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A Chantry Explosion Fix-It AU Exploration (in which the Chantry Explosion still happens).

Alright, so I can’t actually sit down and write a full, straightforward fic for this, and I’m already writing ridiculously long SW essays at this point in time, so I’ll try to keep this relatively short and sweet. (Lol, when have I ever managed that.) The goal of this amateur overview doctoring and meta-essay writing exercise is to try and keep the Chantry Explosion and general climax of Act 3 in DA2 (more or less), but make it more coherent and in-character.

And also have fun. Because we’re here to have fun. (Essentially… who wants to follow the extremely long potential fix-it thought-threads that I come up with for fun and type out late at night?)

 If you interpreted or read DA2 differently than I did, or enjoyed pieces of the game that I didn’t, that’s fine. That’s great, actually. DA is a broad and complex game series. Also, creative works would be very dull if everybody agreed with each other all the time over how to make them and how to interpret them. I don’t believe the games (which were under certain constraints, I know) should change according to random things I come up with, even if my wording may suggest that.

It's also worth noting that this is only about Anders, Meredith, and the Mages versus Templars conflict culminating in the Chantry Explosion, which is just one plotline in the game, though it is the final one. This doesn't cover the many other characters and other plotlines of the game, such as the issues surrounding the Qunari occupation or the struggles of the Dalish Clan Sabrae. I have things I like and didn't like about those plotlines as well, but this is the one I'm currently focused on, due to it being the culminating and ultimate conflict of the final act. The end with a bang, and all that. 

~

Table of Contents

Justice for Anders - Healers Fix the Problem

Justice for Justice - Something Has to Give

  • You Are What You Eat

A Hardened Anders - Alternate Character Development

Murder Meredith Stannard – Off With Her Head

A Brief Aside on Orsino and the Absurd Number of Blood Mages and Demons in Kirkwall

Why Still Destroy the Chantry?

The Actual Events – Anders Versus Meredith

Any Direction You Choose – Hawke’s Choices

  • 1 – How Hawke reacts to Meredith -> Kneel, Stand Back, or Refute.
  • 2 – How Hawke reacts to Anders -> Condemn, Remain Indifferent, or Support.
  • 3 – Meredith Offers Hawke Join Her – Protect the Gallows, Rite of Annulment, or Stand Aside.

~

~~

Justice for Anders Healers Fix the Problem

 Alright, so Anders has never actually been my favorite character, but I’m still a little bitter over what they did to him. I feel that even with the pressures of Meredith and Justice, Act 3 pushed Anders into a plot that was out of character for him and a disservice to his cause.

 Like, Anders has been imprisoned and coerced into service essentially his whole life, and when he finally has some limited freedom in Kirkwall, he continually risks it all by dedicating all of his energy, resources, and essentially his every waking moment of the next seven years to a) helping mages escape a prison so hellish that it gave even the jailers nightmares and b) healing the poor in the sewers for free. He’s a deeply compassionate and caring man, even with the idea that Justice was always pushing him to do more on both fronts.

 Anders isn’t an idiot. Sure, he’s very stressed and probably slightly depressed and also possessed (and everyone in Hawke’s crew has pulled some stupid stunts), but he’s an intelligent ex-Warden who’s avoided the Templars, helped a Mage Underground, and been running a charity clinic for all of Darktown for seven years. The man’s a mess on many fronts, but he does get a lot done.

 If Anders is going to pull some large, dangerous, and extremely desperate stunt… Well, that’s not out of character for him. I agree that between Meredith and Justice, Anders could be pushed to some very desperate measures. I disagree, however, with the execution of his Chantry Explosion.

 Firstly, I don’t think Anders would pull anything with extreme collateral. A man who has dedicated himself to the poor and refugees, to Darktown, isn’t going to do that to Kirkwall. Any explosion that Anders pulls shouldn’t have rubble raining down and destroying half of Kirkwall, or whatever the retcons say. While a hardened Anders might accept the collateral of people inside the Chantry other than his targets, I still think he’d care about collateral.

(I’m going to go on another potential negative-development direction for Anders character in a bit. See: A Hardened Anders – Alternate Character Development)

 Here is a VERY good thread on the incoherency and impossibility of the Chantry Explosion as seen in DA2. It’s a bit long, but it’s very interesting, and it talks about trying to model that very bizarre-looking explosion and its damage. (x)

 Secondly, Anders is a healer, on top of having some experience in Circle and Grey Warden politics. He’s probably pretty good at identifying the cause of an “illness”. If Anders is going to go for anything, then I don’t think he should have modeled himself up as some nonsensical martyr to a bizarre Mage-Templar War. I think Anders should have gone directly after the problem.

 I think Anders should have gone for Meredith.

 ~~

Justice for Justice Something Has To Give

 Maybe it’s just the DA:O Awakening in me, but I feel that DA2 failed to investigate Justice as a character and person. Also, demons and spirits in general. The only one demon/spirit that I can name off the top of my head is Merrill’s Audacity, the Pride Demon on Sundermount, who got no real personal story or character development.

 Depending on how you view the Anders and Justice, there are lots of interesting interpretations of Justice. Personally, I headcanon their merger as being slightly different from the usual abomination or Avvar-style spirit partnerships, due to Justice being cast out of the Fade and into the physical world. I don’t know if I’d say Anders is two people, but I wouldn’t say he’s really just one person either.

 Laying the blame on one or the other feels like a bit of disservice to the both of them and just how angry they are. Though I am not at all saying they’re blameless in their decisions or actions. They hold the responsibility for their actions, even if they felt pressured/pushed.

 I think Anders and Justice’s partnership was unhealthy, though they entered it with good intentions. I believe that things were slightly twisted by their unconventional abomination situation, and that Justice might be leaning towards becoming Vengeance for a number of reasons. Firstly, because of Kirkwall’s negative environment and Anders’ anger/influence on Justice. Secondly, because I occasionally have the headcanon that Justice might have been starving.

~

 You Are What You Eat

 Sorry, this is a bit of an occasional headcanon tangent here about spirits, and not actually a part of the fix-it. Essentially, as spirits and demons seem to feed off mortals – ex. Cole’s acts of compassion which seem to sustain him – I think that Kirkwall being such a negative and unjust place (the City of Chains that never really lost them) wouldn’t be good for a Spirit of Justice.

 Tied into Justice being stuck outside the Fade and whatever sustenance the Fade provides to spirits/demons, and being isolated from other spirits/demons (it’s hard to define Justice without input from Compassion and Rage), it’s worse. I headcanon that spirits/demons change and evolve based on how they feed, which is how a Spirit of Compassion might flip into a Despair Demon, or the other way around. How a Desire Demon might become a Spirit of Love.

 There isn’t much justice in Kirkwall, but there is a lot of room for vengeance, and a spirit needs to eat. Though I believe Justice makes claims that he doesn’t feed off mortals and has no desires, I don’t think that’s true. I headcanon that Anders and Justice both deeply fear Justice becoming a demon, and that denial and refusal to investigate weakened their communication and their partnership.

 Here’s a link to a post of mine that goes into slightly more depth on it, though not much. (x)

~

 Back to Justice, I personally find it difficult to believe that Justice wasn’t influence by Anders in both negative and positive ways. Spirits and demons may but “simple” creatures, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t deep, and justice is a complex subject. Justice is an intelligent being with all the capacity for change (although admittedly perhaps not the willingness, given Justice’s dislike of demons and fear of becoming a fear), especially since he’s in a weird fusion situation with a human.

 Still, even if Justice resists growth and has aspects of Vengeance even early on, it feels out of character to me that Justice wouldn’t give a damn about largescale collateral on Kirkwall and wouldn’t be able to identify to the “problem”. If Justice is a straightforward creature, I don’t think he should be pushing for a Mage Revolution or some bizarre Mage-Templar war.

 I think he should want direct justice and vengeance. I think he should want Knight-Commander Meredith and Grand-Cleric Elthina’s heads.

~~

A Hardened Anders Alternate Character Development

Personally, I really can’t get over Anders’ weird martyr play and taking away mages’ choice to fight. I don’t think it makes sense to his character, even if he and Justice are twisting themselves into knots. Anders is an intelligent guy, even if he is stressed, depressed, and possessed, and I don’t think something that abstract would really appeal to Justice/Vengeance.

 The aspect of their tragedy that I really enjoy is that they, Anders and Justice, both cared so much that it exhausted and ruined them. They were alone and fighting everything at once, and it was too much.

