could do. It was just two words, three syllables. He would take one last look at what he had done to Hawke, to steel his resolve, and then he would raise his head and say yes. He would call Danarius 'master'. It would be over, once and for all - freeedom, love, any remote chance of happiness. It would almost be a relief, to give in to the inevitable.
He opened his eyes and tilted his head.
All he saw was a smear of blood, and no sign of Hawke's hand at all.
Fenris blinked, eyes widening in confusion, and he looked up at Danarius. The magister himself looked confused and a little disconcerted, and his head tilted to try to catch whatever had garnered such a reaction from 'his little wolf'.
Then Danarius' body jerked, and his face contorted with pain, and Fenris looked down a little to see the tips of two blades protruding, red and dripping, from Danarius' chest. For a second, it was all Fenris could do to keep himself from indulging in the need to flail his arms around and shout, 'WHAT THE BLIGHT-TAKEN VOID IS GOING ON?', which was about the only thing he could think at that point.
Then he noticed Hawke peering over Danarius' shoulder. Her eyes still held pain, still held no recognition of Fenris as her friend and more of many years, but there was a sort of recognition there, regardless - they had both suffered the same agony in the receipt of their markings, and Fenris had borne them longer than she had. She held the feebly struggling Danarius upright on her blades but had elected not to kill him. Even without remembering a shred of the history, she simply pinned the magister and held him up to offer Fenris - the one she perceived as the most injured party in this - the killing blow she felt was his by right.
Everything was a jumble of random information to Fenris in that moment - Hawke had survived; Hawke had been feigning death to lure Danarius here, perhaps; Hawke did not remember enough to hate him but had intuited enough to plan this moment... And all of it could wait. Before Danarius could try anything magical, Fenris let himself flare blue-white and sideslip just that little way into the Fade before he said, meaning the word with all his heart, "No."
Then he plunged his hand into Danarius' chest, savagely glad that he now knew first-hand the pain he caused the one that had brought his life to such misery and ruin, and seized the still-beating heart. He looked into Danarius' eyes, let his lips twist into a tight, cruel smile, and tore the organ from the magister's chest, holding it in front of his face so that he could see it before he finally died. Then he let Danarius' heart fall to the floor and stamped on it, as if to be sure.
Hawke watched the whole thing over Danarius' shoulder, breath shallow and struggling but with a certain amount of interest and a spark of wry amusement that Fenris, when he saw it, found singularly comforting. Then she turned Danarius' body sideways, planted a foot into the small of his back and shoved him off her daggers. "Well," she said, voice hoarse and broken. "Took you long enough." Then she coughed, wrapping one arm loosely around her middle as if for protection, or to keep her innards from escaping through the wound she'd taken. When she got her breath back, she looked up at him and said, "Now, shall we get out of here before the welcome wagon arrives? I don't think the staff is exactly going to hail us as conquering heroes after this."
Fenris stared at her for a moment, too stunned to speak ... and then all he could do was laugh, helplessly. Memory or no, it seemed that Hawke would never entirely change.
Chapter 8: Damage Assessment
Fenris gets a closer look at the full extent of the damage Danarius has done, and an idea of the odds on making things right.
Blessed are they who stand before
The corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.
-- Benedictions 4:10, courtesy Sebastian
Hawke flinched and staggered, her arm tightening across her middle in that protective gesture as she leaned against the wall. Fenris' self-recrimination kicked him out of his borderline hysterics in the most thorough and abrupt way possible; his sword-strike might not have killed her outright, but Hawke was losing a great deal of blood and instead of being remotely helpful, he stood there chuckling like an utter fool. His laughter died in his throat as he reached out to Hawke - to steady her, perhaps take her arm away from her midsection to gauge the extent of her injury. "Hawke--"
He never got near her. When Fenris reached for her, she staggered backwards and raised the arm not shielding her wound to ward him off, dagger at the ready. Horrified, Fenris met her eyes and saw wary, suspicious aggression: What the hell do you think you're doing? Did I say you could touch me?
Even as he raised his own hands in a gesture of surrender and backed two steps away from her, Fenris felt his heart break yet again. For all the difficulties and complications with their relationship, she had never shied away from his touch. It was yet another reminder - Hawke did not know him. Perhaps she was still fundamentally the same person at heart, but all she truly remembered was being a magister's newest plaything. Small wonder she reacted so badly to being touched. "I ... apologise. I..." He struggled for something to say, and could only manage the painfully obvious: "...you are wounded."
With a slightly exasperated noise, Hawke half-shrugged that away. In that same hoarse and broken voice, she said, "I'll manage." As she spoke, she turned and staggered towards a row of hedges at the edge of the courtyard. It was not a bad direction in which to travel, for an escape, if one could avoid the guards - beyond the hedges stood a wall, and beyond that was an alley. It might be a difficult climb for Hawke in her current condition, but it was entirely likely she could do it out of spite. Were they planning to escape alone, that would be the best way.
However, it could not be that easy. Fenris turned and reached out a hand to touch Hawke's shoulder as she passed, but recalled her initial reaction and checked the motion. Instead, he said, "Wait. There are others. The ... human, dwarf and elf I mentioned. They--" He stopped there, unsure how to put it. Should he point out that those held in Danarius' dungeons were Hawke's friends; that they had come to rescue her and she should return the favour? None of that would mean anything to Hawke, though it might spark some kind of memory. And of course, every moment he spent debating phrasing brought Hawke just a little closer to bleeding to death. Which finally gave him his explanation: "One of them is a mage. The elf. She ... has some limited healing magics." He shot a short but meaningful look at her midsection.
The wary, mildly antagonistic look crossed Hawke's face again. "They came with you." Still that croaking voice, and Fenris tried very hard not to think about when he had sounded like that - when he had heard the ruination of his own voice and realised that he must have screamed until his throat nearly burst during the extended period of agony that was his first true memory. "They came to ... rescue you."
Fenris shook his head, and found he could not look her in the face. "They came with me," he agreed, "but ... we came to rescue you."
She paused a moment, looking at him (or so Fenris assumed, at any rate; he still could not face her). Then she sighed, and Fenris knew that sound well. It was the sound she made whenever anyone asked her to perform some task that made no sense with little explanation, but one that she would perform regardless because, if nothing else, it was the right thing to do. Without a word, she turned around and headed back towards the manor doors, and Fenris. She knelt at the side of the corpse they'd made of Fenris' former master with a wince, and began shredding the magister's robes. "Bandages, then," she murmured. "I'll manage, but ... better, this way."
