She froze the ogre from the inside, her hand deep inside its eye-socket even as it tried to tear her apart. It dropped her before it fell, and she felt someone’s hands on her, pulling her away. She could see bone in her leg, in her chest, she could hardly breathe.
Vivine shut her eyes.
Aveline looked up from her husband’s vacant, lifeless face and watched the woman before her. She looked unearthly. Even if Aveline hadn’t seen her take the form of a dragon, she’d have noted the too sharp smile, the horribly calculating eyes, the crackle of power around the woman’s fingers. Even if the strange woman hadn’t told her to put down her own husband, Aveline would have noticed.
“That one is not blight-stricken,” the woman, Flemeth, said. “But she’s not long for this world.” Aveline knew this, could see it from here. The girl in her sister’s arms was a foregone end. She could see her desperate sentinels’ denial too, plainly on their faces. They would not make the same sacrifice Aveline did. Flemeth carried on, unmoved, approaching them. “Your chances of survival with her are slim,” she told them. “Her chances of recovery are even less likely. No ordinary magic will save her now.”
“What are you saying?” The screeching voice echoed in the darkened, dusty clearing. The girl who spoke looked deranged, she was dripping with blood and smudged with dirt, but it was nothing to what clung to the still form of the sister she cradled in her arms.
“No—we won’t,” the boy sobbed out. He might have been a boy, he was certainly tall enough to be a man, but with his face covered in tears and his shoulders shaking he looked very young. He had carried the girl all this way, stoic at first and then crumbling at the last. Aveline grieved for them, she truly did, but their sister was not far from the end as it was. She was barely breathing, her lips were a strange and unnatural color, and there were deep gauges up and down her sides. She was not going to make the sea journey, let alone the journey to the port, no matter how many spells of stasis her sobbing sister rained down on her wounds.
“It’ll be kinder. If… If you love her, you won’t want her to suffer this way. She’s suffering so much already,” Aveline tried to say. She knew.
“Maybe you can, maybe you’re that kind of person—” The girl was cut off, thankfully, by a hand from her distraught mother. The woman was just as grief-stricken, but her shoulders were squared and her head unbowed.
“Bethany, please,” she murmured. “Maybe… maybe this warrior is right.” Her hand fell to a small dagger at her side. “I’ll do it. I brought her into this world, and it’s my fault she’s leaving it. I’ll be the one—”
The small family watched the girl struggle to breathe and seemed to come to a decision. Their mother held the knife aloft as her children wept.
“Oh, sweetheart. Dear Vivine, I’m so sorry.”
The enchantress’s gaze sharpened; her interest piqued by something.
“L’ve y..” There was a sob as the broken whisper escaped the broken girl’s mouth.
“Oh please, if you’d just let me finish,” Flemeth snorted. Bethany looked up from her sister’s slack face and glared at the enchantress.
“What do you want? Let us say goodbye.”
“There’s no need for that. I’ll freeze her body and heal her as much as I can if you promise to do me… a favor.”
The boy shot to his feet. “Done. We’ll do whatever it is. Heal her.”
“You don’t want to hear the conditions?”
“Doesn’t matter what they are, do it now.”
Aveline watched as Flemeth seemed to tilt her head and consider the boy and his sister. “I sense something here, in you. Very well. This amulet—”
“Heal first. Talk later,” the brother grabbed the offered amulet without ceremony, pocketed it, and gestured at his sister’s body as their mother watched with wild eyes. The enchantress approached, an amused smile on her face. Aveline felt a huge sigh of relief welling up in her, she had thought such rude behavior would doom them.
A shimmering light engulfed the girl as she stepped closer, and then faded slowly. There seemed to be mist rising from the body. Her sister brought trembling fingers to the girl’s face, stroking her cheek.
“I can’t tell… if anything’s changed.”
“She’ll survive. I can’t ease the process for her much more than this, not right now. I’m afraid your end of the bargain limits me somewhat. I must draw on her own strength too.” The woman began to fade at the edges. “Deliver that amulet to the Dalish Keeper Marethari, outside Kirkwall.”
“What’s your sister’s name?”
“Vivine, we call her Vivi,” he said, fondly.
Flemeth’s smile widened. “Who named her?”
Their mother spoke up. “My late husband. It’s a kind of thyme that grows on the mountains.”
“He played a dangerous game,” Flemeth said ominously, and then she disappeared.
Aveline watched the spot where Flemeth stood a while longer. Then she leaned forward, pressed her lips to her husband’s gauntlet, and shut his eyes. “Goodbye, beloved.”
It wasn’t easy. They knew it wouldn’t be, but no one complained. Even Carver kept his mouth in a grim line as he carried his sister onwards. They made slow but sure progress, and though it took some persuasion to convince the ship’s captain that their sister was not stricken, merely extremely injured, they boarded the ship and guarded her like they were trained for it.
Bethany shook Carver awake one night as the ship tossed on the sea and pressed her fingers to her lips and gestured to the ladder that would lead to the deck. Carefully, after they inspected their sister’s blankets and readjusted her head, they made their way to the surface.
“She looks much better.”
“Still sleeping, though.”
“That’s fine. That’s better than—”
They fell silent, the roar of the sea on the sides of the boat haunting them.
“I’m scared,” Bethany confessed. “I have no idea what’s waiting for us, if we even have a house. Mother seems convinced, but… it’s been years, Carver. She didn’t leave on good terms.”
Carver slumped down on the deck; his legs extended carelessly. Bethany slid down beside him neatly, purposefully mimicking her sister’s habit of arranging her skirts in a circle around her. Carver smiled sadly, but he smiled at least.
The sea roared.
“Kirkwall isn’t like Ferelden, you know. You have to keep a low profile. The Templars there aren’t like the ones back home.”
“I know that,” Bethany snapped, and then regretted it. “Are you taking over mother’s job of nagging or Vivi’s habit of bossing us around?”
“Both. I’m your big brother, it’s my job to take over for those two while they’re resting.”
Bethany felt something in her heart ease and ache at the mention of Vivi merely sleeping. “You’re my big brother by a minute, maybe. Don’t get a big head.”
“On the contrary, your big head is why I’m four minutes older than you.”
“Oh! If mother heard you, she’d—”
The sea roared on. Vivine slumbered.
Vivi did not wake on the ship, and so she was unable to contribute to the ongoing arguments and discussions consuming her family’s every waking moment. Her bones, no longer shattered, needed no setting. Nevertheless, the miraculous recovery seemed to have sapped every ounce of strength from her. She leaned heavily on Carver, finally awake and barely conscious, when they alighted the ship. Covered in blankets as her siblings navigated the port, she slept, off to the side, until they bribed the watch and entered the city. She woke only to eat and relieve herself with her mother’s help, and barely spoke a word. The most they could get from her was a weak hand gesture, an attempt at a smile, and then she’d slip away again.
She became the main topic of Gamlen’s ire and there was only so much coin they could spare to appease him, to make him tolerate her constant slumber. They worked double jobs, recruiting help where they could find it, and hid money from their uncle and their mother. They whispered their plans in the dark, they harangued the dwarf Varric with questions, and occasionally at their sister’s bedside they confessed their fears. They planned, they worked, they cleared slavers from neighborhoods and bandits from caves. Half a year passed, and the contracts were nearly finished.
Aveline visited sometimes, during that time. The company was welcome, and though Vivine rarely woke, they felt that having a positive presence in the house was good for her. They hoped it would encourage her to wake up sooner.
But Vivi still slept, woke only very occasionally, and time went on.
They whispered stories in her ear when Gamlen went to bed, they told her all about the mercenaries, the mages in the city who ran about under the chantry’s nose, the blood mages who practiced their craft in the underbelly. Didn’t you used to talk about that, Vivi? Didn’t you used to get in fights with father about that kind of thing? Remember when that was the worst thing that’d happen all day? A soft laugh. Yes, they both remembered when a loud row between their father and their sometimes naïve but spirited sister drove the chickens back into the coops and the bystanders out into the garden to grumble about the evening being ruined.
They remembered it fondly.
Months went by, their contract was nearly finished, and their sister’s eyes were open more often now.
When Vivi was awake, it was in short bursts. Gone were the dull eyes and the vacant stares. Her eyes were aware, although her responses were slow. She asked questions when she was like that, endless questions. Where do you guys get the money for food? Where’s mother? Why’s this house so small and dingy? What happened to the Amells? They couldn’t answer all of them, not to her satisfaction, but she’d drift back to sleep with a frown if they didn’t distract her somehow.
Without discussing it, without needing to, Carver and Bethany told no one of their sister. The life of a mercenary was dangerous enough, but the thought of some dissatisfied survivor or revenge-seeking crook sneaking into the house and discovering an unknown, new Hawke sleeping soundly, vulnerably terrified them.
Vivi Hawke could barely leave her bed, and so her name rarely left the house.
Kirkwall breathed, vomited, lived, bled around her, and it did not know her name.
Vivi felt the sun on her face. There were raised voices, but after a moment she could not tell if they were truly there or if she was imagining them. She opened her eyes, bleary and heavy though they were, and tried to gather control of herself. She felt so tired. Her body felt so heavy, her mind so fuzzy, and she could barely keep her eyelids open. It was the worst in the mornings, now that she was spending more and more time awake. It was as if her body resisted the very concept of the waking city that held it.
She pushed the blanket aside and pushed herself up, already shaking. It would subside soon, as long as she kept trying.
“Gamlen can go suck eggs; he’s not getting any more of the money.”
“Keep your voice down, Carver. Listen. We won’t give him a lot. Just enough to keep him off our backs. We have more than enough now for the expedition, and then we can go.”
“There’s still a few months left with the mercenaries; I don’t know, Bethany. They’ll try and get even if we bail or break the contract. We’re stuck till that’s over.”
Panic began to build in Vivi’s chest. Mercenaries? She moved a leg out from under the blankets and tried to sit up, but the exhaustion was too much. She was too heavy, her arm too weak, and she slumped back into the bed. She fell back into the dim gray of sleep easily; the relentless exhaustion overcame her mind and pushed her thoughts down.
She was grateful to be alive, but the effects of this strange magic were going to destroy her another way. She was going to lose her mind as the enchantment sucked her magic and strength in order to heal her body.
Later that night, Carver would notice her frowning face as she slept. He’d assume that she was dreaming unpleasantly, as mages often did, and he’d sit at the edge of the bed and pull her hair back from her face and tie it. He’d adjust the sheets and rub soothing circles into her back until Bethany came back from her assignment, a little covered in blood, but whole and safe.
Both of them would talk quietly at her bedside until the frown eased, and then they would sleep for a few hours before disappearing again.
Vivi wouldn’t wake up in time to see them go. She would go days without seeing them, if her body was particularly exhausted. It was this that pushed her into a regimen of practicing tottering, painful steps a safe distance from her bed. Each step was a struggle, but soon her muscles regained memory enough to hold her up. She moved freely about the home, and sometimes even met her mother at the doorstep when she returned home from her own job at a market near the docks.
The year passed, and one day, in a hovel of a house etched deep into stone, Vivi put one foot in front of the other and walked without help to the other side. Her mother applauded and her uncle smirked reluctantly, proud despite his best efforts not to be. When she reached the opposite wall, she used it to propel herself forward and repeated the process. She walked this way until she heard her siblings’ footsteps, and then she pressed a finger to her lips to silence her mother and stood still, waiting.
She laughed at their faces when they realized what they saw and gladly ran into their arms when they opened. Weeping, worn out from the effort, she gave into what her body wanted and fell asleep as they held her.
“I uh, I brought you… more books.”
“Carver, stop, I have to—”
“Sorry, Vivi! Gotta run, Bethany needs a second pair of hands. Don’t forget to eat.”
Carver fled. It seemed like he and Bethany neverspent any time at the house anymore. They were never home, always running about, and often they came back home long after her exhaustion set back in and forced her into sleep.
She swung her legs out of bed as the door slammed behind him and shouted after him almost incomprehensible abuse. She spent all her time angry or lonely now. Angry at her siblings for not being there, angry at her body for not working, angry at the enchantress who siphoned Vivi’s own strength into the process. Yes, at least in her convalescent period, her little confinement, her delicate lying-in, she had unearthed the truth of what had happened.
She did not like to think of her siblings out there without her, it made every ugly feeling in her worse, uglier. She was enraged, terrified, and then sometimes jealous. She felt horrible for it, but it was the truth. She had learned how to confront herself, if nothing else, shut up alone all day, every day, for months. She almost wished she was still catatonic, for thinking drained her in a completely different way.
She walked, adding an air of ease and lightness in her stride that she assumed she’d need in the future, to the pile of books at the little makeshift desk Bethany had made her after the last time she’d thrown a thickly bound dictionary at the wall in a fit of tears. She wasn’t proud of that moment, but she had gotten a desk out of it, at least.
They put her in charge of the letters too, likely because of that same breakdown. She hated it. Maybe it was because every time she sat at the desk, they might remember her screaming fit, her tears, and then her earnest avowal that she did not regret taking the ogre’s attention from her family. But please, she had sobbed, please, don’t treat me like I’m a pet.
She sifted through the notes quickly, irritated that they had begun to use shorthand for things that were crucial to understanding the contents of each letter. A letter from a certain Varric Tethras referred constantly to the “long serpentine roads of fortune” and a letter from a seedy sounding merchant would only refer to whatever location he’d pay Carver to go to as “the Lot.” She referred to the small notebook she kept on hand constantly. Ser Tethras had been in connection to at least three previous correspondences, and each of them referred to different variations of ‘roads’ or ‘paths.’ She added this to the list, and then moved on to the other notes. Any money within she was to hide carefully in Bethany’s cot, under her mattress, when Gamlen wasn’t around to see. At least they trusted her to lift a mattress now.
She put a letter from one obnoxious solicitor down and stared out the single window. From here she could see nothing worth seeing. The city was so ugly. Slave-built, dead rock, bland colors. Not a single tree, not a single flower anywhere. She could hardly see the sky, sometimes. The conversation that drifted to the window was coarse and vulgar, sometimes bland and mundane. She felt out of place and tired, tired inside. It wasn’t just her body now. The days pulled at her skin, stretched something in her to its limits, and then released it. It sagged inside her.
Her mother was at the market now, probably having more fun than Vivi was, haggling for prices and looking at wares. Bethany and Carver were having adventures, putting themselves in unimaginable danger just to keep the family fed, and Vivi was rifling through letters.
Ashamed, bitter, she put the letter in the nook she kept for those unread and finally let her eyes drift to the pile of books. She was hardly permitted out of the house, stuck inside with Gamlen and her mother, or alone with naught but the chatter of strangers outside, but books she did have.
Her siblings brought her all sorts. Blood stained, horribly otherwise stained too, badly bound, but books they were. Sometimes they were hideously stupid, rife with spelling errors and tips on how to coif one’s hair becomingly on a budget. Sometimes they were true treasures. Stories, books on magic (forbidden), map-books, old journals, there was a never-ending list of material to read. It was their way of apologizing. She hated that they felt they had to, she hated that she sometimes didn’t mind their guilt, but she loved the books.
The top of this pile was a journal. The handwriting was small and the style concise. She entertained herself for some time, reading a man’s fifty-year-old list of ingredients for his wife’s birthday pastry. She smiled, imagining them, their happiness. She turned the pages and let her heart melt a little, imagining for them a romance and a happy ending. Pages of recipes, some lists of materials for a baby’s cradle, the child’s measurements later. She shut the battered book there, happy to freeze their lives forever on that page.
