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Forbid/Forget

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Forbid/Forget

By Chairtastic.

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Summary: From wisdom of the world comes wisdom of the self. Mastery of the self is mastery of the world. Loss of the self is the source of suffering. Suffering is a choice, and we can refuse it. Refuse the will of others exerted upon you, and strike in mastery.

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Chapter One: Unbound

Varric

Dead men weren't a rare sight on the Wounded Coast. Kirkwall's coastline was littered with the remains of ships and the crews that served them -- pecked at by scavengers of wealth and flesh. In recent times, dead Qunari were similarly not too uncommon to find on the Coast. It was a rarer sight for there to be dead Qunari and no dead humans or elves nearby, however. Varric found himself eyeing the corpses of dead and dying soldiers of the Qun, fixing the details in his mind about how their war paint looked, how they had fought, and how they spoke.

The most surprising thing about the whole mission to escort a Qunari mage -- Ketojan -- out of Kirkwall was that at the end there was a Qunari who could wear a helmet with his horns in the way. It was otherwise a standard obvious-trap-with-some-quirky-characters setup, with the helmet-wearing Qunari 'Arvaarad' having been of a mind to kill their Qunari mage for some Qun related affairs.

Religion was always a finicky subject for people. That the religion was being spouted out by seven-foot-tall grey-skinned giants with horns only made the issue worse.

Varric, scion of a dwarven noble house, tried to keep his religion private. If only because his brother would throw an absolute temper tantrum if he'd heard them. Already, with his nonexistent beard, surfacer fashions, and charming wit, Varric had refused much of their house's Orzammar traditions -- leaving behind faith in the Ancestors and the Stone might have been enough to kill Bartrand.

There was enough arguing in the air anyway -- with people like Blondie, an ex-Circle Mage, ex-Grey Warden, the current owner of an illegal medical clinic in darktown and possessor of the most feathery fashion items outside Orlais; and Aveline, newly minted Kirkwall Guard Captain, a sword-and-board style fighter, and a rock of peerless stability in the mess of the city politics. The former wished to heal a particularly nasty wound the latter had incurred, and there was debate over if it was serious enough for her to remove her cuirass.

Meanwhile, Varric leveled Bianca at a few of the Qunari still twitching too much for his liking and put an extra bolt in them. The twitching stopped soon after. All that was left was the smell of salt from the Waking Sea, the crowing of scavengers in circled flight, and feel of warm blood as it grew cold.

Hawke stowed her greatsword -- there a lot of irony in using a Qunari weapon against the Qunari, who considered their weapons their souls -- and approached the dead Arvaarad. Meanwhile, their recently made friend remained on his knees with glowing blue fire all across his flesh. She cautiously picked up the golden rod which the Qunari had used to inflict the status on their charge and examined it.

"Do you think if I hit it on a rock, it'll turn off whatever magical… thingamajig this is?" Hawke turned, and asked Varric as if he were a source of arcane knowledge.

"I'd say go ahead and try -- maybe it'll only make things worse in a funny way," the dwarf replied with a chuckle.

"An excellent point," Hakwe pointed at him and frowned down at the device. "How did the Qunari even do this anyway? I'm not seeing any lyrium, or…." While Hawke examined the object, she swung it about in various fashions. Eventually, she tried jostling it as the Arvaarad had, and the effect on the mage stopped.

The arguing between Blondie and Aveline stopped as the last living Qunari in sight hunched over. The big guy stayed like that a moment before he stood abruptly. It was like he was an entirely different person, there was energy to him. He bounced when he stood up, for Andraste's sake!

Varric kept his hand on Bianca's trigger just in case the mage went berserk over his killed comrades, but it proved unnecessary. The Qunari quickly pulled on the loops of chains that held a huge collar and pauldrons in place, and pulled his arms free so that the article could be thrown aside. Varric frowned as he saw there was raw skin and scar tissue from the collar's contact -- as if it had been there for far too long.

"Ketojan?" Hawke asked and carefully approached. "I don't know if this a Qun thing, but we don't get naked as thanks for people saving our lives until after sundown at the earliest."

"The rod and the collar… are linked." The Qunari said with a deep gravelly rumble. "I was afraid you would activate it again, on accident." It had to hurt to speak with his lips pierced and bound with hide threads. At least he still had his tongue.

"Oh, I see. So… you're free now?" Hawke tilted her head to one side and arched her brow. "Why didn't you speak before?"

"The collar has many settings. It was set to inhibit speech and unjustified movement -- translated, the setting is called 'cargo'." Ketojan said and gripped the mask which covered his eyes. It seemed to take effort, but he popped it off and left the golden ornament in the sand. Apparently, the thing had been stuck on, as the mage bled heavily from the area around his eyes without the mask there.

"Blondie," Varric called over. "I think our new friend needs your gentle touch."

Aveline shoved Anders away, toward the mage, though ex-Grey Warden seemed to need little convincing to offer healing to a fellow mage.

"Going to need you to bend down a bit, if you please." Anders had a significant height gap with the Qunari, which he overcame as Ketojan bent down. "We'll get this bleeding staunched, fix up some of these scrapes, and get your mouth fixed alright? Don't know what I can do for the horns, though." Blue-white magic flowed around Blondie's hands as he started to work on Ketojan. "You don't have to worry anymore -- you're free."

"As free as any apostate mage," Aveline muttered. While her side was less bloody than it had been a moment prior, she still drank a poultice to help the injury recover. "Bleh. This one's going to be a lot harder to hide than Merrill or Bethany."

"I'm… sure Varric knows an… out of the way place with tall doorways we could put Ketojan here, right?" Hawke looked at him like he had an answer right away. "Perhaps a very large closet?"

"If he stands still, he could maybe pass for a statue in someone's garden." Varric shrugged. "I'll see what I can do."

"This is weird," Anders said with a furrowed brow as he worked on the mage. "It's like the wounds are already healing as my magic gets to them."

"It has been a long time since I was able to think freely -- but I remember some healing spells," the Qunari grumbled. "I will remember more as I'm able to 'wake up' properly."

"Like a limb that's gone asleep -- but it's your brain. I know how that feels." The feathered mage ceased his healing and began to cut through the strings which bound Ketojan's lips together. "I can help fix the holes these will leave -- but you might have scars after."

"It'll make him easy to pick out of a crowd, granted." Hawke rubbed her head. "Aside from being taller than everyone else, I mean."

Soon after Anders had plied his craft on the Qunari's face and neck, he used a spell to burst the enormous shackles which had encircled Ketojan's wrists, and offered healing for them as well.

Varric watched Ketojan work his mouth, unused to the lack of threads, and pondered something. "Sister Petrice likely didn't think we would survive this encounter with the Qunari."

Ketojan shook his head. "She didn't. It was a ploy to get the Qunari blamed for killing you four -- so that she could incite further violence." The Qunari looked at Aveline, his brow arched. "If my testimony could help you arrest her…?"

The Guard Captain sighed, and shook her head. "Even with all of us, no magistrate in Kirkwall would sign off on any sentence for a Chantry Sister."

"Come now, Ketojan," Hawke chastised the Qunari in a scandalized tone. "We can't have the Chantry facing consequences for their actions. Where would it end? Giving the Dalish back their country? Unconverting Nevarra and the Free Marches?"

Blondie sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You can't expect him to know what you're talking about, when you do things like that."

"You would be surprised, Grey Warden." The Qunari stood, and flexed his arms and back. For a solid ten seconds the air was filled with the sounds of pops as Ketojan's arms and back worked freely for perhaps the first time in years. He finished by gripping the sides of his head and producing one last horrifying pop-crack as he twisted his neck.

"...We're sure he didn't just snap his neck right," Varric said as the mage remained frozen in place. "Cause if we went through all this for him to kill himself…."

"Ahh…." The Qunari said as his arms fell to his side, limp. If, before, he had seemed a wholly new person then he had become a third new person as he visibly relaxed. "I have had that crick in my neck for four years -- knew it would feel great, so I saved it for last."

"Four years?" Aveline's shock was clear. "That's… the Qunari didn't care?"

"Short answer: No." Ketojan shrugged. "The longer answer would end with you punching me as I unintentionally damage Ser Wesley's memory by comparing the Qunari and Templar Order."

Varric's eyebrows shot up just as Aveline's face contorted in surprise.

"How do you know about Wesley?" The Guard Captain demanded as she took a step forward.

"I know a lot of things. Being in 'cargo' setting for so long, my keepers forgot I had functioning ears." Ketojan put his hands on his hips. "There's also dubious information that I can share, if you want it."

"Let's discuss details when we're not surrounded by death, hmm?" Hawke glanced over her shoulders and turned back to the group with a sour face. "The wind is shifting, and it's going to be harder to ignore the smell soon."

"Back the way we came, or the long way?" Varric asked, and immediately sighed in relief at Hawke's choice of the tunnels. "Good. At least it's even ground, in there."

"It doesn't smell any better in there than it will out here," Blondie pointed out. His face shifted visibly as Hawke made swooping motions with her hands to move some of the stink in his direction. "I stand corrected. Inside, quickly." He spent the entire walk back to the tunnels with his nose pinched. "What do they feed you Qunari to make that horrible smell?"