Fenris shook his head and knelt at Danarius' other side. "Permit me," he said, and heard the plea in those two words: Let me make what I did right again in some small way; let me provide what little help I am able. Whether she understood the naked need in his request or not, she made no mention of it; she simply forced herself into a standing position again and, once Fenris had a handful of fabric in a suitable length and width for bandages, reluctantly took her arms away from the wound to give Fenris access. After all, wrapping one's own abdomen was clumsy work, particularly when one's hands were covered in blood. Her antipathy to being touched had to be set aside for the sake of expediency.
Fenris knew full well what damage a greatsword could do to a person, but had been trying not to think about it since Hawke killed Danarius, contenting himself with knowing that she was alive, conscious and vaguely mobile. He could fool himself, at that point, that the damage was mostly superficial. Seeing the full extent of the wound he'd caused nearly crushed him - the gouge began just above her right hip and followed a slightly diagonal path that became increasingly shallow until it petered out at her lower ribs on the left. How he had managed not to disembowel her, he had no idea, though he imagined that she had twisted like a Rivaini dancing girl to keep her guts in her body. Still, the initial bite of the sword into her right side was deep enough to be life-threatening, and it would be by the Maker's own mercy that he hadn't done permanent damage to her insides.
How do you apologise for something like this? The question ran through his mind like hungry rats as he wrapped the makeshift bandages around Hawke's middle ... possibly to distract him from the intimacy of having his hands on her in any significant way for the first time since he'd shared her bed. The wound was brutal, nearly mortal, and he had never meant to harm her, but without that wound, the plan Hawke had apparently conceived to lure Danarius to his death would not have worked. It was a calculated risk on her part, and it had paid off. Still, he could not help but murmur, "m'sorry..." as he finished the bandaging job and stepped away from her.
"I've had worse."
The wry amusement in her broken voice finally allowed Fenris to look Hawke in the face. She still didn't recognise Fenris, still had no idea just how responsible he was for her current situation ... but she could still spare him a smile, however confused and struggling an expression she wore along with that little upward tilt of the lips. She didn't remember, but she seemed to at least be trying. That gave him some small comfort. "I know," was all he said before he squared his shoulders and straightened his spine. "Come. We need to find the others."
For a moment, Hawke didn't acknowledge the quasi-order; she wasn't done studying Fenris yet, apparently, and seemed to be debating questions. When she asked one, though, it wasn't what Fenris expected: "Can we rob him?"
A surprised chuckle escaped Fenris before he could stifle it. Hawke wasn't truly back, and he knew it; there were too many wounds that needed healing in her, both of body and of mind. But for just a little while, perhaps he could pretend.
Hawke and Fenris both knew where they were going; it did not even need discussion. Both of them had been where prisoners and 'test subjects' were held before; their first solid memories had the grim and torturous rooms in the basement of Danarius' mansion as their setting. It was, at that point, a memory they shared, more or less. Fenris hated it that fact more than he could even begin to express, so he didn't try. Instead, he simply walked alongside Hawke, making sure her slightly unsteady progress continued. All they needed was to find Merrill, or even a healing potion; anything that bought her enough time to get to the ship, where Anders could heal her wound properly. Fenris clung to the hope that if her body could be healed, so could her mind. She hadn't been stripped of her memories long, and surely being an abomination must grant Anders some advantages. Perhaps in the Fade...
They stopped in the shadows of a tapestry near the door to the basement, Hawke bringing them up short as she always did when she spotted enemies. The basement door was still guarded; word of Danarius' death had not yet spread. Fenris looked to Hawke on instinct; she had always led in combat, and never from the rear. It occurred to him a second too late that she was injured, stripped of memory and would have no idea what--
She melted into the shadows and was gone. A moment later, both guards fell, jagged holes in their necks deep enough to sever vocal chords. Hawke had retained her fighting skills, and learned a trick or two about silencing as she killed. Fenris shuddered a little at the thought, remembering his own days as little more than a trained attack animal. The thought of the mischievous, cheerful Hawke being reduced to that--
She looted the bodies with careless efficiency born of long habit before she examined the door. That gave Fenris hope even as he stepped over to her and watched over her shoulder. She was good with locks, of course, but she did not have her lockpicks with her. "Danarius carried a key," he said. "If we stick to the shadows..."
Hawke allowed herself to sidestep that little bit into the Fade, glowing the blue-white he always did when he performed such a move, and Fenris nearly wept. The marks were bad enough; to see her capable of that was worse.
Then she stuck her thumb and forefinger into the lock and twisted. There was a click, and the door opened. Fenris could only stare. "...I ... cannot do that."
Hawke shrugged, attempting a nonchalant posture, but when she said, "Different training," in that scream-broken voice, he could hear the pain in it, and the pain Fenris felt at hearing it made him wish that he'd been the one to take the sword blow. It would have hurt less.
The first room they came to at the bottom of the stairs was Danarius' workspace. Merrill's staff, taken from a noblewoman of Sebastian's acquaintance who had dallied far too long with demons, was already lying on Danarius' workbench, though mercifully the magister had not had time to tamper with it. Fenris collected it up and went searching for Aveline's sword and shield, and any healing potions Danarius might have hidden for times of great need. Hawke, meanwhile, scanned the room and then froze, her eyes landing on...
"Bianca." She blinked at the crossbow sat on a nearby table, then turned to Fenris, struggling and curious. "Is ... that my name?"
It was such a small memory, out of focus and out of its proper place, but it was a memory, and all Fenris could think to do, the risk of discovery and capture by authorities notwithstanding, was to grab hold of it and wring every bit of use he could from it. "No," he told her. "Bianca is the name of the crossbow. None of us know why." It was a prompt, and he made no attempt to hide the fact. His voice pleaded with her to pick up the thread and remember.
"He ... I... I fired this. Once." She had, Fenris recalled. After a particularly good night at the diamondback table, Varric's purse had been a little light, and Hawke had asked for the tale of Bianca's name as payment of the gambling debt. Varric had refused, but offered a compromise; he would teach Hawke how to fire Bianca. She'd only done it once, to prove she could, but had handed it back to him after her first well-aimed bolt, saying, I just don't have the magic touch it takes to make her happy, Varric. I lack your skilled and sensuous hands, I suppose. What she'd meant was that she knew it grated on him to see anyone else firing his Bianca, and she wouldn't press the issue.
Fenris hoped for more, but instead, she pushed it away and picked up the crossbow, slinging it over her shoulder in Varric's usual way with a wince and an arm raised to guard the wound across her stomach. "Come," she said. "No time."
