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The City Built on Blood

Chapter Text

The constant rocking of the ship made her miss Weisshaupt.

Ragna Brosca had bought passage aboard the Ravaging Magistra at Marnus Pell. The lavish Tevinter trader’s galley had passed Vyrantium, Neromenian and Carastes, before heading north to Seheron. At Carastes she had already grown fond of ship and crew and was having half a mind to join their voyage to Seheron. She could have found out, if the rumors regarding the new Arishok of the Qunari were true, that he truly was on Seheron, but there was no way to know for sure. Furthermore, she could not say whether the Arishok shared her desire to meet up, or if she would find closed doors at the Qunari settlements on the island. It had been years since Par Vollen, but whenever she closed her eyes she could still see the turquoise ocean and the white sandbanks, she could still smell the earthy dampness of the rainforest and still feel the strong grey arms wrap around her, hear the whispers of affection beneath a star-filled night sky… and how her former companion’s silhouette had faded into the horizon, as her ship had carried her far and further away from the coastline of the Qunari mainland.

Ragna had abandoned foolish and naïve notions regarding the Qunari long ago. Therefore she had parted ways with the Ravaging Magistra and her crew, with a heavy heart. From Carastes she had booked passage on a lighter, smaller ship of Rivaini origin, called The Old Seer, which had carried her all the way to Antiva City, halting in Qarinus, Kont-arr, Seere, Llomeryn, Dairsmund, Afsaana and Treviso. Antiva City had been a pulsating city, full of life and lust. Ragna had never enjoyed a city quite as much as the Antivan capital and after three weeks of overstaying her visit, she swore to herself, to one day return. However, her duties led her elsewhere. The ship she travelled on now was called the Brave Lafaille, a large warship from the Marches, and it travelled much faster than the Rivaini trading cog, only making port at Wycome and Ostwick, before finally reaching Ragna’s long-awaited destination.

By the time the massive chains of the Gallows of Kirkwall came into sight on the horizon, Ragna had been at sea for seven whole fortnights, including her small vacation at Antiva City. Seven fortnights was more than enough time to think about this fool’s errand she found herself on, and declare it folly to ever have left Weisshaupt in the first place, though at this point she would have rather flung herself into the ocean, than turn back and abandon her mission this far on. In fact, she had little mind to board a ship at all, anytime soon. She didn’t get as sick from the sea anymore, as she had at the beginning of her journey, though the constant rocking of ships would never be something she would get used to. If times were different, she wouldn’t have bothered booking passage by sea at all, and would instead have passed over land, through the Hunterhorn mountains and Nevarra, staying at holdfasts and cities and making use of the hospitality of Ander and Nevarran nobility. Alas, the times being complicated as they were and her mission delicate to say the least, travelling by sea was the wiser choice for the Warden-Commander.

The Brave Lafaille was a brand-new military warship, a dromond, elegant but deadly, which the vicomte of Kirkwall had commissioned in Antiva City, and it had cost Ragna a small fortune and much convincing to book passage on it, as neither captain nor contractor had meant it to be boarded by mere citizens. When Ragna had presented a fairy large poach of gold pieces, they bent the rules lain out by the contract and she was allowed passage on the brand new dromond after all. Despite its imposing structure the ship stole into the harbour on a swift tide, without catching too many eyes, and Ragna could slip into the city without being confronted by any guards. Back in Dust Town Beraht had made her smuggle everything from potent drinks, to weapons of all kind, even refined lyrium nuggets and all sorts of stolen deep roads treasures. In all her years under the thumb of the Carta boss, she would never have guessed that one day she would have to smuggle herself into a city.

The towering metal chains of Kirkwall’s Gallows dwarfed the large warship, as it passed into the harbour. For a city that large and with such an exceeding reputation, Kirkwall certainly looked dour, with its large, simple structures of grimy grey stone. Weisshaupt seemed colourful in comparison and it was little more an old grubby holdfast. Just about every port city and most coastal villages Ragna had passed through, on her endless, tiring journey to Kirkwall, had been more inviting and charming in their own way, than the ominous bleakness of this strange place, which seemed to loom over the entire city. In light of the city’s grim history, it was just the sort of atmosphere Ragna had anticipated, when she had set sail at Marnus Pell. Though small when compared to cities such as Qunandar, Minrathous or Antiva City, Kirkwall emitted an eerie sense of authority, with its harsh contrast of districts, its straight cobbled roads and its overabundance of templars, who seemed to patrol every corner of the city, as if it belonged to them. Ignoring the uneasy feeling in her gut, Ragna made her way further into the city.

