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.