 I think Anders should be intimately aware of how few opportunities mages in the Circles actually have to fight back, especially given how much worse Kirkwall is than Kinloch or any other Circle. There are still children in the Gallows. There would be massive numbers of children and teenagers and the elderly (and the Tranquil) in Circles. To have Anders turn around and demand that every mage fight is… against his core compassion, I think. Against Anders’ and Justice’s core compassion, I think.

 (It’s been seven years, Justice should have some concept of what babies and children are. I mean, the Fade has wisps and stages of development for spirits.)

 Especially when Anders has repeatedly had his choices stripped from him, between the Circles and the Grey Wardens. Admittedly, with the story’s set up of an absurd (yet understandable) number of blood mages and demons in Kirkwall, I can understand why Anders and Justice would be frustrated, but… intentionally and carelessly damning mages all across Thedas in some bizarre martyr scheme is still so incredibly nonsensical to me.

 As Anders and Justice’s Chantry Explosion plot stands in canon, they’re accomplishing nothing but inciting chaos, giving Meredith the push she needs to call for a Rite of Annulment. If Anders and Justice want vengeance, they should have gone for Meredith. Cut off the head of the snake.

 Though I argue about their compassion, I still think that Anders and Justice can have negative character development. I think it’s interesting for Anders and Justice to struggle for control with each other, to grapple with overwhelming frustration and loneliness and rage. Kirkwall is a terrible place that’s good for neither of them, it makes sense. I don’t think the direction this went in the end, having Anders and Justice martyr themselves with the intention of nothing but chaos to show for it, makes sense.

 In DA:O, the first Dragon Age game, the protagonist character has the option to “harden” their companions through personal quests and such. The best example I can think of is Alistair and how he reacts to the protagonist if the protagonist chooses to spare Loghain (a man whom Alistair understandably hates and wants dead, and has done some terrible things). If Alistair hasn’t been “hardened” by a dialogue option in his earlier personal quest, which essentially tells him that some people are only out for themselves, Alistair will leave the party if Loghain isn’t killed. If Alistair has been “hardened”, then he puts up with it. (I believe. It’s been a while.)

 I think it would have been interesting to have a hardened Anders rather than a mad one. (Though Anders would still be fairly gloomy either way, I think.) I think it would have been interesting to have Anders throwing himself more behind the Mage Underground and rebellion, and perhaps slightly forsaking his Darktown clinic and self-assigned responsibility as Darktown’s healer. Anders still has hope for change and hope in Hawke (depending on friendship/rivalry), but he’s losing that optimism.

 I also think it would have been interesting to bring in more of a solid Mage Underground. Not a large one, but a few more people/mages dedicated to Anders’ cause. I think it could have broadened the Mage-Templar politics in Kirkwall for the better. Make Anders a burgeoning leader, with other people who believe in his message or vengeance (though don’t support him as he and Justice might personally need), having been building up to this through Acts 1 and 2.

 See, I think it would have been interesting to really set Anders up as a foil to Meredith. Her enemy. Her rival. Her downfall. Hawke, as Hawke stands in the story, is a person standing in the balance between the many sides of Kirkwall. There are so many player directions for Hawke that I think the story could have really benefitted from Hawke as the outsider, coming into a strong Mage-Templar conflict with Anders and Meredith as the leaders and figureheads in more direct conflict.

~~

Murder Meredith Stannard Off With Her Head

 So, the point I’ve been trying to make in too many words is that Anders and Justice should want Meredith dead. I think that should have been their primary goal of any desperate explosion-type act. Meredith is, after all, the ultimate purveyor of injustice in Kirkwall in their eyes. Meredith is the most dangerous threat to mages and everyone else in Kirkwall. Their goal should be to kill this woman.

 (This woman who made them kill Karl Thekla, in their eyes.)

 (Also: did you know that Meredith killed the Viscount of Kirkwall before Dumar? When Dumar, the viscount who was killed by the Arishok, came into office, Meredith was already the Knight-Commander and she sent Dumar his predecessor’s finger or something as a warning. Yikes.)

 By the time Act 3 rolls around, it should be clear that Meredith plans to concede power to no one. It is clear, in canon; it’s obvious, even if it’s not immediate at the beginning of Act 3. Meredith doesn’t abide by Chantry rules. She refuses to let Kirkwall crown a new viscount. She’s enacting her own martial law. In Kirkwall, especially for mages, Meredith Stannard is essentially the judge, jury, and executioner, and everyone is guilty.

 To be honest, I sometimes feel that DA2 failed to embrace Meredith’s villainy. Not that it didn’t make her evil enough, no, Meredith’s evilness is really obvious from the very beginning, but in the sense that I think she could have been better framed as the overall antagonist by the narrative, and the main antagonist of the final third of the game, especially when it comes to the end sequence of Act 3.

 I think that her status as the antagonist is undermined by a lack of strong contrasting force. Orsino begins as opposite to Meredith, but I think his placement and voice in the narrative is weak, and his voice is delegitimized by how he also gives into senseless blood magic by the end. Other mages are also undermined by blood magic and other desperate measures that go nowhere and do nothing.

 Hawke is too much of a wild card, defined by the players' choices, to serve as strong opposition to Meredith, who is the overall villain plaguing Kirkwall. 

 This is why I feel Anders should have been pushed into a more obvious rivalry with Meredith, and why I think the narrative could have benefitted from a more solid pushing-pulling between the forces of Anders’ Mage Underground and Meredith’s Templars. Anders already exists as an opposite voice to Meredith, but he never really comes into conflict with her directly, and I think both Anders and Meredith are narratively weakened by this. A boiling pot dynamic between Meredith exerting her growing power and Anders rising to meet her evils… I think that could have been interesting.

 To be clear again, to repeat, I’m talking about “embracing” villainy in terms of narrative status as antagonist. Trying to parse the ongoing politics of DA2 actually makes for an interesting story, I think, and people shouldn’t need Meredith’s actions to be explicitly explained to be evil. They can work that out for themselves. Orsino and Anders say it clearly in the game as it is.

 To talk about Meredith’s character by herself, I enjoy Meredith’s villainy. I like her. Yes, she thought she was justified, but that doesn’t make her sympathetic, it just makes her scarier. Meredith Stannard is stone cold evil under a chilling guide of keeping the law (whatever Meredith says it is) and order in the city (quiet and unresisting as Meredith brings the city under an iron fist), and her own religious beliefs, fears, and righteousness. The way her appearance echoes statues of Andraste is probably intentional and pretty frightening. Though she is on Red Lyrium by the end, which is obvious really bad and maybe twisting her, it’s honestly just making what was already bad even worse.

 How Meredith has her reasons and justifications makes her scary, but in the way that her evilness can be so mundane and appear almost reasonable. Her motivations make sense. Her belief that she’s doing the right thing, and will do her right thing even if the world stands against her, makes things more interesting. She’s charismatic and intelligent and a powerful, established leader. Meredith Stannard is a really fun and interesting villain.

 But I think she could have used a more direct foe. Orsino was under her thumb. He didn’t have the power, position, or mobility to oppose her. So… Anders. Anders the apostate, living in the sewers helping mages break free and the poor stay healthy, and also deeply Andrastian. Contrasting Andraste imagery, anybody? Anders and Meredith could have been incredible narrative foes and foils.

 Anyway, Anders and the Mage Underground have probably, as Act 3 comes around and proceeds, been wanting to kill Meredith Stannard for a long time. She’s too powerful and too dangerous. Also: killing her is both justice and vengeance for a lot of people.

 Unfortunately, Meredith Stannard is tough as nails. Over Act 3, in which Anders and Justice can absolutely still be struggling with their self (in fascinating parallel to Meredith, who is doing the same thing with Red Lyrium), I think it would be interesting to have, in the background of the game, Meredith foiling their many, many attempts to do her in.

 If you wanted to be really obvious about it, you could have a badass sequence/cutscene in which a mage attempts to assassinate Meredith on her way to Hightown, and she kills them brutally. (They could have been using blood magic to do it, if you wanted to muddy things just a bit, and Anders could tell Hawke that that mage wasn’t one of his.) But you know how people say someone “decimated” someone else? Decimated means “reduced to a tenth”. I fully believe that Knight-Commander Meredith Stannard could literally decimate a person.

 So… how do you kill a woman who’s at fault for everything, but won’t die? Desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps Anders has heard that Meredith has sent for the Rite of Annulment, just to hold at her leisure, but who knows if Meredith will even wait until she has it? Meredith already kills mages, and is beholden to no one but her own idols now.

 So… Anders sets up a bomb in the Chantry. That has to kill Meredith… right?