For a moment, Fenris considered arguing. While he had found Aveline's sword and shield, he had not found healing potions yet ... and more, Hawke still had memories in there, buried by pain but perhaps still reachable, but if left too long, they might wither and fade. He itched to shake her in the hopes that the rattling of her brain in her skull might spark some further memory. If she would only say his name, or even her own, that might be enough. But she made logical sense, as she always did, so instead of trying to dig for more memories, he sighed and nodded. "Yes. We should move on. Hopefully th-- the elf's magics will be able to aid you at least a little."
The only comfort Fenris could take as they moved on was that there had been recall, if indirect ... and that she wore Bianca so much like Varric always did that somewhere buried deep was the memory of a beardless surface dwarf strolling through Hightown Market, carrying that crossbow. It was small enough comfort, but travelling with Hawke for as long as he had taught even the most cynical person that from humble beginnings could come something very grand indeed.
Chapter 9: Uncertain Reunions
Hawke's motley band of friends reunites, under strained and fairly dire circumstances.
Y'know, I like to say I've got charisma, but honestly, compared to Hawke? I'm a rank amateur. How else does she get people like us, who'd kill each other soon as look at each other under normal circumstances, to not only work together but actually be friends? Well. Besides the Hero of Ferelden, but she's got a pretty Orlesian Bard telling stories about her. Hawke's story? That one's aaaaaaaaaall mine.
Merrill woke, groggy and confused, to someone lightly slapping her face. With a vague recollection that she was being held captive someplace, she sat up and tried to back away, forgetting the wall at her back and the chains--
--that were no longer there. As the world started coming back into focus, the first thing she realised was that she could feel the magic inside her again. On the streets of the Circle District, they had collared her with something that muted that feeling of power inside her before putting a bag over her head and dragging her somewhere ... and then she'd gone to sleep, suddenly enough that it could only have been magic. But the collar was gone, and the chains as well. She blinked and rubbed her eyes, hoping that would let her see straight again to find out what by Fen'harel's fleas was going on.
The first thing she saw was Fenris, putting one of his gloves back on. It was nice of him to remember to take it off before slapping me, came the absent thought before the rest of the implications of this new development hit. "Fenris! Did -- did you -- is Hawke--?"
Fenris winced; the pain in his face brought tears to Merrill's eyes. She couldn't think of anything that would hurt Fenris that much unless it was Hawke's death. But when he finally put words to it, it wasn't quite what she expected to hear. "I know that your skill with healing is ... lacking, but ... please. Try. Her wounds will make our escape ... problematic, otherwise."
Merrill blinked back her tears and turned her head, finally noticing the other figure in the room. She took in the blood-stained cloth around the human woman's middle, the white hair, the lyrium markings, the face ... and there she stopped, horrified and finally understanding the pain in Fenris' expression. "Lethallan!"
Hawke didn't even look up, and Merrill realised that Hawke had no idea that the word was meant for her, didn't remember that 'lethallan' was an endearment Merrill had used with Hawke for some time. She wanted to ask what had happened, whether Hawke remembered anything ... but she didn't, because she already knew the answer. She just didn't want to admit it.
Fenris just shook his head, and Merrill's heart, already shattered, broke a little more at the look on his face. "There is no time for this. Just ... please. Whatever you can do to mend her wound ... do it. We should move on, and quickly."
Merrill tried, but it wasn't enough. Most of Merrill's healing was with herbs, and not only were none available, but Hawke gave Merrill a wary glare and backed away whenever Merrill tried to come close enough to even examine the wound. She tried to focus as Bethany had once taught her, years ago, but though she tried until she nearly passed out from the strain, all she managed was to staunch the bleeding a little.
Hawke didn't say a word when Merrill finally had no more left in her to try more healing. She just squared her shoulders and stepped out of the cell that had once been Merrill's, moving on down the dungeon corridor. Fenris gave Merrill a look that clearly said not now and moved on, staying as close as Hawke in her current condition would allow.
Merrill bit her lower lip, blinked back yet more tears and followed. There would be time enough for tears later, hopefully with explanations and suggestions on how to help Hawke to ease the pain. For now, all Merrill could do was help Hawke however she could, and try not to dwell on the fact that she'd failed to save the woman who was more or less her best friend from this fate. If she'd just been better in that fight at the Alienage...
Not far away, Aveline's thoughts ran in parallel to Merrill's, though she had no way of knowing. Like Merrill, Aveline hadn't seen exactly what happened when they were taken; there had been a blue-white flash, and then Fenris was down. She should have been more vigilant, both here in Minrathous and at the Alienage, nearly a month before.
She sighed and shook her head. Hawke had always said she was too hard on herself. True, that had always been more to do with her self-flagellation over Wesley's death, but the same principle applied. Aveline, Hawke had said once over ale at the Hanged Man, the very thing that makes you an excellent guard-captain and an even better friend makes you your own worst enemy. You're far harder on yourself than you are on any criminal you've ever taken down.
Aveline tried to take the comment to heart, even chained to a wall in a magister's dungeon. Unfortunately, hours had gone past with nothing to do but ponder how it had all gone wrong. She hadn't even seen what or who had taken Fenris down; by the time she looked that way, all she saw was Fenris on the ground and a ring of Tevinter guardsmen pointing swords at them all. Had it been herself alone, she would have risked it, but ultimately, Fenris would have paid for her defiance - Fenris and Hawke, more than likely. Remembering how the fight in the Alienage had ended, she gritted her teeth and submitted to capture. Now she sat in a cell, waiting for something, anything to happen and cursing her own inability to achieve the impossible.
When the door clicked and opened, Aveline forced herself to sit up straight in a show of strength, but her defiant glare turned into a stunned gape when Fenris and Merrill stepped into the room with a woman that it took Aveline a moment to identify as Hawke. She didn't make the connection until Hawke stepped into the room - slowly, and clearly working hard not to stagger - and knelt to touch the manacles Aveline wore. Aveline could only stare as Hawke ignited into horribly familiar blue-white light; she barely even noticed the manacles click open. She looked over at Fenris instead, and at the elf's wince, she buried every horrified remark she wanted to make, schooling her expression to one that felt casual to the point of insanity. Instead of outwardly lamenting, she just turned towards Hawke, gave her longtime friend a small smile and said, "Thanks, Hawke. I'll try not to make a habit of this."
Hawke blinked, a look of very dim realisation crossing her face for the briefest of moments. Those words were an exact echo of how Aveline had closed a conversation with Hawke some months before, when Aveline had asked Hawke to speak to Emeric about his continued investigation into Gascard DuPuis. It was harsh and unfair, given how closely that memory was linked to Leandra's death, but if Hawke's memory was really gone, or buried under Maker only knew what kind of pain, their best chance of bringing anything back was with the memories strong enough to last. Unfortunately, so many of those were the painful kind.
