“I have received a message from Cumberland.”
Isabela made a noise somewhere between a tummy rumble and a dog’s fart. Meredith narrowed her eyes at her, but continued.
“A group of powerful mages has escaped their Circle. They seek to penetrate Kirkwall.” Another hmmmpfff from Isabela. “The Knight-Commander at Cumberland informs me that these mages actively seek the destruction of not just our Circle, but the Chantry itself. They will violate our morality, ravish our brethren – “
Isabela actually wheezed at this statement, forcing Hawke to jump in and ask “What’s so special about these mages?”
Meredith glared at all of them, her blue eyes almost twinkling with rage, then suddenly sighed, slumping by exactly 1/5th of an inch. “Knight-Commander McElvie was imprecise. He is a man who fears nothing, yet his letter hinted only at depravity even you could not imagine.” The emphasis on you was extremely subtle. “I need you because you are implacable in your refutation of blood magic. My men are strong, experienced, faithful. But they do not have your… depth.” Meredith’s eyes pinned Hawke, expecting full endorsement of her statement.
Maker, if that bitch mentions Mother I’m going to tear off her head and shit down her throat. Thankfully, Meredith was prevented from raising this still-painful issue by Isabela suddenly interjecting “They don’t have his girth, either!” and being forcibly removed by Fenris and carried out of the Templar Hall. Hawke and Varric took Meredith’s directions on the most recent sightings of the (presumed) blood mages, and headed home to gear up.
Darktown. Of course. It had to be fucking Darktown.
Hawke wasn’t in the habit of asking Anders to help him bust mages. Anders’ loathing of blood magic seemed sincere, if self-interested – he was more concerned about the damage they did to the mage cause than, say, their habit of draining their victims’ will and leaving them a shrivelled husk. Still, the conflict of interest was something Hawke preferred to avoid, as much for Anders’ sake as his own.
He did want to get a better picture of his mark, though, and instead of bothering the healer, Hawke paid a visit to Mistress Selby. His relationship with the goodwife was fragile – it was her job to assume all mages to be innocent victims of fear and prejudice, his to assume they were all unstable gateways to the Void. But he had helped her with some errands – some were fun pranks on Templars to tweak Meredith’s nose, others involved innocent children whom even Hawke couldn’t see as a threat. Her knowledge of the mage world was immense, and she would surely have something useful to say.
The look of abject terror on her face was, indeed, extremely useful.
“Undine van Onselen? Here? In Kirkwall?” The normally unflappable Selby looked like she was casting about for a convenient dock to jump off.
“Who is she, Selby? Not a friend, I take it.”
“Not a friend to anyone,” hissed Selby. “There’s a piece missing with that one.”
“Like my good friend Gascard?” Hawke still got a bitter smile out of remembering how he’d snapped that whoreson’s neck. You had to cling to the bright moments.
“…more like…” Selby’s voice dropped, “more like the other fellow.”
Hawke felt like he’d been punched, but made himself go on. “Necromancy? As well as blood magic?”
“All that and more. I don’t know how much is just stories.”
“Have you actually met her?”
Selby shivered. “Only once, before she… got her reputation. I helped a bunch of kids get on a boat to Cumberland and she was on it. At the time I just thought she was a funny bird – weird pale eyes, looks straight through you, talks at you like you’re a post. She kept asking about their age, and where they were from, were the girls bleeding or the boys having ‘emissions’, were they still bedwetting…”
“That seems reasonable for a sea voyage,” said Hawke, remembering his own journey to Kirkwall with horror. “The last thing you need is terrified mage girls suddenly having a bellyful.”
“See, that was what I thought, so I sent them off with some coin and some food and wished them good luck.” Selby’s face darkened. “Then weeks later I heard nobody made it to Cumberland alive… except her. It’s common enough to lose a boat, and enough people die of scurvy or the plague or whatnot, but Undine wrote me this lovely little letter about how she was so terribly sorry, and how she was expecting more children soon. Which made me think, not on my fucking watch.”
“You can’t prove it was her, surely?”
“No… but people die around her, Hawke. I wish you could have seen her.”
“Would she consider you a friend? I mean, if you wrote to her – “
Selby’s eyes widened and she slashed frantically with her arms. “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. No. No letter. I do NOT need to be around her. If I hear anything, I’ll send a runner to the Hanged Man. But I do not need to meet Undine van Onselen ever again.”
Hawke sighed. It would have to do.
Selby was clearly worried about the prospect of an unannounced visit from Undine, because a runner turned up at the Man that very evening with a long and detailed message.
“A lady answerin’ to the description of six feet tall, pale long blonde hair, pale blue eyes and thin as a rail ‘as been seen in Darktown. She is wearin’ a shiny blue robe wif fur on the collar an’ cuffs. She ‘as a necklace made out of yooman teef. She bought several items from the Coterie Barker and was last seen disappearin’ in the direction of Smuggler’s Cut.”
“Was there anyone with her?”
“That information is not covered by my fee, messere.”
Hawke held up a silver. The runner fixed him with a gaze of withering contempt. Hawke added another. The runner stared as if Hawke had grown another head. Sighing, Hawke gave three silvers to the runner who promptly said “I was not informed of any persons accompanying the aforesaid lady, messere.”
“Why you little - !” But the runner, true to his profession, had bolted out the door before Hawke could give him a hiding. As Varric pointed out, negative information is still information, so they peeled Isabela away from the bar and strolled across town to collect Fenris for a lovely outing to the sewers.