~~

A Brief Aside on Orsino and the Absurd Number of Blood Mages and Demons in Kirkwall

This isn’t critical to the fix-it, I just want to exorcise some headcanons on the absurd number of blood mages and demons in Kirkwall. And also complain a bit about destroying Orsino as a character with a valid opinion/voice – as a man who genuinely cares for the mages in his care, the people he’s grown up with and raised – for the sake of a second boss battle in the final arc. (I heard that this is what happened and is the reason why Orsino was turned: a second boss battle.)

 I mean, if Orsino is a counter to Meredith, then having him resort to blood magic and then immediately turn on Hawke makes the mages of Kirkwall all look terrible. I think the story would have been more intense and clear with some to contrast Meredith more strongly, and Orsino… wasn’t that. I think his transformation as it stands in canon clouds the conflict and takes away from Meredith’s status as main antagonist and the suffering of the Circle mages.

(Which is why I propose boosting up Anders as an opposing force to Meredith, so Orsino could still fall if you wanted to emphasize the tragedy of the Gallows and what it brings people to. Orsino’s weakness and stress in that context could have made sense and been interesting.)

 I can believe that there would be an abnormal number of blood mages and demons in Kirkwall. I headcanon that the Gallows as a place would mess with people’s heads, since Solas tells us repeatedly in DA:I that the Fade remembers great battles and tragedies and other events from the mortal/physical world. Places where the Veil has been repeatedly punctured are weakened, and all that.

 So, the Fade of every Harrowing Chamber in every Circle should be nightmarish, with a Veil as thin and weak as wet paper. So many mages have suffered and died there. So many demons have been summoned. I headcanon that just standing in a Harrowing Chamber could put a person on edge for reasons that they might not be able to name.

 But in Kirkwall… where the Circle used to be a center for the Imperium’s slave trade? Kirkwall, the City of Chains that never really lost them? The Gallows is called the gallows. Kirkwall’s Circle probably has layers upon layers of nightmares and suffering set into every wall. And since mages draw the Fade through themselves to cast spells… I headcanon that being in bad places that the Gallows is really not good for mages, especially if they’re already suffering under the iron fist of Meredith Stannard.

 Generations of mages and Templars and attracted demons have probably made what was already bad even worse. And this is probably not great for the Templars’ state of mind either. No one has had a good night’s sleep in the Gallows for centuries. The demons love it.

 Under the constant, unbelievably heavy pressure, an unusually statistically high number of mages might turn to blood magic and demons. Those who don’t give in to the demons now have frightening reason to believe that the Chantry and Meredith are right when they preach that mages are inevitably corrupt and weak people. I’m pretty sure it’s canon that some mages become Tranquil because they’re too scared to sleep and then are deeply sleep-deprived, and even becoming Tranquil can seem like the better option than the endless, subtle torture of living in the Gallows. Which is why Kirkwall could have such a high number of willing Tranquil, besides the Tranquility that Meredith forced on people for minor infractions (like Karl Thekla writing letters to Anders).

 So… while having Orsino turn to blood magic makes sense in a number of ways, I think that it was badly executed. I think it could have been done to better emphasize the sheer brokenness of Kirkwall and the Chantry’s Circle system, and the helpless frustration of fighting against Meredith. Mages turning to blood magic for their cause isn’t inherently uninteresting; it does make the situation more complex.

 I do think that I could have lived with him turning to horrifying (like, wow, that was horrifying, broodmothers make way) blood magic if he’d done it and immediately gone for Meredith instead of turning on everyone else (Hawke and his own mages). Meredith’s evils as a villain and status as an antagonist, I think, is weakened how the narrative doesn’t have people trying to murder her for everything she’s done. Not Anders. Not Orsino (I mean, I think he was trying, but it wasn’t clear and he was really bad at it). Not any of the other mages who supposed hate her.

 If Orsino and Anders are going to go to ridiculous last resorts, they should have a bone to pick with Meredith Stannard.

 If you wanted to keep the boss fight against Orsino, you could have had Meredith retreat and get out of Orsino’s reach, leaving the mages and Hawke and Orsino to kill each other. That sort of cold calculation reads like a Meredith Stannard move to me, even if she was becoming a Red Lyrium monster at the time. Having Orsino fail to kill Meredith and then have Hawke, beleaguered and self-sacrificing Champion of Kirkwall, step in to fight Orsino and save the mages makes more sense to me.

~~

Why Still Destroy the Chantry?

Because Meredith won’t die and all the other murder attempts haven’t worked.

 Also: Anders hates that Chantry.

 Or, at least, I headcanon that Anders hates that Chantry. He hates its obscene wealth, having been living in Darktown for seven years, doing a better job of looking after Kirkwall’s people than both Elthina and Meredith combined. The Chantry is where Karl Thekla died. The Chantry is where supposed holy women like Elthina and Petrice lived and either look away from the crimes of the Gallows or actively try and incite war due to their own righteous hatred. (Anders must have healed so many people after the Qunari Invasion; if the Arishok and Petrice were still around, he’d probably try to murder them too.)

 If Anders’ Chantry Explosion is about justice and vengeance, and he’s a reasonable person being pushed to his limits, I’d change the explosion down to something far more contained and normal. Something that doesn’t have rocks spiraling weirdly up into the sky before firing out into the distance.

 Like, the Chantry is a large building with a lot of space around it. Anders could design an explosion to blow up the inside of the Chantry and bring it down on itself with minimal damage to the surrounding Hightown. Not that Anders probably cares much about Hightown, especially if he’s “hardened”, but too large of an explosion would threaten Darktown and this is about Elthina and Meredith.

 Personally, I feel DA2 could have stood to embrace Elthina’s villainy a little more, both in her evilness and a status as antagonist. By this, I don’t mean she had to go around kicking puppies, no, her behavior doesn’t really have to change at all. I just think the narrative could have stood to be more obvious about how her apathy hurts Kirkwall and its people. A more obvious narrative investigation into Elthina’s role, and what it means for a woman in her position to stay silent and “neutral” and play accomplice to Meredith’s madness. How to choose “neutrality” is to choose the side of the oppressor.

 Like, apparently Elthina was a good woman to some people, but otherwise… she was incredibly apathetic to the people of Darktown, Lowtown, the Alienage, the Gallows, and the Qunari. The Chantry is canonically very conditionally accepting of dwarves, elves, and vashoth. I haven’t played the Exiled Prince DLC, but from what I’ve heard about it, even Elthina’s compassion for Sebastian was limited.

 On one hand, a lot of this is implied or implicit in the games, and people can work this out for themselves: that a person can be compassionate towards some people and yet turn their backs on the suffering of others, and this is another kind of evil. On the other hand, I’m not really one for subtlety in video games. By “embracing” Elthina’s villainy, I more or less mean that I could have stood for things to be more obvious in how they were narratively framed and how the ending presented the end results of long and complex and subtle conflicts. I feel like intensity and clarity are important.

 Frankly, I’m not sure how this could have been accomplished. I think I would build up the Chantry and its people more. Petrice’s presentation read as more of a “rogue element” to me, and I could stand for various Chantry members shown to have helped her or agreed with her methods. Ultimately, I could leave Elthina’s presentation style as it is, and maybe just shown more of her and how she stood and wasn’t doing anything positive in Kirkwall politics through earlier acts and quests.

 Possibly, the narrative could have set Elthina up more directly against the Arishok during Act 2? Elves turning to the Qun because it appears more appealing/just than the Chantry and Alienages is clear in at least a few of the quests, I think. The Chantry versus the Qun is a compelling plotline. 

 Anders probably hates Elthina nearly as much as he does Meredith.

 This is not to necessarily say that Elthina deserved to be murdered, but… I hardly think anyone was going to send her to jail for “apathy” or even remove her from her position. Also, like, you kill a lot of  people in the Dragon Age games. I don’t understand why Elthina is an exception as opposed to random Tal-Vashoth that someone (the Viscount, the Arishok, some other person with bias and an agenda) told you were definitely bandits who deserved to get slaughtered.

 Meredith, on the other hand, absolutely deserves what’s coming to her.

 I’m not going to argue the morality of killing everyone who was in the Chantry at the time. This isn’t about what’s right. I think that a hardened Anders and Justice, who are still compassionate but can turn murderous, would believe that anyone who was still standing beside Elthina and Meredith by this point in time was acceptable collateral. If they haven’t left yet, Anders and Justice don’t care. (This is a tragic ending, after all.) 

 You can still have the audience be horrified by Anders’ actions. I mean, if you want to do morally grey, then Anders is a prime candidate, instead of the Templars. A sympathetic man with a sympathetic goal. The Chantry Explosion is still horrifying without playing it up in some absurd, incoherent, bizarre-looking explosion instead of something straightforward that actually makes sense and has a goal.