"Nugs," Varric and Ketojan said at the same time. "It's one of those smells you just never forget," the storyteller added as they followed Hawke back whence they'd came.

--

Anders

Justice had felt such powerful familiarity with Ketojan that it bled over into Anders, and he felt at ease around the Qunari as they walked. Suspicion and worry were diffused as they manifested in Anders' thoughts. Yet the spirit couldn't place the familiarity.

The more he thought about it, the more it seemed like a case of remembering a person's face, but not their name. Justice seemed to remember the feel of Ketojan, rather than the actual mage.

In the warrens that ran below the city -- concurrent Darktown most likely -- the party of five walked past the thugs and spiders they'd had to fight on their way out to the coast initially. The grey, weatherworn stone immediately gave way to compacted mudstone tunnels, wooden stairs, and disused mining equipment. Sometimes, they passed by ancient murals left on the walls by slaves long gone. The oppressive atmosphere of Kirkwall was truly on display there.

"One moment, before we get where we're going," Hawke said as she stopped their advance. The leader of their ragtag group turned and looked at their guest. "The Sister and the Templar with her… they killed your 'karataam', yes? Or, at least, ordered it done?"

"I won't get any revenge on her that can be traced back to you," Ketojan said and waved his hand. "Unlike many who leave the Qun, I know subtlety."

Aveline sighed, and rubbed her temples. "Yes, go ahead and announce your intent to murder Templars and other Chantry officials in front of me. That's not going to make my life any harder."

"They killed Qunari specifically to cause this situation," Anders pointed out with a furrowed brow. "To incite more people to kill Qunari, who kill to defend themselves, and so on. You can't tell me you're okay with that, Aveline."

"Shut it, you," the Guard Captain snapped. She scowled at him as if he were the true culprit. "Whatever they've done, they're still entitled to protections under the law."

"Would I be entitled to the same if I converted to your religion? Here? Now? In front of you?" Ketojan asked in a curious tone. True to Anders' worst fears, he had scars that encircled his mouth from the sewed lips he'd had inflicted on him. Some friction scars were also present on his wrists, neck, and forehead -- it gave him a patchy look. "The Maker gave you a conscience, Captain Vallen, did he not?"

"I…." Aveline seemed conflicted -- like she really didn't want to be in the situation she found herself mired within.

"Aveline," Hawke cut in with an understanding tone. "You'll have to deal with people who abuse their authority to get away with crimes sometimes." She ran her gauntleted hands through her black hair and struck a pose. "Some of them might not be as suave and sophisticated as me or our friends…. Just… set out some rules for what's acceptable, and what's not in dealing with these sort of things, hmm?"

"Like what?" Aveline waved her hand at Hawke, utterly at a loss. "If we weren't doing more good than harm doing this I'd have to arrest us all!"

"You could just take that standard and apply it here, you know." Varric had an understanding look on his face as he talked. "That way -- you're not taking sides. The standard you set for Hawke could be the standard for all of us doing things outside the law."

"As if you'd follow those rules any more than you do the law as written." Aveline scowled again.

"I'm a patient person," Ketojan said and bowed his head at Aveline. "I can wait for you to have a solution that you can live with. None of us are their murdered victims -- we have that luxury."

Aveline looked conflicted again, something Justice seemed pleased with. The spirit seemed to think the Guard Captain would grow from reflecting on that -- that being alive was a luxury in Kirkwall.

Anders had his doubts on that front.

"So we go up there, act as if everything's fine, and ignore the problem?" Hawke spread her arms and nodded when she received no pushback. "Excellent. Good talk, everyone."

Back up through the warrens they went -- until they emerged into the hovel which had been their initial meeting place for Sister Petrice and Ser Varnell -- the duo who had arranged the whole affair. When they approached, Anders felt Justice mentally smirk, but for reasons he couldn't fathom.

Sister Petrice, dressed in the blacks and reds of the Kirkwall Chantry, had been in the midst of issuing orders to her armor and blue-skirted Templar bodyguard to remove all signs of their presence from the house.

"There can be no trace of our presence!" Petrice had said and pointed at things the Templar needed to adjust. The group's footsteps drew her attention, with the shocked Sister made aware she had guests. "You -- " she said as she whirled on Hawke. Her gaze shifted behind the group, likely to Ketojan, and her eyes widened in horror. "Knight-Commander?!"

Anders had a monumentally confused expression on his face as he turned. Where Ketojan had stood, there was none other than Knight-Commander Meredith. Her unique grey armor, her odd red hood, her golden circlet that blended with her blonde hair and blue eyes as intense as a bolt of lightning.

"Petrice," the Knight-Commander said in a carefully controlled snarl. "Varnell. So you are the ones behind this."

While Anders and the others processed what they had seen, Justice's sense of familiarity remained even as 'Meredith' stormed around them to advance on the conspirators with apoplectic fury.

Petrice seemed terrified by Meredith's presence yet stood her ground, while Varnell openly went on his knees with his hands up to ward off an attack.

"The Grand Cleric asked me to leave my work, at a most inopportune time, to see who had imperiled her plans for the Qunari threat. I expected Dumar, or some idiot nobleman, but you two? You?!" Meredith seemed like she was mere moments from an attack on Petrice and Varnell with her bare hands. "An entire platoon of Qunari -- dead! All our spies within their ranks -- exposed! All the effort we have spent thus far -- wasted!"

"Knight-Commander," Petrice held up her hands as 'Meredith' looked angrier every second. "Please, we didn't mean to -- "

"To what?! We have one of the three leaders of the Qunari here -- as our captive -- and your efforts would provoke him into coming at us to commit suicide before the Grand Cleric has finished her work! Before I have finished mine!"

"We only meant to -- "

"I've had it with you!" She pointed at Varnell, and hissed as hatefully as she possibly could. "And you -- you dare call yourself a Templar when you all but cower before me?!" The Knight-Commander grabbed the two of them and shoved them toward the door. "Get out! Out, the both of you! Pray the Grand Cleric has some way to fix your mess -- or else!"

Petrice and Varnell ran for the door -- Varnell with a darkened stain on the front of his skirt -- while 'Meredith' slammed the door behind them. Once the door had closed, she held up a hand and counted down from five with her fingers. When the last number was counted down, her body shone dim yellow and she expanded. Two, perhaps three eye blinks later, and Ketojan stood in front of them again.

"I think I may have layered it on too thick," the Qunari admitted and scratched his neck with his dagger-like nails. "They might suspect something after the fear lets go of them."

"Entirely possible, but Meredith does dance with crazy per the local rumors," Hawke replied conversationally. She nodded to herself, as if she were obviously right, then frowned. "Anyway -- what in the Maker's name was that?"

"You can just… turn into people?" Varric asked, his voice and face in flux between horror, interest, and confusion. "Can all Qunari mages do that?"

Aveline, however, seemed more than a little irate. "You said you would wait!"

"I did, and will," Ketojan replied. "The revenge I am owed will remain uncollected. But I wanted to help you deal with Petrice before she manages to steal the Grand Cleric's seal as was her plan after this." He pointed at Varric, as if to indicate him. "And no. Most saarebas are trained only in blood magic -- I learned shapeshifting prior."

"Wait what?" Was both Anders and Hawke's reaction.

"The Qun sees the Fade as the realm of the dead, so they distrust magic drawn from it. They favor blood magic because it actively erodes the connection mages have with the Fade." Ketojan explained as if it were entirely a scholarly fact he shared. "As for shapeshifting -- the Hero of Ferelden traveled with a novice shapeshifter. And you ran into Flemeth, Witch of the Wilds, didn't you?"

Hawke took a step forward and pointed at him with a deadly serious face. "If you're telling me you could become a dragon too…."

"I remember reading something about this," Anders said as he tried to connect the dots around how utterly amused Justice seemed, without the spirit willing to fill him in on the secret. "But I distinctly recall that shapeshifters couldn't turn into other people."

"You believe everything you read, then?" Ketojan frowned. "You might have heard the Hero of Ferelden mention such a limit -- because their companion was a novice who didn't understand the limits of the art. But, for a master of shapeshifting -- it is possible to be anything."

Hawke seemed concerned, then took a deep breath. "So… hypothetically, could a master shapeshifter have… turned themselves into an amulet for… years at a time?"

The Qunari nodded.

"And remained entirely aware of anything and everything that happened around them?"

Once more, he nodded.

"Oh, fantastic. That's going to be a lovely conversation Bethany and I have later." Hawke shook her head. "That still leaves the question of what to do with you. A shapeshifting apostate is… both easier and harder to find a place for in Kirkwall than just a Qunari one."

"The Templars would actively hunt for him," Aveline said with utmost conviction. "He can impersonate anyone, any time. It's like having an Envy Demon on the loose."

Anders arched his brow at her. "I've never heard of an Envy Demon…."

"Wesley talked about them. He seemed upset that the Fereldan Templars weren't being taught about them in basic training anymore."

"If he's willing to maybe… help along a few of my enterprises," Varric started with a conspiratorial tone to Hawke. "I could ask around. See if anyone has room."