Her mother came back home to her smile, and she kept it in place until that exhaustion set back in and the sun set.
She slept peacefully.
There was something about her time dead to the world that terrified her just as much as the thought of her sister and brother on the streets of Kirkwall, with only each other and a band of mysterious mercenaries. The whole time, for all her months of sleep, she had not come into contact with the Veil even once.
Her magic was shut off from her command, almost dormant under her skin.
She slept, uninterrupted, and the demons that always lay at the edges of her world never once came near.
She found that she missed their clawing presence. Without them, she just felt more alone.
The Hawkes had a reputation now, that much was certain. People parted for them in crowds, looked away shiftily when they saw their figures or heard their stride. One was bad enough, it was said. The fact that there were two seemed a little unfair. They moved like a single body in battle, though they fought constantly otherwise, and even Varric thought that was creepy. They seemed to have a silent language sometimes, a language that sometimes only Aveline seemed to have a single clue about.
They’d pause by a merchant selling bracelets and look at each other, and Carver would lift an eyebrow. Bethany would look over the wares, and silently purse her lips. They’d move on. They’d find a pile of old books in the corner of a den or cave or hovel and silently take them all, barely looking at the titles. Varric knew they didn’t sell them, but he knew they weren’t interested in them for their contents either. They simply filled a bag with them and then the next day there would be no sign of any books anywhere, neither sold nor referenced in conversations.
Aveline sometimes seemed like the only one who was unbothered by their strange behavior. One day, the first day Fenris joined them on a job, actually, Carver and Bethany both laid eyes on an old merchant’s cart and ranto it like a demon was at their heels. It was just a simple florist’s cart. Sort of rare, sure, but hardly useful. Not a single herb, nor poultice. They piled their bags with flowers and begged off early that day, leaving Fenris, Varric, and Aveline standing in the street, unsure of what had happened. Aveline simply took it in stride, carrying on as if nothing happened.
Aveline never said a word about them. If she ever narrowed her eyes over her drink as Carver pestered Anders with questions about muscle atrophy and particular ailments of the mage, no one but Varric noticed. Varric, an expert in secrets, knew that the Hawkes were viciously clannish, protective, and loyal, that they allowed no one into their home and spoke nothing of their family. He assumed their mother was weak, or perhaps that an apostate grandmother had fallen ill.
That was before he got the letter. It was delivered in the early morning, and he just barely intercepted it before going out to talk to Bertrand. He sat for a moment at a table, opened it, and put his morning coffee to his lips, only to choke on it at the first sentence.
I know you’re a companion to my dear baby sister and my sweet baby brother. I’m a little worried about them, I hardly see them anymore. I’ve been a touch ill this past year, so I haven’t been up and about, but I’m feeling much better lately. If you wouldn’t mind me dropping by sometime today or tomorrow, perhaps I could finally meet you. I request that you mention nothing of this to either of them.
Varric knew this was either a trap, pure and simple, or something very interesting. Nevertheless, he ran to the errand boy at the front and told him quickly to tell Bertrand the meeting was off, that something had come up. He told Isabela at the bar that if he wasn’t back in three hours, send out a search party. She saluted him dismissively and returned to driving the hapless barmaid wild.
He knew for a fact that Carver and Bethany were both busy on the Wounded Coast, with Fenris and Aveline in tow, so he made his way to the residence of one Gamlen Amell and knocked on the door. He smoothed his hair back and rearranged Bianca becomingly.
The door opened after a long moment, and a woman looked down from the crack in the doorway and gazed at him. She seemed to approve of whatever she saw, because she smiled and opened the door wider, gesturing for him to come inside with the grace of a lady of a stately manor receiving an honored guest and the grin of someone high up in a tree, pelting apples at passerby.
This was definitely their sister.
Varric waited till Fenris had delivered his last glower and Anders had picked up his ridiculous fur thing and the bar was nearly empty before he showed his hand. He had had his fun pulling their legs all night, explaining a story he was “working on” about a girl who slept for a hundred years and didn’t wake for anything. He liked to see them squirm.
Carver was drinking his mead peacefully and Bethany was chatting with Aveline about her not-so-young man on the guard when he gave in. “So, I met Vivi.”
Carver spat the drink out, but Aveline merely levelled him with a flat glare. There was a knife at his throat within a second. He didn’t feel betrayed by that, not at all, and he looked right into Bethany’s eyes.
“Did you tell anyone?”
“No, of course not.”
“How did you find her? Did you go to the house? Was she awake?”
“Bethany, put the knife down,” Aveline said carefully, eyes on the blade.
“It’s just to stop me from burning him alive, don’t tell me to put it down.”
Varric sighed, putting a finger solidly against the blade at his throat and pushing it away. “Enough dramatics, all right?”
“You haven’t seen dramatic yet,” Carver muttered darkly, wiping the drink from his jaw and drying his hand against his shirt. It was so stupidly mundane, but the carefully controlled, boring movement did feel a bit intimidating.
“Relax, she wrote to me, practically begged me to come talk to her. So I did. I’m gonna see her again too, if you know what’s good for you.”
“Excuse me?” Bethany squawked. “Who do you think you are to threaten us?”
“I’m the guy who’s going to tell you right now that if you keep doing whatever you’re doing? Your sister is going to hate you, she isn’t going to be able to stand the sight of you if you keep it up.”
Bethany shut her mouth with a vicious click. She looked like nothing Varric had seen before. It was usually Carver that glared and gnashed his teeth, to see Bethany do it was… interesting. “What are you saying?”
“Bethany, that lady is definitely miserable. She needs to get out more.”
“She’s ill, she can’t go around like us.”
“Little old ladies and civilians go tottering around here all the time, she’s under the impression that Kirkwall is all cutthroats and brigands!”
“It is!” Carver cried, gesturing wildly. “You can’t deny that it is!”
“Sure, but we’re the cutthroats and brigands!” Varric threw his hands up, wondering what had happened to his two favorite cutthroat brigands. One of them was pacing and wringing his hands like a worried father before a wedding, the other looked like she was about to bite through her lip.
“Varric,” Bethany said carefully, no longer murderous. She looked only calmly determined, the kind of face she had right before she set an active slaver den on fire without looking back. Varric tensed. “What do you propose? To avoid… what you just said might happen.”
“Your sister hating your guts and resenting you?” Varric exaggerated, he’d really only wanted to scare them a little. “Let her do things. Once in a while, let me visit. If you really think she can’t be out in the city, let me talk to her. She’d probably make a great subject for a novel.”
“Haven’t you milked us for all we’re worth already?”
“Nah, that’s just a rough draft right now. I want something to humanize you two, to add an element of vulnerability—” Carver flinched at that, and Varric corrected himself quickly: “An element of relatability, let’s say that.”
Bethany was silent, staring at the table. Aveline hadn’t spoken a word, but now she put her hand on Bethany’s arm. “I’ve been too busy to visit, as of late. She’s probably sick to death of Gamlen and your mother’s bickering.”
Bethany nodded, reluctantly. “She lost her temper at us a few weeks ago. She said… we—” her voice caught.
“It’s important to pay attention to her feelings. She’s going to be feeling restless, like a burden on you, she’s going to be guilty for feeling unhappy.” Varric was taken aback by how insightful Aveline’s words were. “It’s understandable that you’re worried, that you’re unsure, but if you just take it slowly… think of how much happier she’ll be.”
Carver sat down again, heavily, and looked mournfully at his nearly empty tankard. “Fine, you can visit her. But you can’t tell any of the others. Not until we’re rich.”
“Reasonable, as always.”
“I’m serious, Varric. We can’t afford—” he ran his fingers through his hair nearly violently. “I can’t lose her, and we can’t dedicate our time to protecting her. Not with the situation the way it is. She’s… she’s not how she was before. We need stature to keep her safe. We need a title, we need leverage. For both her and Bethany, but mainly? For her.”
“She’s a mage, like me, but her magic’s been missing since—Since what happened. It might be out of her control now, we don’t know. We can’t take any risks.”
Varric looked out at the two assassins, the nightmares of Kirkwall, the bane of the underbelly, the scourge of the nobility. They looked young, suddenly. Their age was showing. It was in Bethany’s quivering lip and Carver’s wide, earnest gaze. They looked so painfully young and sad. “I won’t tell anyone. She’s safe with me,” Varric said tightly. “I swear, she’s safe with me.”
There was a long moment of silence, and then Carver asked, hesitantly, “what did you talk about with her?”
“Mostly? You two. You were all she wanted to talk about.”
“More water, Ser Tethras?”
“Yes, please. And call me Varric.”
“I’m so sorry I can’t offer you something proper to drink, Varric.”
“Can’t you see I’m mortally offended by your peasant water? I’m storming out.”
Vivi laughed, hiding her mouth behind a hand. Varric smiled widely. Vivi looked like someone braided Carver and Bethany together and threw in some mysterious third strand of mostly wavy hair. Tragically, constantly in a sort of bedhead. It was rather charming.
“I haven’t had a cup of tea in more than a year,” she sighed wistfully. “I could, what’s the phrase? Murder a cup of tea right about now.”
Aveline made a noise of sympathy, and opened her mouth to offer as much tea as could be desired but Varric took the opportunity to dive in, tea or no tea.
“Vivi, you know your brother and sister have been working really hard the past year, right?” Vivi looked at him and settled back into her seat, tucking her legs beneath her. She didn’t say anything. Varric took a deep breath. “Well, we’re getting close to what we’ve all been working for lately. I wanted to tell you a bit about it.”
“Is this about your mysterious road project? From the letters?”
“Damn, my shorthand probably wasn’t that creative, was it?”
Vivi pursed her lips, just like Bethany would when faced with a mystery. “What’s this about, Aveline?” She turned to her friend, expecting perhaps a clearer answer.
“Varric and his brother have an expedition planned, into the Deep Roads. There’s a treasure of some sort there, it’ll be worth a fortune.”
“If it can even be reached. Varric, are you taking my family back to the blight? Do you want me to set you on fire?”
Varric didn’t draw attention to the empty threat, it was an unspoken fact that Vivi could barely make a spark these days.
“Vivi, it’s something your siblings are determined to do. I know that you’re worried about them, but they’ve gone this whole year wrestling this whole city into shape. They’ve gained quite a reputation.”
“It’s dangerous. I forbid it.”
“Listen, princess, you can’t forbid them anything. I’m only telling you this because I don’t want you out of your mind with worry when they up and disappear for weeks. Which they’ll definitely do, if you “forbid” them.” Vivi glared at him, hurt clear in her eyes. He kept his voice easy and nonchalant, trying to avoid hurting her. “Listen, I know you’re worried about them. But they’re not kids anymore.”
“They are. This isn’t right.”
“What isn’t right? That they’re forced to put life and limb on the line to feed their family, to survive? In which case, yes, you’re absolutely right. It’s not fair. But if you’re sitting here bitter that it’s not youon the line, that it’s not you out there, day in and day out, putting yourself under the knife? Then you’ve got your head on backwards.”
Vivi stood, her face like stone. Varric groaned, he’d done it again. Aveline came to the rescue, standing too, putting her hands on Vivi’s shaking shoulders and lowering her gently back into her chair. “Listen, I know Varric doesn’t understand what you’re feeling right now. It’s not likely that he ever will. But you have to put this guilt out of your mind. You’ve done more than enough. It’s because of you that they have this chance to pay you back.”
“I don’t want to be paid back. I want my brother back. I want to know my sister’s safe. I want to wake up and know I’ll see them; I want to go back. I want to go back,” she began to weep. “Why did this happen to us? Why?”
Varric, feeling fully out of his depth and like he was missing an entire story, stood and took Vivi’s hand in his. She looked up at him, resentful, with eyes red and wet. He swallowed. “I’m sorry. But you have to stop crying, or they’ll stuff me into the fireplace. I’ll fit; you know I will.”
She laughed brokenly and brushed the tears from her eyes, returning to repeat the movement when the tears only welled back up again.
“Very well. Go. Go on your cursed expedition, take my brother and sister with you. But knock me out before you go. I can’t do this anymore.”
“I’m sorry, truly I am,” Aveline murmured. “You know that I am.” Vivi’s head fell forward and hit the armor plate on Aveline’s chest. A gauntlet came up to stroke her hair.
“Keep them safe. Protect them.”
“You don’t understand,” Varric sighed. “You have no idea. They haven’t told you a thing about the pecking order around here.”
We can’t do this to her, we have to find a way out. We have to— Carver, we can’t do this to them. They can’t –
Come on. We move forward. Eyes peeled, you animals. Who knows what else is down here? Bethany, keep it together.
Carver, what do we do if we can’t get—
Keep your head on, Bethany. Look at me. What would dad say?
Buck up? Stop shaking your sister?
That’s the spirit. Come on. Anders take the right. Fenris, left. Bethany, stick close, shields up. Nothing ranged.
Right. Hey! Varric! Any magical senses waking up? Special, Dwarfy instincts? Does the stone sing?
Welcome back, Sunshine.
Vivi was not able to meet the expedition upon their return, but she waited with bated breath in the little house for Varric to bring her siblings back. Varric swore he would come directly here, but they were late. Two days late. Her mother insisted this was normal, that expeditions and travel were really hard to predict. She ought to know this—and then she’d cut off, knowing her daughter had been unconscious most of her own journey to Kirkwall.
A phantom pain dulled her body at times like this, when fear pressed in. She was still prone to extreme exhaustion, but the pain was supposed to be gone. It rarely came back. They were dead, she hadn’t been fast enough, she had—
And then the knock at the door, and tears, and a whirlwind of hands and chests and hugs and kisses and more tears. Varric stood aside, met her eyes over Carver’s shoulder, bowed slightly at the waist, making a grand gesture with his arm as if to say, “here you are, my lady, your kingdom awaits.”
He left silently. She swore the next time she saw him she’d repay him— for what, she did not know yet.
She pressed Carver’s face between her hands and leaned forward to kiss Bethany’s tear-streaked cheeks.
The first night in the new (the old) manor was difficult. Their mother slept easily, the dust notwithstanding, but Vivi could not. She was, for the first time in a long time, utterly restless. The exhaustion was there, absolutely, but the desire to simply not exist anymore, to lose consciousness at any cost, it was gone. Her brother was lying down on the floor across from her in front of the giant hearth, her sister was by her side, leaning into her with a warm softness. The chaise they were seated on was very dusty, very expensive, and very red. She watched the fire, wondering if this was how the old heroes in those legends brooded.
Her brother and sister had rebuilt the Amell name singlehandedly. They had made legacies for themselves; they had created a place for themselves in this vast city. For her, too.
She watched the fire, feeling a little cold under the warmth, and pressed Bethany’s hand to her lips. She extricated herself and left them, tired, wan, feeling the lack under her skin more than ever.
Stretched tight, let loose, limp—tired.
She wandered into the kitchens and saw Bodahn and his son Sandal were also awake. Bodahn stood hastily as she approached, but Vivi just waved her hand and sat beside them, too tired to be shy.
“Hello,” she said politely. “I’m Vivine. I’ve heard a lot about you both. I feel like I’ll be saying that a lot. I’ve heard a lot about everyone. I feel like a ghost sometimes.”