~~

The Actual Events Anders Versus Meredith

Hawke gets the news that Orsino and Meredith are arguing again, or something like that. It’s urgent this time, whatever it is. So, Hawke armors up and heads out to play mediator. Anders is not with the party, having excused himself in a cutscene beforehand for Mage Underground business. Sebastian is also not with the party, having duties at the Chantry.

 Meredith and Elthina are inside the Chantry, with some of Meredith’s Templars and whoever is in the Chantry at the time. We don’t see them, though. What’s happening inside the Chantry is a mystery to Hawke and the audience. (Meredith and Elthina are talking about communications with the Divine and the Chantry, and a potential Rite of Annulment.)

 Orsino is outside, possibly with one or two other mages, arguing with Cullen, who has maybe a half-dozen Templars with him. Orsino and Cullen are arguing about Orsino’s right to have a say in what happens to the Circle. Depending on whether or not you have the Exiled Prince DLC, Sebastian is there and probably arguing too. Or perhaps trying to mediate between Orsino and Cullen.

 Hawke shows up to mediate. Begin a dialogue sequence trying to mediate between Orsino, Cullen, and Sebastian. It’s not easy. Orsino is in a panic over a possible Rite of Annulment, and informs Hawke of this development and tries desperately to explain that it would mean killing every last mage in the Circle, from the elderly to the children.

 (I just realized I have no idea what this means for the Tranquil. Do they just… get killed too? Because they can’t even get possessed. Well, they can, but it's not common knowledge. In Uldred’s Uprising in DA:O, it seemed like everybody just… abandoned the Tranquil to get eaten by the demons (my good man Owain standing strong, though, sweeping the floors or something in the middle of a demonic uprising). I have feelings on the Tranquil and now they’re back again. Oh no.)

Cullen intervenes through Orsino’s panic. Cullen insists that a Rite of Annulment with only be exacted if the necessary circumstances demand it. Cullen thinks he sounds reasonable here, because he’s thinking of Uldred’s Uprising in Kinloch Hold, from DA:O. Unfortunately for his opinion, a Rite of Annulment wasn’t the right thing to do then, either, but… Cullen’s character is in that sort of place right now.

 Orsino is absolutely not comforted by this.

 Sebastian is trying to mediate, suggesting to Cullen that perhaps Orsino should have a voice in Meredith and Elthina’s discussions on the fate of Kirkwall’s Circle. Perhaps they should go speak to Meredith and Elthina about this.

 Cullen insists that Meredith said that Orsino was not permitted to be involved. Because Meredith doesn’t believe Orsino or any mage should get a voice and, honestly, Cullen doesn’t either. Cullen stands firm and insists that they’ll just have to wait until Meredith is finished.

 Hawke has some say in all this. I think Hawke should be able to choose between a) agreeing with Cullen to wait, b) agreeing with Sebastian to try and talk to Meredith and Elthina, or c) agreeing with Orsino and getting outraged/panicked over the possibility of a Rite of Annulment.

 Each choice could come in different tones, too, between the Blue/Diplomatic Hawke, the Red/Aggressive Hawke, and the Purple/Sarcastic Hawke. (I know this is a lot of dialogue options, but I like the three different Hawkes and I also like lots of really different dialogue options.)

~

Agreeing with Cullen

 I think a Blue/Diplomatic Hawke would try to calm down the situation and suggest that Orsino listen to Cullen (perhaps with the implication that listening to Cullen is in Orsino’s best interests). I think a Red/Aggressive Hawke would probably just tell Orsino to shut up (with the implication that it’s not Orsino’s place to complain and Hawke can’t believe this bullshit is back). And I’m not entirely sure what a Purple/Sarcastic Hawke would say, but it would be snarky and flippant; maybe Hawke would tell Orsino to go back to the Circle while “Mommy and Daddy are talking”.

Agreeing with Sebastian

 I think a Blue Hawke would, again, try to calm down the situation, and try to convince Cullen to let Orsino speak with Elthina. Red Hawke would say something that implies Cullen should move or Hawke will move him. Purple Hawke might say something about “working out the kinks in a marriage like adults” (and promptly accepts a high-five from Isabela or Varric).

Agreeing with Orsino

 I think a Blue Hawke would still try to calm down the situation, but also calmly demand that Cullen understand Orsino has every right to be concerned about a Rite of Annulment. Red Hawke would demand to know what the fuck Cullen is thinking to believe killing everyone is “necessary”. Purple Hawke would say something flippant about “I can believe you were planning a mass murder party and you didn’t invite me. Was it supposed to be a surprise?

~

So, Hawke has their say in all this, but… before it can go anyway (like a fight with Orsino or Cullen), Anders shows up and interrupts this argument.

 Anders is terrified and out of breath, because he’d heard that Hawke was going to speak to Meredith. Anders is desperate to kill Meredith, but he cannot kill his friend. (Or, in the case of rivalry: he doesn’t want to kill the Champion of Kirkwall, whom he may or may not owe.)

 Cullen recognizes Anders immediately from Kinloch. Orsino guesses immediately who Anders is, as they haven’t met in person before. Hawke steps between Cullen and Anders, and demands to know why Anders so frantic. A dialogue option for Hawke would be here.

 These are not the actual lines, I imagine, but the tone of things for Hawke’s dialogue: Blue Hawke: “Anders, what’s wrong?” Red Hawke: “What the hell are you doing here?” Purple Hawke: “Well, hello there, stranger. Come here often?” If you wanted to open up more dialogue lines, I’d alternate between Hawke acknowledging Anders and Hawke pretending not to know Anders.

 Approval/Disapproval is awarded reasonably for all present companions depending on the lines Hawke picks. Like, Anders might not appreciate Hawke pretending not to know him. Aveline might think either sensible or cruel. Varric, Fenris, and Isabela might think it was kind of funny. So, on and so forth, depending on what Hawke says and in what tone they say it.

 Anders doesn’t immediately answer. Or maybe he can’t, because Justice/Vengeance is slowly breaking through. Small cracks of blue light are at the edges of Anders’ face. Whatever Anders says aloud, Justice/Vengeance is inwardly screaming: Meredith is there in the Chantry. WE HAVE TO KILL HER NOW.

 Cullen draws his blade, as do the Templars behind him.

 If the Mage Underground was expanded upon, I would have some few members of the Mage Underground running to back Anders. Out of breath, looking eager or scared. Perhaps Hawke knows a few of them from earlier quests.

 Meredith steps out of the Chantry now, flanked by another half-dozen Templars. She sees Anders: an obvious abomination and her main foe for the past several years.

 Meredith draws her blade, eyes narrowed, looking hateful or satisfied. Her Templars echo her. Confrontation is inevitable at this point. Mages versus Templars. Meredith and Anders finally meet face to face. All of Act 3’s Mage Underground and Templar conflict has been building to this.

 Anders looks apologetically towards Hawke.

 Anders: “We’ll never get another chance.”

 Anders/Justice/Vengeance lights up and the Chantry explodes. Anders then throws himself forward, glowing with all his power, to shield Hawke and company. (If the Chantry Explosion was really so enormous and deadly, there’s no way that Hawke and company would have survived standing right next to it. Anders is protecting Hawke and company from the possibility of debris.)

 We watch Meredith go up in a scream of flames at the top of the Chantry steps. Not unlike some horrifying and gruesome parody of Andraste. She’s consumed by the explosion.

 As the flames consume her, they tinged by a pulse of red.

 The Chantry explodes and collapses in on itself like a normal explosion that makes sense and is relatively contained. Elthina and anyone in the Chantry definitely die. The Templars behind Meredith clearly die as well. The upper part of the Chantry, of this ancient place that has sat atop the City of Chains for centuries, comes down on the flames that have consumed the lower half. A cloud of dust goes through Hightown as debris comes down the remaining steps.

 Oh, the quake that goes through Kirkwall.

 The dust clears enough to see possessed Anders/Justice/Vengeance shielding Hawke and company (and incidentally Orsino, who is also shielding people). The mages behind Anders also lower barriers. People begin to get to their feet and look towards the Chantry, as some few pieces of gilded marble bounce down the steps and the ash begins to fall.

 The Chantry has been reduced to a massive pile of wildly smoking rubble and blazing flames collapsed in on itself. Great pillars of black smoke are climbing high into the sky. It sits as a blazing, collapsed wreck amid the rest of Hightown. Everyone who was in there is surely dead.

 Hawke, company (including Sebastian), Orsino, and Cullen (and the Templars) look towards it in horror. Anders is still possessed, torn between satisfaction, resignation, and horror. The Mage Underground members behind him look satisfied, awed, or horrified.