"If he wasn't so suspicious of mages, I'd say your elf friend's mansion in Hightown would be wonderful." Ketojan's words were met with confused glances, and more than one muttering about the Dalish elf Hawke had brought with her from Sundermount. "Ah. You haven't encountered him yet. Might want to check your mail, the letter should arrive any day."

"...You know what, today's been just a bit too much." Hawke declared with a nod. "I'm going home… well, I'm going to Gamlen's hovel across the street. I trust everyone can find their way back without setting half of Kirkwall on fire?" Hawke looked around for dissent, then nodded. "Right. See you tonight, everyone."

Aveline left with Hawke, an uncomfortable look on her face. That left Anders, and the dwarf with the Qunari.

"So!" The storyteller said and clapped his hands. "Hanged Man? My treat."

--

Isabela

The last thing she wanted to see come through the door of the Hanged Man was a damned oxman, but he had great pillowy man-bosoms bigger than Isabela's head and no shirt so she suffered his intrusion with dignity. It helped that he came with two of Hawke's travel companions -- heh, came.

"Aw, Varric. It's not my birthday, but I enjoy the show all the same." The pirate captain smirked and waved at the dwarf as he, Anders, and the Qunari approached the bar. So early in the morning, the Hanged Man was basically awash with drunks from the night prior -- the tables and bar itself laden with them. The tavern was successful enough to afford the supplies to remain open at all hours -- the spent patrons would be shooed out as soon as more paying customers came in.

"Careful Rivaini," the dwarf said with a faux tone of concern. "It's his first day of freedom, you know. No telling how he'll react to being ogled. You might just teach him shame."

Isabela squinted and shook her head a bit to clear her head. "First day of freedom? What?" One hasty explanation of the tagalong having left the Qun later, and the pirate captain hefted her long-empty bottle into the air. "Cheers! Freedom and all that!"

"Yeah, woo," Anders muttered. "Now we get to have some awkward talks in Varric's room." His mood improved quickly, though. "Want to come with?"

"Blondie, it's generally bad manners to invite people to someone else's room." Varric feigned scandal, but it faded in moments. "That said -- Rivaini, you want to listen in?"

"I'm always willing to hear the latest gossip." Isabela slid off her barstool and walked with them. Varric's room on the second floor was grander than most Lowtown houses. Furniture not held together by string and anxiety, floors with at least some patches free of filth, actual books -- unheard-of luxuries elsewhere. The humans and dwarf all easily found seats -- dwarven standard chairs weren't exactly comfortable, so Varric had cushions added on -- but the oxman was too tall even for Varric's bed to be a comfortable place to sit.

"I'm honestly impressed these floors are holding up," the Qunari commented. Isabela balked, as she'd never heard even a Tal-Vasoth have such a conversational tone before. "I'm easily in the four hundred pound weight range."

As if the universe wanted to prove a point, the floors creaked ominously a second later.

"Maybe take a few steps that way?" Varric said with a hesitant tone. "The support beam's over there." As soon as the Qunari had done as Varric asked, the dwarf cleared his throat. "So! I'm going to guess Ketojan isn't really your name, huh?"

"No, but it's a fine replacement." The Qunari shrugged. "To the Qun, I'd be 'Saarebas' as my rank. I think you understand why I would not want to go by that, either."

"You want to put that part of your life behind you," Anders said, understanding. "The way they treated you, and the other mages… it's horrid."

Isabela felt mildly disgusted as Anders turned to her and told her about what their new friend had endured under the Qun. Sewed lips? Magic control over their bodies? A crick in the neck for four years? Ugh.

"Believe it or not, there are worse things," Ketojan said with a raised finger. "Which reminds me, I think there are things you'll want to know. How about you each ask a question?"

"Volunteering information to people you've barely met is typically a red flag, you know," Varric muttered.

"Keep talking like that, and I will keep the recipe for gaatlok to myself, Messere Tethras."

Isabela, Anders, and Varric's eyebrows all reached high into the sky with sudden surprise. "You know how to make gaatlok?"

"It's not difficult to figure out, or to make, really." Ketojan shrugged. "It's classified as an inevitable discovery by the Qun. Like water wheels, levers, and pulleys. If left to their work -- some alchemist would figure it out eventually. This is why the Qun keeps assassinating any alchemists in the South who display the necessary talent."

Isabela frowned at that mental image. Some poor alchemist, with comically thick glasses, went about her day when out of nowhere an oxman appeared and stabbed her while screaming about the Qun. She knew it was probably residual drunkenness, but the mental image seemed perfectly rational to her.

"Do you want to help the other saarebas in the Qunari compound?" Anders asked, ever focused on his mage freedom angle.

"Yes. If possible, I would have them sent to the Circle of Magi in Darius… Darian…." The Qunari shook his head. "Big city in Rivain, starts with D."

"Dairsmuid?" Isabela spoke up with a curious brow. "Why there?"

"That particular Circle of Magi is familiar enough with the Qun to deprogram Saarebas, and is neither a place of terror like Kirkwall and Val Royeaux, or passive fatalism like Kinloch Hold." The Qunari focused on Anders. "Write to First Enchanter Rivella, she shares your views on the Chantry and Circles, and the way Dairmuid is set up is everything you desire, with none of Tevinter's violent excesses." The Qunari scratched the side of his head. "Though… is the Orzammar Circle of Magi up and running yet?"

Once more, every non Qunari set of eyebrows in the room tried to lift off their foreheads. "The Orzammar Circle of what?" Varric asked, utterly shocked.

Isabela couldn't fathom the idea of a Circle in the dwarven capital. They'd have lyrium right there for their use, and the Chantry could have no meaningful way to constrain them -- the dwarves only allowed Grey Wardens into their city in meaningful numbers.

"I'll take that as a 'no', then. Dwarven castes are close enough to the Qun that they would also see success with any deprogramming efforts."

"Dairsmuid and Orzammar," Anders said with a nod. "Right. I'll see what I can do. Varric?"

The dwarf ran his hand through his hair. "Feh… if what he said about saarebas and blood magic is true, we'd need a lot of coin to move that many so far and keep it hush-hush."

Isabela found that perhaps the slight amount of drunkenness made her less able to parse minor details. What about blood magic? She was about to speak up when the Qunari interrupted.

"Coin I can help you make by buying and selling information," Ketojan said with an arched brow. "Things like gaatlok, using my wily, wily ways to fetch huge chests of gold from the Waking Sea, complex potions, and letting you know that your publisher has been pocketing all the sales from your books in Orlais proper."

Isabela turned and whispered to her fellow adventurers. "Is anyone else absolutely terrified of what wily, wily ways a Qunari could have?"

"I'm trying desperately not to imagine what that would look like," Varric whispered back as he squinted his eyes. "It's not working. Andraste's ass -- no, don't think of asses."

"You know he probably means shapeshifting into something, swimming down, and getting it off wrecked ships, right?" Anders sighed, long-suffering.

"As much fun as it would be to twerk my way into a fortune, I don't think Thedas is ready for it." Ketojan said and shrugged. "And if I demonstrated what twerking was, considering how rickety this building is, it might just collapse on us."

"Alright, now I'm curious," Isabela said with a wicked smirk. "I'm cashing in on my question!" She didn't need to say more, for all the men sighed.

"Twerking is a style of dance which requires voluptuous buttocks, a massive ass, the fattest cheeks you can find under the sun." The Qunari turned and squatted down while they looked at him from the side. "Then the hips are moved in order to throw the relevant ass up and down so that watchers may marvel at its quality." A point-by-point demonstration was provided, to the horror of some and amusement of Isabela.

"I don't know what's worse," Varric said softly as he watched the slowed demonstration. "The mental image of Qunari shaking their asses to dance, the dispassionate description, or knowing that there is no way Isabela won't spread that dance like wildfire."

"You know me so well," the mildly drunk pirate captain said with a playful wink.

--

Bethany

"And… this Qunari mage just… started speaking to you? Like that?" Bethany Hawke was naturally a bit irate that she had been left behind in the first place -- but became even more so that she'd been left behind for what was one of her sister's more interesting adventures. She paced in their room while her sister shed her armor and greatsword for some sleep. "Can they even do that? Speak like normal people?"

"Well, he evidently wanted to be free of the Qun," Hawke said as she placed her gauntlets in the chest with the rest of her armor. Being a front-line warrior, she had considerably more muscle mass and much shorter hair than Bethany. Both were demanded in a fight, during Marian's time in the army, and as a sellsword to pay their way into Kirkwall. "They kept him in a sort of tranquil state. He described it as a 'cargo' setting."

That made Bethany pause. "Cargo setting? Like… like he was a crate?" When Marian nodded, Bethany felt a pit of horror open up in her stomach. "Maker's mercy. Well, one got away. What's to be done with him?"

"I'd like to take him with us sometimes. He's tall, he can reach things on high shelves," ever flippant, Hawke put her armor away in its trunk and made for her bed. "And he also has that same shape-changing ability Flemeth had."

"Truly? Can he become a dragon?"

"He didn't answer me when I asked, but he did a convincing job of impersonating the Knight-Commander." Marian found her bed and fell backward onto it. "That's a useful party trick, and we might have him tag long with us in the future. But for now --I'm going to use my sleep powers to do a convincing impersonation of a wood saw for a few hours now -- ta!" As soldiers and mercenaries were required, Hawke was asleep in moments of hitting the bed. It'd taken Bethany forever to develop that skill. Bethany didn't envy the awful snoring, though.