Bodahn sat back down. “If you don’t mind my saying, Messere, the Hawkes would be very upset to hear you say that.”
“You’re right. I should go back to them.”
“Be sure to rest. You look… Well, you look absolutely knackered.”
She smiled thinly, unable to tell the kind man that he’d referred to her siblings as “the Hawkes” as if she herself were not a Hawke.
“Goodnight, I hope I can speak to you more tomorrow.” Something was pressed into her palm as she stood to leave. A small stone.
“Oh, that’s my boy! He’s always making little enchanted trinkets for the Hawkes. Your brother and sister, I mean. This one must be for you.”
She looked at the little, round stone. It was polished smooth like a mirror; she could see her eyes reflected in it. A rune, of some kind. The word was obscure to her.
“What does it do?”
“It’ll reveal itself in time, it always does.”
She looked down at it and then back up at the boy. She smiled at him.
“Thank you, Sandal.”
“I’m just tired.”
“I know, but you’re doing so much better now than before we left. You’re up and about, you’re eating, you’re sleeping at night only. It’s just a matter of time, Kirkwall wasn’t built in a day!”
“No, it was carved out by slaves over the course of a hundred years,” she snapped. Bethany bit her lip. Vivi sagged, the guilt nearly toppling her. “I’m sorry, forgive me. I’m just—”
“Tired, I know.” Bethany gave her a small, sad smile and leaned in to peck her cheek. “I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too.” She felt the tears coming. “I wish I wasn’t like this, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. You’re alive. I’d have you snapping at me like a brat over… over the alternative any day.”
“Are we berating ourselves for not dying?” Carver asked, poking his head into the bedroom, a smirk fixed on his face. “Because I must say, you have a lot of nerve, Bethany. You struck up a blood pledge with a rock demon and survived!”
“Yes, oh, I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to tell you. But I did!”
“Not blood magic, not at all, but something close. It was fascinating.”
“Stop,” Vivi ran to her bed, hopping into the pillows and the giant comforter, turning towards her siblings with excitement. “Start over, tell me everything.”
Vivi took to practicing with a dagger in her room now that her body no longer rebelled at every movement she made. She could summon no magic at all, barely enough to create a shimmer around her fists, let alone cast a spell or maintain one, but the dagger needed no magic. The dagger was one Varric had given her a few nights before, but she had an array of older ones from Carver and Bethany, who had taken to stashing them under her pillows during the days when she spent more time in bed than out of it.
A dagger, she knew, was usually a supplemental weapon. But she couldn’t carry a sword properly right now, not yet. She was working on it.
She had no sparring partner for one thing. No one would agree to fighting her. Varric flatly refused, citing that he was no teacher and that he’d do more harm than good. She didn’t know anyone else, and Aveline was too busy.
Not for the first time, Vivi longed to leave, to go out and meet people. Maybe colorful people, who knew how to play with knives, who wouldn’t want to hurt her, and only help her. She was a fool, perhaps, but it was what she wanted.
Sweating and breathing heavily, she declared that was enough for the day. She undressed and washed herself down and took out her favorite perfume. She often, to bother her family, proclaimed that the best thing that had come with money was perfume. Today it felt like she’d much rather have a tutor. But it was too risky.
She heard a strange noise downstairs. Freezing, she listened closely. It sounded like armor moving. Carver? No, Carver was with Bethany right now. Shaking, Vivi wrapped herself in a robe and bound her hair quickly. The housekeeper wouldn’t have let anyone in, would she? Was she even in today? She took the dagger and slowly opened the door, inching out and towards the staircase and the hall overlooking the foyer.
A strange man stood, facing away from her. She nearly gasped aloud, fear making her stupid. She clutched the dagger tighter when he seemed to notice her presence, turning his head minutely towards her.
“Calm, my lady. I am Fenris. I was sent to give you this.” He lifted a single envelope and set it down on the floor. “I’ll leave that and be gone. It is from Aveline. She could not come herself and did not want to send a stranger.” He turned his head away fully, still never glancing up, and began to walk away.
“Wait!” She cried out and ran down the stairs, half wondering at her ability to run again, half determined to meet someone new. To say hello. “Do you want some tea?”
He faced her, and a strange look appeared on his face. He looked choked, like he couldn’t breathe. “Tea?”
“Yes! I can make tea! Have a seat, I’ll be right back.”
Fenris looked like he wanted to say something, but she was already running for the little teapot Carver brought her and placing it on the little rung above the fire. She spoke the whole way, unable to stop, something in her very nervous. “I haven’t had anyone to talk to in so long, besides the family of course. But they’re—Well, there’s Aveline and Varric, but everyone’s busy with that serial killer. Terrible business, honestly. But what can you do? Black tea?” A faint nod. “Sugar?” A slow shake of the head. “Milk?”
“I’ve never had tea before.”
“What.” She spun around to face him.
“Or, I don’t remember if I have…”
“Then why on earth are you answering me as if you know? You can tell me if you don’t, I won’t mind. I’ll make you a cup to my taste, then next time you come we can try another cup; you can tell me which you prefer.”
“All right.” He was smiling now, which suited him. He was an elf, she noticed. She hadn’t noticed before. The armor and the tattoos were rather distracting. He was pointy. He was handsome, covered in tattoos, that smile was warm, his skin looked soft— She was forgetting something.
“Oh, the tea!” she cried.
“Indeed,” he said patiently. “It’s tea.”
“Sorry, it started boiling.” She grew quiet as she made him a cup, feeling her face grow hot as she definitely watched her. She handed him the tea and realized she was in a nothing but a robe, with her hair haphazardly thrown into a loose tail like some hoyden. She muttered an apology. “I’ll go… change.”
“If you feel you need to.”
She stared at him. He seemed to understand what he had said and the tea in his cup sloshed about as he jerked upright, the easy smile slipping off into a look of horror. “I mean—I only mean, if it is for my sake I am-- I’m not offended.” He coughed.
Vivi looked down at her red robe. It was long, so her modesty was preserved, there was no doubt of that. But it was a little uncomfortable. Too intimate.
“I’ll be back in a moment,” she smiled and noticed that her dagger had fallen to the ground, forgotten. She left it there. “Please excuse me.”
She returned to see him blowing softly at the surface of the tea in the little teacup, gauntlet and all. It was sweet.
“My name is Vivine, but I’m sure you know that now.”
“I do. You were quite the surprise, I admit.”
“My existence, or the sight of me?”
“Both,” he said, plainly. She lifted her teacup in a mocking toast. “Thank you for this cup of tea, Vivine,” he murmured, turning his attention to the teacup in his hands.
She watched him for a moment, wondering what kind of tea he might like, or if he didn’t like tea at all. “Vivi.”
“Call me Vivi,” she said. “All my friends do.”
A moment passed. “Vivi,” he seemed to rumble. She leaned in.
“That’s my name, yes.”
“Who taught you to hold a dagger?”
“No… no one?” She blinked in surprise, unsure of where this was going. ”I just imagine people hold them that way.”
“You imagined wrong. I thought you were a mage. Why have you chosen,” he eyed the dagger with a pointed sort of disdain, “that?”
“I assume you know why they hid me away for a year?”
“I have some idea.”
“The same magic that healed me seems to have sealed my power. It’s… weak. Weaker than anything I’ve ever seen in another mage.” She tried not to sound ashamed. “I must learn other ways of fighting.”
“Have you a teacher?”
“Yes. I have books.”
He snorted. “Books will not take the place of a teacher. Are Bethany and Carver so stingy about their own knowledge? Aveline?”
“Busy, all busy. I have to do this alone.”
“No, you don’t,” he said. “I can teach you.”
He seemed surprised by his offer too, and a little sheepish. “You don’t think I can?”
“No, I just… I was under the impression that you… didn’t really trust mages?” She winced as she said the last part.
“Your sister is a phenomenal woman. Kind, just, and honorable. She’s shown me that not all those with power abuse it. Most do, but not all.”
“I don’t have power to abuse,” she muttered. “So you have no worries there.”
“Do you regret that?”
“Not like that, but yes, I regret not having my magic. My brother and sister faced the blight without me, they seem to have covered this whole city with their names, they fought slavers, Tal Vashoth, terrorists, they’ve done so much… and I have learned to walk again.” She took a sip of the tea. Sweet. “I have made this cup of tea. And today I have, for the first time in a year, found a reason to run.”
“A hearty list, for one who was awake for a sum total of a month in half a year and has spent the better part of that year healing.”
She watched him over the rim of the cup. “Are you trying to make me feel better?”
“I’m confronting you with reality.”
She watched the firelight glitter over the dagger. It was still evening, far from sunset, but it felt like midnight sitting here in muted quiet with this strange elf and his glittering, vicious armor. His sword, she noticed, was propped up near the door. Polite. It was a giant sword, so he was strong too. She leaned over and picked the dagger up.
“If there’s anything I can do for you in return—”
“I’ll be sure to demand that you do it. For now, you must build strength. We’ll begin that way. When’s the last time you did a push-up?”
Vivi groaned as he smirked at her knowingly. She hadn’t done anything resembling one in years.
“Mages,” he scoffed. “You’re all the same.”
It took her a while after he left to remember that there was a letter from Aveline, and that it was most likely a response to her request that she ask around about employment for a noblewoman with too much time on her hands. She ignored Bodahn’s curious looks and ran to her room after she finished reading it, the letter clutched close to her chest and a smile on her face. A job.
“Where are you off to today?” Bethany was perusing a letter at the writing desk, and something in it must have made her angry, because she was frowning.
“I have a job at the Keep, with a scholar to the Grand Judge.” She watched Bethany’s face carefully, hoping she wasn’t accused of going behind her and Carvers’ backs.
“I’m so glad you’ll be in Hightown.” Bethany said happily, putting the letter back into the desk. “Aveline’s always there, and it’s a relatively safe district. Safer than the ports and Lowtown, at least. There’s another woman missing now.”
“Don’t tell me you’re planning on getting involved in that?”
“There are women missing, Vivi. I have to be involved in that; they think it’s a serial killer. A man who sends his victims flowers before they’re taken away.”
Vivi crossed her arms resolutely. “I know I can’t forbid you from doing anything anymore, but please, please, please consider passing this one to Aveline. This is the guard’s job, please.”
“Vivi,” Bethany whispered. “I know it’s hard for you to deal with—” She cut herself off when Vivi’s eyes narrowed. “I know it’s hard for you to deal with not being able to help us as much as you’d like to, but you have to have faith in us. Didn’t we get through the Deep Roads? Didn’t we get this far? Didn’t we keep you safe?”
Vivi looked deep into Bethany’s wide, innocent eyes. “Carver’s already out there investigating, isn’t he? You’re distracting me with the illusion of having a say.”
“Uhm. Yes? I love you? Have a good day at work, sweetie?”
Vivi sighed. She knew Bethany was only taking this so well because without magic Hightown wasn’t at all dangerous to her. She’d be walking back and forth under the Viscount and the Knight Commander’s noses, and they’d be none the wiser, there’d be no risk at all.
She lingered awkwardly in the courtyard for a long time before she could get up the courage to march up to the Viscount’s Keep. She knew people’s eyes followed her as she went, and she knew why. She was a new face in fancy clothes to some, she looked like the Hawke twins to others, she looked like death to everyone. Now that they were living in the newly cleaned out manor, she could see in the mirrors that she looked like someone’s idea of an ancient, languishing maiden but chewed up and coughed out. She never had been good at maintaining her hair. She marched into the Keep with her head held high. There was no reason to hide. She hadn’t any magic left, anyway. There’d be no danger to her here.
She met the balding, thin little man atop the stairs and shook his hand warmly, ignoring the way he squinted at her face closely and inspected her dress. “I am Vivine Hawke. It’s a pleasure, Messere.”
“Yes, yes, indeed.” The little man inspected her more closely. “Vivine, you say?”
“Yes,” she said, deciding he’d never have use of the sweet nickname.
“A daring name, those first two syllables. Very daring. Who named you?”
“My father was… a commoner in Ferelden, he named me.”
“Hm, he must have been either well-read or very foolish.”
“Well-read, Messere,” she bit out, fighting a glare. “He was a tutor and scholar, once.”
“Fascinating. You know, of course, why I ask.”
“Yes,” she said, casting aside the slight bite that had been in her voice and adopting an easier tone. “Often people make the comparison to Vivial, the Banished One.”
“Vivial, who fell in love with a Tevinter mage, who blasphemed her Holy Mother,” the little man said with satisfaction, leading her with a gesture towards a great doorway that towered up to the vaulted ceilings. “The syllables. It’s in the syllables, my dear. The first two, they’re uncanny. I know about such things, with a name like Beredel. The great dwarven traitor Beregrand, and all that. Have you a magical affinity?”
“I wouldn’t expect you to tell me if you did, but you might find one useful should you suddenly happen upon it in there. Just between you and I, of course.” He winked and handed her a large stack of papers. “My notes are in there, alongside your various tasks. Good luck!”
She was left in a large, empty, luscious study. The fire crackled behind her, and the enormous door began to swing shut. She wondered, dimly, if she’d ever get it open again. If all else failed, she thought, there was always the window.
“So, how was your first day?” Aveline asked politely, holding the study’s door open with one arm as Vivi ran past, delighted to be able to answer honestly.
“Lovely! He had me tracking the usage of a single term back five hundred years, never mind that we have only a limited collection in the Keep.”
“That sounds… terrible, to be honest.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” Vivi said honestly. “It’s a bad research practice, maybe, but I like the work, and I get to read whatever catches my fancy while hunting the term down.”
“That also sounds terrible,” Aveline confessed, following Vivi down the steps and out of the enormous, overly ornate, stone Keep.
“To you, maybe!”
“Want to hear the usual report?”
“Yes! Tell me everything.”
“No word about that witch, I’m sorry. I’ll check back in with Merrill tomorrow, maybe she’s heard something.”
“One day, I’ll meet that girl,” Vivi said primly. “And my brother will be sorry.”
“Indeed. He might be sorry tonight, too.”
“Oh no, what’s happened?”
“He and that elf, Fenris. That’s what happened. They’ve tossed a man out a window.”
“It was a slaver, you know.”
“Oh, that’s fine then.”
“But they tossed him onto a flower cart.”
“Miles of paperwork on my end, five seconds of impulse for them. What happened to a good throat slitting? Could you--?
“I’ll give him hell,” Vivi said kindly. “Do you know if the flower merchant stuck around?”
“He packed up and left as soon as he stopped yelling at me and my men. Sorry.”
Vivi sighed. The manor was fantastic, and mother was so happy to be living well again. But it was lonely, and still stone. There were strange flowers, sure, the housekeeper kept those coming, but they smelled strange and looked stiff. It was only the flower-sellers that sometimes wandered into the city that she wanted to buy flowers from herself. Trust Carver to chase one off within an hour.
“Oh, Carver.” She took in the slightly ravaged but fresh bouquets. “Thank you.”
“I know you wanted some. I’m sorry they’re all crushed, that was our bad. Well, it wasn’t me. It was Fenris, technically.”
Fenris glared at Carver from his spot by the fire. “It was not.” He noticed her curious gaze and looked away quickly.
“Hello, Fenris,” she said, politely. “If you defenestrated the man, I think that’s wonderful. I hope he broke his crown.”
“More than his crown,” Carver beamed. “And we didn’t defenestrate anyone, we threw him out the window. Anyway, shall I take them up to the library? Maybe your room?”