 Meredith Stannard is finally dead.

 Cullen immediately turns on Anders. Sebastian is still horrified by what has befallen Elthina or maybe also turns on Anders). Hawke has the option to step between them, stand aside, or also begin to turn on Anders. Whatever Hawke chooses, however, is interrupted.

 There’s a… sound… from the rubble.

 A pulse.

 Almost like a heartbeat.

 Everyone pauses.

 Among the smoke and the fire, a red glow is coming through the rubble. Eerie and unnatural. Beating like a slow drum, a heartbeat, from deep underground. Shifting the rock and ash of the destroyed Chantry. Getting louder. Getting brighter.

 A hand bursts from the rubble.

 A hand in a gauntlet. A Templar’s gauntlet. Merediths gauntlet.

 Covered in ash and blood.

 And cracked through with glowing red.

 Meredith Stannard crawls out of the rubble and the ash, out of the smoke and the fire, pushing away rocks with unnatural strength. Her crown is bent and stained, as is she. It’s not just her hand; she’s cracked through entirely with that glowing, eerie red.

 A song of equally eerie, building notes plays. Some of Meredith’s limbs crack into place on their own with flashes of red, as she pulls herself up and to her feet. Like she’s rebuilding herself. It’s monstrous.

 Her blade is in her other hand, as it pulls free of the rubble, never having left it. It too is red.

 Meredith breaths out smoke and looks down from the ruined Chantry, standing strong and scarlet through the wreckage and flames. Dripping blood. Glowing red with some terrible, unknown power. Like a parallel to Flemeth, at the very beginning, as well as a terrible parody of Andraste.

 She looks holy. Unholy.

 (Whoever said that miracles had to be good things? If something is sufficiently impossible and yet succeeds in coming true, then it is no less a miracle just because it is horrifying and terrible.)

 Everything is looking up towards Meredith in horror.

 Especially Anders, whose wide, human eyes are seen now, though he still has blue cracks about his edges. He did everything he could to kill her and she still didnt die. How is she alive? She shouldnt be alive. It’s impossible.

 I’d want to really frame an Anders versus Meredith scene here. Not a full fight, but a clear confrontation. Meredith at the top of the ruined Chantry steps, glowing red and wreathed in flames, and Anders at the bottom of the steps, glowing blue and surrounded by dust. Anders versus Meredith should have been the direct overall conflict of Act 3, I think.

 Anders is overtaken by Justice, enraged.

 Justice: HOW DO YOU STILL LIVE? AFTER ALL THAT YOU HAVE DONE?

 Meredith could have her genuine villain speech here, at least the beginning of it. She compares herself to Andraste, at least implicitly. She also imbues herself with divine right, declaring herself to be a champion of the Maker’s will, and the Maker will not let His champion of the just be struck down by apostate abominations.

 The DA people have written a lot of the Chant of Light. She could imply/say this by reciting from the Chant of Light. Some of it is pretty cool, and it would be fitting for her to quote the Chant. I’m particularly fond of this part from the Canticle of Benedictions. (4:10)

Blessed are they who stand before

the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.

Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just.

 Meredith quotes the Chant of Light, declaring herself the champion of the Maker’s will while stepping out of a destroyed, burning Chantry. She fully believes she’s blessed by the Maker, through the Red Lyrium she took for herself. (Because the Maker helps those who help themselves, right?) In her twisted state, Meredith might compare her surviving the Chantry Explosion to Andraste being burned and rising to become the Maker’s Bride. It is, after all, a miracle.

 Meredith quoting that verse from the Chant of Light could form an especially cool callback in DA:I. The quest to ally with the Templars in DA:I is called “Champions of the Just”. If Meredtih had previously declared herself a “champion of the just” right before she fully falls to Red Lyrium. Wow. There are some parallels there. How history repeats itself.

 Meredith looks down at the people below and demands they submit.

 The Templars with Cullen kneel. Cullen kneels, and will regret it for the rest of his days, probably. Orsino and any mages with him probably kneel, too used to being under Meredith’s thumb. Anders’ mages from the Mage Underground… one of them could begin to kneel before their friend kicks them, like, what the fuck are you doing? Random mage quickly straightens up.

 Anders absolutely won’t submit to Meredith.

 She’s no champion of the just.

~~

Any Direction You Choose Hawkes Choices

 This is going to be me musing on how to continue this and end the game through significant game choices. It got… a little out of hand, but it was fun. (Spoilers for a potential ending: I think it would have been fun to really embrace the Evil!Hawke possibilities.)

 I think there are three main choices for Hawke to make through this final sequence of Act 3, which would create vastly different endings.

~

1 How Hawke reacts to Meredith -> Kneel, Stand Back, or Refute.

Here, the option should be given to Hawke to decide what to do. Meredith could even turn directly to Hawke and demand that the Champion of Kirkwall follow her. Hawke now has the option to kneel before Meredith, to refuse and stand back, or to step forward and refute her.

 Each option can have their own Blue/Diplomatic, Red/Aggressive, and Purple/Sarcastic options to pick from. Personality layers on top of actual choice of what to do.

 What Sebastian and the companions do depends on what Hawke says to them and the status of various friendships and rivalries. What Hawke chooses and how Hawke chooses to do it.

 Kneel

Blue Hawke would probably kneel while trying to appeal to Meredith’s reason. Red Hawke, I imagine, would probably kneel sullenly. Purple Hawke would be sarcastic and flippant about it, and make some comment about “All Hail the Maker’s Second Holy Bride. Yikes.”

However, with kneeling, I can imagine all the companions (Fenris, Isabela, Merrill, Aveline, and Varric) getting real fucking pissed at or being really unimpressed with Hawke for kneeling. Champions of Kirkwall don’t kneel in front of monsters. Anders would be extremely mad if Hawke knelt. I don’t think any of them would approve of this.

I think if Hawke kneeled, it might be an interesting consequence to lose their voice through parts of this sequence. However, I think that might be pushing it. It could be interesting, though.

 Stand Back

 Blue Hawke would probably refuse calmly. No, thanks. Not kneeling. With a potential undertone of: Meredith, do you even hear yourself? Red Hawke would probably stay sullenly silently, or just go with a flat “No.” Purple Hawke would probably either make some quip about the ground being filthy (because, you know, the Chantry just exploded) or about not getting to their knees for just anyone without a please or getting paid.

 I think that standing back would likely dish out approval points most from Aveline, if she was there, for refusing to kneel but not trying to make the situation worse. Everyone else would probably slightly approve (Anders) or be indifferent. Isabela or Varric might high-five Purple Hawke for any snarky comments (because heck yeah, Hawke, you tell jokes at a time like this).

Refute

 Blue Hawke would probably flat-out say something along the lines of, “Meredith, do you even hear yourself?” Red Hawke might straight-up tell “the Maker’s New Bride to go straight to the Void”. Purple Hawke would say something along the lines of, “And how does Andraste feel about you trying to feel up her husband, Meredith?”

 Aveline and Sebastian would probably approve most of Blue Hawke’s response, because Sebastian doesn’t like the blasphemy and Aveline approves of refuting more reasonably. Merrill might like Blue Hawke’s response as well. Isabela, Varric, and Fenris would probably approve of Purple Hawke’s response the most, because they’re terrible, but I think they’d all like Red Hawke’s response as well.

 Overall, I think the companions would be positive towards refutation. Rule-breaking shit-starters, the lot of them. Whether they’re friends or rivals, I don’t think any of them like Meredith.

 Anders and Justice would be ecstatic, any tone, if Hawke stepped forward to refute Meredith.

~

2 How Hawke reacts to Anders -> Condemn, Remain Indifferent, or Support.

There is also the choice here of whether to support, condemn, or remain indifferent to Anders. Whatever Hawke chooses to do, there is still the choice to be made for Anders. After Hawke makes their stand, Meredith should turn back to Anders, her opposing force, and Hawke must choose whether to support, condemn, or remain indifferent to Anders and what he’s done.

Condemn

If Hawke chooses to turn on Anders, I think there are two options: to either hand Anders over to Meredith, or to kill Anders themselves. Each could have their own Blue, Red, and Purple tones.

If Hawke chooses to kill Anders themselves… I kind of want to say that it activates a battle between Anders and Hawke here, but… I think I’d rather go with a more tragic scene, where Anders looks at Hawke disbelievingly (after Hawke says they’ll take care of Anders) and says, “You wouldn’t.”

