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The Fading Tide

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Admiral Isabela felt strange standing on the mountain path, still half expecting it to move underneath her feet. She sighed, missing the comforting roll and sway of the ocean. She hated being on land too long, but she wasn’t leaving until she got the answers she was after.

The peaks of Skyhold caught the light in the distance, and she exhaled a cloudy breath in the frigid air. It will be good to sleep in a warm bed, at least, she thought. Okay, and maybe with him, she admitted to herself.

She remembered their parting, on a deserted beach on the Storm Coast. She’d been hurt that he was leaving, but damned if she’d let him know that, the smug bastard, and instead she told him she was “off to have some fun”. But you were supposed to meet me, you sorry excuse for a man. I waited for you for a sodding month!   Oh, she was going to give him a piece of her mind when she saw him.

Determined, she stalked down the hill and onto the stone walkway that led to the drawbridge. She was attracting a few stares with her brightly colored coat and large hat, not to mention the fair amount of cleavage she was showing or the razor-sharp daggers she kept at her back. But she’d learned to ignore gawkers long ago. She nodded to the guards on duty. Evidently they’d already been told about her, as they didn’t move to stop her from going in.

Upon entering the courtyard, Isabela smiled, approving of the size of the place. Not bad, Inquisition. You’ve got a nice little fortress here. She was evaluating the defenses on the battlements, determining how many Raiders it would take to claim this place, when she overheard the word “Champion”.

She moved closer, curious to hear what the two women - a dwarf and a human - were saying, but they turned and walked away up the stairs. Now curious, she decided to put some of her old skills to use and followed them at a safe distance, being careful to not make too much noise.

She stopped and lounged against the wall at the top of the staircase, casually crossing one ankle over the other, her expression disinterested, and watched as her quarry entered a small building. By the sounds and smells coming from the place, she guessed this was a tavern. A drink? Don’t mind if I do.

Isabela immediately felt at home inside the Herald’s Rest, the familiar smell of ale and sweat putting her at ease. She didn’t see the two women, so she made her way to the bar.

“Yeah?” the dwarven bartender asked, looking her over. “What can I do ya for?”

Isabela didn’t mind the attention. Men were easy. Well, most men anyway. Some were stubborn pigs who kept women waiting in port for them. But she knew just how to handle this one. She leaned forward on one arm on the bar, making sure to give him a glimpse of a bit more skin.

“I heard a rumor,” she started, her lips curling into a smile, and arcing her gaze across the room. She was fairly certain if she looked back at the bartender instead of the other patrons, he wouldn’t be looking at her face. “I heard that the Champion of Kirkwall was here. I’d love to meet him.”

He grunted, drawing her attention back to him. Sure enough, his gaze flicked quickly back up to hers when she caught him looking.

“He was here,” he said, taking a step backwards. “You’re too late.”

Shit, did I come all this way just to miss him on the road? Frustrated with the turn of events, she pushed away from the bar. Varric will know where he went. Varric always knows what Hawke is up to.

“Wait,” the bartender said, and she turned to look at him. “I’m Cabot, but I didn’t even get your name.”

“That’s right,” she said, and walked away, not caring enough to look back and witness his reaction.

She searched the bar, remembering how Varric had always had a room at the Hanged Man, but the only room she found was occupied by an elf girl. Pretty, but probably not the dwarf’s type. If she knew Varric, he would have gotten close to the person in charge here, this Inquisitor person. It’s what she would have done, anyway. So if Varric didn’t have a room here at the tavern, that only left one place he could be staying: the main keep.

Outside again, she shielded her eyes against the light, and looked up at the central tower. The banner of the Inquisition waved in the breeze, beckoning her inside. She passed a few Orlesian nobles as she climbed the stairs. One actually gasped and nearly fainted at the sight of her. She fought the urge to laugh when she caught the word “pirate”, and finished making her way to the top.

The interior of the keep was darker than she expected, and it took her a second for her eyes to adjust. The room was starting to come into focus when she heard a voice she knew quite well.

“Rivaini?” Varric asked.

Isabela frowned. Why didn’t he sound happy to see her? “In the flesh,” she replied with a smirk. “Why the long face? Pouting that Hawke’s gone already?”

His jaw dropped. “Then you already know…” he said, trailing off, looking into the flames of the large fireplace nearby.

“Yeah, some creep down in the tavern told me.”

“You okay?” Concern was etched across his features “I figured you of all people would be taking it worse than this.”

“You sound as though he’s dead, Varric. Where did he go, anyway? The little perv didn’t say.”

Varric fell silent. “Shit,” he mumbled under his breath. “Maybe it’s better if you sit down for this one.”

“No,” she said, drawing out the word. “Where is Hawke?”

He sighed. “I wrote you a letter, but I didn’t know where to send the blighted thing,” he said, moving to the mantle and pulling out an envelope.

“Damn you and your letters, Varric, where the fuck is Garrett?!”

Varric’s brow pinched into a grimace. “It’s a long story. We...the Inquisitor, Hawke, and I got trapped in the Fade.”

Isabela shuddered, remembering her own experience with the Fade. She hadn’t lasted long at all, accepting a demon’s offer without a second thought. If it hadn’t been for Garrett…

She pursed her lips. “Okay, the Fade. Then what?”

“There was a demon, the biggest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen - probably that anyone has ever seen. There was no way we were getting past it to get out, and Hawke...he…”

The lump in Isabela’s throat threatened to choke her, and it was all she could do to swallow. She supplied the rest. “And he had to go be the big bloody hero.”

“Rivaini…” Varric responded, reaching out an arm to her.