With her sister asleep, Bethany was left to ponder. She'd been the only mage of the three Hawke children, and she'd gotten the benefit of her father's Circle education. What she knew of shapeshifting magic said it was outright impossible for them to take on the shapes of people. She leaned on the wall next to the door and tried to recall her father's exact words. 'People aren't animals, you can't study how they move and figure out how to become them', was what she vaguely recalled. But clearly that wasn't true.

Mother stepped into the room while Bethany pondered, Leandra Hawke -- the graying matron of the family. Her features passed down strongly in her daughters -- specifically their bone structure. She looked at her sleeping daughter with clear concern, then turned to Bethany. "Did I hear it right? Your sister's found herself a Qunari friend?"

"Friend is a strong term, mother," Bethany responded with a calming tone. "She found one who wanted to get away from their horrid religion, did you hear how they treat their mages?"

She hadn't, so Bethany regaled her with the story of sewn lips, collars that they never took off, magic that limited their minds, and masks glued to their faces. "Maker's mercy, it would be kinder to kill the poor creatures." Leandra frowned, and hastily covered her mouth. "Bethany -- you know I didn't mean… I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that."

"Don't be sorry, you're right." Bethany hadn't considered her mother's remark as it related to her and other Southern mages. It stung in hindsight, but she didn't want her mother to worry about her. "Living like that… it's not living at all. It sounds like being tranquil. Or possessed."

"Just… be careful, won't you?" Leandra glanced at her sleeping eldest, then took Bethany's hand in her own. "I can't lose the two of you. And you know how easy it is for Qunari to kill people."

They'd heard the screams in Lothering as that vicious Sten creature had butchered the family which tried to nurse him back to health. At first, everyone had thought a bear had snuck into the village -- only to find the Qunari in a mangled mess of human meat. Even the templars had allegedly been sick to see it.

"I'll be cautious. I promise." She wouldn't end up like that. She wouldn't let her sister, or her friends end up like that either. "But the Maker sent us this poor creature, maybe to show that some Qunari are worth saving."

Mother's eyes told Bethany she sounded like she aimed to convince herself more than Leandra.

--

Hawke

She was having an absolutely lovely dream, Hawke was. She had invented a game where slats of wood were piled upon each other, and the goal of the game was to remove them without causing the piled wood to fall. She sat at a table with her friends, family, and the sweetly rotting carcasses of Carver and their father as they took turns playing her game. They were all dressed in lavish clothes, with tea being served by tiny five-legged varterrals.

Naturally, every time it was Carver or Father's turn, Mother would turn to glare at Marian with absolute disgust. "This is all your fault," she said with venom, then took her turn with a charming smile.

Truly, it was a dream of utter beauty. Not a sign of any darkness.

"Lying to yourself is unhealthy, you know," spoke the tiny varterral which served Hawke her drink. It ducked behind her teacup and emerged on the other side as a Qunari small enough to fit in her hand -- Ketojan.

"Lying to myself is the only way to get up in the mornings," Hawke replied, somber, and took her turn. She casually flicked a slat of wood with her finger so that it skidded across the table and fell into the abyss. "If I say it doesn't hurt, I can make it so."

The others at the table took their turns quickly so that Leandra could tell Hawke again: "This is all your fault." Then she would take her turn and be all smiles once more.

"If I say that it doesn't affect me, then I can act like it doesn't." Hawke took her turn, all smiles.

"This is all your fault," Mother said with utmost venom, and then took her turn.

"If I say it doesn't matter, then I don't have to feel like it does." Hawke took her turn and began to realize how the tower swayed heavily.

As the others at the table readied to take their turns, Ketojan quickly pointed a dagger-nailed finger at Leandra. In seconds, the former Kirkwall noblewoman had her mouth stitched shut as the Qunari's had been. When her turn came, all she could do was glare, and then take her turn.

"Well now, that's cheating," Hawke said as she wagged her finger at the little Qunari. "Someone has to talk each round."

As if it were perfectly reasonable, Ketojan shifted his pointing finger to Aveline who sat next to Hawke.

Aveline twisted and twitched, for she was not supposed to speak, but someone had to. The ginger Guard Captain turned to look at Hawke with a smile. "It means a lot to me that you brought me with you, and that you always treated me like we were family. If you hadn't… I would have had no one." She took her turn.

Hawke squinted, but the rules had been followed. "Alright, fine. Be that way." She huffed as if Aveline had insulted her. She glared down at Ketojan. "Why did you do that, anyway? Upset that you don't have a spot at the table?"

The Qunari shook his head. "I was passing through, wanted to poke you in the direction of not hating yourself as much."

"Passing through? To where? Another tea party?" Hawke deftly took her turn as it rolled around, and sighed when Bethany spouted the same off-script nonsense Aveline had.

"Kinda sorta." Ketojan shrugged. "I haven't killed people through the Fade in a long time, so I'm going after someone pretty weak-willed to get back into practice."

"Dream killing? Dream...." Hawke shook her head as the breaking of the rules and Ketojan's presence made her think about the situation. The sensation of realizing she was dreaming was rather like pulling a wool blanket across a sunburn -- something she desperately wished she couldn't recognize right away. "This is a dream."

"It is." Ketojan began to grow larger, until he hopped off Hawke's hand and burst into his true size.

Hawke's lovely tea party and invented game faded as if it were made of dust. The colors she had enjoyed warped and took on swirls of green and yellows. Her garden became pock-marked rocks that floated in a hazy sea of emerald sky. "Well," Hawke said as she regarded the change in her dream. "So this is what the Fade actually looks like… I find myself no longer doubting how nightmares come to be."

"Sorry." Ketojan scratched his face, and slumped forward. "I… shouldn't have interfered until I was back in practice with this."

"What's done is done," Hawke waved her hands dismissively and sighed. "Now, what's this about dream murder?"

"I happen to know some people who absolutely need to die, and being the type of mage I am -- I have the luxury of just going out into their dreams and dealing with them." Ketojan coughed. "After some… practice, of course."

"...Most people would phrase that in a way that doesn't paint them as a serial murderer in the making." Hawke's brows furrowed as she considered what Ketojan had said. Killing people through the Fade? Could Tevinter do that? Could Bethany? Had Bethany been a secret assassin the whole time? Had Father? Was Merrill a current secret dream assassin? All important questions she had to ask later.

"Since you came to Kirkwall you have killed how many people again?"

Hawke hesitantly nodded her head. "A fair point. So… who needs to die today, and why?"

Ketojan hesitated and then sighed. "Ser Karras, of the Templar Order. He's been known to know young men and boys in the Gallows, and silence his victims with threats of being made tranquil."

"...It worries me that this is something the Qunari just know about random Templars down in the South." Hawke rubbed her temples. "But Maker knows Templars aren't exactly a subtle bunch. Right. Dream murder." Hawke flicked her hand dismissively. "Go on, get to work. Stop by when you're done, maybe I'll have my tea party up and running again by then."

As if he were a soap-bubble, Ketojan popped and was in Hawke's dreams no more.

Hawke was left to stand on a rock in the middle of the Fade, aware of her dreaming but not able to control it. She scratched her head as she tried to think 'tea party' thoughts. "How do mages get this to work? Do I wiggle my fingers and ululate?" So that's exactly what she did. She gesticulated at where her tea party had been and waggled her tongue to try and get back into her dream.

To her immense 'shock' and 'surprise', it didn't work.

--

Merrill

It was all very strange -- they were to have an adventure in the alienage. There was plenty of adventure to be had, but Merrill hadn't ever thought of it being the kind that Hawke would enjoy. Things like chasing off birds from people's gardens, whacking carnivorous plants from eating people's birds, renewing the murals, and other such things. The workload was rather like it had been among her Dalish clan -- only people had to leave the alienage for their jobs and might not have had time to do it.

Since Merrill, differentiated from the city elves by her facial tattoos and mage's staff, had no job other than to help Hawke, she offered what help she could. But for that night, she had to do both! How exciting.

And there was a new friend to meet. One of those Qunari fellows. Hawke had quite a wide range of friends -- it always impressed Merrill.

Varric completed their four-man team for adventure, and the four of them got to chatting as they left the company of the adventure-giver -- was that the right word? Merrill couldn't recall. He'd been a strange dwarf, afraid to fall up into the sky, but still smuggling lyrium to Templars. An odd thing to be scared of, when Varric said the criminal gangs might steal his skin for 'muscling in on their turf'.

She hadn't known there were thieves good enough to steal people's skin.

"Well, Daisy," Varric said as they walked down the Lowtown roads toward the alienage, "I'll warn you if any of them come down this way, alright?"

"Do you know them? Personally, I mean? Do they work in the merchant's guild?" Merrill scratched her head as she imagined it.

"No no, those are bankers. They make you give them your skin -- they're related, but not the same thing."

"There's so much nuance in losing your skin here." Merrill sighed. She perked up quickly, however.

"So how much of what Anso said back there is true?" Hawke asked their new friend as she stopped just before the alienage gate.