I think Blue Hawke would calmly take responsibility for killing Anders for what he’s done. Red Hawke would probably say something along the lines of, “He’s my problem. I’m the one who gets to kill him.” Purple Hawke would probably make some joke about tug’o’war, and not giving up the prize of getting to kill Anders without a fight. (To any of these responses, Anders says disbelievingly, “You wouldn’t.”)

Here, Hawke again gets to choose between Going Through With It or Giving Up, with Blue, Red, and Purple choices for each. If Hawke goes through with it, I think Blue Hawke would tell Anders that it’s for the best. I think Red Hawke would blame Anders for “betraying” them.  Purple Hawke would probably say something along the lines of, “What did you expect when you blew up the Chantry?”

 For tragedy’s sake, I think I’d go for a kill without a fight here. Hawke kills Anders and Anders is surprised/unsurprised according to dialogue choices and relationships. Companions will approve or disapprove depending on dialogue choices and relationships. Sebastian, Fenris, and Aveline would approve, I think. Isabela, Merrill, and Varric probably wouldn’t.

 I think that killing Anders could activate a battle between Hawke and the members of the Mage Underground who follows Anders. No choice is involved in this. If Hawke kills Anders, Hawke has to fight the mages of the Mage Underground who are there. Meredith approves.

 If Hawke chooses to give up on killing Anders, however, Meredith sees Hawke as weak and tries to kill Anders herself (see: handing Anders over to Meredith, just below). Blue Hawke would probably say something along the lines of, “I can’t.” Red Hawke would probably tell Meredith that they aren’t Meredith’s executioner/dog. Purple Hawke would probably say something along the lines of, “Just kidding!”

 All the companions would probably disapprove of this. Sebastian disapproves of all responses because Hawke isn’t killing Anders for the Chantry. Fenris is probably similar. Everyone would disapprove of the Purple Hawke response, probably, because that’s not funny. Like, really not funny.

 Choosing to hand Anders over to Meredith (or giving up on killing Anders), I think would begin a cutscene between Anders and Meredith. Before this cutscene, if Hawke initially chose to hand Anders over to Meredith, Blue Hawke probably tells Meredith that they won’t stand in her way or the way of justice. Red Hawke probably just tells her to kill him. Purple Hawke probably makes a quip about justice and Anders being all hers.

 The companions approve or disapprove predictably. I think, however, the companions might overall disapprove of Hawke abdicating responsibility to Meredith, even if there’s slight approval towards killing Anders for what he’s done.

 Anyway, a cutscene between Anders and Meredith could be incredibly cool. I’m thinking that Anders/Justice attacks Meredith first, who is still reforming herself with the Red Lyrium and is not yet strong enough to walk properly or fight, because Anders would ultimately flee with the Mage Underground to warn the Gallows of what’s happened. But… oh, the beginnings of the fight could be incredible. Clashes of blue and red. Abomination apostate versus the first Red Templar.

 Anders flees for the Gallows, having fended off Meredith and her Templars, and shouts for the mages to hurry to the Gallows and warn them or evacuate them. Orsino and any mages with him stay for the moment, though they look like they want to follow Anders and the Mage Underground to the Gallows.

 Anders’ expression towards Hawke, as he flees, is either hateful or broken-hearted.

Remain Indifferent

 If, when Meredith turns on Anders, Hawke chooses to remain indifferent to Anders, then I’m thinking something similar probably happens. Meredith tries to kill Anders, Anders attacks her first, and then Anders flees to the Gallows with the Mage Underground.

 To Anders and Justice, indifferent may be nearly as bad as condemnation. Anders and Justice thought they could trust Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall, to come through for them and the betterment of Kirkwall, and… Hawke isn’t coming through. Anders’ expression is again either hatred or broken-hearted, or maybe Anders doesn’t even look at Hawke as he leaves.

 It may be possible to reconcile with Anders, later at the Gallows, depending on the state of relationship between Hawke and Anders prior to the Chantry Explosion sequence. However, if Hawke tried to hand Anders over to Meredith or nearly killed Anders, then it isn’t possible to reconcile.

 Blue Hawke and Red Hawke probably said something along the lines of, “I can’t judge this,” or just stayed silent. Purple Hawke probably made a quip about being too indecisive to pick between them or “standing back to enjoy the show”.

 Silence, I’d think, wouldn’t necessarily garner approval or disapproval from the companions. Saying something along the lines of “I can’t judge this” might bring disapproval from Sebastian and Aveline (or perhaps approval from Aveline), and possibly disapproval from Varric because indecision does not make for good storybook heroes. Purple Hawke’s quips, especially if they were cruel, would probably garner disapproval from most if not all of the companions.

Support

 Choosing to support Anders, of course, garners massive approval from Anders, who is surprised that Hawke’s reacting so well to him blowing the Chantry up. Blue Hawke probably says something more reserved, along the lines of, “I can’t let you kill my friend.” Red Hawke probably says something like, “If you want Anders, you’ll have to go through me.” Purple Hawke probably says something about how, “Friends don’t let friends fight mad Knight-Commanders alone.”

 Companions approve and disapprove mostly as to be expected. Sebastian probably disapproves of all tones, because he thinks Anders should pay for the destruction of the Chantry. Fenris and Aveline might disapprove of Red Hawke’s response, but I think they’d approve very slightly of the idea of fighting for a friend above all. Isabela, Merrill, and Varric all approve, I think, fairly strongly.

 If Sebastian objects, then there could also be a dialogue choice responding to Sebastian’s objection. Blue Hawke might say something about standing up for oneself and friends. Red Hawke would probably tell Sebastian to stand down. Purple Hawke would probably have some snarky line about, “Continuing this conversation when murderous Knight-Commanders aren’t glowing like fucking demons.”

 Anders and the Mage Underground don’t flee.

~

3 Meredith Offers Hawke Join Her Protect the Gallows, Rite of Annulment, or Stand Aside.

Whatever, Hawke chooses to do about Anders, Meredith announces that she will perform the Rite of Annulment on the Gallows. Orsino and his mages gasp in horror and cry out in objection. If Anders is still alive and present (Hawke having chosen to support Anders), then Anders and the Mage Underground will also gasp in horror and object.

Depending on how Hawke chose to respond to Meredith (Kneel, Stand Back, or Refute) and how Hawke chose to react to Anders (Condemn, Remain Indifferent, or Support), then Meredith may or may not offer Hawke the opportunity to join her. It will also decide how Meredith does this.

  • Kneel + Support = Meredith condemns Hawke alongside Anders, declaring Hawke weak on several counts (for kneeling to her and yet supporting an apostate).
  • Kneel + Remain Indifferent = Meredith offers Hawke join her, thinking Hawke is being smart, though she doesn’t respect Hawke for kneeling. 
  • Kneel + Condemn = Meredith enthusiastically offers Hawke join her. She really approves of the Champion of Kirkwall submitting to her will. Meredith shows respect based on whether Hawke failed or succeeded in killing Anders. 
  • Stand Back + Support = Meredith condemns Hawke alongside Anders, believing Hawke to be godless and corrupted by mages.
  • Stand Back + Remain Indifferent = Meredith offers Hawke join her, but she’s not enthusiastic about it. She thinks Hawke is being smart and aloof, and remains a potential threat to her.
  • Stand Back + Condemn = Meredith offers Hawke join her. If Hawke succeeded in killing Anders, she approves though she’s insulted that Hawke didn’t kneel. If Hawke failed to kill Anders, then she has little to no respect for Hawke remaining.
  • Refute + Support = Hawke is going to die via Meredith for opposing her and supporting Anders.
  • Refute + Remain Indifferent = Meredith offers Hawke join her in a threatening way, like, “This is your last chance to do the smart thing here, Champion.”
  • Refute + Condemn = Meredith offers Hawke join her. She views Hawke as a threat, but also as someone who’s useful. She’s respectful or mocking depending on whether Hawke failed or succeeded in killing Anders.

If given the choice by Meredith, whatever Hawke has done so far, Hawke can now choose whether to protect the Gallows, to join her in enacting the Rite of Annulment, or to stand aside and do nothing.

However, if Hawke chose to support Anders, then I’m thinking the automatic choice is made to protect the Gallows. Hawke has been condemned by Meredith alongside Anders and therefore isn’t given the choice. It’s run with Anders to the Gallows or die.

Protect the Gallows

If Hawke stands up against Meredith to protect the Gallows, then Hawke flees to the Gallows alongside Orsino and his mages. Blue Hawke probably says something along the lines of, “I can’t let you do that, Meredith.” Red Hawke probably says, “Not if I kill you first.” Purple Hawke probably says something along the lines of, “Oh joy! Now I have to save the day… AGAIN.”