“Don’t, Varric...just don’t,” she said, her voice steady and eyes dry.

“Alright, I get it, but when you’re ready, I’m buying,” he said, nodding.

She nodded and walked, shuffling one foot in front of the other, her feet taking her in a direction without really paying attention. Hawke. Gone. The reason he never showed up wasn’t because he didn’t want to, it was because he couldn’t. Damn it, Garrett, I changed for you. You’re the only reason I give a shit about anything. How am I supposed to do this without you? You don’t just get to leave...

Isabela looked down to find her hands trembling. Glancing around her she saw that she was standing in a small alcove by a garden. A bench lined the wall nearby, and she sank onto it, watching her hands and willing them to cease their infernal shaking. Get your shit together, girl.

She needed a distraction, and scanned the garden looking for something, anything to get rid of the unbearable weight on her chest. She saw a young man in fancy armor with long auburn hair. He was talking with a woman dressed in Chantry garb. Probably a Revered Mother. Thanks to traveling with Sebastian, she’d never forget the stupid titles they had.

She took a deep breath and felt a tiny bit better. That is, until she overheard their conversation.

“I know your heart is troubled, Your Worship, but Hawke’s sacrifice was not in vain,” the Chantry Mother said.

So that’s the Inquisitor, she realized. Huh, I thought he’d be taller from the way they talk about him.

“Hawke and Stroud left the choice of who stayed behind to me,” the Inquisitor said, wringing his hands. “I’ve gone over it a million times in my head, and I still don’t know if I made the right one.”

Wait. Isabela looked at the Inquisitor, studying him. You’re to blame. The tightness in her chest transformed in that moment, becoming a much easier emotion to handle: rage. It smoldered like an ember, burning a hole in the pit of her stomach. You killed him.  She narrowed her eyes, allowing the thought to drive her into motion.

She snaked forward, the soft soles of her boots silent on the stone floor. She ducked under a tree branch and reached for her daggers.   You took him from me, the only piece of my life that I ever wanted to remain permanent. She felt the anguish rise back up again, felt the helplessness threaten to overtake her, but she battled that feeling back down again.   No, this is right.

The sharp edges slid free of their sheaths without a sound, the hilt a familiar extension to her own body.   So easy to end you, murderer. Just a little closer.

Isabela crouched in the bushes behind the Inquisitor, poised to strike. She stood, and in a fluid motion, brought one of the daggers forward. But, before it could connect, it was wrenched from her hand by a flying projectile. She glanced down and saw a crossbow bolt jutting out of the ground.

“Rivaini, don’t do anything stupid,” Varric cautioned, drawing everyone’s attention but hers. She knew he’d be standing there, holding Bianca, but Isabela would not be deterred. In a rush of movement, she braced her other dagger against the Inquisitor’s neck and pinned one arm at his back, pleased with the surprised gasp that escaped him.

“Andraste can have her fucking Herald back,” Isabela shouted, the blade biting ever so lightly into the flesh of the Inquisitor’s neck. A trickle of blood ran down his skin, staining his pretty coat.

“I’m sorry,” the Inquisitor said. His voice sounded soft, making Isabela want to hurt him even more. “Garrett Hawke was a good man and he shouldn’t have died that way.”

“You don’t get to say that to me after what you did,” Isabela growled. And yet, she couldn’t bring herself to pull the blade, to slice his throat and end it.

She heard Varric sigh, and looked to him. His expression was sad, not angry. Why isn’t he angry?

“Isabela, stop,” he said, and his use of her name made her pause. “I don’t exactly have to like it, but you knew Hawke as well as I did. If he decided that-”

“That’s just it, Garrett didn’t decide.  He did.   He’s the reason he’s dead.”

“Damn it, Rivaini, you’re not listening. Hawke volunteered. So did another guy, a Grey Warden.”

The dagger shook, and Isabela moved her hand, getting a better grip.

Varric continued, “Hawke knew that the Inquisitor was going to be needed to stop the shit that’s happening with Corypehus. He felt responsible after we were the ones who let him out. He offered...no, he insisted on staying behind. Shit, don’t you think I miss him too?”

Isabela was vaguely aware of the sound of metal clattering on the ground. There was a blur of movement, and before she realized it, she was sitting on her knees with Varric’s arms wrapped around her. Isabela did something she hadn’t done since her mother betrayed her years ago...she wept. Varric’s embrace tightened, and she sobbed with noisy wracking breaths.

“I don’t have a sodding clue how to do this…” she managed to get out eventually, the tears flowing anew.

“I’m trying large amounts of alcohol,” Varric replied with a humorless chuckle. “And no, for the record, it’s not working.” He sighed. “Sorry about this, Inquisitor, I’ll handle her from here. Come on, Rivaini, let’s go.”

She allowed Varric to help her up, and lead her forward. She glanced back to see the Inquisitor watching both of them, his own expression sad, but uncertain.

Isabela followed Varric, and was surprised when their path led upstairs, not toward the bar. Entering the room, she realized it must be Varric’s from the simple, yet tasteful decor. She sat on the bed and folded her hands in her lap while he went to a side table and poured both of them a drink. He brought the bottle of amber-colored liquid back with their glasses. Neither of them said anything for nearly an hour until the warmth of the liquor spread a comfortable numbness through them.

“I want to hate him,” Isabela said at last, breaking the silence.

“The Inquisitor?”

“No...Hawke.”

“Yeah.”

“I wish I’d never laid eyes on his stupid grinning face. I could have gone the rest of my life pretending. It sure as shit would have been easier than this.”

Varric patted her arm before raising his drink. “To Hawke.”

She nodded, wiping her tears. “To Hawke.”