The look didn't last; Hawke's expression went from semi-recognition to blurry confusion to wary impatience in the space of about a second. Still, Aveline had the sense that she had touched a nerve, briefly awoken some memory still lurking. She looked over to Fenris, seeing hope warring with despair on his face despite the pains he was taking to hide both emotions, and gave a very small nod. Then she got up and held her hands out for her sword and shield.
I failed you once, Hawke - more than once now. Not again.
Unlike the others, Varric knew exactly what to expect from a rescue party; what state Hawke was likely to be in when and if someone managed to get her out from under Danarius' boot. His eyes were very sharp, and he was used to keeping an eye on his blind spot ... if only to get a good feel for how Hawke backstabbed some bastard trying to sneak up on him, so he could fit it into a story later. He recognised Hawke immediately, despite the changes; he saw what she did to Fenris. He just couldn't do anything about it without someone he liked getting dead in the process.
So when the door opened and the rescue party came in, Varric didn't hesitate, didn't flinch at the sight of Hawke, didn't stutter or fumble or stare. Instead, he watched her unlock the manacles in her new and now utterly unique way, smiled that 'golden bullshit' smile of his and said, as he always did when Hawke managed to get him out of a tight spot, "I'll try to repay you by not doing that again, deal?"
When Hawke blinked and frowned, Varric knew it probably wasn't the first time since her 'rescue' that she'd worn that expression of semi-recognition. It wasn't so much her expression that told him that; it was the others - Fenris, Aveline and Merrill were all clearly holding their collective breath, hope more or less naked on their faces. Varric debated saying something else, but the instinct that served him so well at the diamondback table told him to stay quiet and wait to see what happened.
The answer was more or less 'nothing'. Hawke's expression went back to an abused-animal sort of wariness and she leaned back and away from Varric. Still, she did swing Bianca off her back to offer the crossbow to Varric. It might just have been process of elimination, since Aveline, Fenris and Merrill all had their weapons already, but Varric had a feeling that somewhere in there, Hawke just knew who owned that particular weapon. A quick glance at Fenris confirmed it to a point; Varric made a mental note to ask about that later.
Instead of chasing that particular nugget of information right away, Varric accepted Bianca, checked her over for damage and, relieved at finding none, stood up, slinging Bianca onto his back and immediately feeling better for it. "So," he said, dusting off his coat, "it's been a lovely party, but I think we've overstayed our welcome. Anyone got a nice quiet way out of here? Blondie, Rivaini and Choirboy are probably soiling their smalls with worry by now."
Merrill frowned, a whole new species of worry joining her concern for Hawke in her eyes. "Oh, Mythal, we've been gone for ages! I hope they haven't done anything rash..."
Aveline, on the other hand, slapped her forehead with the heel of her hand. "Essentially we're counting on Sebastian to keep Isabela and Anders from succumbing to their usual poor impulse control."
"Could be worse, Aveline," Varric said with a bit of a sideways grin. "Could be the elf."
Fenris started to glare at Varric, but his expression turned to one of stunned hope when a quiet, broken snort of amusement broke his concentration and he realised it was coming from Hawke. He stared at her; she stared back in a way that suggested she had no idea what the noise was that just came out of her face or why she'd made it.
Varric shook his head and waved a hand to break up their locked gaze. "All right, break it up, you two. When people tell you to get a room, they usually mean something with linens. And ... well, I was going to say 'fewer chains' but whatever you two get up to in your private life is--"
He never finished the sentence, but he hadn't really wanted to have to. Really all he was after was what he got - the glare and blush that came not only from Fenris, but from Hawke. She might not understand why she had the reactions she did to this sort of thing, but she did react. That gave them a start on getting their Hawke back.
Now all they had to do was get out of Tevinter before Blondie set the place on fire or something.
The rescue party for Hawke had left soon after dawn. By sundown, the three still left on Isabela's borrowed ship were worried enough to let Isabela, arguably the better of the three at blending in, take to the streets of Minrathous to see if there was any useful gossip related to how Fenris, Varric, Aveline and Merrill were doing. By the time Isabela got back, twilight had deepened to true night and Anders was reduced to pacing the galley while Sebastian, too agitated to even pray, refletched arrows that didn't really need refletching, just to give his hands something to do.
From just after dawn to long past dusk. The rescue team had been gone far too long without word.
Once she made her way down to the galley after checking in with the crew, Isabela met the looks she got from Anders and Sebastian with a serious expression that didn't sit well on her face, which was made for sly smirks and promising glances. "I didn't get much - couldn't get anywhere near the drinking holes the merchants call home, much less the ones for the upper crust. What the smugglers and slave-traders had to offer was all pretty garbled, but ... it sounds like Fenris and the others got captured."
"What?" Sebastian stood and took two steps towards Isabela. Anders, by contrast, staggered backwards like he'd been sucker-punched ... which, in a way, he had. "But how? The four of them are formidable opponents for any patrol--"
"They sent a regiment," Isabela told them with a sigh, "and they took Fenris down first. By the time anyone figured out what was going on, they were surrounded, or so the story doing the rounds of the alesinks goes. No one saw how it happened; just that someone matching Fenris' description dropped, and they all went quietly with the troops after that."
Sebastian shook his head. "From what Fenris says about this Danarius, they probably threatened to kill Fenris ... or Hawke ... or both if they resisted capture. They wouldn't risk that." He turned away from Isabela and wrapped his hands around the ship's rail until the knuckles turned white. "So what do we do now?"
With a glare and a brief and worrying flash of lyrium-blue in his eye, Anders gave the answer. "We go out and we get them back."
Sebastian nodded, then turned to collect his refletched arrows and stuff them back in their quiver. Isabela, with uncharacteristic hesitation in her voice, added, "...Not that I'm not almost looking forward to storming another castle, even without Hawke's help--"
"We'll have her help," Anders told her, reaching for his staff. "Once we set her and the others free, we'll have more allies. We just have to get in and--"
"There's another Fenris!"
That stopped Sebastian and Anders dead, and they both turned to stare at Isabela for a long moment. Sebastian was the first to regain the power of speech: "I ... beg your pardon?"
Isabela shrugged, pretending at a nonchalance she clearly didn't feel. "Well, all right, not two actual Fenrises ... though that'd be all kinds of interesting..." A small, speculative smirk of a smile crossed her face.
Anders rolled his eyes and sighed. "I know the gutter's where your head lives, Isabela, but please."