 Whatever Hawke says, Orsino shouts to Hawke that they have to return to the Gallows and warn them / evacuate them. Hawke agrees, and Hawke and company flee, or possibly fight, their way to the Gallows. If Hawke supported Anders, and Anders is still alive and present, then Hawke and Anders (and the members of the Mage Underground) go together. If Anders has already fled (because Hawke failed to kill him, let Meredith try to kill him, or stood back), then Hawke and company go after him. If Anders if dead, then Hawke and companions leave the bodies of Anders and the Mage Underground behind.

 Overall, I believe the companions would support and approve of protecting the Gallows. Some of them might not be entirely keen on it and the fight they’re getting into, but they’d probably go for it so long as their friendship was high. If their rivalry was too high, then I think Fenris, Isabela, and maybe Sebastian or Aveline might bow out of protecting the Gallows alongside Hawke. They might not want to get into that mess and they might not like Hawke enough to get into it.

 The Boss Battle is against Meredith in full Red Lyrium.

 Here, in this version of the Chantry Explosion, Meredith turns into a Red Lyrium statue partly because she used Red Lyrium to reform herself / stay alive through the Chantry Explosion.

 Depending on how it was done, there could still be a preliminary Boss Battle against Orsino because he turns to desperate measures (that horrible blood magic creature that gives broodmothers a slither for their money). So long as Orsino made a decent attempt at trying to kill Meredith, I think it could work. If Meredith retreated and closed off the Gallows, leaving Orsino and Hawke and the mages to kill each other, because even as a Red Lyrium monster Meredith is stone cold.

 There is the possibility of reuniting with Anders here as a friend or lover, if Hawke chose to remain indifferent to Anders, and now sincerely apologizes to Anders and helps protect the Gallows, and friendship was high enough before the Chantry Explosion. If rivalry with Anders was too high, then I don’t think there would be the possibility of a reconciliation. Hawke could try, but it wouldn’t work. Too little, too late, for Anders and Justice, probably.

 However, If Hawke chose to kill Anders or hand Anders over to Meredith but failed, then I think Anders might very reluctantly accept Hawke’s help in protecting the Gallows, but refuse to reconcile as friends or lovers with Hawke. Anders probably says something like, “After this, Hawke, I think it’s best our paths never cross again, unless you want to meet Vengeance.”

 EDIT:{ What about Bethany and Carver? I think, if Bethany or Carver has become a Grey Warden, then Hawke and companions meet Bethany/Carver and Stroud on their way to the Gallows. The Wardens heard/saw the explosion and came running, but ultimately refuse to fight against the Templars, though they will protect the other citizens of Kirkwall. 

 While fleeing to the Gallows, if you pushed the Mage Underground up more, you could have fights between the Mage Underground and the Templars in the streets as Hawke fled. With some of these mages summoning demons or turning abomination, if you wanted, as they're panicking or feel proven right by Meredith's call for the Rite. Perhaps one of the mages who was with Orsino could turn around and serve as a smaller battle for Hawke.

 Bethany/Carver and Stroud would come in during one of these battles. I think the meeting would most likely largely serve as a final conversation between Hawke and their sibling: the opportunity to say goodbye. Whether in friendship or rivalry, I think both Bethany and Carver would give Hawke their blessing for protecting the Gallows, as both Bethany and Carver are good people. The farewells and blessings would change tone according to friendship or rivalry. 

 If you wanted to have a reason for Bethany/Carver to join Hawke in the final fight, then you could have Hawke ask their sibling to join them. If friendship were high enough, Bethany or Carver might abandon the Wardens to fight with Hawke. You could then either have Bethany/Carver stick around with Hawke at the very end of the game, leaving it up in the air as to whether their desertion was temporary or permanent, or you could have Bethany/Carver say goodbye for real and return to the Wardens to accept the consequences of choosing to help Hawke. 

 If Bethany hasn't become a Grey Warden and been imprisoned in the Gallows, then, no matter what her friendship/rivalry status is, she would be there fighting for the Gallows. How Bethany receives Hawke's help would depend on friendship/rivalry. 

 If Carver hasn't become a Grey Warden and became a templar instead, then I think he would abandon the Templars to fight for the Gallows, no matter his friendship/rivalry status. I recently described Carver as "my baby bro with jerk tendencies but a heart of gold", and I believe that Carver would have become a templar not only because he wanted to strike out on his own, but because he wanted to help mages (like his late twin sister) like the templar he was named after who helped Malcolm Hawke. After all, even Cullen came around in the end. How Carver would receive Hawke's help (how grumpy Carver is about it) would depend on friendship/rivalry.} 

Rite of Annulment

 If Hawke chooses to enact the Rite of Annulment with Meredith, then… that’s what happens. This is why I think Hawke shouldn’t get this choice if Hawke sides with Anders, because immediately turning on Anders to pull the Rite of Annulment would be… clunky in execution, I think, at best. So, Anders is either already dead at this point or has fled for the Gallows. Orsino flees to the Gallows, with or without Anders, if Hawke decides to help Meredith.

 Hawke helping to butcher the Gallows would be awful, but this is what I was talking about when I said “embrace the Evil!Hawke possibilities”. This may be the DA:O in me talking, but, hey, why not continue the tradition of letting the protagonist do truly evil things?  After all, in Dragon Age: Origins, the first game… wow, where do you start? You can choose to accept deals with demons, to let Kinloch Circle get annulled, to slaughter entire groups of people, to help slavers, to keep an artifact that creates armies of near indestructible slaves, and so on.

 Being evil makes me feel bad (so I don’t do it), but it’s an interesting direction to explore in stories, and common enough in video game stories. (Like Jade Empire, which is a great game; it's an earlier BioWare game which I highly recommend. You could do some really evil stuff in Jade Empire, if you didnt want to be a good protagonist, following the Way of the Closed Fist.)

 See, with this choice, there are potentially three Boss Battles here.

 The first Boss Battle would be against Orsino. Possibly with his freaky blood magic transformation, as Hawke and Meredith push him to desperation to protect his Circle.

 The second (potential) Boss Battle is what I’m really interested in, because it could be against Anders, if he’s still alive. Full Justice/Vengeance Anders. Possibly with some desperate measures abomination transformation, but that’s not necessary. Anders is a powerful mage and Justice/Vengeance breaking through is already fairly frightening, and Anders’ status of a Spirit Healer could lend to the summoning of some really interesting and unique spirit minions in his Boss Battle.

 I’m interested in this because I think it would be such a good and hard-hitting twist. If you set Anders and Meredith up as narrative foes and foils, then choosing to side with Meredith would pit you against Anders, who could have secretly been built up to be a possible alternate ultimate antagonist for Hawke over Act 3. Anders as a potential final/main antagonist could have worked really well actually, for Hawkes who agreed with the Templars and backed Meredith. 

 Anders has all the makings of an anti-hero/supervillain, really. Also, executing a Boss Battle against the guy who used to be your friend, or at least ally… I really like the emotions and drama there. The betrayal of it could make for some really powerful final scenes. Anders’ dying speech could be great.

 The third (or second, if Anders was already dead) Boss Battle would be against Meredith, afterwards, in full Red Lyrium. After all, Meredith has been twisted by the Red Lyrium and likely views Hawke as her only rival for power in Kirkwall. Of course she doesn’t let Hawke go.

 I think all the companions would disapprove of this. They’re all pretty good and decent people, and choosing to enacting a Rite of Annulment would be the final straw for a lot of them. Even if Sebastian wanted Anders dead, he couldn’t condone this. Even Fenris, who dislikes mages, would probably pull away from senseless slaughter, given his past experiences being used as a killer of innocents.

 I think choosing to enact a Rite of Annulment would lose Hawke all their companions, actually, unless Hawke’s friendship with them was high enough or Hawke was in a romantic relationship with them, and Hawke could persuade them along. I think keeping companions would be a long shot, though. It feels like a fitting narrative punishment that Hawke loses their companions and love interest for choosing this.

 I think even Varric would turn away, but I suppose you could push Varric into going along because he’s the narrator, with the reasoning that “someone has to write the story”. Unfortunately, this means deep Varric angst later, as Varric would absolutely regret not killing Hawke or Meredith, and letting them go through with it. I’m weak against Varric angst, so I’d rather believe that Hawke later found Varric and told Varric everything, saying bitterly, “You wanted the story. Didn’t you, Varric?”

EDIT: {What about Bethany and Carver? Well, I think that the general shape of things would be the same as described in the previous option. If Bethany/Carver became a Grey Warden, Hawke meets them as they fight their way to the Gallows. If Bethany/Carver didn't become a Grey Warden, then Hawke meets them at the Gallows.