“My room, please, and some to mother’s rooms.”
“They’re kind of shabby for flowers.”
“They’re beautiful, Carver. Fenris. Thank you both.”
Carver left, the bouquets piled in his arms and under his chin. Vivi watched Fenris’s face in the light of the fire, the dancing shadows made it look otherworldly. He watched her too. She noticed a bouquet of white lilies on the little stool by the writing desk and picked it up.
“He’s missed a bouquet,” she murmured, turning it over. She inhaled its scent. It was faint, but present. An older specimen?
“That’s not one of ours. I don’t remember it.”
She frowned, turning it over. “Mother must have left it here. Oh, well. I’ll ask her about it later. How are you Fenris?”
“I’d much rather hear how you are than tell you again about tossing a slaver from a window.”
“I’m a little better now that I can find useful books at the Keep, maybe something there will help me figure out what’s happened to me.”
“Have you been practicing?”
“Good. Show me.”
“What about Carver?” Carver asked, popping up and taking the steps down two at a time. “Well?”
“Nothing!” She gestured at the cup of tea. “I was simply saying you’d love it Fenris stayed for a cup of tea.”
“Fenris? Tea? No, this brute guzzles drinks. He’s a regular fish.” Carver turned his smile to Fenris, who scowled becomingly. “Speaking of, we’re heading to meet Varric and the others. You probably shouldn’t wait up.”
Vivi swallowed the spike of anger she felt and nodded stiffly. She smiled at Fenris, only a little strained. “Another time perhaps, Fenris.”
Fenris nodded his head slowly and let himself be led away, his eyes still on her. The door shut behind them.
“What’s this bouquet?”
“I do believe it’s from a gentleman for the Lady Amell.”
Her mother had a gentleman who sent her flowers?
“Where is mother now?”
“She’s gone to visit her brother, I believe.”
Vivi went to bed, a little sadly.
That morning, she noticed her mother was still not home. She frowned, walking through her mother’s empty and untouched rooms, resolving to go see Gamlen before she went to the Keep. It’d be a long trip, and a little tiring, but she couldn’t shake the claws of fear digging into her back.
Gamlen would have answers.
She hurried through the town as the sun rose, the air almost blue with the sunrise. She passed by vendors who heckled her without blinking or sparing them a glance, thrilled to be moving, thrilled that her lungs pulled in air. Who needed magic? When the air felt like this? She’d drop by Gamlen’s, say hello to him and her mother, and then make it back to Hightown in time for her assignments.
Her mother wasn’t at Gamlen’s, and she was left stunned when Gamlen ordered her to stay put and not go anywhere until he returned. He was going to find her.
She left the house and ran back to Hightown, stopping for nothing, selfishly finding joy in the pump of air into her lungs even as her chest ached. She reached the manor and leaned against the doorway, barely able to breathe. She allowed Bodahn to take her hand and guide her to the chaise, where the bouquet of lilies lay, unmoved.
A horrible understanding came to her mind. She could not even dismiss it as unlikely, too clear was the image, too accurate.
“My mother—” haltingly, the whole story came out. “You must contact Aveline, captain of the guard. You must find my brother and sister. Varric will help me, where is Varric—”
“My Lady, you must calm down.”
“The gentleman caller, you must find him!”
“I will not calm down. Find someone to help me!” She stood and ran to her room, taking the steps more than two at a time, scrambling up on her hands as well. She ran into her room, grabbed the dagger she had trained with and two others. She shoved them into the pockets of her dress and, as if in a trance, seized the rune Sandal had given her months ago from its place on the vanity. It felt warm and solid in her hand, like a kind of peace. She pocketed it.
And then she was gone.
Lowtown suddenly seemed less blue and peaceful now that the streets were crowded with people. She felt suddenly too aware of her dress, of her foolishly hidden daggers. She should have had them strapped to a belt, rather than this sash, to ward away assault. It was too late now. If she pulled a dagger out in broad daylight she’d be in for trouble.
She asked people if they’d seen her mother, she described her to anyone who’d listen. No one had. She didn’t know whether or not to offer coin, would someone lie for coin? Hours passed, and nothing came of her quest to find a human witness.
She scanned the streets as she went, trying to figure out what other paths her mother might have taken. She cursed her convalescence, she cursed her inability to cast a simple tracing spell, she cursed her siblings for not being there. She bordered on blasphemy when she found the first puddle of blood. She stood staring for a moment, wishing more than ever that she knew how to track. It could be anyone’s blood.
If it wasn’t her mother’s blood, would she still be willing to help whoever had bled this much? She spotted another spray of blood further ahead, making two steps in what might be a trail of a gruesome kind.
She followed it to a solid, imposing building just as carved from rock as every other aspect of the town. The bellows cast no black smoke here, but it was what had once been a foundry. She pushed the door open, leaning against it heavily, already feeling exhaustion taking a hold of her. She nearly wept, pushing the door open, for within was another puddle of blood.
She could smell more on the air. She let the door shut behind her and followed the trail as it continued. There was a scent of burning, which was normal for a foundry, and a strange sickly-sweet smell. Something about it was familiar.
“Sweetheart, dear Vivi, I’m so sorry.”
“L’ve y,” on a gasp, and pain, racking, horrible pain.
Vivi shook herself. The trail went on to a cellar of a room, where a trapdoor was promisingly ajar. She nearly opened it. She wanted to. So badly, she wanted to. But she could feel the dull drum of power under her skin, useless. She’d die down there, if anything was in wait. She’d die.But her mother might be there too.
She paced, terrified, and remembered the peace she’d felt from the rune. She reached for it now and stared into its reflection. She pressed it to her lips. “Whatever you do,” she murmured. “Do it now.”
Something in her beat hard and fast, and she felt the blood rush to her head. She pressed a hand to her face to massage her temple against the coming headache and saw nothing.
She looked down at her hand.
Almost nothing. It was like she saw without seeing, her gaze did not seem to register her own hand. The rune must be one of stealth.
Quietly, she pressed onwards, down into the trapdoor. She saw the demons lying in wait, like something from a nightmare she’d had as a child, back when her magic was wild and untamed and sharp, acrid like a bad almond.
She slipped past the demons. Scarcely believing her luck, she nearly missed the body in her excitement.
A woman. She moved closer, letting one hand fall to the woman’s back. Still, like stone. Dead. Biting her lips against a gasp, Vivi turned away.
She made her way through the foundry, quietly, and followed what was now a trail of scribbled, impassioned love letters to a shining, glittering thing in the dirt. She approached it with dread and plucked it from the dirt. It disappeared as she did. She dropped it gently back into the dirt, inspected it, and saw that it was her mother’s locket. She picked it up again, watched it disappear alongside her body, and shoved it into her pocket.
She gazed at the path ahead. More demons. Silently, like a mouse, she slipped past them too. She looked at the hovel they guarded. A painting of a woman, it looked like her mother. Scribbled notes, necromancy, rituals to bring back the dead, a letter she disregarded with a shiver of horror… She felt a stab of terror like she had felt when the ogre had locked its gaze on her family, and a determination like she had felt when she dived towards it, distracting it with her body.
There would be only pain after this.
She continued on, and there she found him.
A woman clothed in white, veiled, slumped over in a chair behind him. He was muttering like a madman, and she caught that he mentioned her brother and sister several times. She felt a hatred like she’d never known before, and suddenly she was almost behind him.
He turned to her.
“Who are you?”
She didn’t answer. It didn’t matter. She drew the dagger across his throat without hesitation. He slumped over her, heavy and bleeding, and she stepped to the side, ignoring the blood that disappeared as soon as it touched her.
She wasn’t there. She approached the woman in white, and somehow knew what she would see. The letters, the notes, the rituals, the painting. Her mother’s head on another woman’s body. Someone’s fingers, someone…
She felt bile reach her throat, but she forced it down, and shoved a hand into her pocket, brushing her fingers across the rune. She could see herself now. Leandra’s gaze swiveled to look at her, eerie and so beloved. Broken. Wrong.
“My little girl…” A wheeze. “My brave little hero.”
“Not much of a hero, mother, but don’t worry,” she sobbed, unaware she had begun crying till it was loud and horrible. “I’ll get you out of here. We’ll find that witch, she’ll save you like she saved me.”
“No, darling. Don’t worry about me, Vivi,” her mother’s head said, her glassy stare unblinking. “I’ll get to see your father again, but you? Forgive me, darling, for not being able to help you.”
“Mother, you’ve always helped me. Mama? Mama, what are you—”
“Stay close to your brother and sister, I know it seems impossible now, but you’ll get better. I can feel your magic. Just like your father’s, the same feeling. He’s so proud of you, darling.”
“I love you,” Vivi keened, barely making words.
“And I love you, my strong, brave little girl. Always there to save… everyone... You make me so proud.”
Vivi held her mother and wept. She didn’t let go until footsteps came up behind her. She turned, ready to die if she must, but her gaze landed on Carver and Bethany as they approached, eyes trained on the corpse of the man on the ground, his throat slit so deeply it looked like his head would fall off.
She laid her mother down and pressed the little rune onto her skin. She watched the body almost disappear before her eyes and slip into obscurity, hiding the horror and the ruin from her sibling’s gazes as they came upon her. They understood. Without words, they knew. They fell to each other, weeping.
Months passed. She asked Aveline to recover the body and gave her precise instructions regarding where it was, but nevertheless, the funeral was a horrible thing. After the funeral was worse. But ragged pain became a throb and life carried on.
Dreams did not come. For once, she was grateful. She slept like she died every night and awoke like one saved from death. She trained, she studied, she worked at the Keep diligently. She avoided her siblings. She avoided Sandal, whose knowing gaze was upon her every morning, and then again at night.
She could not avoid Fenris. Like a shadow he was there, every morning, every afternoon. He walked her to and from the Keep. He lingered like a shadow as she took over her mother’s duties and kept her on her toes in the courtyard when she practiced. She saw him more often than Bethany and Carver. She knew, bitterly, that they avoided her the same way she avoided them.
One evening, Fenris gave in to her pleas for a spar, tossing his sword aside and removing his gauntlets. He met her protests not to go easy on her with a flat declaration that there would be no room to improve if he accidentally killed her while she was still learning to throw a punch.
Though it was barely noticeable, her body still sucked the energy from her if she pushed too hard. Fenris’s advice was simple: whatever exhausts you, rest it, then try it again. Over and over, try again, and it’ll come easier with time. It was like they were building a wall, brick by brick.
It wasn’t just walking to and from the Keep, or lessons in the courtyard.
He came, fully armed, as she went to congratulate a newlywed duchess one night, months after her mother’s passing. She lingered at the outskirts of the gathering, her black dress was admired, she sipped her tea, she stared blankly ahead and smiled little and commented less. Fenris was there, broadsword at his back, unmoved by the glares of the new Duchess’s own guards.
She confronted Fenris about this and asked him to stop that night, as they walked back to the manor, the sky dull with the coverage of the night. He merely shook his head.
“I don’t want to. I’m happy to look after you.”
Something about this made Vivi so angry. She could feel it coming, the way she’d lash out when she was sad, hurt, to push people away. She knew she shouldn’t, but she wanted to. “I’m going to be researching blood magic a lot more now, are you sure you still want to be looking after me?”
Fenris stopped abruptly. “What? You can’t.”
This tone of finality, as though whatever he said was final, made her angrier. “I can, I will. I will solve this; I will have my power back.”
“You don’t need it.”
“I do need it. I miss it.” She shot him a look, gauging his reaction, gauging why. “It’s like a limb is missing. It’s unbearable.”
“You’re not going to fix whatever’s broken inside you by scrambling for power where only doom exists. Blood magic is poison, and it will kill you and everyone around you.”
“You don’t even understand it. Blood magic saved my life.” Their voices were raised now, but she didn’t care. Doorstep of the mightiest in Kirkwall or not, she didn’t care.
“Blood magic is what the Tevinter mages used to enslave me. This lyrium? Their doing.” Vivi balked at this, but she pressed on, insistent.
“My body was crushed,” she hissed, feeling some sick delight that it was his turn to look shocked. “My ribs were sticking out of my chest, my legs were crumpled like paper, my death was just waltzing around me. A witch saved me. She did this to me, but she saved me. If the key to my life is blood magic, then the key to my magic is blood magic.”
“You have no proof. You could be mutilating yourself, destroying your soul, for nothing.”
“Then so be it. At least I won’t be walking around like a corpse.”
Fenris grabbed her arm, pulling her towards the doorway and pulled the gates open. “You’re not thinking straight, you’re not yourself. You’re grieving and it’s made you desperate for peace.” She yanked her arm from his grasp, uncaring about the blood his armor drew when she did.
“Would you stop looking down on me? Would you just let me be?”
“I’m trying to save you,” he snarled.
“Save me from what?”
“From yourself. What has magic touched that it hasn’t ruined?”
“You!” she screamed. Fenris started, the rage slipping from his face, gazing at her like he couldn’t recognize her. “Me! Bethany, for another! I’m a person, Fenris. I’m a person who’s tired, and lost, and angry, yes. But I’m still a person. I understand…” Her rage was gone, that urge to slash at someone and rip them up was gone. She was stuck with what it had done, again. “I understand your fear, but I need you to understand who I am. What I live with.”
“You need help.”
“I do. I need help from someone who understands, from someone who knows. Fenris, they’re keeping me away from the others on purpose. And now I’m keeping away on purpose. Everything just keeps falling apart.”
“They shouldn’t do that. It’s wrong of them. But… you make it too easy.”
She looked up at him bitterly. “What are you saying?”
“What’s stopping you from going to the Alienage? What’s stopping you from asking me to take you to Anders?” Vivi stared at him in surprise. “Right now, what is it that has you so scared?”
“Losing them. Finding out the truth about myself.” She answered honestly; the truth was pulled from her like he had reached in and pulled it out of her chest.
“You’re going to lose them, if you’re lashing out at them like you are at me. I know I’m just your guard, maybe a tutor, but I see that much. I’m a person too.” He spat this out bitterly, looking away from her and at nothing over her shoulder. She stepped closer, reaching for his gauntlet in apology. He seemed to realize at that moment that her arm was bleeding. He covered the wound with his hand as gently as metal gloves could allow.
“Take me to Merrill, Fenris.”
“It’s past midnight.”
“Good, she’ll definitely be free, then. Anders too, maybe.”
She shot him a look. “I’m riding this wave of outrage and confidence until I get to speak to Merrill, you might as well let me see Anders too.”
“Fine, we’ll drop by and see Anders. I hope he’s sleeping soundly, because if we go all the way to Darktown I demand the right to wake him up.”
Darktown was horrible, but Anders’ clinic wasn’t so bad. Fenris might have been too happy to force the man awake suddenly, but besides the colorful curses he was quite courteous. He stared at her a lot, but it wasn’t the worst thing. She was used to being stared at.
“Her magic’s just… gone?” Anders was stroking the sparse stubble on his chin, sucking in his gaunt cheeks and frowning. “I’ve never heard of that happening.”
“She’s right here, listening,” Vivi allowed herself a tense bite at him. She didn’t like being treated like she was still sleeping.
“My apologies, Vivine,” Anders said kindly, “I meant no offense. Would you like to explain to me a bit more of what you’re experiencing? Maybe some theories?”
She watched him for a moment. “It depends, how do you feel about blood magic?”