"You never let me have any fun." Isabela's smile turned understanding and almost apologetic before she got back on topic. "Look, Danarius must have got fed up with waiting to get Fenris back and made a replacement. One of the stories said something about a blue-white glowy shape being the one that took Fenris down."
With a frown, Sebastian turned to Isabela. "That makes no sense. You all told me that Danarius has been after Fenris for years; if he somehow did ... that to another ... if Fenris is no longer unique... Why expend so much time and effort in trying to retrieve Fenris?"
That got another shrug from Isabela. "Some people get touchy about losing their things. I speak from experience."
"Or he wants to make sure that his new one is going to stay stable," Anders added, looking grim. "Look, this kind of thing ... physical bodies weren't meant to be able to go into the Fade, even a little bit. That's a whole new realm of alchemy. Fenris has been on his own for years; Danarius probably wants to run tests on him, make sure that the ones he did this to aren't going to ... disintegrate into the Fade within a few years."
Sebastian sighed. "It makes no difference, I suppose. At least we've seen Fenris fight. If we have to ... deal with another unfortunate in the same position ... if that is the only way to see our friends safe ... we will do as we must, and Maker guide our hands."
Isabela nodded, then gave the two men a wry look. "Well, you know saying this goes against everything I stand for, but ... four people infiltrating Minrathous didn't go so well last time. And we're only three. So ... and like I said, I hate to say it ... but we're going to need a plan."
"...a roof, Isabela?"
Isabela gave Anders a withering look, then turned to Sebastian, who in turn looked at Anders with a dollop of sympathy to help the 'shut up' go down. "If we're to rescue Hawke and the others, stealth is key - at least going in. We're better off if we take a moment to assess guard patrol movements from high ground before going in."
Anders shook his head. "I'm taking lessons on stealth from a prince who stomps around in shiny white armour with Andraste's face over his--" Isabela slapped him upside the head. "Ow! What'd you do that for?"
"Because Aveline's not here to do it for me," Isabela replied. "Now focus. We need to map a path through the docks and lower market so we don't get grabbed by guards." She glanced over at Sebastian. "He's right though; couldn't you have found armour that says, 'I belong in an alley near the red lantern district' instead of 'I belong on a throne getting my ass kissed'?"
"I am not going to masquerade as--"
"The sort of person you apparently were before you got shoved into the Chantry?" Anders contrived to look innocent. It didn't work. Sebastian shot him a glare.
"This is how Aveline feels all the time," Isabela murmured under her breath. "I just realised. This is what it's like to be Aveline. I just want to shake the two of you until--" She hesitated, eyes drifting off over the night-quiet streets of Minrathous ... which, admittedly, didn't seem to be as quiet as they ought to be. There were torches on the move, and sounds that either meant street gang warfare, a mugging or a very good party in progress.
The pirate, the mage and the prince quietened down and got serious immediately, and waited quietly until the commotion in the streets came into plain view down a wide alley a few hundred yards away. Even at that distance, a group consisting of two elves, a dwarf with a massive crossbow and a tall, red-haired woman in armour was nearly impossible to miss, particularly when one of the elves paused now and then to fire distracting spells at a group of guardsmen giving chase. Between the fleeing friends and the pursuing guardsmen was a figure clad in black, standing out because of the silver-white hair and the matching markings on what skin wasn't covered by leather.
Sebastian noticed the figure first, drew his bow and took aim. Isabela, however, held up a hand in a non-verbal request to hold his fire, squinting as a few pieces of information started coming together in unpleasant ways. Two elves, one human, one dwarf ... no Hawke. But the figure in lyrium and black - the one who had apparently taken Fenris and the others captive at Danarius' orders - seemed to be female, and while following behind the others, seemed to be more with Fenris and the others than with the guardsmen this time--
It was only when she looked over at Sebastian, struggling to put her horrible suspicion into words, that she realised he hadn't seen her gesture to halt. She looked up just in time to watch his arrow fly, her shout of, "No!" coming a second too late.
Chapter 10: The Getaway
Finally reunited, Hawke's friends struggle to get out of Tevinter alive, and try to decide what comes next.
Sebastian was a very good shot; he'd always said, as modestly as one could make a claim like that, that he could put a shaft through a helmet's eye slot at two hundred yards. His arrow should have taken the lyrium-marked woman through the heart. But whether she'd noticed the attention being paid her or she'd just staggered at just the right moment, Sebastian's arrow took her through the shoulder instead. Isabela sighed with relief, which turned to puzzlement as the woman grabbed the arrow sticking out of her shoulder, snapped it just above the wound, and then vanished in a flash of blue-white lyrium light. Even from that distance, she could hear Merrill's worried yelp and Aveline's cry of, "Oh, Flames, where's she gone?"
Sebastian, confused and more than a little worried now, turned to Isabela and asked, "Why did you--?"
Anders figured it out faster, and cut off Sebastian's question with a horrified cry of, "...No. No! Not her!"
Isabela, still scouring the alleys to try to track down the woman Sebastian had just shot, flapped a hand at the two men. "Would you calm him down before he goes all Justice kill-spree?"
It was too late for that; Anders erupted into veins of lyrium blue and his eyes burned. "The magisters of this wretched city will never harm an innocent again!"
Still floundering, Sebastian tried to put the pieces together. "Wh-what is going on? You'd think from this that I shot--" It all fell into place for him, and he turned towards the edge of the roof to watch the attempted escape of his comrades, guilt and horror on his face. "...Oh, Maker's mercy, no."
By this point, Anders looked set to climb down off the roof and start burning Minrathous to the ground, so Isabela took fairly drastic steps; abandoning her watchpost on the roof's edge, she slipped up behind Anders and hit him across the back of the head as hard as she could with the hilt of one of her daggers. Anders dropped to his knees, semiconscious and stunned but, to judge by the dying of the flares of lyrium fire around and within him, clearly getting hold of himself. Sebastian, seeing his friends struggling to stay ahead of the oncoming guardsmen, picked up his bow again to try to thin the enemy ranks a little.
That, surprisingly, came from Anders, in the instant before the blue glow in his eyes died completely. Sebastian turned and lowered his bow in the same motion ... so when Hawke stepped out of a shadow with her daggers already swinging, one skated harmlessly across his armour and the other did no more damage than the snapping of his bowstring. She followed up by twisting and kicking Sebastian in the head, and it was by the Maker's own grace that he managed to twist sideways to avoid falling off the rooftop altogether. As it was, he could only lie there for a moment until his ears stopped ringing, barely registering the flow of blood from the cut Hawke's heel-spur had opened on the side of his face.