The massive door looked more like an abandoned shed than the entry to an inn. Mismatched wooden planks had been nailed together quite sloppily, Ragna spotted several rusty nails between the multicoloured planks. All of the wooden planks were in varying degrees of decay, some of them were obviously repurposed ship planks, sporting a number of incrustations and dried seaweed that could only have come from the sea. Others must have been picked up from some garbage dump, as they sported cracks and nondescript grime stains, along with faded paint from earlier purposes. The only indication that this was truly a tavern, was a crude sign made from a rusty metal sheet, in the shape of a humanoid figure, dangling from a from a wooden jut above the door and illuminated by a dim lantern, which looked like the single feature of the entrance that seemed to be in good shape. According to her sources, The Hanged Man was supposedly the heart of Kirkwall’s Lowtown, and therefore just the place for Ragna to use as a temporary headquarter.

Ragna peered into the bowl of stew and tried her best not to wonder what kind of meat was swimming in the broth, as she ate. When she had ordered strongwine she had expected to get a small cup. Instead the innkeep had sold her the entire bottle for just a few coppers. Ragna suspected she had paid him far too much for lodging, though she figured it may be useful to get into the proprietor’s good graces. She would need to get started with collecting information soon, but for the moment all she wanted was to celebrate the end of her overblown journey. It was only a couple of minutes until she had downed the entire bottle of strongwine and called for dwarven ale. While she waited on her drink she looked around the inn. Above the tiny fireplace was a painted image of two shivering figures. It seemed that the theme of suffering was inescapable in this city, Ragna thought with a shiver, and her eyes drifted away from the gruesome image on the wall, through the dimly lit tavern. There weren’t many patrons in the inn, just some rugged looking locals and underpaid sailors on shore leave. None of them looked like the kind of people Ragna was searching for. But there was still hope. After all it was still rather early in the evening. Perhaps the inn would fill itself in the next hours.

Eating and drinking had made her tired, but Ragna forced herself to remain seated at her small table, and watch the people in the inn, at least for another hour, before finally allowing herself the luxury of falling unto the straw mattress on the bed of the chamber she had rented. Better to start this fool’s errand early than late, she thought to herself, and raised her cup to her lips once more. This dwarven ale had a lighter colour than the one she had imported to Weisshaupt from Orzammar, and it didn’t burn down her throat, as the brand she was used to. She strongly suspected the innkeep was stretching the drink with water, but Ragna didn’t care. The ecstasy of finishing her journey filled her tired body with energy and she was eager not to end her first day in Kirkwall with disappointment. So she waited.

Moments became minutes and minutes became hours, as she sat at her table, drinking occasionally and peering throughout the dimly lit Hanged Man. Patrons came and left, though all of them appeared to be regular dockworkers and lowly sailors, none with information she could have used. The more time passed, the more resigned she became that she wouldn’t find what she was seeking. The dwarven ale was already dulling her senses more than she liked to admit and the straw mattress in her chamber seemed more inviting than ever. Ragna had almost gotten up to go to bed, when the door of the Hanged Man flung open once more and two new figures entered the inn, a human female in heavy armor, accompanied by a dwarf in an eccentric leather coat. Both of them looked exhausted, and yet they stood out from the other patrons of The Hanged Man like gemstones in a sea of dust. Nobody turned towards the newcomers, as they entered, but all eyes were upon them nonetheless, sullen stares from the shadowy corners of the inn, stolen glances from the corners of the other patrons’ eyes. They were familiar with these people. To the other patrons, their appearance meant trouble. Ragna couldn’t help but smile in silent triumph. Perhaps her evening would turn out successful after all.

The woman and the dwarf had taken a seat at a table close to Ragna’s. She was able to listen in on their conversation without appearing suspicious. Despite that fortunate placement, her unsuspecting targets spoke in rather hushed voices, which made it rather difficult for Ragna to understand them. It was hard to listen in, and she cursed herself for drinking so much. With a lot of concentration, she managed to pick up some fragments of the conversation.