Anders flinched; distaste clear on his face before he regained control of it. “How do you know it was blood magic?”
“It sure wasn’t ordinary magic, and it sucked the life out of me for a year.”
Anders watched her like he was fighting whether or not to say something. Finally, he said: “We have something of a blood magic expert, you know.”
She smiled widely, for the first time that night. “I know. This is the part where you finally take me to her, and you put out of your mind whatever you’re thinking to try and convince me otherwise.”
“Oh, so this is the mysterious third Hawke? You’re much prettier than I imagined.”
“Thank you.” Vivi felt her face warming.
“Oh good. I wondered if it was all right to say that. I can never tell.”
“You’re fine,” Vivi said politely, face still uncomfortably hot. “How much do you know about my situation?”
“I know Flemeth was the one who healed you, that much is clear, given Carver’s mission with my clan’s Keeper.”
“That’s true,” Vivi said, breathless. Merrill was perfect, she didn’t miss anything. “Do you think it was blood magic?”
“Well, that definition of magic is mostly modern, and Asha’bellanar is far, far more ancient than any of us. But I’d say, roughly, that it’s likely.”
“How can I retrieve my magic?” she asked. Merrill watched her a bit longer and then pressed a hand to Vivi’s cheek. It was a little uncomfortable, but she didn’t mind.
Merrill seemed to be focusing, so Vivi shut her eyes to avoid distracting her, and for a long moment they stood that way. Anders and Fenris stood off to the side, watching silently. No one said a word. “I can feel your magic, it’s not gone.”
“My mother said the same, before she died.”
“Those approaching spirits can often feel such things, yes. I’m sorry for your loss, she must have been a wonderful woman, your mother. To raise you and Carver and Bethany. You’re all so extraordinary.”
“Thank you, she was. She was…” The words wouldn’t come. She wiped a tear from her eye and steeled herself. “Thank you.”
Merrill smiled softly at her and then returned to a strange tome she kept on the desk. Vivi itched to hold it. “I think the key to this isn’t necessarily the kind of magic Flemeth used on you, but rather what she did with it.” There was a sound of interest from Anders, but Vivi didn’t spare him a glance. Her gaze was on Merrill alone.
“Do you think she bound me, somehow?”
“It feels like an enchantment, but on a person. I think that explains your exhaustion too, your deep sleeps. Forgive me, but I use blood magic often, and I have never faced such symptoms. They must come from something besides the magic itself.”
“All right, so she’s not allergic to ancient, forbidden, evil witch magic. Good to know. Anything else, Merrill?”
“Quiet, Anders, I’m thinking.”
“I think—” Vivi ventured, nervous to say it. “That I’m—" She couldn’t get the words out.
“What do you think?” Anders cried in exasperation, throwing his hands into the air. But before anyone could tell him to shut up, there was a banging on the door. Merrill looked at it curiously.
“It’s the dead of night,” she murmured. “Who could it be?”
“Merrill? Please, we’re looking for Vivi, we can’t find her anywhere. Fenris hasn’t come back yet, and he was supposed to be with her. We need help.” It was Bethany’s voice, plaintive and tired.
“What are you thinking? You keep running off on your own, it’s irresponsible. What if something happened to you?”
“Guys,” Bethany said, casting nervous glances at Fenris and the others. Isabela and Varric had come in with Carver and Bethany, obviously summoned on the hunt to find Vivi. “Please, we have to keep it down. This is the alienage. Merrill needs to stay in their good graces, remember?”
“No, no I don’t remember,” Vivi hissed. “You’ve kept me out of everything. I don’t know the first thing about Merrill, I don’t know anything about anyone. Are you happy? You’ve locked me up so well, I found out today that Fenris escaped slavery in Tevinter. Let’s not get started on your little pirate friend. That’s a pirate over there in the corner.”
“I like this Hawke best,” Isabela chuckled darkly. “What is this?”
“We’re sorry for trying to protect you, then, if that’s what you want to hear.”
“Stop, stop acting like I’m being unreasonable, and like you’re justified in whatever you do because it’s to protect me.” Bethany had begun to shake. Vivi almost wanted to stop. Almost. “Let me go, you two. I’m the oldest. It’s my job to take care of you. It’s not your responsibility to protect me.”
Carver crossed his arms in a familiar way, she realized he had mirrored her, and that Bethany had done the same, unconsciously. “I think we should go home. We can talk about this more at home.”
“Fine, lead the way,” Bethany snapped.
“Thank you for your help, Merrill. I’ll be back tomorrow to discuss this more.”
“Remember last year,” Vivi said numbly, the anger had almost leaked out of her after the walk, and the familiar exhaustion had begun to sink into her mind. Her sister and brother seemed to notice, watching her carefully. She hated it. “Remember when I begged you not to treat me like a pet?”
They were silent, but Carver nodded, grudgingly.
“You’re still doing it,” she muttered. “It makes me feel horrible. Useless, like I don’t deserve to be here. When you cut me off, I feel like a ghost. I went a year barely seeing you, even after I finally started to be awake more often than I was asleep. I missed you.” Carver was fidgeting uncomfortably. “I let you do what you had to do because I understood, eventually, that you had to do it. Why can’t you let me do the same? Why can’t you let me go?”
“But you have the job at the Keep,” Bethany began, and thankfully Carver cut her off. It wouldn’t have gone well, they all seemed to realize, had she continued. She ducked her head in apology. “We’re scared of losing you.”
“I’m scared of losing you, too,” Vivi confessed. “You know I am.”
“It was really bad, you know?” Carver looked at her beseechingly, but she confessed she didn’t know what he meant. “When you—when the—”
She remembered describing the damage to Fenris as gruesomely and accurately as she could. It didn’t feel real to her. But Carver couldn’t even say it out loud. “I remember.”
“We don’t want that again.”
“It won’t happen again if you let me live, visit people outside Hightown, talk to people. Let me meet your friends, let me be a part of your lives. I won’t die if I do those things.”
“Mother went out for a walk—” They all fell silent, shocked at the words. Bethany covered her mouth with her hands. “I’m sorry. But it’s been horrible, thinking about you in that den of demons, alone. It’s been killing me.”
“Stop this, stop worrying about me.”
“Stop what?” Carver was roaring now. “Loving you? Worrying about you? Spell it out, brat.”
“You don’t get to call me a brat!”
“Vivine, you’re a fool if you think that we can just stop caring about whether you’re safe or not,” Bethany said viciously. “Do you know how it felt to come home and wait for you to come back until you didn’t?”
“Bethany, I’m the oldest, it’s not your responsibility—”
“Oh, Andraste’s left elbow, would you shut up?” Carver roared. The three of them stood in abrupt silence, the fire crackling behind them and the mansion suddenly so huge and empty. “I know you hate it when I yell, but please. Stop acting like you have the only right to—to feeling like this.”
Bethany and Carver were like solid walls to her now, arms crossed, facing her down, a team. She felt, again, like an outsider. A stranger to them.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I can’t shake this, any of it, but I also don’t want to. I won’t rest till I can protect you two again. So, don’t treat me like a child. Don’t treat me like a pet to be kept happy with Fenris—Yes, Carver, don’t think I didn’t notice. You can’t just hand me a handsome elf warrior and expect me to shut up.” Carver looked decently ashamed of himself, arms uncrossing, and the rage on his face deflating. “Please. Let me be part of your lives again.”
Bethany ran to her and drew her into a fierce hug, clutching Vivi close and shaking lightly. Vivi wrapped her arms around her sister and squeezed, for the first time in a long time, with all her strength. “Anything else we should talk about? Any wounds we haven’t poked at?” she asked, voice muffled by Bethany’s shoulder.
“Yes, you need to talk to Carver. And tell him he’s a fool.”
“Carver, you’re a fool. Why aren’t you in this warm embrace, dearest?”
“He’s blamed himself for the better part of a year and maybe more because he grew up jealous of you and hating being in your shadow and he’s convinced himself that maybe he wished to be out of your shadow too hard, too long, and the Maker benched you to suit his oily, teenage daydreams of being very strong and manly and also maybe a Templar.”
Vivi stared down at Bethany, horrified. “Well, that won’t do.” She extricated herself from her sister’s long, iron arms and faced Carver’s pained, sorrowful expression. He looked like someone had cut him open and hollowed him out. She took his hands. “Carver, what on the Maker’s blight-ridden earth have you been thinking about yourself?” He bowed his head over their hands, and she recognized the habit from when he was a child and wanted no one to see him cry. She brought a hand to his cheek and urged him to look at her. “Carver?”
“I’m sorry. It’s all true. I used to be so angry that we kept low in Ferelden, that we would have to keep doing that in Kirkwall. I used to think about becoming a Templar anyway, even if it meant abandoning you. And then you—” He seemed unable to go on, and his hands came up to hide his face. “I’m sorry.”
“What happened wasn’t your fault. I would have done what I did over and over, even if I died a hundred times, I’d do it again. I don’t regret it, and I never will. I just don’t want to be without you. I can’t stand the thought of losing you, but I also… I don’t want to be left behind. Stop leaving me.” Bethany took her hand and guided her to the chaise, pulling her close, but she couldn’t stop talking. “If we’re giving out apologies, I owe both of you one. If I ever made you think I resented— I don’t. I didn’t.”
Carver sat on her other side, heavily, something a little more lighthearted in the way he flopped down, like a burden was lifted from him. “We’re a sorry bunch, then, aren’t we?”
“Things used to be so easy,” Bethany murmured, almost absently. “We never had to apologize as kids. I don’t think I’ve ever even so much as apologized for borrowing your dresses without permission. And now there are mountains of things. And I can hardly find the words”
They were silent, watching the fire.
“I really loved that lace dress, Bevvy. I think I’m owed an apology.”
“I’ll buy you a hundred more, dearest.”
“Didn’t she wear it to the picnic at the pond? I remember your face when you saw the tadpoles in the sleeves.”
“I shall be sick, don’t remind me.”
“So, what is Isabela’s story? Is she really a pirate? Is Merrill a Dalish elf? What’s she doing here?”
She did not sleep in her own room that night, she slumbered in front of the fire, comfortably. When she awoke, she tossed her arm over her face and then remembered, dimly, that she had cut herself last night on Fenris’s gauntlet. She looked down at her arm, intending to survey the damage, and saw nothing there. She looked at her other arm, and still saw nothing.
A tremor of something tense and tight passed through her. Her eyes fell on her little dagger that she had tossed carelessly on the writing desk and she extricated herself from her sleeping brother and sister and went to take it in hand. She slid the blade neatly across her palm and watched the blood well up and spill over her skin.
She stood as the sun rose and filtered in through the giant windows atop the front door and watched her hand drip with blood, her own dress containing the spill so as not to dirty the carpet.
She did not know how much time passed before she took the corner of her sleeve and passed it over her palm. It felt like a year.
There was nothing there, the slice she had carved into her palm was gone. She ran to the kitchens to wash the blood away, her heart pounding with excitement and fear.
Not blood magic, she thought.Enchantments, just like Merrill said. A binding of some kind. She bound me. This is my own magic. I’m doing this. She resisted the urge to draw the blade over her palm again, to watch the wound close with her eyes wide open. It’s not gone. My power isn’t gone.
“It’s not gone!” she crowed to a small flower in a vase. “It’s not!”
“What isn’t gone?” Bethany’s voice came from the doorway, sleep-slow and confused. Vivi beamed.
“The sugar! I thought for sure I might have used it all but look! A full tin! Pancakes! Wake Carver up,” she beamed, feeling like a hurricane.
“IS THAT BLOOD? Vivi, your dress is covered in blood.”
“Stop screaming—hey! Stop! I just cut my finger, stop looking like that. No, it doesn’t need kisses. I’m going to go change, wake Carver up so we can eat something decent for once.”
That evening they took her to the Hanged Man for the first time. She sat beside Fenris as Carver laughed uproariously with Varric and Isabela and Bethany conversed in low tones with Merrill. It felt nice, she thought with a stab of envy, to be here with everyone. She wished didn’t feel like a guest, but Fenris was turning to ask her about her scribe work and his smile was easy and just this side of forward, and Carver’s laugh was so happy. She let the envy go and told him everything and listened as he recognized the terms as Qunari ones, and the Tome as the Tome of the Qun itself. Fascinated and a little ashamed that she hadn’t known the full extent of her own work, she listened and avoided Varric’s knowing, slightly proud gaze.
She couldn’t avoid it forever, for when everyone began to leave, it was just her, Carver, Bethany, and Varric. Fenris had left with the others, solemnly promising to come by for tea again and check on her progress.
Varric leaned over the table with a wide smile. “So…” he began. “You’re all taken in with Broody the Elf, then?”
“Leave me alone, he’s helping me learn to fight.”
“What?” Carver spat. “Why didn’t you come to me?”
Vivi spared him a sigh and an apologetic pat on his cheek. “Because you’re annoying.”
Carver pouted. “Yeah, but I’m a better fighter.”
Varric shrugged. “That may be true, but—”
“Wait, what?” Vivi gasped. “My baby brother is a better fighter than Fenris?”
“You’ve never seen either of us fight, why’d you go and take Fenris’s side?”
“Because you’re scared of spiders!”
“Spiders rarely have anything to do with battle.” He paused and seemed to remember something. “Never mind, fine, sometimes they do.” He shuddered.
“See?” She looked at Varric beseechingly. “He’s hopeless.”
Nights like that at the Hanged Man were blessedly common in the following weeks, and she felt, with every night that she spent laughing with the group, less like she was an outsider looking in on her family’s life and more like a character in the story.
It helped that Varric often brought his drafts with him and read aloud from them as the group roared with laughter. He was writing one about her too, he said, but it was less of a comedy, more of a fairytale.
She leaned over, trying to get a look at the drafts, but Varric covered them with his arm. What did he call it?
Sleeping beauty, Varric replied.
She traced every single instance and mention of blood magic in the books she’d collected from her siblings’ adventures (raids, her mind supplied) over the course of the coming weeks. She took her breaks in the study, hunting for any mention of magic that didn’t flatly dismiss the blood arts. She watched Merrill cast when she could, but she didn’t seem to do anything very different. Vivi pestered her with questions too, sitting across from her in her little house, staring into that strange mirror. If, somehow, Vivi’s magic was stuck inside her, then it must escape to an extent with her blood, they decided. That had to be a kind of blood magic.
Merrill let her read her books, she offered comments, she read over her notes. She let her ask questions, and then she asked more in turn. She grew to look forward to meeting with Merrill just as much as she looked forward to Varric’s stories and Fenris’s smiles.
Everyone thought that she was simply bookish and curious about Merrill’s abilities, and she let them think that, regretfully asking Merrill to go on letting them think what they wished to think.
It hurt, a little, to go behind her siblings backs after finally making peace, but she knew they wouldn’t understand. She told herself that for what must have been the fifth time and drew her knife against her palm in the safety of her room. The blood welled up and so did her magic, spilling over. She lifted her hand over the little bracelet she had set aside, and she cast a simple look-away charm, embedding it carefully into the links.
The rune Sandal had made was a more efficient version of this, perhaps, but if she could manage to do it herself, she would be at least self-sufficient. Finally, when her wound closed and the last drop spilled, the spell was done.