Hawke went for Isabela next; the pirate duelist thankfully already had her daggers out and managed to defend the initial strike. She took Hawke's measure as she stepped back and waited for the next rush - clearly Hawke had no idea who Isabela was ... that or she was really holding a grudge about the Tome of Koslun thing. Given Sebastian's arrow in her shoulder, she obviously thought that the three on the rooftop were more Tevinter types trying to ambush them, which just went to prove that she wasn't thinking clearly at all. Then again, with all the blood she seemed to be losing from a badly-bound gash in her abdomen as well as the arrow through the shoulder, it was a miracle she was alive, much less upright.
Well, Isabela thought, at least that's a little helpful right now. Hawke was better with short blades than Isabela was; she hated to admit it, but it was true, and both women knew it. If Hawke was at full strength, she'd cut Isabela to ribbons or oblige Isabela to take some truly final steps to prevent it. Wounded as Hawke was, Isabela just had to stay one step ahead until Hawke tired herself out.
...Or until Sebastian, mostly recovered from the kick to the head and infinitely well-meaning, stepped behind Hawke and locked his arms across her chest, using his elbows to pin her shoulders back. "Hawke, stop," he said, trying to keep his voice calm. "You're going to hurt yourse--"
Hawke flared blue-white in the way Fenris did when he was preparing to rip someone's innards out, then shoved herself forward, passing through Sebastian's arms before she let herself be substantial again. Sebastian's cry of surprise and pain was cut off by yet another boot to the face, and he staggered backwards, hands flying to his suddenly bleeding nose. Hawke, meanwhile, turned back to Isabela, eyes narrowed and daggers still in hand.
She never got the chance to attack. Anders slammed his staff on the ground and a glyph glowed green on the roof slates under Hawke's feet. She had time to give him one truly murderous look before the paralysis glyph took effect, freezing Hawke to the spot.
After a half-second of stunned silence, Isabela said, "To quote Varric ... well, shit."
The tip of a mage's staff poked over the edge of the roof, followed a second later by a delicate hand and then by Merrill's distressed little face. "Oh, Mythal, I was worried something like this might happ-- oh, Hawke..." This as she saw Hawke frozen in the green glow of Anders' glyph. With a sigh and a murmur of, "I hate having to do this to her...", Merrill took up her staff and waved it at Hawke. A white haze joined the green glow around Hawke; Merrill's sleep spell at work. Hawke didn't move - she literally couldn't - but her eyes lost focus and then closed.
Anders dispelled the glyph and stepped forward to catch Hawke before she landed flat on her face on the roof slates. He set her down gently, then winced as he saw the full extent of her injuries. "What by the Void happened?"
After a quick glance off the edge of the roof, Isabela shook her head. "No time for stories - try to make sure she's not going to lose what little blood she's got left in her on the trip back to the ship. I'll help the others take the last of the guards." With that, she stepped off the edge of the roof; a thud and a cry of pain suggested that she'd used a guard's head as a landing point. Then there was an increase in the sound of stabbing and screaming from below.
Sebastian wiped more blood from his face, then reached into a belt pouch and retrieved a spare bowstring. As he restrung his bow, he sighed, "Well, at least someone's having a good time."
In the end, only Anders stayed out of the fight with the Minrathous guards, and only because he had a far more important duty to perform - namely, seeing to Hawke's wounds as best he could in the short time he had. The arrow through her shoulder was easily enough dealt with, but the sword wound to her abdomen was another story altogether. In the end, all he could do in the short time he had was clean and bind both wounds and work some preliminary healing magic to bolster her for transport back to the ship. In a way, Anders realised with some dismay, it was a good thing that they'd been on that roof to meet the rescue party, arrow through the shoulder and all. Hawke would never have made it back to the ship alive. He had no idea how she'd been upright, let alone fighting.
The guards were dispatched in short order, and with surprisingly little discussion, Fenris let Aveline carry Hawke back to the ship. Everyone wanted explanations, but for once, Isabela was the voice of reason. "I've got to see to casting off and getting us as far away from Tevinter as possible," she said. "But if you think I'm missing the story of how this happened, think again."
Aveline nodded, apparently deciding not to comment on the fact that she and Isabela agreed for once. "We'll help how we can, Isabela. Anders--"
"I know; I need to do some more work on healing Hawke," he replied to the unspoken question with a nod. "This is going to take awhile, but I need to at least make a start; make sure she's stable." Anders looked over at Isabela, who nodded towards the captain's cabin. Anders nodded back, picked Hawke up and headed for what was arguably the most comfortable spot on the ship.
"Merrill, go with them; make sure she stays out for now." When Merrill looked at Aveline, more than a little shocked, Aveline just shook her head. "She's ... in a bad way, Merrill. Just ... she needs to rest, alright?"
No one wanted to bring up the other reason for keeping Hawke unconscious for awhile - the fact that she'd tried to kill at least two of her friends. They didn't blame her; in their world, when someone puts an arrow through your shoulder and you don't remember that they're your friend, the first instinct is to make them stop shooting at you, generally permanently. Still, the attempt served to highlight the fact that she didn't remember any of them, thus didn't entirely trust them, and waking her up was going to have to be handled carefully if they didn't want her jumping ship and probably killing herself or someone else - or both - in the process.
Varric, a veteran at timetabling meetings around the oddest circumstances, looked at Isabela, then Anders. Then he nodded. "We'll meet in the galley in two hours. That'll give Blondie a chance to heal Hawke a bit and get us out to sea and out of ballista range of Minrathous. It also," he added with a sigh, "gives me a chance to go raid the rum supply. Andraste's sanctified ass, do I need a drink."
It turned out they all did.
The next two hours were almost anticlimactic. While Isabela and Anders saw to their own work, with Fenris hovering in the doorway to the captain's cabin, the others sat huddled around the galley table, trying to keep the rum consumption to a minimum. At least until they were all on the same page as regards what had happened to Hawke and what they were going to do about it, staying sober seemed like a good idea ... even if none of them particularly wanted to.
After about two hours, Isabela thumped down the stairs and couldn't quite help but smirk a little as Anders, looking truly exhausted, staggered out of the captain's cabin, with Fenris offering a supportive shoulder for the 'abomination' to lean on. Aveline, deciding that discretion was the better part of valor and a little too worried about Hawke to focus too hard on how helping Hawke seemed to bond this group of unlikely souls together, nodded to Isabela and then asked, "How is she?"
Anders sighed and collapsed onto the nearest bench. "She'll live. There's still a lot of healing work to do, but she's stable ... physically, at least." After a quick look at Fenris, Anders buried his head in his hands with a groan. "I don't think I even want to ask what by the Void happened..."
