“...I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever know, and I am in love with you.”
John Green, The Fault In Our Stars
The voices were what drew her back to consciousness. Knight-Corporal Marion Hawke grimaced as she gingerly opened her eyes and blinked blearily up at the dark ceiling above her. For a moment, she was confused - where was she? What had happened? Why was she waking up on a cold marble floor?
Voices...men's voices... Hawke cautiously rolled her head to look toward her right. Two figures stood in the dark recess of the Chantry -
The Chantry! She was in the Chantry! The Templar blinked once, twice, as the fog in her throbbing head started to lift, if only just a bit. Bits and pieces of memory flashed through her mind so quickly, that she had to squeeze her eyes shut, take as deep a breath as she could manage, and force herself to exhale slowly, softly.
She’d come with her squad. They were lead by one of Kirkwall’s best Templar hunters - Knight-Lieutenant Rowena Bronswell. They had set a trap for an apostate who had been corresponding with one of the Circle mages. Their “bait” had been made Tranquil just hours before being marched grimly out of the Gallows. Hawke hadn’t been present for the Rite, but her squad gossiped as they prepared for what they thought would be a fairly routine mission. She had been both surprised, and not surprised at all, to find out that the unfortunate Tranquil they were taking with them was Karl - a mage originally from the Ferelden Circle, who had been a thorn in Meredith’s side since the moment he had stepped into the Gallows. He’d been in Kirkwall for about two or three years, but more mages had gone missing from the Circle in that time, than in the five years prior to his arrival.
Meredith was a master at sniffing out insurrection and those within the Gallows knew what the penalty for defiance was: the brand of Tranquility. According to the squad’s gossip, Karl had given the Knight-Commander one hell of a fight, before four Templars had finally managed to hold him still enough for Meredith to press the brand to his forehead. After that, well...
Karl had offered no resistance to her, or to anyone in her squad, when they all finally set out into the night.
The trap was sprung exactly as intended. The apostate came for his friend - and found far more than he had bargained for. But, when he realized that he and Karl weren’t alone, he had changed. For as long as she lived, Hawke knew she would remember that face that had turned toward them - sharp, angled features, a stubbled jaw, and blue-white eyes that blazed like a Templar's holy blade.
Those eyes were all she saw when she'd been knocked back against the wall so hard that darkness immediately corrupted her vision. He'd thrown all of them away from him, away from each other, with just one powerful blast of magic.
Her squad… What had happened to the others? Hawke already knew the answer, knew because the apostate was still standing, still speaking to Karl in distressed whispers. But...she had to see to believe.
The young Templar inched her way up, her core muscles tightening in the effort; they then trembled slightly as she held herself in an unsupported half-sit up, until she could get her elbows under her. She moved as stealthily as she could - a glance toward the two figures reassured her that she was being soundly ignored.
It didn't help that Karl stood directly in front of the other, who had his back turned to her. She considered the man's shoulder-length hair and short, stiff pony-tail that held the majority of it out of his face. That face…those eyes ...
She shuddered and tore her gaze away from him. He wasn’t glowing any more, so the Maker be thanked for small favors. Hawke looked around her, her eyes darting frantically from body to body - her squad, tossed about the floor like so much trash.
Were they all dead?
That's when she realized that the body closest to her was that of Knight-Lieutenant Bronswell. Blood pooled beneath the officer's helmeted head and spilled across the floor in the short space between them. Forgetting discretion, Hawke bolted upright as she realized that her right shoulder and arm were laying in Bronswell's blood.
Andraste was watching over her, however. Movement caught her eye the instant she sat up and she whipped her head over towards the two men. Hawke lifted her hand to Smite…
And watched in shock as the apostate shoved his blade into Karl’s heart. A mangled moan fell from his lips as he did so, as Karl whispered a "thank you" so faint that Hawke could only read the words from the movements of his lips. The life went swiftly from the older mage's eyes and his killer followed his body down to the floor. There was a high, breathy sob as trembling hands reached out to press Karl's eyes closed, to smooth back his hair in a gesture that clearly conveyed a deep caring for the mage.
Shoulders shook, but there was no sound, as Hawke's intended quarry leaned over and rested his bowed head on the center of Karl's breathless chest. Hawke pushed a sigh silently through her open mouth as she tilted her head and searched the Chantry's painted ceiling for direction on what she should do next.
Her options were quite limited - she had three, to be precise.
Rite of Tranquility.
Rite of Claiming.
She needed to make up her mind quickly. She had heard the stirring of the Sisters on the other side of the building as soon as she'd come to - it was a matter of minutes before the Grand Cleric and the Chantry Mother came bustling over to discover the source of the brief and breathtakingly violent conflict.