Vivi lifted the simple bracelet and put it on. She looked into the mirror and noticed nothing different, but within a moment she was already focused elsewhere, her eyes lingering on the reflection of a rose on her windowsill rather than her own face, losing her thoughts in the petals and the spines on the stem. With a start, she realized what had happened. She slid the bracelet off, hastily, concerned at how well it worked.
No looking in mirrors when invisible, she decided, lest she lose herself forever in watching a rose or a flat reflection of reality.
But it worked.
She could hear Bodahn moving around downstairs, which meant it was about time she got to the Keep. She did the bracelet's clasp with her teeth and slid the dagger back into its sheath under her skirt, and she left.
The scholar Beredel’s study was always a calm little island in a sea of voices and noise, but it wasn’t isolated. She often overheard conversations, murmurs, and gossip. She knew the Knight Commander had the Viscount under her finger, she knew from some tittering secretaries that Mother Petrice was drawing looks of concern and distaste from the Grand Cleric, she knew that one aide to the Grand Judge was about to be fired for an ill-fated rendezvous of some sort.
She walked in that morning intent on finding peace in that little rock on the ocean, but she walked in on a boy crying quietly. He was more of a man, she supposed, but anyone crying felt young and vulnerable to her.
She shut the door quietly behind her, and he startled out of his seat behind the desk.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t think anyone would be here, excuse me.” He made an aborted, nervous bow. His face was red, and the tears were still obviously pouring from his eyes, he even hiccupped as he came out of the bow.
“Wait,” she said, uncomfortably reminded of Carver’s valorous habits of crying as if he wasn’t crying. “You needn’t go. I’m just a scribe, I really don’t mind. Take a moment to collect yourself.”
The man sat down quietly, watching her nervously. “All right. What’s your name?”
“I’m Vivine. If you like, you may call me Vivi. I don’t mind. Yours?”
“I am… Saemus.” The Viscount’s son, holed away in a study, crying?
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked, referencing the tears.
“Not really,” he murmured. They fell into an awkward silence. “Do you read a lot?” he asked, a little despairingly, looking around at the mountains of books and the walls lined with shelves and wiping his face.
“Yes, I do. My job here is to look for the Qunari term for “tome” in historical records and commentaries, it’s a little dull, but you wander across truly fascinating things in the process. Look,” she said, pointing to a passage she had copied out onto a spare sheet of paper. With a wondering look, Saemus took the paper and read it.
“Tome and artifact are the same?”
“Not quite, they just refer to the same thing,” she said. “Interesting, right?” It was working. He had stopped crying.
“What have you found?”
“Not much, not at all. Humans who study and write on law haven’t taken a real interest in this, for some reason.”
He snorted. “Of course they haven’t, it’s the Qun’s code of—Uh, I think, at least, that it is… That.”
He seemed to watch her carefully before making a decision. “A dear, dear friend told me once. I lost him, but I treasure what I learned from him. He told me that the Qun’s founder wrote this ancient tome, but it was lost. The Qunari still search for it. It’s a book of absolute certainty and order, the Qunari honor it.”
“Why do you think Beredel’s hunting for mentions of it? He doesn’t specialize in Qunari law, I don’t think.”
“I’ll bet the professor is acting on someone’s orders. You’re right, I’ve been tutored by him since I was in a cradle. He has no real interest in Qunari law. He taught me nothing about it, at least, but he taught me plenty about how dragon nesting habits used to be guidelines for custody laws.”
“Yes, it was enlightening.”
“You’ll have to tell me all about it some time,” she murmured, turning back to the book she was scanning. This one would take another hour at least. “You’re welcome to stay, of course.”
“Thank you, I just need a moment. To collect myself.”
They sat in silence, now comfortable, interrupted only by sniffles and the occasional wet, shaky breath from Saemus. Vivi found another instance of the word and made note of it in the special chart she had drawn up on her first day to organize the sources, the dates, and the contexts of each mention. She read the passage aloud to herself to make sense of it and to her surprise Saemus chimed in with his insights too. She looked at him and saw that he was absentmindedly playing with a letter-opener and an envelope he had had cut up into tiny pieces.
“You think it’s inaccurate for the author call it a holy book?”
“It simply isn’t holy. It’s honored. It’s… not accurate to lay our words on their things.”
“Yes, maybe our terms and frameworks don’t work here. I’ll make note of that. Any other insights?”
“Want to grab some tea with me? You could use a break and I could use some intelligent company.”
“I’m fully attached, emotionally, to a spiky elf man with a very big sword. You should know.”
“My dear, dear friend is dead,” he said sadly and pointedly. Oh. “And I wouldn’t dream of getting between you and that charming sword. We’re equally safe here.”
She beamed at him and gestured to the door. “Please, after you.”
He took her to a small room where several tables were set up and staff waited on those who were seated, chatting. It was very nice, but strange. Like a dining room, almost, but with many, many smaller tables. She took her seat across from Saemus and noticed that he was watching her closely, like he was looking to find something hiding in her face.
“You look very familiar.”
“I have one of those faces, you know?”
“Hm. Would you like to try this scone?”
“I’d be delighted to. Oh, blueberry?”
Saemus beamed at her, his teeth a little blue. She was sure hers were too now. “What else did you find about that tome?”
“Not much, truth be told,” she said. “I wonder if tracking the term back in time is what we need to be doing.”
“Hm, it has a more modern impact, but I wonder if he’s just satisfying some hunch. He does that a lot.”
“Oh, yes. Orlais was tasked some years ago with returning the lost Tome to the Qunari, but the exchange was interrupted by a pirate-raid. They say the captain and the Qunari in pursuit both washed up here, but no one has seen the Tome since. It hasn’t turned back up.”
“You know a lot about these politics. Is being the Viscount’s son a favorable position from which to see the sights?”
“Too favorable, I see everything.”
Vivi looked into her teacup and wondered, tapping the side and watching the tea ripple. She knew a pirate, but more importantly, she knew a pirate who hunted for a relic.
“Isabela’s asked for you?”
“She’s got a hit on a thief that stole her relic, we’re going to go interrupt his deal.” Carver threw a bloodstained sheet of paper on the floor of the tavern and crushed it under his heel. “He’s got a stupid name. Wall-Eyed Sam.”
Bethany looked grim. “It’s a lot to ask of us after this mess with the Qunari delegation, too. And that’s not even finished until the Viscount decides what to do with the bodies.”
Vivi looked at them sharply, putting the letter she was pretending to write to the Marquess Dela aside. “What’s that”
“This delegation of Qunari got kidnapped under the Viscount’s nose, and then killed and mutliated by a bunch of anti-Qun fanatics. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to be the one to deliver the news to the Arishok. And now the Viscount’s trying to cover this up somehow, like the Arishok won’t see through any try at doing that.”
A good thing that had come out of that night of screaming and shouting and crying, and hugging, was that she had her questions answered.
“It’s hilarious, and a little sad. He knows the real power around here is the Knight-Commander, Meredith runs everything. The Qunari are the one area she hasn’t dipped her fingers into, it’s all his, and he keeps bungling it. He’s embarrassed, and he’s going to do something drastic to make himself look better.” Carver looked bitter about that.
“Someone should get ahead of him and go to the Arishok with the truth,” she said, half hoping Carver would agree and do it.
“No, that’ll fly back into our faces. We’ll be labeled traitors, or worse, for going against the Viscount to help the leader of a foreign faction. We can’t draw negative attention anymore, it’s too risky.”
“About that thief of Isabela’s,” she began.
“Carver, we have to go!” Bethany’s voice came from the stairs.
“Bethany, Carver, listen.” They stopped on their way out and turned back to look at her. “Don’t trust Isabela.”
Bethany gasped. “Vivi, you know she’s all right. She’s our friend.” Bethany kissed her cheek in farewell. “We’ll be back late, all right?”
Vivi shook her wrist to move her sleeves back and looked at her enchanted bracelet. And then she took her dagger and strapped it in place beneath her skirt. She shoved some bombs Sandal had helped her make into a pocket she’d sewn into the folds of her skirt, and she left the manor with the moon high in the sky.
She kissed the bracelet, felt herself disappear, and then followed her siblings and their steadily growing party to the very same foundry from before. A shiver ran through her, but she fought it, sticking to the sides as her siblings whirled seamlessly into battle in the darkened building. She watched, somehow able to tear her eyes away from her brother and sister, as Isabela broke away from the group and ran ahead.
Tense and anxious, unable to forget the sight of her brother and sister in battle, Vivi followed the pirate forward.
She brushed her finger on the bracelet and revealed herself just as Isabela drew her blade across the man’s throat.
“Isabela?” The pirate whirled around, brandishing her blades, and her eyes widened more when she saw Vivi standing there. “Let me help you.”
“You can’t help me. I’ll be killed if I don’t recover this.”
“Just listen to me, just for a moment. I won’t tell my brother and sister, not ever, if you do not take that relic out of Kirkwall.”
Isabela watched her for a long time, something darker than fear in her eyes. “Fine,” she finally spat. “But only because if I leave, it’ll make Bethany cry and Carver act like a total grouch.”
“And then you know I’d have to kill you.” Vivi knew Isabela was lying. She’d have left, to hell with Bethany’s feelings. She almost wanted to punish her for it.
Isabela smiled, like she could see Vivi’s resentment, her mouth sharp at the sides and taut like a bow-string. Her siblings’ footsteps approached behind her, and she could hear the particular clang and bare-foot stride of Fenris. She smiled and brought the bracelet to her lips. Isabela watched with that smile still in place as Vivi began to be very hard to pay any attention to.
Isabela’s gaze slipped past Vivi to Bethany. She held up the Tome. “Here it is! No harm done, either.”
Vivi followed them out and waited outside the Hanged Man before kissing the bracelet, deactivating the spell, and going inside. She met Isabela’s watchful gaze with a smile.
There was someone in the study when she entered, again. She froze at the sight of that black, spiked crown. The Viscount himself.
“Good morning, Lady Vivine Hawke,” he said calmly, barely turning to face her. “I hear you’ve been getting along with my… distraught son.”
“Yes, he’s… been very kind.”
“Do you intend to marry him?”
“No,” she gasped, wishing she had something to hold on to, to keep her steady. “You need not worry about that, Messere.”
“Quite the contrary, I was hoping you might.” Vivi stared at him, but he merely smiled sadly and gestured for her to take a seat in her usual armchair. “Please, sit. Hear me out.”
“Your father was here. He wants me to marry you.”
“Oh, spiders. He was talking about how pretty you were this morning, I thought it was weird.”
“Not that you’re not pretty, just that he’s an ancient old man. I nearly brained him for you. By the way, you’re a Hawke? You? You’re like a little swanling compared to the Hawkes.”
“I’ll remember that till the day you die, boy,” she declared, but let it go. She liked Saemus. “He also says he wishes me to convert you back to the Maker’s Holy Path, for you may have abandoned it for the Qun.”
“Spiders,” Saemus cursed, dropping the scone he had been trying to enjoy despite the bad news back down into his plate.
Vivi looked at him, unable to hide her amusement. “Have you? Abandoned the Maker, that is?”
“No, but I planned to.”
“Is it honestly what you want?”
“Yes, more than anything.”
“Then I have failed to convince you, my friend. I wish you luck,” she said. Saemus stared at her, his mouth open.
“That’s it?” he demanded. “No outrage, no doubt, no—”
Vivi turned back to her book. “I won’t pretend to understand it, because I don’t. We have to make it look like I tried to convince you and failed, so in an hour I will storm out, with a face like thunder. It will be assumed that you are still in here, brooding, but in actuality you will have escaped from this window.” She gestured to the window to be clear, because his mouth was still a little slack. It didn’t look promising. “And you will go do what you feel you need to do with your life.”
She waited an hour and a half to be safe. The whispers began near the end of the day, when she had convinced everyone at the Keep that she was very irritated about a mysterious conversation with the Viscount’s son by pacing and frowning furiously. The Viscount himself came to her, and she had to tell him that his son was obstinate, that she could not plead with him at all. His face was overcome with fear when he called for the guards that surrounded him to find his son.
He turned to her, rage and fear in his eyes, and said something that sealed his fate as far as she was concerned.
“I’ll summon your brother and sister. It is better that I rely on Hawkes rather than sparrows.”
She curtsied politely and went to the tearoom alone. She knew the moment her siblings arrived, for the whispers began to stir with their names. No one seemed to recognize her as their sister, but that was for the best.
She waited for them at the bottom of the stairs, her face carefully trained in a grim, blank stoicism. The same look she’d use on them as kids.
“The Viscount’s a little mad at me,” she said primly.
Bethany rolled her eyes and Carver made a move as if to tear his own hair out. “What did you do, Vivi?” he cried. “Why did you encourage the Viscount’s angsting son to follow his heart?”
“It’s worked for me,” she shrugged.
That night, when her siblings went to sleep, she left. She went to the strange, abandoned manor where Fenris lived and knocked on the door. It slid open easily. Queasy with anxiety and unease, she entered the dark, dusty, crumbling place and called for Fenris.
There was a pounding of footsteps, and then she saw him, in only trousers, with a crazed look on his face.
“Vivine? Is everything all right?”
“Oh!” She felt her face heat up, suddenly aware of what a terribly awkward situation this was. “Were you sleeping? I’m sorry. I wanted to ask for your help with something.” She watched him run his hand through his silver hair and school his facial expression from panic to careful consideration. She bit her lip to hold a giggle back.
“Allow me to get dressed and I’ll see what I can do.”
He returned much more put together and a lot less funny looking, and gestured for her to do her worst. Or, that was how she interpreted the stiff, embarrassed wave of his hand towards the door.
She led the way to the Qunari Compound, a cloak up over her dress and a silent prayer that Fenris wouldn’t stop her. He followed, grim and with a hand at his blade’s hilt, but he followed.
She told the giant Qunari at the gates that she was here to see Saemus, her friend who had come to embrace the Qun, and that with her was an ally that the Arishok would recognize. Permitted inside with minimal questioning, they were escorted to the center of the Compound. The Arishok himself was nowhere to be seen, no matter where she looked or peeked. They were led to a large tent, and within was Saemus, in deep conversation with a Qunari woman. He looked up as she came in and choked on his breath at the sight of her.
“Vivine? What are you doing here? Is that your spiky elf?”
“Yes, this is Fenris. I’m here to make sure you’re being treated well, to alleviate my remnant of guilt.” Saemus glared at her reproachfully. “Worry not, it’s like a grain of sand and it’s mostly perfunctory.”
The Qunari woman cleared her throat. “If you would have a seat and wait for us to be finished?”
Vivi did, accepting the wordless way Fenris stood behind the seat with his arms crossed with a dark look on his face. The woman and Saemus were going over whether or not Saemus knew what the Qun entailed, and he definitely did. The woman looked very impressed. When they turned to her, finally, Vivi gave a soft round of applause as Saemus blushed.
“I need to speak with the Arishok as soon as possible,” she said. “It’s about conspiracies.”
That, surprisingly, got her an immediate audience with the Arishok, who was very large and intimidating and horned, and very unimpressed with her. She felt like she was shrinking away under his gaze as he observed her from his seat on the makeshift dais. Fenris was a solid presence beside her, effortlessly closing ranks with her. He didn’t argue or look surprised by her statement, he simply stood beside her and waited.
“What do you have to say to me?”
A little miffed that her greeting was dismissed so soundly, Vivi sighed and launched into an explanation of all she knew about the murdered delegation. The Arishok watched her, at first bored, then enraged, and then calm.