"We need to know how bad it is," Aveline pointed out, looking similarly beaten by the circumstances of their quasi-rescue mission. She winced, knowing what she was about to ask and how much it was going to hurt, then turned to Fenris. "...That means you'll have to start, Fenris."
Fenris, standing in his little corner of the galley, wouldn't look at them. Instead, he snarled at the nearest wall, then sighed, and then started in on the tale. He told it all - the bargain he'd tried to make, his sister's distraction-visit, how Hawke had come by her near-mortal wound and why she'd arranged it that way ... all of it. He also flagged up the points where there might have been some flashes of memory struggling to make their presence felt; Aveline and Varric added their own contributions there, clearly trying to put a silver lining on the situation.
Varric picked up the thread at that point. "So once we had all our weapons back, we managed to find a passage out through the sewers."
Anders sighed. "Which explains why about half the work I did in there was clearing up one truly rotten infection. That wasn't the healthiest thing you could have done, you know."
"Didn't have much choice," Aveline told him. "By then, there were screaming servants and armed guards upstairs, and we were trying to avoid a fight. We didn't think Hawke could take it."
With a mirthless chuckle, Varric broke in again. "Shame a patrol came by just as we were climbing out of a sewer tunnel."
Merrill, ever trying to think positive, pointed out, "One of them was carrying a healing potion, though. Just a bit of elfroot brew, nothing really potent, but it kept Hawke going without falling over or ... well, worse."
"Well, she certainly fought well enough. But I think I can forgive the damage to my nose in the circumstances," Sebastian said. "Just ... what do we do now? You said she ... seemed to remember--"
"Almost." Fenris sounded bitter and unutterably guilt-stricken. "She almost remembers. Fragments, if that."
Varric gave Fenris as much of a smile as he could manage; it wasn't much, but there was sympathy in it. "Hey, you know Hawke. She can build some pretty big things out of fragments."
"I thought perhaps the Fade ... Anders, if--"
Anders shook his head. "I can't-- Fenris, it's not that simple. You didn't see; there's ... I'm less myself in the Fade. More Justice. Besides, she wouldn't ... she's not a mage; without some very specific steps, she's not conscious of what's going on in the Fade. I wouldn't necessarily get through to her."
Merrill spoke up then, tentative but hopeful. "But a somniari could get through to her, even in the Beyond. Maybe Feynriel would help. She's saved his life twice now, and he still writes her; I'm sure he'd help, if he knew."
"And if we could get within ten leagues of Tevinter again," Fenris pointed out with a sigh. "Some of Danarius' rivals might be pleased with his removal, but killing a magister in his own stonghold ... if it was done once, it could be done again, and anyone who can do so is a threat not to be condoned. No; by the time we get back and find out where the boy currently resides, the word will be out. We'll likely be left alone if we stay out of Tevinter, but if we cross the border again, they will have to hunt us for the sake of their reputation."
Varric tutted, trying to tease but clearly not having his heart fully in it. "Well, chalk Tevinter up with Orzamarr for 'places I can never go on pain of death'. Good thing both of them are places I'd never want to go."
"What about First Enchanter Orsino?" This from Aveline, who looked thoughtful. "She helped save his life when the Arishok tried to take the city; she's stood up to the Knight-Commander once or twice in his defense. Surely he'd want to help her."
Merrill spoke up again, a little less tentative this time. "Or the Keeper! Keeper Marethari likes Hawke; she'd help, I know she would!"
Aveline nodded, though she looked a bit grim. "Those are options we can look into when we're home. Unfortunately, there's not much we can do right here and now except try to jog what memory we can."
"And perhaps make sure she at least understands that we're trustworthy," Sebastian put in, clearly stifling the urge to gesture at his badly damaged nose. "I don't think her trying to fight her way off the ship would be healthy for anyone."
That bludgeon with the reality of the situation silenced them all. They couldn't blame her for it, but Hawke had tried to kill at least three of them. After all the times she'd fought by their side or on their behalf, it drove home the nightmarish reality - she didn't remember them, and after the abuse she'd suffered, might never be the close true friend ... or more ... that they'd tried so hard to save.
Eventually, Aveline spoke up again. "All right ... who stands first watch?"
Chapter 11: A Keeper's Job
The voyage back to Kirkwall leaves Hawke's friends scrabbling for whatever bits of hope of ever restoring Hawke's memories - and whatever ideas, dangerous or otherwise, they might find for awakening them before it's too late to even try.
It's a Keeper's job to remember, to restore what we can.
Isabela’s borrowed ship groaned under Fenris’ feet as he padded silently towards the captain’s cabin. He passed Merrill on his way in; the Dalish elf bit her lower lip and gave a very discreet shake of her head, allowing her eyes to meet his for a moment in an expression of pure sympathy before she looked down and hurried out. Fenris squared his shoulders against the weight of indescribable guilt and stepped in to take his turn on watch.
Hawke still slept, and Merrill’s unspoken remark to him indicated that Merrill had been forced to use another sleep spell to make sure she stayed asleep. The alternatives were distressing and dangerous. The times she was allowed to wake, she was confused - as well she might be, as her rescue had led to her being shot, duelled and forcibly restrained. With no memory of her companions, not knowing whether their purpose was rescue or abduction, she lashed out, trying to win her freedom. Her healing was still in progress, as Anders could only push so far for so long before he did himself permanent damage, so attempts to fight were still as dangerous to her as they were to those she attacked.
So Merrill, displeased but resigned, kept Hawke asleep as much as possible. The times she woke for tending to her body’s needs, they all tried to remind her of who she was, or at least convince her that their intentions were good - that they just wanted to bring her home. She never responded with anything but a wary look, though, so none of them could be sure that she believed them.
But when she slept, they kept watch, and now it was Fenris’ turn again. He took as many shifts as he was allowed, because Anders had encouraged him to talk to her. Hating every word, he pointed out, “You’re the one she was … best disposed to, when she first saw you. …She loves you, even if she doesn’t remember. She might hear, through the Fade, if you talk to her while she sleeps. …Might.”
It was as much penance for Fenris as anything else. To sit beside her, to see the magic-bleached white hair so like his own, to see the lyrium in her skin mirroring his when he took her hand, it all bit into him as deep as his own greatsword had bit into Hawke. She forgave him that, he thought - had, in fact, goaded him into it - but he still added it to the pile of guilt he bore. For a long moment, he simply held her hand, not knowing where to start. Apologies and explanations seemed so useless in the face of this.