“…she’s all alone now?”, the woman hissed, trying her best to keep her voice low. The armor she was wearing was that of the city guard, Ragna had seen the same armor on the guards at the harbour, as she had slipped past them, alongside the crew of the Brave Lafaille.
“No, Rivaini’s with her”. The dwarf had a raspy voice and had far less problems with keeping quiet. “
“And the others?”, the woman asked.
The dwarf shrugged. “Went home, I suppose. Blondie’s probably sulking around Dark Town. Rivaini’s gone after Hawke, nobody else knows, except maybe Gamlen.”
“We should go to Hawke, too. Comfort her.”, the woman said, forgetting that she was supposed to keep her voice down.
“No. She wants to be alone”. The dwarf’s tone didn’t allow any backtalk.
The woman sighed audibly. “I just… can’t believe she’s gone now. I haven’t seen her in a while, you know. Kept cancelling our meetings because of work. But she always understood. She always wanted to talk about Donnic, and Wesley, about Ferelden… and now she’s… at least Carver’s with her. Someone needs to inform Bethany. But how to write to the wardens? Maybe An-“
“Will you keep quiet, Aveline?!”, the dwarf hissed, cutting the woman off. “Ears everywhere, haven’t I told you?”.
“Come on, Varric. I know every templar in the city, they’re not searching for him at the Hanged Man. They’re not searching for him anywhere.” Someone of the two was drinking now, but Ragna didn’t want to look which one, lest she be caught at eavesdropping.
“Yeah, well it’s not the templars I meant.”, the dwarf mumbled from between clenched teeth.

For a fleeting moment Ragna felt as though the dwarf had addressed her. Who else could he have possibly meant? Certainly not the rugged sailors who were getting increasingly drunk these last hours. The woman mentioning the wardens had piqued Ragna’s interest, perhaps her facial expressions had slipped and revealed that she was eavesdropping? Secretly Ragna cursed herself for drinking so much. Old habits died hard, and dwarven ale was renown to muddle the senses. She had downed more than half a bottle. Her weapons and armour were in her chamber, she’d have nothing to fight with, and the other dwarf had a giant hulking crossbow with countless mechanisms and several loaded bolts leaning to his chair. Should the dwarf attack, Ragna would not win the fight.

But the dwarf did nothing of the sort. He simply continued his conversation with the woman, only that their hushed voices became soft whispers, impossible to comprehend without getting closer. Ragna sighed, realizing she was hitting a dead end. Sullen, she stayed in her chair, the bottle of dwarven ale resting at her lips, only occasionally taking a sip, and eyed the Hanged Man, while trying to make out the whispers of the dwarf and the armoured woman.

Eventually her concentration waned and her mind began to slip away, carrying her thoughts to long lost places and the faint memories of dark palm leaves against star-filled skies in the dead of night, and strong, grey arms holding her, relishing the touch of her, a husky voice breathing lascivious confessions down her neck and calloused lips setting her senses ablaze in a rush of starved kisses…

Ragna shook her head vigorously, as if trying to shake the ghosts of memories past off of her. Whenever she allowed herself a moment of hesitation at the bottom of a bottle, was always the exact moment her mind whisked her away to those memories she had confined to the farthest end of her mind, and regardless of how much she tried to numb herself, it was always in those moments that the old pain returned, when the last of those memories hit her in the gut; that of a grey-skinned silhouette on a beach of white sand, fading into the horizon, as a ship spirited her further away from the scene.

One of her hands was gripping the grimy outside façade of the Hanged Man, the other was resting on her knee, as she stooped downwards and retched. Chunks of half-digested stew and spirits splattered onto the street of Kirkwall’s Lowtown, thankfully avoiding her shoes. The sour taste of vomit lingered in her mouth, as Ragna recomposed herself and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Apparently the dwarven ale of the Hanged Man was not, in fact, watered down. That, and a culmination of months at sea, one-sided nutrition and stomach-turning memories had sent her retching into the streets of Kirkwall. She hoped no one of the other patrons of the inn had noticed. “Stupid”, she muttered to herself. This trip had made her reckless and incompetent. It was about time that she flung herself into a pile of work.

“Don’t think I’ve ever seen another dwarf fail quite as badly at holding their liquor.”, a voice from behind her called out. Ragna immediately spun around, clenching her fingers into fists, prepared to fight off any surprise attacks. It was the dwarf she had eavesdropped on. He stood in front of the door to the Hanged Man, leaning against it and smirking at her. When Ragna noticed that he wasn’t carrying the massive crossbow she had seen leaning against his chair inside, she changed her stance. He wasn’t out here to fight her.