The Qunari man grumbled, then spoke for the first time where Merrill could hear. His voice was… rusty. Like he hadn't used it much recently or had been smoking heavily. "None. Anso has been hired by an escaped Tevinter slave -- the people we are going to find in the alienage are Tevinter slavers. We've been hired because there's too many for the escaped slave to fight on his own."

"Slavers? In the alienage?" Merrill asked with an obvious waver of fear in her voice. "They haven't…?"

"I don't know. The house is being watched, so we should ask our client when he reveals himself."

"If anyone's been taken, Daisy, you have my word we'll get them back." Varric offered her one of his legendary charming smiles -- which helped her calm down. "Now, we really ought to clean the alienage up, hmm? The Tevinter trash might affect property values."

Down the stairs they went, around the vhenadahl tree, and into a house Merrill could have sworn belonged to a fisherman. There were no fishermen inside, however, just strange humans in scale armor with helmets that looked like faces. As soon as they entered, there was a fight on their hands.

Varric peppered the men with crossbow bolts, while Hawke carved a man clean in half with her greatsword. Merrill had expected their Qunari friend -- a mage, she'd been told -- to stay back with her and offer support. Instead, she saw a bear occupy the space where their new friend had been, which shortly thereafter charged into the fray alongside Hawke.

"Don't hit the bear, Daisy!" Varric shouted. The dwarf and elf looked on in horror as the beast bit a man's head and tore it off his shoulders. "The new kid's got freaky powers, is all."

That made it all click. "A shapeshifter? Oh, that's wonderful!" Merrill casually gathered stone together and launched in the shape of a fist at an archer in the back of the hovel. She didn't linger on the sickening crunch that followed shortly thereafter. "Those are rare, even among the Dalish!"

The battle didn't last long. There were only about ten slavers altogether, and they hadn't expected to fight as intensely as Hawke's group had. In the end, though everyone was covered in blood, the fight ended without anyone getting hurt.

"Well then," Hawke asked the bear as it became a Qunari again. "Is that all?"

"More wait outside," the Qunari said with absolute confidence. "Already, their reinforcements are being carefully assassinated by our client."

"So we need to make noise and keep their attention on us. And here I am without any noise makers or singing brontos." Hawke spread her arms, showing she indeed had none of those things, and started for the door. "How many of them are there?"

"At least twenty."

"Then I hope you have something a bit bigger than a bear to throw at them -- twenty versus four is not good odds," Varric said as he followed Hawke.

"I do, actually." The Qunari said as he waited for Merrill to go first. "I'll just need some space so I don't accidentally step on you."

Merrill exited the house to find a surprise. There were no more men in the scale armor with face-helmets -- well, alive ones at any rate. More Qunari were outside, big dour and covered in red war paint while they scraped blood off their weapons. At their feet were the butchered slavers -- something Merrill couldn't say she was upset with, though she'd wanted to deal with them.

"More Qunari," Hawke said with a confused tone. "I didn't take you for slavers. Though… in hindsight, the title's apt."

The helmeted and pauldron-wearing commander of the Qunari scowled at Hawke. "You have taken saarebas, and allowed it to spit its poison without restriction. The Qun demands your… your…." A shadow passed over them, and the Qunari all looked up as something reared up behind them.

Merrill was directly below it when she looked up to see what shape their new friend had taken. From what she could see, it was a two-legged creature with leathery skin and feathers. It had a long, thick tail -- and rather looked like a deepstalker but with a short neck that ended in a jaw where the upper teeth stuck out of the lips. She'd never seen such a creature -- was it from the Qunari lands? Was that why they feared it? Or was it because it was almost as big as the vhenadahl tree?

Hawke had glanced up at their friend's new shape as well, but wasn't frozen by it. "The Qun demands… what? That you fight this thing? Throw your lives away? Offer yourselves up to it for taste testing?"

Whatever creature their friend had become, it made a terrifying sound. A sort of deep rumbling chirp that caused Merrill's teeth to clatter in her head, and her bones to move about. It felt so incredibly strange to feel a sound all the way down to her bones -- and the Qunari seemed to agree with her. She saw at least two take a step away from the beast.

The worst part was the sudden burst of fear she felt when she heard it the first time. A voice in her head screamed at her 'you're being hunted, run run run run!' and it took a lot of willpower to remain standing.

"What's the matter? I asked you a question." Hawke seemed so amused by the situation. "You know, I'm not usually the one with the giant monster on my side. Am I doing this wrong? Should I tell him to eat one of you as a warning?" She started to shift a pointing finger to indicate each Qunari in a sequence. "Eeny, meeny, miny… you." She indicated the leader.

The Qunari broke ranks, then. They turned to run, but their shapeshifted friend took one step forward -- which caused an impact tremor -- and caught the leading Qunari in his jaws. The poor man lived long enough to scream in pain as the beast bit down, then swallowed the mangled mess of meat and metal that resulted.

As if the cannibalism he'd just partaken in didn't affect him at all, their Qunari friend changed back to his normal form and wiped a smattering of blood off his lips.

"Ketojan… what was that?" Hawke seemed baffled. "I've never even heard of anything like it."

"It was really pretty, though," Merrill commented. "The feathers looked nice."

"An extinct animal," Ketojan explained. "Tyrannosaurus Rex, which means -- "

"It was big, it had jaws that open wider than I am tall," Varric listed off conversationally, "I don't need to be kept from sleep by knowing what its name means, Shifty."

The Qunari shrugged. "I didn't expect Qunari to be out here. Or for them to be so cowardly."

"I think you're underestimating how terrifying that was. Shifty, we stepped out and you turned into something bigger than the building we were just in." Varric chuckled. "If I had been in their place, I'd have been running long ago."

"Given the legs on that shape, that probably would not have been a good idea." Merrill considered, as she looked at the footprints the 'tyrannosaurus' shape had left in the mud. "Mhm. From its stride -- I'd say it could walk faster than any of us could run."

"Daisy, you remember what I said earlier about not wanting more things to keep me up at night?" Varric's comment cut in, and started a train of apologies from Merrill. "It's okay, just keep it in mind in the future."

"Well… at least it's extinct? Though come to think of it, what could drive something like that extinct? Dragons? Something worse than dragons?"

Varric rubbed his forehead, while Hawke shook her head -- both of which made Merrill think she'd made a mistake somehow.

Thankfully, Ketojan spoke up. "Our client approaches. He will want your help to kill the ringleader of the slavers -- I suspect." The Qunari pointed at the stairs out of the alienage, where a white-haired elf approached. "I will stay behind, and dispose of these bodies while you do so."

"Well, I suppose someone has to clean up these corpses." Hawke nodded, and walked to meet their client as he approached. "Don't eat any of them, though. We don't want you getting fat!"

"Vints are all gristle, anyway," Ketojan muttered as he bent down and started to remove the armor from dead slavers.

Merrill followed Hawke, with Varric alongside her, and wondered if the fisherman who had lived there would mind all the bloodstains on his porch and furniture inside. She'd have to ask him, maybe after she talked to a carpenter about replacing them.

Or maybe Kirkwallers just got used to bloodstains, considering how many people died in the city every day.

---

In case it's not obvious, the SI is Ketojan. This is another fic where the SI's perspective is not focused on, but it's the people around them which get POV sections. The Qunari favoring blood magic for their saarebas thing is a headcanon drawn from how blood magic erodes a mage's connection to the Fade, and how the Qunari don't like the Fade on account of demons.

And yes -- I say Morrigan is at best a novice shapeshifter because Flemeth would not want her to have the skill or power necessary to defy her in any meaningful way. Turning into a block of solid iron before she's slapped would be one such way. Absent purposefully harmful teachers, shapeshifting can be utterly ridiculous. As I hope to show you.

...You're welcome for the mental image of a T-rex fighting with the Bone Pit dragon, by the way.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: The First Steps

---

Fenris

He had not expected to see Qunari outside their compound, or for them to have intervened in the conflict between him and the minions of his former master. The white-haired elf with black and pointy fashion choices stepped down into the Kirkwall alienage as the people he had hired as a diversion drove the Qunari to flee. He had literally never seen Qunari retreat without a fight before.

Then he happened to see why. A human with a two-handed sword, a Dalish elf mage, and a dwarf with a crossbow -- all perfectly normal enemies for Qunari to have faced. But behind them was the comparatively massive figure of a saarebas. One who had lost his collar, his mask, and unsewn his mouth. The most terrifying thing for a Qunari to face -- one of their mages who had left the Qun.

Whoever commanded him now had to have enormous strength of personality to keep the beast from pursuing his former captors. He just hoped it wasn’t the mage.

Fenris walked over the corpses of the minions of his former master and approached the human, elf, and dwarf as they in turn approached him.

“Well met,” he said and bowed at the waist. “Not many warriors can claim they sent the Qunari running.”

“It wasn’t easy mind you,” the human woman said with an amused smile. “I had to pick which one to kill in a horrifyingly brutal fashion as an example to the others.”

Fenris found that idea tough to swallow. He flicked his arm as he talked, in the general direction of the north and west. “I’ve fought on Seheron, where I saw Tevinter unleash horrors which they made specifically the draw that effect from Qunari -- and it never worked. How did you manage it?”