“…I … know you don’t remember,” he finally began, eyes fixed on her hand in his. “Or at least … not entirely. But … we’ve seen … some moments, Hawke, when you almost remember. I … can understand why you might not want to. It … has been a hard few years. Lothering … your siblings … your mother. You once told me that amnesia could be a friend to the tormented, and … perhaps you’re right. But I … I can’t…”
His voice broke, but he cleared his throat and continued. If he stopped now, it would never be said. “I earned my freedom, Hawke. And you helped me do it, though not in the way either of us would have wished. You paid such a price and–” Fenris cleared his throat again, bit back a sob. “–and it’s done. I am free. We both are. And now there is a future to be had, but … it has no shape. I … perhaps I can make a life, a future, but…”
He struggled with the words, the things he needed to convey, then sighed, raised his eyes to her face and said it outright. “I need you, Hawke. I need you to remember, at least a little. I need you to wake up, because there is a future to be shaped, a life to be lived, and … I cannot do it without you. I cannot even imagine it without you.”
After a moment, despite the sleep spell that apparently held her, Hawke opened her eyes.
Fenris didn't move - he barely breathed. Still, he was ready to reach out and pin her down, to cry out for Anders or Merrill or someone to renew the spell on her, however much he hated that becoming his first instinct. He wanted to speak, to ask if she'd heard a word of what he said ... but he couldn't. Instead, he waited, nearly choking on his own hope.
It felt like forever before she spoke, the hoarseness from a throat broken by screams finally gone thanks to Anders' healing but replaced by a faintness that worried him and a wary distrust that tore at his heart like lyrium nails. "...what ... do you want from me?"
Fenris opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out. Her eyes shut a moment later - her resistance to Merrill's magic only went so far, apparently - and it was almost a relief to him. It was a question for which he had no answer. How could he explain to someone whose life began with pain and servitude less than a month ago, as far as she was concerned, that all they wanted from her was a memory? Just one would do - one clear memory to give them hope. But how could they ask it from her, when it hadn't been her idea to be stripped of those memories in the first place? And without the memories, how could she ever--?
He finally noticed that her hand was still in his. For the first time, she had not drawn away from his touch. He would have taken it for simple weariness, Merrill's sleep spell stealing even that small amount of mobility, except that her fingers had, at some point in the middle of her single hard-fought sentence, wrapped weakly around his own.
Fenris sat there for a long time, not daring to so much as twitch despite a growing ache in his back and muscles stiffening from lack of circulation. It wasn't a memory. It was, however, a start.
"...I have an idea."
Merrill's statement drew some very wary looks from the assembled. Even Varric, remembering some of the lengths to which his Daisy would go in the name of what she wanted, looked a little dubious. Anders, however, was the most blunt of the entire group. "If the next words out of your mouth have anything to do with blood magic..."
"I know what I'm doing, Anders. And you know I wouldn't do anything to hurt Hawke." Merrill's eyes flashed a little dangerously, incongruous in that sweet little face.
Anders just shook his head. "And inviting some demon into Hawke's head won't hurt her? After everything she's done to root out blood mages and you want to turn her abomination!"
"Hasn't done you any harm." This from Isabela, whose somewhat miraculous unsuspected reserves of patience had run out. "Well, except to your sense of humour. And your sex life."
"Enough!" Anders' eyes flashed lyrium blue as Justice made his presence felt. "No demon will be allowed to despoil the Champion's mind!"
Varric held up his hands. "So is now a good time to point out that she never said her idea involved demons and Hawke's head? Or is this just the wrong crowd?"
"Thank you, Varric," said Merrill, relief clear in her voice. "I just meant--"
Sebastian put in his two coppers at that point. "You can hardly blame us for jumping to that conclusion, however," he remarked. "Also, she hasn't necessarily said the idea didn't inv--"
"Let. The witch. Speak."
Everyone in the cabin turned to look at Fenris. Varric in particular looked stunned. With Aveline taking her turn watching Hawke, Varric felt like he was going to be stuck with the 'voice of reason' role, one to which he was only suited when it came to greedy souls and businessmen, not high-strung adventurers with a friend's sanity on the line. Fenris not only keeping his calm - more or less - but taking Merrill's side was new. Also, more than a little worrying.
Merrill, after getting over the shock herself, bit her lower lip and explained. "Well, I thought ... the key! Hawke's key, the key to the Warden prison. I thought I could use it to track her and I still think I could have, but now we don't have to ... she felt it inside her, you said. There's a piece of her in it. That piece might have some memories. It might help. I don't mean spirits, Anders; I just mean ... well, maybe I do mean spirits, if that bit of Hawke that might still be in the dagger counts, which I guess it might, though I don't know whether it'd be like an actual spirit and--"
Anders, who had finally calmed down, still wore a narrow-eyed look, but this time it was thoughtful. "So ... you're saying..."
"The connection between Hawke and the key opened all the way for awhile. It needed her to decide what shape to be, I think; you didn't see what it was until she had it in her hand and it stopped being glowy, didn't you say?"
Varric nodded. "I did at that, Daisy."
Merrill nodded, risking a smile. "I don't mean blood magic except for the blood magic that's already there, in the key. Links like that are more in the Beyond than they are here. If we could reach into the Beyond, get that link to open all the way again, like it did when it stopped being just a key and started being Hawke's key..."
Everyone in the room looked to Anders at that point, him being the resident expert on the Fade. He was nodding, not necessarily agreeing but still mulling over it and finding at least some merit in the suggestion. "And if that ... piece of Hawke doesn't have any memories to speak of? What do we do then?"
Varric shrugged. "It doesn't work, I figure we just try to keep her from jumping ship until we get home, then try one of the other bits of weird shit that might work. How're we any worse off?"
That earned a scowl from Sebastian. "A demon might find the connection if you open it, tainted as it is with blood magic."
"That won't happen!" Anders and Merrill snapped at Sebastian in unison, and that rare show of agreement silenced them all for another moment as the two mages looked at each other in profound shock.
Isabela sighed. "I don't know much about this sort of ... Fade magic nonsense, but it's the best we've got right now. If we don't try something soon, someone's going to snap from the stress and then it's burning rigging and people's backs being decorated with sword hilts. Not a good way to spend two weeks at sea, minimum. I say we try it."
"It's blasphemy," Sebastian grumbled.
Fenris had spent most of this debate looking at his own hand. No one asked him why; the expression on his face forbade it, somehow. But eventually, he looked up at them all, meeting each of their eyes in turn. When he spoke, it was to say the last thing he or anyone else would have ever expected him to say in such a situation. "Do it," he said. "And tell me when we're ready. I'm going with you."
For what seemed like an age, no one knew quite what to say ... and no one could meet Fenris' eyes, for the terrible, painfully naked hope in them.