“Let me guess, fellow surface dwarf, Carta maybe?”, the dwarf made a step towards her, eyeing her intensely “No, something else… you don’t happen to be with the Merchant’s Guild, do you?”, he asked, keeping his distance. Ragna gestured towards the black brand on her cheek. It branded her as casteless, for all the world to see. Even surface dwarves knew about the stone-hard hierarchies of Orzammar. “Does it look like I am?”, she asked, concentrating on not slurring her words and sounding more drunk than she was. Surprisingly, she felt quite sober. “So you are from Orzammar, who would have thought? It seems even I can make mistakes, though admittedly, I did have a rough day.” Perplexed, Ragna lowered her hands. “What gave me away?”, she asked with genuine interest. A smile played on the other dwarf’s lips. “You did, just now”.

Ragna resisted the urge to curse. Her drink had dulled the sense out of her mind. Here she was being outsmarted and revealing secrets to a stranger. It should have been the other way round. “Well you certainly have a way with words”, Ragna admitted, sounding a great deal more bitter than she had intended. “I’ve upset you, I’m sorry. Just trying to get acquainted”, the other dwarf laughed. He made another step towards her and reached out his hand. “Varric Tethras, at your service.” For the first time Ragna had a good look at him. He was of just about the same height as herself, though his shoulders were so broad they made the fabric of his long coat stretch slightly at the shoulders. Beneath the massive coat he wore an eccentric doublet of lavish red velvet, with golden appliqués, and a low neckline, which revealed a thicket of coarse blonde chest hair. “Rich, eccentric attire. Clearly surface-born. Drawn to strangers. Cautious questions about the Merchant’s Guild and yet undeniably good at lulling you in with words... Just how much of a criminal are you, Varric Tethras?”, Ragna asked, barely hiding a smirk of her own. If he wanted to play a game of wits, she’d make him regret it. But the other dwarf only smiled her words off, answering with a quip: “Oh, I do my part. Nothing horrible though, I like to think. I’m sure, you won’t mind.” “You’re right, I don’t”, Ragna agreed, finally shaking his hand. “Ragna Brosca, I’m not from around.”

“Nice to meet you, Ragna Brosca. And Welcome to Kirkwall”.

The Hanged Man was beginning to clear out, most of the patrons had already drunken themselves into a blissful stupor, however Varric Tethras did not yet seem ready to call it a night. He had led Ragna back inside and had ordered a drink she did not know, insisting she’d thank him in the morning. Then he continued his nonchalant chat by introducing Ragna to his companion, the red-haired woman with the guard’s armor. Unlike the dwarf, the woman didn’t seem to be equipped with her companion’s charm, choosing instead to scowl at Ragna, quickly excuse herself and head out of the inn. It was clear that she didn’t enjoy the company of strangers. ‘Better that way’, Ragna though to herself. If she were to get worthwhile information out of this Varric Tethras, it was better to be alone with him. “So then, what brings a fellow dwarf to Kirkwall? Business? Family?”, he asked.

“What’s left of my family is in Orzammar, I’m afraid. I’m here on business.”, Ragna answered truthfully. It was an old Carta technique, her old Carta boss Beraht had told her, back when she had just started working for him, what seemed like a lifetime ago. The key to any good lie was to stick to the truth as much as possible and change only what was necessary. That reduced the chance of slipping up and accidentally revealing the lie.

“And I assume it’s too much to ask what kind of business you’re here for?”, Varric Tethras inquired further.

“Well-“, Ragna began and hesitated for a moment. Her mind was too hazy to spontaneously come up with a story. ‘Such a fool I am! I should have thought about a fake backstory weeks ago!’, she thought to herself. But on each of the ships she had travelled on, nobody had been interested to hear about her story and she had soon forgotten about it.

She had to think quickly. The other dwarf had more than alluded to being a criminal, which meant that he certainly had ties to the Carta. How strong those ties were she could only guess. She couldn’t pass for a surfacer anymore, thanks to her blundering earlier. And this Varric’s companion had probably found Ragna’s armor in her room – if she had been there at all. The woman didn’t strike Ragna to be thief material, but there was no way to be certain. Be that as it were, there was still no chance at passing for a regular civilian, either. No time to think, she had to react as fast as possible. Stick to the truth, change only what is necessary.

“I’m searching for someone. An old friend. Rumor has it he’s here, in Kirkwall”, she said, truthfully.

“Good luck with that, kid. This city tends to swallow people”, the other dwarf answered.