There was an important matter to consider, however - the source of the rogue mage's incredible power. Most Templars wouldn't have known (or cared) to make a distinction in what had manifested itself through the blond-haired apostate. But, Hawke closely guarded the truth of her family and origin - she was the daughter and the sister of apostates.
As such, she cared to know a few things that most of her Templar brothers and sisters didn't. One such fact was of particular importance for the moment - that there were more than just demons in the Fade. There were spirits, too - some neutral to the plight of mortal beings, others righteously compelled to aid those in the material realm in what ways they could.
That was a not a maleficar mourning over Karl. It was a simple matter of elimination - he was not an abomination. All Templar knew what that looked like. If he was not possessed by a demon (and he was most certainly possessed), then it had to be a spirit of some particular virtue that had invested itself in the affairs of the mortal world.
As far as she knew, the relationship between a Fade spirit and a mortal was not forged through Blood Magic. Hawke was not hugely convinced by most of the Order's stances on mages, but she at least agreed with the position on maleficar...the wages of Blood Magic was death.
This man did not deserve death - though, she suspected he may very well desire it in the aftermath of his actions.
Tranquility...or Claiming, then.
On second thought, maybe I prefer the option of execution, she thought wryly to herself.
Given the remaining two choices, running her blade through his heart certainly seemed like the more merciful decision in the long run.
Well...best get on with...whatever... The Chantry biddies will be here any second.
Hawke successfully kept herself from groaning as she climbed to her feet. Her armor gave her away, though, as it clanked and creaked in response to her movements. For the thousandth time, she wondered why Templars couldn't wear leather armor. It was much more practical, given the nature of their duties...
She never took her eyes off the mage as she struggled to her feet. A snarl erupted from him and he whirled on his knees to face her - blue flashed in his eyes and appeared in strange fissures across his body, glowing eerily through his clothes and the gloom of the Chantry alcove. Hawke instinctively threw her hand out to Smite him and there was barely any resistance to it. His mana was almost gone; the blue glow disappeared almost as swiftly had it had appeared.
Weary and wary brown eyes stared at her in a mixture of defiance and disbelief. But, as she limped resolutely around the bodies of her fallen brothers and toward him, the resistance in his eyes slowly, sadly, faded into defeat.
"Kill me," he said simply, almost tonelessly as she knelt clumsily beside him on one knee.
Hawke shook her head.
"That's something I try my best to avoid," she murmured.
In truth, she had never killed someone before. Darkspawn, yes. Demons, definitely. But, never a fellow human being, or other Maker-made mortal. She didn't much relish the idea of doing so now - even if he was asking for death.
He hung his head as she gently grabbed his wrists and pulled his hands behind his back. His shoulders slumped and she watched him crumble beneath the touch of her armored hands.
"Please don't make me Tranquil."
"You know what the alternative is, then," she answered softly.
She could hear women's voices drawing close to the stairs behind them. They didn't have time for a conversation...but some sixth sense told Hawke to linger just a moment longer.
"And," she added gently as she drew him up with her as she got to her feet. "I actively try to avoid that as well."
Another pause then an almost awkward admission -
"I try to avoid all three options, truth be told."
He peered down at her (she noted, to her chagrin, that he was about half a foot taller than her), understandably perplexed by what she had said. Hawke shrugged and had to lift her voice just a hair to be heard over the soft clatter of her pauldrons.
"I'm an odd one, I know."
Potential witnesses to their conversation were now climbing the stairs. Hawke took a resolute step closer to the mage and pierced him with a clear blue gaze she only belatedly realized he wouldn’t see from beneath her Templar helmet.
"Do you really want to die?"
The struggle behind his gaze was clearly evident, but thankfully, he didn't linger in indecision. Though, his answer seemed...oddly reluctant, as if it wasn’t quite his own will being expressed.
"Then you need to make a choice," there was no room, no time, for anything but bluntness. "And you have until we arrive at the Gallows to tell me what it is."
The look he gave her was a hard one to describe. It was startled, thoughtful, searching, calculating. Hawke returned his gaze in equal measure. She could tell that he was shocked by her words...and she could also tell that he understood what she was implying.
If he didn’t want to die, and he didn't want to be Tranquil...then he had to take a chance with her.
The very thought of Claiming him was bitter to her, almost foul. Not to mention, for her such an action was fraught with...numerous personal complications, one of which was particularly hard to overlook. Hawke forced herself not to dwell on what the Claiming might mean for her. It wasn’t her life on the line. She’d spent her whole life making sacrifices to save lives. What was one more?
The apostate she had captured was not a Blood Mage, and Hawke was resolute in her belief that those apostates who had resisted both temptation and desperation deserved a chance to live, to redeem themselves - if only in the eyes of the Maker and his Bride. She would honor his choice, no matter how repugnant it might be to her.
Life over death, insomuch as it was possible. So she had been taught, so she believed.