 I think Bethany and Carver would both be upset and disgusted by Hawke's decision to help Meredith enact a Rite of Annulment. Bethany because she's a mage and a decent person, and Carver because he's a decent person and at the insult to Bethany's memory. Again, there's the final conversation and the farewells, but in a much more hostile tone. 

 If you wanted to try something interesting, like the "Grey Warden Bethany/Carver join Hawke possibility if their friendship is high enough" as described above (only reversed), then you could actually have a minor battle between Hawke and their sibling here if rivalry was high enough. Hawke pisses Bethany/Carver off enough that their sibling tries to kill them right then and there. So... either a) Hawke kills their last living immediate family here, or b) Stroud interrupts and drags Bethany/Carver away, but by the glares exchanged, it is heavily implied that this isn't over. 

 If Bethany/Carver hasn't become a Grey Warden, and is at the Gallows as a mage or templar, then I think there would be a minor battle between the Hawke siblings. Bethany is one of the mages going to be killed and I don't think she'd go quietly, even if she had high friendship, and I think Carver would balk at the Rite of Annulment, even if he had high friendship, and try to protect the mages. Massacres are kind of a relationship-breaker, so Hawke has to fight and kill their last living immediate family here. 

 Maybe, though, if you wanted a way for Bethany/Carver to live, you could have Hawke let them go and persuade them to run. Hawke tells Bethany/Carver that they'll tell everyone that Bethany/Carver died in the fighting. However, Bethany/Carver would only go if their friendship was high enough, and they'd still go extremely reluctantly and disgusted with their sibling. If friendship wasn't high enough, Hawke would have to fight their sibling to the death.}

Stand Aside

 If Hawke chooses to stand aside, then… well… I suppose that’s what happens. The Champion of Kirkwall watches it all play out and doesn’t participate. Meredith destroys the Gallows. Orsino fights back. Anders, if he’s still alive, fights back as well.

 The game could end here, but… well... gotta have that Boss Battle, right?

 I see two options, though I’m not sure which one to go with or what choices lead to which. The options are: Meredith as the ultimate antagonist or Anders as the ultimate antagonist. Personally, I’m learning towards Anders as the ultimate antagonist if he’s still alive, because Meredith is already the ultimate antagonist of the Protect the Gallows choice.

 If Anders if dead, then Meredith comes for Hawke afterwards, and there’s still a Boss Battle against Meredith in full Red Lyrium. Hawke is a threat to Meredith’s power. Meredith would come to Hawke already in some stage of Red Lyrium monster, and they could battle it out in Hightown.

 If Anders hasn’t been killed by Hawke, then I think it would be fun if Anders won the fight against Meredith that happened in the background. Then Anders comes for Hawke as Vengeance, in some greater stage of abomination, so Anders is the ultimate antagonist and Boss Battle.

 After all, if you're not with us, then you're against us. 

 I think most of the companions would disapprove of Hawke standing back and doing nothing. That’s not really what heroes do, after all. Varric, Merrill, and Isabela wouldn’t be impressed. Aveline, Fenris, and Sebastian might think it sensible, but I don’t think they’d be impressed either. They’d all be somewhat horrified at Hawke allowing Meredith free reign to enact the Rite of Annulment, actually.

 I think that choosing to “stand back” from the climax would mean that Hawke parts ways with the companions for the final Boss Battle against Meredith or Anders, so Hawke has to fight the final Boss Battle alone. Maybe Varric comes to see Hawke, to talk about what’s happened, and Varric accidentally gets caught in the fight. If Hawke has a love interest, then I think Hawke and the love interest would have a conversation (with potential consequences) over what happened, and the love interest might get caught in the Boss Battle as well.

 I think it would be really interesting if, over this final Chantry Explosion sequence, Hawke could potentially lose all their companions and their love interest. Depending on how they react to Meredith, how they react to Anders, and what they choose to do and how they say it. Rites of Annulments are definitely things that should have the potential to break a relationship on the spot.

 While self-preservation isn't inherently bad in itself, Hawke is an established hero and the whole "choosing neutrality is to choose the side of the oppressor" plot could have been covered in-game with Elthina and others. Hawke has not only the ability to fight, but, as we know partly because this is a video game, the ability to win. Choosing not to fight when Hawke definitely could have done something? That's not Champion of Kirkwall behavior. Here is Hawke's opportunity to really rise to the occasion or to fall in disgrace. Is this the story a champion or a tragedy? (Or both?) 

{EDIT: What about Bethany and Carver? This option would go differently, since it doesn't involve going to the Gallows at all. I think that you could have the Grey Wardens come to visit Hawke, passing through after having done what they could to protect Kirkwall. 

 If Bethany/Carver has become a Grey Warden, then they would be with the Wardens, and I think they'd be pissed at their sibling. Bethany/Carver would demand to know how Hawke could stand aside, with a furious tone if in rivalry and an aghast/sad tone if in friendship. If Hawke's responses were too poor/selfish and rivalry was high enough, I think Bethany/Carver might lunge for Hawke, but I think Stroud would definitely stop them here. 

 Final conversation are had and final goodbyes are said here. The tone of them depending enormously on friendship and rivalry status. Having Bethany/Carver come around as a Warden means they could serve as a possible companion for the Meredith/Anders Boss Battle, but I like the idea of Hawke fighting relatively alone, so they could just leave. 

 If Bethany/Carver didn't become a Grey Warden, and became a Circle mage or templar, then I think they would have died in the fighting at the Gallows. Stroud comes around to inform Hawke that he heard their sibling was killed, and that they fought bravely where Hawke did not.

 Stroud, I believe, would not be impressed by Hawke's decision not to fight.} 

 Fourth Option?

 So, the options so far have been a) Protect the Gallows, b) Enact the Rite of Annulment, and c) Stand Aside and Do Nothing. But I’m flip-flopping over a fourth option where Hawke chooses to stand up against Meredith to seize power in Kirkwall. Like, fight her, but not necessarily for the Gallows.

 I guess Hawke would have a Boss Battle right there with Meredith on the steps of the destroyed Chantry. If Hawke won, Hawke could seek out Orsino (and possibly Anders, if Anders is still alive) at the Gallows, and choose whether to tell them the day is saved (and possibly reconcile with Anders) or try to enact the Rite of Annulment anyway. If Hawke tries to kill them, there would be a definite Boss Battle with Orsino, and then a final Boss Battle with Anders only if he’s still alive.

 Like… embrace the potential Evil!Hawke here. I’m not saying that you have to pick those routes, because of course you don’t, if you don’t like being evil. But… c’mon. That would really make the end of the game interesting. Oh, there would be so many consequences.

 Not just in DA2, but beyond that to DA:I.

 Can you imagine the aside comments and dialogue in DA:I about the Champion of Kirkwall who killed everyone and tried to make themselves Viscount of Kirkwall, only to get chased off by the Chantry? (If Hawke tried to seize power in a benevolent way, protecting the Gallows as they did, I imagine Hawke might have to flee from the Chantry anyway for having killed Meredith. Chantry people and Lord Seekers aren't exactly known for being reasonable people.) Cassandra would be livid about it. She would demand that Varric EXPLAIN HAWKE’S HORRIFIC ACTIONS. How could the Champion do such things?  

 And Varric’s just like, “Hey, I just wrote the book. I don’t actually know what the actual fuck happened there, and I was there. Sometimes the story doesn’t play out the way we wanted it to.” 

Ending?

Whatever the ending decided through Hawke's choices, I imagine this version of DA2 plays out with a similar sort of open ending as it did in canon. Varric and Cassandra's conversation confirms Hawke had to flee Kirkwall, which is essentially in shambles and on fire no matter what, for one reason or another, either alone or with their lover or so on. Varric wrote his book and ended up being interrogated by Cassandra. And that's that, he supposes. 

I now have no idea how Hawke would then fit into DA:I. I think this would make Hawke too much like the Warden to fit into future DA games, with too broad a potential for unique personality if there's too much variety in dialogue and so on (I understand there are constraints and choices to be made about limits when making a video game), but… I don’t think I’d mind that. REALLY alternate worldstates are more my jam than trying to perfectly fit every possible world together. Not enough room for consequences! (I kind of think Bioware should just base all their games off their canon worldstate up to that point, allowing for each game to go off in really wild directions. Making sure all the choices fit together sounds unnecessarily exhausting. I’m not that invested in my own worldstates.)

A Hawke, a tragic hero, who did it unquestionably their way (good or evil or ambiguous) and is out there in Thedas somewhere... I like that.