“What are you called?”
Something almost like a smirk passed over the Arishok’s face. “Another Hawke? Has this rotting heap of a city been turned into a falconry? I thank you for sharing the truth with us, it will be dealt with.”
“The humans who did this were punished, but you must understand that there will be more. They’re ignorant and cruel, but they won’t give up.”
“Nevertheless, here we will stay, should you wish to convince me to take my people and leave.”
Vivi smiled, glad he had made the jump without her help. “No, I wouldn’t ask you to leave. You have demands that you must satisfy, I can’t ask you to abandon them.”
“You understand? I find that unlikely.”
“I don’t, truthfully, but Saemus taught me much.”
The Arishok watched her for a long moment, unmoved. “Did he?”
“Yes, in fact, I have a feeling he could make many others understand too.”
“Or, he would simply put himself in unnecessary danger before a society of backwards animals and senseless chaos.”
“Yes, or that,” she conceded. “But that’s not why I’m here, if I am honest.”
“I would prefer that you were honest.”
“I know where the Tome is.” There was a spear at her throat before she could take a breath to continue speaking, and Fenris was before her, sword drawn at the guard’s own throat. She didn’t move.
“I know who stole it, and I know how to get it back,” she said. “Under one condition.”
“I do not negotiate with thieves,” the Arishok hissed, his hand ready to give the order. Her neck might be split and heal, but she didn’t know if she’d survive it. “Say your piece or prepare to die.”
Fenris hissed something out in the language of the Qunari, and the Arishok’s face stilled dangerously. He waved his hand, and the spear at her throat fell away. Fenris did not relax, not remotely, but he lowered his own sword.
“I am no thief,” Vivi said. “I have simply recovered the Tome from a thief, and the thief is dead now.”
“I will require proof of the thief’s death.”
“Send any inquiry, any messenger, to look for Wall-Eyed Sam. Or go to the Dark Foundry, I’m sure his body still lies there.”
“The pirate I seek cannot be proven to be your foundry corpse.”
“No, but the pirate wasn’t the actual thief. They merely carried the thief, in fact, I have reason to believe that the pirate was under duress anyway. Either way your demands are met, right?”
Fenris’s stance was solid, unmoving, his sword barely shaking in his grip. She couldn’t see his face, but she knew Fenris was tenser than she’d ever seen him. His jaw was tight like it might snap.
“Where is the Tome now?” the Arishok asked.
“It’s safe, that’s what matters.”
“I will come to the Viscount’s Keep the day after tomorrow. If you do not hand me the Tome there and then, I will kill you.”
“That’s only fair, I guess, after making you walk all that way,” she said. Fenris shot her a glare.
“I will have my guard escort you back to your home,” the Arishok said, blankly, which must have been his version of a concession.
“I’ll do that,” Fenris said firmly. The Arishok’s gaze shifted to him easily.
“Very well,” he said. “See that she does not die.”
She bid farewell, then, for the second time in a handful of hours, to someone hellbent on underestimating her.
“Do you think Saemus will go back with the Qunari? He seems to have made his choice.”
“I hardly know, but I have only a few hours to get to the office and convince the Viscount not to try and fool the Qunari. Sorry for dragging you into this with me, but at least you’re getting tea out of it.”
“I feel like my whole life has become a blur of running after various Hawkes, but yes, I will follow.”
Vivi set the cup of tea in front of him and took her place across from him at the little table. “How’s this cup?” she asked, watching him sip it contemplatively.
“Please just tell me which you liked best.”
“I like all of the tea you make for me,” he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
She felt her face flaming, so she coughed and focused on her own cup. “Flirt.”
“Never,” he said. “If I had said ‘Vivine everything your hands touch becomes divine, won’t you hold my hand?’ then that would be a flirtation. This was just the honest truth.”
“Are you denying that you flirt with me?” she dared ask, barely breathing around that embedded line, fiddling with a little spoon between her fingers. Her heart was beating very fast.
“Not at all,” he said. “I’d say roughly eighty percent of our lessons are excuses to flirt with you.” Her head jerked up from where it had been bowed over her teacup, and she couldn’t help the look of astonishment that slackened her mouth. He leaned forward and with his gauntlet-clad hand, shut it with his finger and a click. He looked furious, which, she realized, meant he was very embarrassed. “I thought it was obvious.”
“Not that obvious,” she said weakly. She cleared her throat. “I must convince the Viscount not to commit political suicide.”
“Have a lovely day at work, dearest,” Fenris smirked, his embarrassment apparently dissolving. She choked on the tea she had tried to sip and slammed the teacup down, glaring at him with a warning.
“We will pick this conversation back up,” she said, pointing a finger at him accusingly.
He sipped his tea calmly. “I will practice my flirtations in the meantime.”
The Viscount was frowning at a pile of papers when she was led into his office. “Sparrow,” he said, mockingly. “I assume you’re here to inform me that you’ve found a way to convince my son to return to his senses?”
She had been impressed with him, once. But now she knew better. She knew the way the Templars pushed him around, the way he let the city run at their whim, she knew he was a coward. “Well,” she said. “You’ll agree that what I have to say is a little more of a concern than your son’s allegiances.” That earned her a hard glare, but she shrugged. “The Arishok has agreed to leave Kirkwall. You need only meet him tomorrow as I return his relic to him.”
The Viscount sat down heavily as she spoke, and now he struggled to form words. “How?”
“I spoke to him. I’ve neutralized a thief that stole an item of his. I have it now in my office, by the way, don’t send any guards, though. It’ll raise attention.”
“He will come by tomorrow… and then leave?”
“I’ll hand over the item to him myself, and then, yes, he will leave.”
“What role did your brother and sister play, and what recompense do they expect?”
“I’m not sure what sort of part, but feel free to reward them. I like the idea of calling them the Champions of Kirkwall, so spin a tale however you like. It won’t matter, as long as the Arishok hears as little of it as possible.”
The Viscount looked down at his desk for a long moment. “I’ve misjudged you.”
“Yes,” she began, and then gave up. She never could follow through on scathing comments when the recipient was so pathetic. “It’s important that you do not offend the Qunari right now. Do not contact Saemus if you intend to change his mind, it will not sit well with the Arishok.”
“Will you go to him? Tell him that I miss him, that I’m sorry.”
“I will, as soon as I can.”
The professor spent the entire day taking notes on the relic, flipping through it carefully with gloves on. His face when he saw it was memorable, to say the least. She told him in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to learn anything, he’d have one day to do it. He ran her a little ragged, fetching books and copies and more ink, but it was worth it. He was ecstatic and he bought her tea and desserts afterwards.
She went, as planned, to the Hanged Man before the sun set to reassure Isabela that all was going according to plan, and that she’d hold up her end of the deal even if everything went wrong. She was surprised by the warmth with which Isabela greeted her and the earnest apology Isabela offered for trying to double-cross her siblings. Vivi didn’t know if she fully bought it, but she detected honesty in the regret and accepted it, bidding Isabela farewell and sending her love to Varric by way of the beaming, almost posing barmaid.
Smiling, she made her way to the Compound, intent on spending time with her friend and getting one of those guards to escort her back home afterwards, but the Qunari at the gates shook their heads when she made her inquiry, and stated that Saemus had received a summons from his father and had gone to speak with him in the Chantry.
That wasn’t right. The Viscount was a fool in some regards, yes, but he wouldn’t disregard her warning. But it was still interesting, she thought, that the Arishok seemed to have allowed the young Saemus to go meet with his father. He must be confident that Saemus would stick to his choice.
Frowning, uneasy, Vivi went to the Chantry.
It towered high above her, like a looming beast, and when she entered it was like entering into the jaw of a beast. This was her first time seeing the Kirkwall Chantry, and it was beautiful. In an awe-inspiring, brutal way. It was strange, yes, to see a Chantry built so large and ostentatiously, so opulently, but the effect was clear. This wasn’t about the glory of the Maker, she thought, this was about the glory of the Chantry itself.
Her mind was shaken clean of architectural musings when she saw Saemus up ahead, standing alone. She walked to him, quickly, calling out. He turned; surprise clear on his face.
“Saemus, I’m glad to see you safe, but this is a trap,” she cried. Saemus stared at her in horror but ran forward quickly. “Come with me, and take this,” she pressed the little enchanted bracelet she always carried into his hands. “Put it on.”
A figure stepped out from the shadows, flanked by archers and circle mages. She could see, from the corner of her eye, Saemus frantically fiddling with the clasp of the bracelet. Oh, she’d forgotten her hands were small enough to just slip it on. She’d need to distract this woman somehow. She looked like trouble.
“Good evening, Sister.”
“Mother,” the woman corrected, proudly.
“No,” Vivi smiled widely. “I’m too young to be your mother.” Saemus choked behind her. “I’ll be taking the young man with me.”
“What’s your name? Who are you? Why do you look so familiar?”
Saemus answered that for her, now that he was finally finished struggling with the bracelet. “She’s got one of those faces, you know?” he said.
She pulled him away, and together they turned and ran.
Bethany and Carver were pacing in the sitting room when she arrived. Aveline was talking in a hushed tone with Fenris by the fireplace. It was a familiar scene already.
“I’m so sorry, I had to make sure Saemus got back safely.”
“Oh sure, Saemus gets back safely. What about you?” Carver snapped.
“Really, we’re doing this again?” she laughed, a little bit in disbelief.
Carver stared her down, unmoved. “We love and worry for you, remember? Or did you forget, you little demon?”
She sighed, the defensive ire in her chest already fading. “Fine, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left without telling you, but something came up.”
“Several things have come up, actually.” Bethany looked carefully between them. “Can you think of any reason the Viscount has to be singing your praises? Because last I checked, his son was still with the Qunari.”
“Vivine, he’s named you Champion of Kirkwall,” Aveline said.
“What?” She looked to Fenris, who nodded in confirmation, and then back to her sister and Carver. “I told him to crown you two the Champions.”
Carver groaned, rubbing his face with a hand. “It just gets worse and worse with every word she says.”
“Reminds me of old times, it’s like not a day has passed.”
“Both of you stop, this is a catastrophe,” she cried. “I can’t be in the limelight.”
Carver looked up; his face slightly stretched downwards by his hand. “What do you mean?”
She hesitated only a moment, before taking out a dagger and picking up an empty teacup from the little table by the fireplace. “Don’t freak out.”
“I’m freaking out in advance,” Carver said, getting to his feet. “Put that away, what—No! What are you doing?”
Bethany and Carver both ran forward as she slid the blade across her palm in a familiar movement. She’d done this several times, over and over, over the past few days. The blood dripped down, and she carefully slid the teacup underneath her palm. She didn’t dare look at Fenris, but she knew he had vaulted from his place against the wall when she drew the dagger to her skin.
From her hand a single rose grew and twisted its way up her arm. She sighed happily, only a little tired, and looked up to her family’s faces. Her smile fell, the rose crumbled and fell away.
“Oh, Vivi… No.” Bethany looked pained. “Not like this,” she said.
“I knew you wouldn’t understand it,” she said, letting her hand fall. She couldn’t bear to look at Fenris as he stepped forward. He took the teacup from her hand and put it back on the table, the sickly smell of blood wafting into the air as it moved. She held her hand out, in one last attempt to show them.
“It heals immediately. No matter how deep I cut it, it heals.”
“You’ve tested that?” Carver shouted.
Vivi held her hand out more insistently, and Bethany took it gently, inspecting it for a moment. “She’s right, it’s completely healed.”
“Merrill had a theory…”
“Merrill has a theory about the moon influencing our emotions, I wouldn’t put too much stock in it,” Aveline said sharply, her eyes on Vivine’s healed hand.
“All right, I’m not sure about the moon, but she’s an expert in this. She’s an amazing teacher and she knows magic.”
“So do we,” Bethany cut in.
“No, Bevvy. She knows magic, she’s studied it in ways we never have, ways father never taught us. She can help me, and she already has, so much. I’ve been practicing enchantments for weeks, it’s how I—”
Fenris took her hand from Bethany’s grasp and squeezed it gently. “I’m going to interrupt you now.”
“All right.” She heard the air in the room go still, like everyone was holding their breaths. She was holding hers.
“I won’t tell you what to do, but I can’t imagine… I can’t imagine that there’s no cost for magic like this. There’s always a cost. You will make compromises, you will cross lines, and you will regret every misstep.”
“I will see you tomorrow, Vivine.”
Carver and Bethany let her go to bed without a fuss, but Aveline’s voice carried up as she shut the door to her bedroom. “He’s right. He said it much more kindly than he would have a year ago, but he’s right.”
She collapsed onto her bed, not bothering to change or perform any of her nighttime rituals. She just needed to get through tomorrow alive. That was all she needed to do. The door opened and Bethany came in. She stood in the doorway for a moment, and then sighed, and left.
Tomorrow, Vivi thought, I’ll fix it tomorrow.
Tomorrow came, and the Tome was returned, and she was declared the Champion of Kirkwall before a Keep filled with throngs of people.
She thought about the night before and could manage barely more than a tight smile in the Viscount’s direction. He didn’t look too well himself. His son was leaving him, weakening him in front of all of Kirkwall, and she…
She was a blood mage now. She gazed down at the people cheering as the Arishok left the Keep, his men in close formation. They would be screaming for entirely different reasons if they knew. She half wanted to show everyone, to see what would happen.
Somehow her gaze landed on her brother and sister, smiling proudly, like they hadn’t spent the whole morning bickering with her on every topic imaginable. Vivi’s heart softened, and she lifted her hand and blew them a kiss.
She watched Saemus’s father cry into his son’s shoulder and embraced her friend for what might be the last time. She felt numb again, now.
Fenris was nowhere to be seen.
Mother Petrice was sacked. The Grand Cleric’s gleeful smiles were the talk of the town, it was said in the Keep. She had hated Petrice, a voice in the tearoom said gleefully. Vivi could not hide her smile.
For a girl who had just been pronounced Champion of the city, her assignments didn’t change much. The Viscount shut himself up for days on end and the Professor had set her on editing a review on a case from the year 9:2 dragon, wherein a noble had charged a dead woman with murder.
She had told her brother and sister she’d be working late tonight, catching up on all the work she had fallen behind on running after Saemus this past week, so she decided on a nice, long evening of reading as the manor grew quiet and the streets emptied out, while her brother and sister ran about outside, somewhere. The silence was thick, like a layer of snow, and the case was interesting. Theatrical. They had exhumed the body for the trial, had even dressed it appropriately and handcuffed it.
She prepared herself for bed, put on her nightdress, lit a candle, and settled in with the case.
But fascinating and macabre as it was, Vivi could not focus on the details. Her gaze kept drifting away to the window, to the last she’d seen of Saemus, standing before the gathered nobility and declaring he’d be back to improve Qunari-Kirkwall relations, to Fenris taking her hand, to his declaration that she was doomed.
She was surprised when the door opened downstairs. She shut the book and placed it on her nightstand and left the room to peer over the staircase, expecting to see her family. She saw, instead, that a strange woman had entered. “Hello,” Vivi said, nodding in greeting, wishing she had brought her dagger or her bracelet. “Are you here on business?”
“You—,” the woman stopped, glaring. “I am Hadriana, apprentice to the Magister Danarius of the Tevinter Imperium,” she said haughtily.
“Lovely to meet you,” Vivi said graciously, and used her nails to viciously rip the skin at her wrist, steeling herself against a wince. “I don’t know what a lot of that means, forgive me.”