“Did you happen to feel a rumble that shook your very bones a minute or so ago?” The dwarf spoke up and shuddered. “That.”

“...I did feel that. And it did wake some primal desire to flee in me, but it didn’t last long.” Fenris shrugged. “I am used to the feeling of being hunted. Was it truly that terrifying?”

“For those of us not used to the feeling of being hunted, it’s a miracle we all avoided browning our pants.” The dwarf rubbed his forehead. “Though jury’s out on if the Qunari managed it.”

“You’re our client, aren’t you?” The human got Fenris’ attention. “I’m Hawke -- Varric, Merrill, and Ketojan.” She indicated herself, the dwarf, elf, and the saarebas respectively.

“Fenris,” the white-haired elf introduced himself.

The beast had crouched down by the slavers, and begun to strip them of arms, armor, and clothes. He absent-mindedly waved in their direction.

“I trust our violence has met your high expectations?” Hawke’s smile was infectious, it had to be fought against like a muscle contraction.

“Surpassed them, in fact.” Fenris held his chin between his forefinger and his thumb. “I had expected you to take longer to deal with the ones in the house. I only just got done killing off their reinforcements.”

“Um. Question,” the elf woman said with a nervous tone. “These slavers… they didn’t take anyone, did they?”

“No. They tried to take the owner of the house, but the man escaped when they got to the docks.” Fenris smiled slightly to himself. “As soon as they took their eyes off him, he jumped into the water. They seemed to have forgotten that elves in the South know how to swim.” He glanced at the human woman -- Hawke. “If I may ask… what was in the house?”

“I’m sorry -- was there something valuable in there?” Hawke shook her head. “We didn’t stay to loot -- Ketojan told us about the forces gathering outside, we came out expecting a fight.”

“I see. I’ll be right back, then.” Fenris walked past the group toward the house and passed by the saarebas.

“There is nothing within,” the saarebas, Ketojan, mumbled as he pulled the boots free from a Tevene soldier’s feet. “But I found this in one of their pockets.” The beast’s dagger-nailed fingers offered a folded piece of paper.

Fenris scowled, took the scrap, and went inside anyway. Saarebas were mages, and could lie just as easily. Worse, they were untrained in the limited ways that Circle mages were, on how to avoid possession by demons. Fenris opened the paper only when he was inside the building, and cursed. It was handwritten instructions on his capture -- by his former master, Magister Danarius.

The Magisters of the Tevinter Imperium ruled their nation, the only nation in Thedas where the Circle of Magi was merely a formality. There, free of all sense, they had slavery and demons bound to their service with blood magic. Danarius was one such Magister, and only noteworthy for his fascination with the elven empire Tevinter had destroyed to gain their slaves.

Danarius was in Kirkwall, at an estate in Hightown. And if Fenris could secure help, it would be where the Magister met his end. A quick search confirmed the saarebas to be correct, surprising, and afterward he quickly returned to the group outside.

They seemed more than willing to help him arrange his ‘meeting’ with Danarius, so off they went. Fenris arched his brow at leaving the saarebas behind, so close to the Qunari compound. Surrounded by dead soldiers and spilled blood.

Something was going to happen, he could just tell. When it did, he would be prepared.

--

Merrill

The mansion in Hightown Fenris led them to was quite odd. The feel of the Veil which kept the dream world, the Fade, away from the real world felt like cheesecloth rather than a wall. She could feel whisps, bits of Fade energy too small to become Spirits or Demons flutter through the air unseen. Even battlefields didn’t feel as the manor did.

Merrill began to understand why when they saw dozens -- actual dozens -- of shades and undead. A shade was a Demon or Spirit called into the world where it spent itself to create a body -- a legless slug-like form with clawed hands, a single eye, and rags for clothes. The undead were similar -- a Spirit or Demon which had been forced to possess a corpse. The act of summoning such a host would severely damage the Veil.

“I don’t understand,” she said as they strode once-fine halls and cleared out what had once been lavish rooms. “If this man had sent his soldiers and these spirits at the same time, you would have been overwhelmed.” So would they have been. Feather Rex or no.

“Danarius is cunning -- that does not make him intelligent,” their new friend Fenris growled. He was like Hawke -- fond of two-handed weapons. The white vallaslin-like markings on his body appeared to grant him some strange mage-like powers. He could control the Fade to a degree, and partially exist within it. “He was too consumed with the desire for more as most mages are, he never gave thought to utilize what he already had.”

“To be honest that just seems like a human thing,” Varric added as he cleaned the blood off his repeating crossbow, Bianca.

“Perhaps.”

“As the only human here,” Hawke said shortly before she kicked down a door to a room with massive barrels along the walls, “I can confirm that my greed is boundless. My coin purse whispers to me of its hunger, and I simply must satiate it.”

“...Maybe we should get you a new coin purse?” Merrill offered as she spun her staff, to be ready when the bound Spirits appeared. “I could make you one, and it won’t whisper a word. I promise.”

“But then, the talking coin purse curse would pass onto someone else.” Hawke readied her sword, as the corpses in the room rose up unnaturally.

They fought their way through the mansion, emptied the rooms of their guards, and eventually ended up in the master bedroom. There was something profoundly wrong with the room. The fire was still roaring, the Veil felt like a fishing net -- even worse than the cheesecloth from earlier. How much blood had been spilled in that one room, Merrill wondered, that the death and torment rent the Fade thus?

She didn’t want to linger in that place. Lest a Demon get foolish notions on her.

So lost in her musings on the Fade had she been, that she only noticed Fenris and Hawke had left when Varric pulled on her hand.

“Come on Daisy, this place gives me the creeps.” The dwarf led her out of that house, and away from the tear in the Veil waiting to happen. “And from the way you’re looking at everything, I’d say it’s doing the same to you.”

“I… yes. I very much don’t like this house.” Merrill held her free hand to her chest like she was cold and needed to warm it. “I may need ice cream to help forget this.”

“Well -- I happen to know a place that has a wide variety of fruit flavors to choose from. Let’s swing by after Hawke’s done for the night.”

“Do you suppose they have blackberry flavor?”

--

Aveline

Given that she wasn’t with Hawke, Aveline was free to go on her regular patrols. The Guard was short-handed, they needed every able-bodied guardsman out in the city to keep order and uphold the law. So naturally, she was contacted when a pig farmer in Lowtown had called for the local guard when a Qunari approached him about feeding twenty-eight human corpses to his pigs.

Because even when she wasn’t with Hawke, she had to deal with Hawke’s mess.

So, she was called off her dockside patrol and had to return to the Viscount’s Keep to talk to their new Qunari friend. Barely a day of freedom, and he’d already run afoul of the law, somehow.

While she followed the arresting guardsman down through the Keep to the cells, Aveline wondered why no one had reported a slaughter of twenty-eight people to go along with the corpses he’d tried to pawn off on the poor pig farmer. Soon enough, she arrived at the hall of cells where the night’s arrests were kept. The jailor for the night was not one to waste space, so Ketojan had been placed into a cell alongside drunks and burglars to get the cell to occupancy. When Aveline arrived with the guardsman, she saw Ketojan sitting on one of the benches in the cell, with everyone else cowering in the corner opposite him.

“Captain, the… um, alleged murderer,” the arresting guard gestured to Ketojan and backed away. He was clearly afraid of Ketojan -- enough to show weakness in front of the criminals. “He came quietly. Offered no resistance, we didn’t even need to shackle him.”

“Shackling people under arrest is not optional,” Aveline snapped at him, and glared directly into his eyes. “Keep that in mind for the future.” She turned her eyes on Ketojan, who leaned back into the bars with an expression like he was half-asleep. “Ketojan -- why were you trying to get rid of all those bodies?”

“Because a mass pyre would be too unsafe in the city limits,” Ketojan replied, totally relaxed. “If it helps you feel any better, Hawke helped kill eight of them.”

Aveline wanted to slap him -- he was under arrest for mass murder, and he was being blithe about it. “Alright. I can get those eight dealt with. And the other twenty?”

“A squad of Qunari killed them, and threatened violence on Hawke, Merril, Varric, and I.”

Both Aveline and the guardsman were perplexed by the explanation. They exchanged confused looks and raised eyebrows before they focused on Ketojan again. “Why would the Qunari do that?”

“Because they were the personal soldiers of a Tevinter Magister who snuck into Kirkwall to acquire slaves. Hawke’s off trying to kill him now, if I remember right.” The Qunari shrugged his shoulders and produced a sickening crack from his joints in so doing.

“...Wonderful. Maker’s mercy,” Aveline rubbed her temples. “The Viscount will just love to hear that. Foreign powers killing each other on Kirkwall streets -- how did they even get here?” She glared at the Qunari. “Well? You’ve been listening to Qunari intelligence, haven’t you? How did they get here?”

“By ship.” Ketojan turned his head and glared right back at her. Black sclera and gold eyes with just a hint of shine in the dark cells -- it might have been intimidating for lesser people. “Which means they passed right by the Qunari compound. And that Kirkwall’s port authority let them in.”

From the docks to the alienage… the fastest route would lead them past the compound. While the other main road out of the docks would take them up to Hightown. The Tevenes likely taunted the Qunari as they passed, or something stupid.