Kid, he had called her. That almost made her chuckle. ‘He underestimates me. Good. I’ll make use of that’, Ragna thought.

Chapter Text

Morning came far too soon.

Hawke had been crying most of the night. Though her face had been buried in Isabela’s embrace, the Rivaini captain had heard the repressed sobs and felt the wetness of Hawke’s tears on her linen tunic. Isabela hadn’t known what to say, so she had just held her in a tight embrace and stroked the back of her head, while the other woman cried herself to sleep for hours. The previous day had been terrible on Hawke. After a frantic search for her mother, they had found her… or what remained of her. The woman had died in Hawke’s arms, the last family she still had.

“And now I’m alone”, Hawke had sobbed, the entire time. “Family’s not just the people you’re related to by blood.”, Isabela had said, after a while, running her fingers through Hawke’s auburn hair. “There are other people who care about you”. Then she had felt stupid about saying anything at all, as Hawke’s crying only got worse. Therefore, she had just held her, stroked the back of her head tenderly and listened to the endless sobbing of “I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m so alone”. At one point, Isabela herself had to blink away a few tears. It was difficult to deal with, seeing Hawke like that.

But that had been hours ago. Now, Hawke was asleep, her head resting on Isabela’s sternum, moving only as the Rivaini’s chest rose and sank with the breaths she took. Hawke almost looked at peace, sleeping like that. Isabela’s legs had gone numb some hours ago, and she felt her lover’s weight everywhere on her body. She caught herself glancing at Hawke’s chamber pot far too often, making her hyperaware of the drinks she had had the evening prior. It was impossible to find sleep. Now that the first rays of sunshine forced themselves into the room, through the window, Isabela was exhausted and dreaded the moment they would wake Hawke up.

Eventually she dozed off. A light slumber took hold of her and her mind became blank, as she drifted off into an abstract dream… until a loud and blunt thud pulled her back into the world of the living, making her eyes snap open. She was still in Hawke’s bedroom, still sprawled out on her back, but without the other woman sleeping in her embrace. The foul taste of sleep clung to her tongue and she got up awkwardly, as if invisible weights were strapped to her sore limbs. When she finally stood, she stretched her arms above her head, making the bones of her back crackle a bit too loud for her liking. Still groggy, she pulled her linen tunic into place and gathered her boots, that littered the red carpet. Then she heard the thud again and left the room to investigate.

Downstairs, the strange dwarf Sandal was jumping down from the balustrade, landing on a big cushion on the ground floor. Whenever he landed, a loud thud filled the estate. Hawke’s Mabari stood next to the cushion, barking in anticipation, whenever Sandal was about to jump down again. “Have you seen Hawke?”, Isabela asked, without addressing the absurdity of the situation. “Hello”, Sandal said, looking up at her with his unsettlingly blue eyes. “Have you seen Hawke?”, Isabela repeated for the dwarf. “The hawke has been pierced. The perch is soiled. Fear waits behind the veil”, Sandal said cryptically, without blinking. “Right…”, Isabela said awkwardly. “Never mind then”.

She searched the estate, until finding Hawke in the bathroom, down in the cellar. The massive tub of dwarven build took up half of the space of the room. It was filled with water. Next to the bath stood some candles, their flickering orange light throwing shadows onto the walls and onto the face of the woman sitting in the water. “Hey”, Isabela said, not knowing what else to say. Hawke didn’t answer. “Mind if I join?”, Isabela said, again. That finally provoked a reaction. “Please. I’ve always been to small for this thing”.

A couple of moments later, Isabela let herself slide into the water. “Aah”, she said, feeling the heat seep into her sore bones. Then, without missing a beat, she turned to Hawke and said, in the most serious tone she could muster: “How are you feeling, Hawke?”

“Better now”, the other woman said, and Isabela believed her. “Thank you, for… for staying.”, Hawke said, avoiding Isabela’s eyes. “I know you’re not good with… emotional things”. Moved, Isabela closed the difference between them, sending the water around them to splash over the edge of the tub, as she pulled Hawke into a fierce hug. “I’m not good at talking about these things, Hawke, but I want you to know, whatever happens, I’ll always be there for you, if you’d have me”. Isabela buried her face in Hawke’s shoulder, pressing her nose against Hawke’s wet hair. The scent of rose oil from the bath clung to the damp strands of red hair. Hawke leaned into the hug, closing her eyes, and whispered: “I know”. Then, she turned to face Isabela and pulled her into a longing kiss.