“You know, I wouldn’t have guessed you were their sister. You’re so much more civilized. My informants tell me you’re practically a hermit.” The woman lifted a hand and pointed at her, and there was a searing pain in her throat. She looked down and saw blood pouring down her chest, and the taste of blood rose in her mouth. She coughed, falling down against the banister, sending blood everywhere. Not here, she thought, not where they can see, as soon as they come home, smiling—
“Such a pity that the Champion of Kirkwall should be assassinated after only a few days of glory. Such a pity that her body will be found too late. I always did like it when Fenris begged,” she said, conspiratorially, with the air of someone gossiping over tea. “But I like it even more when his pleading is all for nothing.”
That feeling was back, that ancient, familiar exhaustion. The spell the woman had cast was splitting her throat open and her body couldn’t heal around it, and the tears in her wrist were taking power too. She cast viciously, using the blood to keep her breath coming through the hole in her throat, the pain fueling her magic and saving her, even as it killed her. The blood pooled at the edge and dripped down the stairs.
“I’m a little disappointed. I thought you’d be a challenge. But I can see he’s as stupid for a pretty face as anyone.” Vivi felt her gaze blur as the woman left, laughing, hood drawn and face hidden. Fenris?
She tried to say something, but only a wet choke came out. Her throat was torn too much to speak. She lifted her blood-soaked hand to cover her neck, burning around the magic traces deep in her own flesh, and felt both spells warring with one another inside her. Her neck, no longer pinned upright, slumped forward. There was blood everywhere, and not a single drop of power in her to use it now. She couldn’t speak, could barely breathe, as she healed.
She’d be found, she knew. She would either die here and destroy her family after stalling their grief for a year, or she’d live.
Her eyes slid shut, the pain too much as the wound finally closed, and the effort of the spells beckoned her into oblivion.
She awoke to the moon filtering into the foyer, silvery and beautiful. Her hand flew to her throat. “I’m alive?” She could breathe too, and her voice was only rough from sleep. Destroying the spell itself must have saved her and allowed her magic to heal the wound. She pulled herself to her feet, looking at the blood-soaked carpet and the stairs before her. Everything was covered in blood, dried and flaking, sticky in places where it was thickest. She looked down at her nightgown, her favorite one, frilly and white, and knew it was ruined. The blood looked burgundy against her front.
Nobody had found her. Nobody had come to find her. She ran down the stairs and pulled the door open slightly, heaving with the effort. The Hightown street was nearly empty, as it always was early in the morning and late in the evening. Bethany and Carver would have come and found her, if she was here nearly as long as she suspected, the only reason they wouldn’t was if they were otherwise occupied.
That woman. She mentioned Fenris. Vivi pulled herself from the doorway and went to the writing desk, sifting through papers quickly. Her siblings had taken a job last night, slavers were seen at the Wounded Coast. She pocketed the letter and left the Manor.
She ran through the moonlit streets, silvery gray in the night. She ignored the shifty eyes as the blood down the front of her nightgown caught the eye of every urchin and loiterer she passed.
She had to ask for directions to the Wounded Coast, the urchin she had grabbed and handed a gold coin could not tear his eyes from her throat, but she got there with the moon still high, the roaring surf and the salt-tinted air ruffling her hair from its loose braid and bringing the scent of blood, more blood, to her nose.
There were bodies up ahead, the scent of blood growing stronger as she approached. She kneeled in the puddles of blood and rummaged about in their clothes and pockets. She found a missive, several notes, and a crudely drawn map. She could recognize Kirkwall, and the Chantry, but there was a location circled in charcoal that she did not recognize.
She surveyed the bodies. Each was bloodied, murdered, but there was one untouched. His neck was broken, like he had been spared the carnage, and then disposed of. Interrogated, maybe.
She looked down at the map in her hand.
What on earth was so important in the North of the city?
It was a cave, once outfitted almost like a safehouse. There were crates everywhere, she shoved a few aside to inspect their contents. Ancient drink dusted over. Probably worthless. She checked the ground at the entrance, where the moon was just barely sending light down to see. She pricked her finger on the dagger and summoned a light to float ahead of her. There was only one way forward, and it was down.
She guided the light with one hand and followed the path into the mountain, dagger aloft. There were carvings on the walls as she descended. Slaves, elven, weeping and cowering. She shuddered, moving the light away from them. But as she descended, the light grew less and less necessary, and the den was clearly in use. The lamps were all lit, and the cowering slaves on the walls seemed to be everywhere. A slaver den, clear from the carvings and the iron grates creating cells along the sides of the halls.
There was a woman running towards her, a look of panic on her face. She stopped just ahead of Vivi and looked forebodingly at the blood down her front. Vivi shifted self-consciously, aware of how ridiculous this was going to sound. “Hello,” she said. “I am looking for a party of warriors that may have… uh, passed through here.”
“Yes, they just hired me.”
“I was… I am… I am to go to the Hawke manor and await them.”
Vivi smiled. “You’re in luck, I am the lady of that manor. Vivine Hawke. Take this, you may need it. It’ll be a few hours before the sun rises.” She passed the light to the elf with a wave of her hand, and watched as she caught it in her slim, shaking hands.
“Of course. Now go. Help yourself to anything in the kitchen, take a nap wherever you like, please.”
The woman ran past her, smiling where she was once frightened. Vivi carried on.
The next room smelled of the veil, burning. Demons, then. It reminded her of that night in the foundry, when her mother—
Pushing the thought from her mind, she continued further, shocked to hear the thrum of voices. She pressed her bracelet to her lips and felt herself fade as she approached the chamber.
The woman who attacked her earlier that night was cowering in a corner with Bethany and Fenris standing over her, discussing something seriously as she shook. Satisfied that the woman was under control, she turned her attention to Carver, who was supporting a bleeding Varric while Isabela wrapped his wounds quickly, haphazardly, eyes on Hadriana.
She approached quietly, already crushing the dagger in her closed fist, casting a spell for Varric as she passed. Isabela gasped. “Vivi?”
“No, I’m Varric. Andraste’s wedding veil, did you hit your head?”
Varric gasped, leaning over to inspect where his wound had been. “It’s healed.”
Vivi smiled, briefly, before watching Fenris as he leaned over Hadriana, his lyrium markings glowing. Hadriana seemed to realize what he was about to do at the same moment that Vivi did.
“I have Vivine Hawke!” she screamed, scrambling backwards. Fenris froze, a look of pure horror on his face. “I have the Champion of Kirkwall under a curse, if you kill me, you’ll never find her! She’ll die!” Fenris seemed unable to speak, he flexed his hand several times, the lyrium still glowing
“What are you talking about?” Vivi watched as Bethany drew her staff and stepped forward, her voice shaking.
“I have your little lady friend, Fenris,” Hadriana said gleefully, eyes fixed on Fenris’s raised fist. He was shaking. “She’s alive, for now, but if you kill me, she will surely die. Don’t you want to see her again, Fenris?”
Fenris looked gutted and angrier than she’d ever seen him, but it was Bethany’s face that pushed her forward, that lifted the bracelet to her lips. Bethany looked hollow.
“She’s lying to you,” Isabela said firmly, approaching. “Vivi is here.” Vivi took a moment to relish Varric looking at Isabela like she had well and truly lost her mind before kissing the bracelet.
“She’s right. I’m here.” Bethany ran at her, throwing her arms about Vivi’s shoulders. Vivi smiled and patted Bethany’s head. “Oh, but Hadriana, you look so surprised. Did you think you killed me?”
“I did kill you. I saw you die—” Those were her last words. Fenris crushed her throat with a single hand, eyes on Vivi.
There was a beat of silence. Fenris’s eyes looked terrible, Bethany’s breaths were shuddering, and Carver looked like he’d fall over.
“For the record, I am in no way immortal or untouchable. I am coming down with a fever as we speak. My magic can’t do much against spending the whole night blood-soaked with the windows open and then running through the streets of Kirkwall in a nightdress.”
Fenris huffed a laugh, passing his hand over his eyes and looking down at Hadriana’s ruined body.
Carver hauled Varric to his feet and came to inspect Vivi’s nightgown. “Well, let’s get you home and warmed up. Anyone have a coat to spare?”
Varric snorted. “We’re all dressed in skimpy, revealing outfits, all the time. Sorry, Vivi. You’ve chosen your lot in life, you’ve allied yourself with a whole bunch of idiots who never carry around a coat.”
“The one time we could have used Anders,” Isabela tsked. “And he’s nowhere to be seen.”
“Don’t be rude. I’ll just have Bethany warm me.”
Bethany did so, happily, and did not let go of her sister’s arm at all.
She awoke to a feeling of deep, deep exhaustion, again, but no pain. She wondered briefly if she was dead. It must be the cold. The Great Champion of Kirkwall felled by a cold, could you imagine? She looked around her, wondering if she’d be yelled at for trying to leave the bed.
The rose at her windowsill was replaced with what looked like fifteen more. There were flowers everywhere. She breathed in the scent happily for a few moments before she noticed the sunlight gleaming off of a bell at her nightstand. She took it and rang it three times.
Footsteps pounded through the house, and there was a shout from the foot of her bed by the floor. Carver’s head shot up, eyes bleary and hair in disarray. “Carver? Why are you sleeping on the floor?”
But Carver was too busy throwing himself out of the room and shouting for Bethany, whose footsteps were still thundering towards the room. Soon she had her arms full of both her siblings and spared not a thought for Tevinter mages or the terrible feeling of having her nose stuffed up.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “But I’m probably going to get you both sick.”
“That’s fine,” Carver said. “You owe us about a month of pampering as it is.”
Bethany extracted a hand to hit Carver on the head. “Be quiet, you’re going to make me wish I was sick.”
“You should rest,” Carver said reluctantly after a moment. “I’m gonna go get you water and food.”
“Tea, please. I’m not hungry, I feel like I’ll be sick if I eat something.”
“I’ll try to make you tea, but you’re eating. Whether you want to or not,” he rose and patted her cheek oafishly. “Even if you’re sick. We’ll clean it up.”
Bethany sighed and rose too. “Just about everyone is downstairs,” she admitted. “They all stayed the night. Merrill came this morning, as soon as she heard, and Aveline sent the flowers. You shouldn’t come down, but if you’d like company…”
“Send them up,” Vivi smiled, already looking forward to seeing her friends. “It’ll be fun. Like a tea party.”
It was more like a brawl than a tea party, but the tea was unexpectedly good. When Fenris and Carver carried the tea trays into the room she had braced herself for average, lukewarm, weak tea. Carver usually didn’t make tea very well, but he must have picked something up. The tea was lovely, the fruits they sliced for her didn’t make her sick at all (thank goodness, she didn’t want to disgust Fenris even more), and the conversation was… lively.
She was covering her face with a book when the door opened. She assumed it’d be Bethany, so she didn’t bother removing the book, instead opting out a “I’m so bored, Bevvy.”
“I would offer you entertainment, but I’m unsure if I’ll be able to compete with that book.”
“Fenris!” She tore the book from her face and looked at him. He set another plate of fruits beside her and sat in the chair Bethany had procured to be by her bedside at all times. “It’s a good book, my head just hurts if I read too long. Could you… read to me? I don’t want to fall behind too far.”
Fenris shifted uncomfortably. “I can’t.”
She considered this, and against the backdrop of what she knew of his past it made sense that he meant he couldn’t read. “I believe I’ve found a way for me to pay you back for your lessons.”
“You should keep in mind that those lessons were mostly covert attempts at convincing you that I was a strong, capable warrior.”
She snorted. “They succeeded, and I want to repay you. Want to learn to read?”
Fenris pushed the plate of fruits closer to her. “Eat first, and then you can teach me whatever you like.”
“You seem strangely comfortable around me,” she said quietly, on the third day, when she was permitted out of bed and when Fenris had made his way through the alphabet twice, recognizing each letter and sound that accompanied it. He was a fast learner, and though he stumbled then and again, she had a strong feeling that he practiced extensively whenever she wasn’t around.
They sat on the couch in her room, Vivi with her feet tucked neatly beneath her and Fenris in a soft, oversized shirt that Carver had let him borrow after he spilled a bag of flour on himself while trying making pancakes.
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Blood mage? I’m a should-be-dead-girl, several times over? There’s always a cost, remember?”
“Do you know what I thought when Hadriana said your name, Vivine?” He flipped through the pages of the book in his lap aimlessly, fidgeting. “I thought you were dead. Do you know what Hadriana is like? She used to torture me into begging for things I could never have, she would make me wish and plead, and then take everything away. I thought I’d have to live with myself, every day, knowing it was my fault—.”
“It certainly sounds like it was a rough night,” she said. “But it wouldn’t have been your fault.” She placed her hand on top of his, stilling it from its business ravaging the pages of the poor book.
“Do you know what I thought when I saw you there, covered in blood and alive?”
“What did you think?”
“That maybe I don’t have all the answers, that maybe… if it kept you alive…” His voice trailed off. She turned his hand over, palm up, and linked their fingers together. It was a lot more comfortable now that he tended to leave the heavy armor and the gauntlets when he came to a lesson.
“I decided,” he began again, and his face was grim. “I decided that the cost was worth your life. That it was worth it if you were here, with me, with your family. I decided that if ever you fell too far, if something came back with you, if you ever succumbed, that I’d be the one to end it. That your brother and sister wouldn’t have to make that call.”
“You would kill me?” She looked into his eyes and saw nothing but a kind of acceptance and softness there.
“I would want to spare them that particular pain.”
She pushed herself up on her knees, cradled his face in her hands, and kissed his jaw. Or perhaps his cheek. Her eyes were welling up with tears and she couldn’t see clearly.
“I’ve just sworn to kill you if you’re ever lost,” Fenris said, frowning, but his arms came up around her and pulled her closer, firmly against him. She let her head fall onto his chest, let her eyes drift closed in soft contentment.
“I know. Thank you.”
She woke up to the moon filtering in through her window, the flowers filling the room with the scent of things that didn’t belong in a city like Kirkwall, and her siblings in her bed. Someone had carried her over to the bed, and Fenris was gone. Carver was deeply asleep beside her, and Bethany was slumped against his side with her arms crossed. She smiled and fell back asleep, slipping, for the first time in a long time, into a dream.
Bevvy! Carver’s muscles are finally good for something!
What could they possibly be good for, Vivi?
Why, pillows of course. Come see.
Why, Vivi, you have a point. He’s a perfect pillar between us!
You’re both extremely rude. I’ll have you know my muscles are the talk of the town.
Carrots are the talk of the town too, dear.
Mother, whose side are you on?
Yours! You should be proud that your sisters have found such a good use for you. Malcolm, darling, come look at your children.
Children? You see before you a pack of battle-bred Mabari, Leandra. Get the watering can, we shall root them out.
The sound of her family's laughter echoed when she woke and followed her as she went, lightly barefoot and still in her nightie (a new one, courtesy of Varric), to peer over the staircase down at the foyer. Her siblings were dressed, armed, and waving a letter at her.
“Vivi, Isabela’s located Castillon! Hurry and get dressed. I can’t wait to be rid of him.”
When she came back, dressed and armed, they were still there, waiting. Carver raised an eyebrow at her, smirking in that familiar way. “Ready to earn your keep?”
“Yes,” she said, and took the steps two at a time to meet them.