The Qunari compound was a section of the docks set aside as refugee space. A Qunari dreadnought had foundered off Kirkwall’s shores, and they needed a place to stay -- the Viscount gave them the compound to live in until a second ship came to collect them. No one with sense bothered them more than necessary. But it seemed sense had become a rare commodity.

“Guardsman,” Aveline said with a tone that brokered no backtalk. “Draft a warrant for the arrest of the port authority. The entire port authority. Slavers got into this city without so much as a ‘by-your-leave’ and I will find out who signed off on it.” When he had gone, Aveline took her Captain’s set of keys and unlocked the cell. “In the future, please remember that most of Lowtown is stone, so it doesn’t burn easily. A pyre is better than to be eaten by pigs.”

Ketojan stood, yet had to crouch to leave the cell. “Good to know.” Once out the cell, he could stand tall again, and loomed over the Guard Captain. “Unless you have an issue with it -- I need to attend to personal business.”

Aveline stepped in his path and looked up at him with fire in her eyes. “Such as?”

“Selling all the looted gear I recovered from those Vints.” Ketojan looked back at her with an arched brow. “After I clean it, of course. The boots were of surprisingly good quality -- they have a type of spongy material on the insole which makes them more comfortable to wear.”

“Oh. Well… fine. I’ll tell the guards to consult you if they need new boots.” She hesitantly stood aside. “Though I wish you luck trying to find buyers for twenty-eight sets of Tevinter smallclothes.”

“Sixty-one.” Ketojan looked over his shoulder as he walked down the hall to leave. “I visited multiple pig farms tonight. Only one thought to contact the guard.”

Aveline would have been concerned with the glib tone Ketojan had about disposing of bodies thus, except she had to suppress a sudden chuckle as the Qunari hit the doorframe because he had his gaze over his shoulder at the time.

The occupants of Ketojan’s cell hadn’t moved, and remained huddled together even after Aveline locked the door again.

--
Isabela

Tevinter knives weren’t to be sneezed at. She’d almost cut herself just examining the blade of one set of twinned sickles. It had been a mistake to assume that the point had been neglected because the weapons were meant to slash. Isabela moved to examining the grip of the weapons while others around her perused the new wares on sale.

Lirene’s Fereldan Imports was a dingy Lowtown shop, but unique in that it was one of the few shops to be in a building and owned by a Fereldan. Across the Waking Sea to the south, the nation of dog-lovers had recently been the victim of the latest Blight, which had displaced thousands. Many had come to Kirkwall, and hoped to find a way to keep on living. But farmers in an urban port city rarely had opportunities. Lirene, the shop owner, had used her wealth to set up a business that would donate its profits to other Fereldans in need.

Isabela offered no moral judgment on the Fereldans, but she had jumped when she’d heard they’d acquired a bunch of Tevene stuff. She had to see what bootleg shite they’d acquired. But to her surprise, it was all genuine Tevene merchandise. Whole suits of armor, complete outfits -- even smallclothes!

The shop did a brisk business, with both Fereldan refugees and locals coming by to purchase the Tevene goods. More than one city guard had come in specifically for the boots! Isabela resolved to buy the sickles and walked outside with them holstered on her back. The imports store wasn’t far from the Hanged Man, so she expected to get there quickly.

On the way, she overheard some gossip -- specifically about a possible sickness in the Gallows. Templars the past two nights had been found dead in their beds with blood leaking from their eyes, ears, and mouth. Magic was suspected, but the gossipers believed a disease had been brought in from Starkhaven when their mages arrived.

Isabela made a note to regularly visit Anders’ clinic so that any die-in-your-sleep disease got cured before it made good on its promises.

She arrived at the Hanged Man and signaled the barkeeper for her usual lunch. To her surprise, she saw Merrill and the new guy, Ketojan, at one of the tables. When the barkeeper slid Isabela her plate and drink, she took them over to their table to eat with them. Again with the surprises, they weren’t eating at all. Ketojan had an open book of blank paper, and a bottle of ink next to him, while Merrill looked down at the book with clear excitement. The Qunari dipped the pointed dagger nail of his pointer finger into the ink, and carefully scratched at the pages like he was using a quill pen.

Isabela took a bite of honey-butter scone as she watched a foreign script written down on the pages of the book, which Merrill seemed so excited about.

As soon as he was done, he pushed the book toward Merrill who read it out loud. It only took a second to realize she was reading elvish, not common. However, some words seemed to confuse her, and she had to sound them out.

Ketojan spoke to Merrill in the same language, still rumbly and deep -- but unmistakably the same words.

“Am I intruding on the Qunari-Dalish meeting or something?” Isabela asked, and then chuckled when Merrill jumped in surprise. “What -- did you miss me on my way over here, Kitten?”

“Ah, Isabela!” The Dalish elf said and righted herself. She’d jumped so much she almost fell over. “Ketojan was just… sharing some bits of the Elven language that the Qunari found on Seheron.” She got over her shock real quick. “There apparently used to be an entirely separate nation of elves there, different from Arlathan!”

“Can’t imagine that they put up much of a fight against Tevinter, then.” Isabela sighed. It hurt to see Merrill so excited about scraps of her people’s history and to know most of it was gone forever. That had been the first she’d heard of there being nations of elves, with the plural. Everything she’d heard had painted Arlathan as a monolithic nation that was smashed by Tevinter at least a thousand years ago.

“What we could find about the nation on Seheron, known among the ancient elves as ‘the Claim’,” Ketojan said with a hesitant tone, like there was bad news tangled up in the information, “was destroyed in the fighting between the Qun and Tevinter. It… now only exists in memory, and in documents on Par Vollen.”

Isabela glanced at Merrill long enough to note her expression of quiet sadness, then took a draft of her drink. “So… these new words you’re learning.” She put on a smirk and waggled her eyebrows at the Dalish elf. “Any of them dirty?”

Merrill’s cheeks and ears turned red as she averted her eyes. “Well… yes, actually.” She cleared her throat and glanced down at the page Ketojan had written for her. “The Claim was a much… looser place than Arlathan, it seems. You’d have liked it, Isabela.” She glanced at Ketojan, excited. “She would, wouldn’t she?”

“I would describe it as… a place where modern Antivan, Rivaini, and Tevene people would feel at home.” Ketojan shrugged. “The Claim’s main religious movement centered on the worship of sex, intoxication, and music.”

“Definitely seems my kind of place,” Isabela confirmed with a delighted expression aimed right at Merrill. It almost became genuine when she saw how chipper Merrill became afterward. “Now come on, share some of these dirty elven words you’ve found out….”

---

Hawke and company are really stimulating the economy by killing all these stupid people and selling their things, aren't they? Next they'll just need to steal those giant statues of Andraste from the chantry to melt them down, and the spending power of Kirkwall will explode!

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Speak

---

Bethany

“So, sister,” Hawke asked Bethany as they left Gamlen’s house for their day of scrounging and adventuring. “Dear, sweet, precious sister of mine….”

“What did you do?” Bethany asked with narrowed eyes. “Did you try to pass as me by putting on a wig again?” Bethany was both shorter, and scrawnier than Marian so she didn’t understand why she had thought a wig would be enough to fool people in Lothering.

“No, it’s just....” Hawke stopped at the stairs down to the street and rubbed her forehead. “You’d… tell me if you were murdering people in your dreams, right?”

“...Sister, sometimes people are very angry when they’re dreaming -- a bit of catharsis never hurt anyone.” Bethany was worried for a moment. Had she been talking in her sleep, and Marian overheard? She hadn’t recalled the ‘push Templars into a giant meat grinder’ dream happening lately. “What brought this on?”

“Well….” Hawke scratched the back of her neck, clearly the topic was awkward for her to bring up. “I was having the ‘this is all your fault’ dream again, when Ketojan appeared and -- “

“Sister, I don’t see how your lewd dreams have to do with murder.” Bethany covered her face, as blood flushed her cheeks and ears.

“Clearly you’ve never read an Orlesian or Antivan romance novel. I’ll have to get you one.” Hawke smirked. “But he didn’t show up in that way. He showed up and messed with the dream -- made it so I could see the Fade as it really is.” Hawke briefly described the hazy green atmosphere, the pock-marked rocks that floated in the air, and the distant Black City to convince Bethany of her claim. “And… he said he was on his way to dream-kill a Templar who deserved it. Per the rumor mill, that Templar was one of the ones to die in his sleep.”

“...Hold a moment.” Bethany closed her eyes and tapped her finger to her temple. Had Father mentioned anything about this. “Mages traveling to other people’s dreams is already difficult enough. But… typically if you kill someone in a dream, they just wake up. I.. don’t know a type of magic which could do that.”

“Hmm. I’ll ask Anders and Merrill. Maybe they know something… or we could ask Ketojan?”

“Going to the source seems the best route.” Bethany nodded. “And if you’re right, and the Qunari only teach their mages blood magic… Merrill, Anders, and I should start teaching him proper magic.” She shrugged. “Unless you want him to shapeshift for all his problems?”