It was sweet at first, when Hawke’s tongue entered her mouth, and then it grew wilder, harder, as if kissing Isabela meant clinging on to dear life. Isabela lay her hands on Hawke’s, which had lost themselves in the dark curls of her hair and the bend of her neck, wandering further down with every passing moment of their embrace. Beneath the passion, Hawke was still trembling, Isabela could feel it. “Not now. You’d regret it, after”, she explained. “You’re full of emotions and looking for release. But it won’t come, believe me. You need to mourn in peace, first. Cry if you need to, rage if you must, but don’t try to fuck the hurt away”, she elaborated. Her brown eyes found Hawke’s and she could tell there were new tears gathering in the corners of Hawke’s eyes. “Later”, Isabela said. “I promise”. She kissed Hawke again, but this time it was only briefly, then she got out of the bathtub. “Meet me in the Hanged Man”, she chose to keep it a vague invitation. If Hawke was anything like herself, she’d want some time alone, to process the pain.

The midday sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky, blinding Isabela, as she walked down the busy streets of Hightown. The stone stairs were torture. Isabela’s legs were still sore from the hours spent not moving, so she had to waddle her way from Hawke’s estate down towards Lowtown. She made a point to overlook the befuddled stares her ungraceful movements were garnering. Her mind was on Hawke. The way she had cried, the things she had said between sobs, it was all too familiar for Isabela. They had been her own words, once. The words of a scared child, sobbing at the prospect of an uncertain future, left with the crushing realization that her family was gone, forever. It was a different time, a different context, but the pain was the same. And if there was one person who didn’t deserve to feel like this, it was Hawke.

“You there! Halt!”, a harsh voice called out. Instinctively, Isabela lay a hand on her dagger, and spun around, alert. A big oaf of a guard was hastily staggering towards her, his port belly straining against the chain shirt he was wearing.

“You happen to be captain Isabela?”, the man huffed at her, once he had finally crossed the courtyard.

“That depends on who’s asking”

The man frowned at her answer. “The Guard-Captain wants to see you”.

“Right. Well, you can tell her that…”, Isabela started, but the guard cut her off.

“She also said to throw you in the dungeons, if you refuse to come”.

Isabela exhaled a strained sound that was supposed to be a chuckle, but turned out more like an exasperated sigh. “Very well. But this might take a while”.

Deliberately overexaggerating her strut, she followed the guard to the Vicomte’s keep. She burst into Aveline’s office, with a face that screamed murder. “You better have a good reason for this!”, she growled at the other woman.

The Guard-Captain looked like she had slept just as badly as Isabela. She had dark circles around the eyes, and her facial demeanour was somehow more dour than usual. And she was pale. Perhaps it was just the gloom of her office, but Aveline looked ill, nauseous, her skin dry and colourless. “You know”, Isabela said, plainly.

“Varric told me”, Aveline said. “He also assured me you were taking care of Hawke”. Her voice was suddenly sharp again.

“So you posted that whale on my tail, if I dared to leave the estate?”, Isabela scoffed. “Clearly you’re an expert on interhuman relationships!”

“Don’t make this about me, Isabela. I know what Hawke is going through! She needs someone by her side and, merciful Maker, she has chosen you. You’d better be there for her!”

“I was with her all night! And I don’t owe you an explanation for what I do and where I go! I’m meeting Hawke later. She needs to get out of that house. Leandra’s ghost is everywhere, and it’s tearing at her. I’m taking her mind off of things, later. For now, she needs to be alone. Make peace with herself. I just… know.” She sighed and let herself slump down onto the Guard-Captain’s desk.

“You look terrible, by the way”, she added. “You knew Leandra long?”

That softened Aveline’s stance up a bit. “We met fleeing Lothering. She was there for me, after Wesley had…”, she fumbled for words for a heartbeat. “We meet up from time to time. She has a lot to say about Hawke, her youth, Bethany. I kept postponing the meetups lately. Didn’t have the time. And now she’s just… gone.” Aveline slouched down into the wooden chair, in front of Isabela. She rubbed at the bags beneath her eyes and smoothed some stray hair out of her face “I feel horrible”, she brought out after a while. “I’m sorry for sending the guards after you”.

“I…”, Isabela began, but she didn’t know what to say, so instead, she sat nothing, and the two of them sat there, in the silence of grief.