“You say that like the ability to turn into, say, Mother in the middle of a battlefield wouldn’t buy you at least a second to punch someone.” Hawke cleared her throat and mimed Mother’s usual sad puppy face. “‘You wouldn’t hurt a poor old woman, would you?’” The sisters enjoyed a quick chuckle -- Marian was terrible at mimicking voices, which made the whole thing more pleasant. “The element of surprise is not a one-trick-pony.”

“Granted.” Bethany nodded. “But having more tricks to use with the element of surprise would help, no?” She smiled when her sister validated her point a moment later. “So, that’s where we’re headed for the day? Talk to Ketojan?” She arched her brow. “Where does he even live?”

“...An excellent point, super-smart sister of mine.” Hawke pinched the bridge of her nose. “I forgot to ask Varric about that. First stop, then Hanged Man, then off to Ketojan.” And off they went! A quick dip into the tavern, and they had a dwarven companion to tell them where to go.

“We set him up with Broody,” Varric explained as they ascended the stairs to Hightown. “There was plenty of space up in that abandoned house. Shifty said that being in that place would help him rebuild his connection to the Fade, whatever that means.” Varric shrugged as he shuffled up the many flights of stairs.

Kirkwall was basically three towns stacked on top of each other. Hightown, where the nobility lived and where the best shops were located, along with the Chantry where people would worship Andraste and the Maker, along with the Viscount’s Keep. Lowtown, where the non-nobility with some coin lived, worked, and did business -- also where most foreign merchants hawked their wares. Lowtown was closest to the water, and had all the port access. Below both of them was Darktown -- the underground areas where, in Kirkwall’s history, the slaves would be kept. In the modern era, it was where the destitute and infirm found themselves.

Bethany found it so profoundly disturbing that, despite all the hardship they’d been through since they left Fereldan, they were lucky to have a place in Lowtown.

“Broody?” Hawke arched her brow at Varric as they walked. “Really? Out of everything about him, you picked Broody?”

“It neatly ties all his personality traits together.” Varric chuckled. “Why? What would you call him?”

“Ghost,” Hawke paused and thrust her hand forward with a slight twist. Was it perhaps something their new elf friend did? “For how he can go through objects.”

“Ghost’s taken already. A really damn good Carta assassin I knew a couple years back.” Varric shook his head. “Lost in the Deep Roads -- all the acrobatics in the world won’t help if the bridge you’re walking on collapses.”

“I’m sorry you lost your friend, Varric,” Bethany offered and tapped him on the shoulder. “Hopefully I’ll know a way to keep that from happening to us too.”

“Oh? You got something to help us defy gravity, Sunshine?”

“Anders told me about something to that effect, yes. But it’s not ready yet.” Bethany smiled as Varric cast an interested gaze up at her. “Hopefully it’ll be ready by the time of the expedition.”

“Hey, if we can all float down there -- that would be a fine way to avoid the darkspawn.”

--

Fenris

He supposed, if they were to have a dangerously untrained mage on the prowl, it would be best to have him in the house of someone who was actively suspicious. Fenris kept his eyes on the saarebas, Ketojan, as the Qunari labored in the house. He would do… menial things. Sweep, dust, and most recently begin to retile certain rooms. Fenris didn’t understand it, as it was unlike a Qunari.

“Did your karataam use you for servant’s work, saarebas?” Fenris asked in Qunlat as he leaned on the doorway into what had been the ground floor study. Ketojan was on the other side of the room, with a stack of tiles on a wheeled wagon while he crouched down to set them properly.

“No,” the saarebas grunted. He was exacting in his details with the tiles -- they had to fit perfectly or he would remove them until they were arranged such that he could proceed.

“Then why are you doing this? It is outside your role.” Fenris frowned. “Or do you think debasing yourself will make me less suspicious of you?”

“I cannot make you less suspicious of me. The Qun has taught me blood magic, and nothing else. That will always color your perception of me.” Ketojan spoke, and continued to tile. “But there is work that needs doing, and I know you won’t do it.”

A scowl twisted Fenris’ face, though he knew the saarebas to be right on both counts. “How are you able to change your shape, then? Is that blood magic?”

“It can be done with blood magic, if the mage knows how.” The saarebas scooted over as he finished a row of tiles. “But no. It is the one piece of me that I could keep, which no blood magic or Ben-Hassrath could steal.”

Fenris arched his eyebrow at Ketojan’s back. The Ben-Hassrath were the secret police of the Qun, they enforced loyalty and dealt with espionage beyond their borders. What would they have to do with some random saarebas? “There is always qamek.” A poison the Qun used to turn those unwilling to submit, and captured mages, into mindless slaves.

“They tried. But they barely know how the qamek works -- and it failed.”

“I have never heard of the qamek failing. But if it did… why not simply kill you?” Fenris knew the reason the moment he spoke the words, but Ketojan spoke Fenris’ thoughts perfectly.

“Because the Qunari do not waste what could still be of use.” Ketojan continued to work, with no sign that he felt pain from having been bent over for so long. “Your Qunlat sounds like the Seheron accent.”

“I fought there for a while.” Fenris stepped away from the wall, and approached the saarebas. The room was lit by a fireplace that never seemed to go out -- and provided precious little heat. The same as all the rooms where a fireplace was present -- winter would not be enjoyable. “Did you?”

“I was born on Seheron.” The Qunari took no action as Fenris crouched down next to him, on the tiles he’d just laid. “I suppose I fought, as well. Though it barely counts as ‘fighting’ as I look back on it. Mostly, we fought against the Qunari and Fog Warriors.”

“Not Tevinter?” Fenris’ eyes narrowed.

“Not Tevinter. They never moved far enough north.” Ketojan shook his head, and kept tiling.

“North… you were a Tal-Vasoth?” The word was a reference to those who had left the Qun. Technically, Fenris supposed it applied once more. Seheron’s northern half was out of the Qun and Imperium’s control, firmly in the hands of deserters from both sides and the island’s native inhabitants.

“No. Vasoth, for I was born to Tal-Vasoth parents. Who were then killed for their decision to leave the Qun.” He carefully lined up a tile, and dropped it into place to complete another row. “I suppose you can figure the story out from there. Qamek, which didn’t work, then a collar to be restricted as normal saarebas are.”

Fenris was about to continue their discussion when both he and Ketojan turned their heads as the front door opened in the distant foyer. Together they stood up and left the study to greet their new guests. Either genuinely, or as justification for violence -- they would decide when they arrived.

Alas, no murder was to result. They greeted Hawke, Varric, and Hawke’s mage sister Bethany as they arrived in the main hall.

The dwarf’s eyebrows shot up as he looked around the area. “Shit, Broody, you've been cleaning up? I’m seeing a lot less dirt and bloodstains than there were when we were last here.”

“Not me,” Fenris replied and flicked his hand dismissively at the Tal-Vasoth mage at his flank. “This one has been doing manual labor to pass the time.”

“Glad to see you have someone who is at least interested in keeping house, then,” Hawke commented. “What would happen if a comte came for tea and they beheld dust? With their naked eyes? They might die of shock.”

“Lady Hawke,” Ketojan said and bowed his head toward Bethany. “It is good to meet you.”

“Oh, she's Lady Hawke is she?” Hawke arched her brow. “What does that make me?”

“That largely depends on your ambitions. Play your cards right, and it could be Viscountess.”

“Hmm. That does play into my insatiable greed.” Hawke nodded, appeased. “You may live another day, Ketojan.”

“What brings you here? Are we required for a task?” Fenris asked, as amusing as the banter was -- he didn't want it to be the only reason for the visit.

“Well yes -- Bethany and I wanted to speak to Ketojan. Set up a learning program to teach him conventional magic, lest he draw Templars to us.” Hawke shifted on her feet, slightly awkward. “And also inquire into the murder of some Templars recently.”

“They died painlessly, and I have only targeted those who abuse their power over mages.” Ketojan crossed his arms, defiant.

Fenris frowned, and whirled on him with an accusing tone. “You’ve been killing Templars?” Of course the mage would seek to lessen the number of people who were meant to watch for abuses of magic.

“I’ve been killing rapists who use the Order as a shield for their depravity, who are known to the Qun and have been marked as potential turncoats.” Ketojan remained defiant and met Fenris’ glare with his own. “Just as they did when they first invaded Seheron, Rivain, and Antiva.”

“But you did kill them? Through the Fade?” Bethany diverted the conversation as Fenris’ metaphoric hackles rose. “Could you tell me how? And… explain how being here will help with your connection to the Fade?”

Ketojan nodded, and turned to gesture the way he and Fenris had come. “Let us speak, while they go on an adventure.”

“We are not done discussing this, mage,” Fenris promised with a growl.

“I’ll be ready when you are, Vint.” The two mages walked away from the group, and left an air of awkwardness in their wake.

“Right. Now I think we should go grab Anders since Bethany’s busy.” Hawke rubbed her forehead, clearly stressed. “We’ve got a long day of killing stupid people to do.”

--

Anders

Anders got the feeling he had been asked to fill in after a fight. There was tension in the air as Hawke, the new guy in the crew -- an escaped elven slave from Tevinter with lyrium in his skin -- and Varric showed up at the clinic.

“Brace yourself, Blondie,” Varric had muttered when Anders locked the doors so they could go on their adventure. “It’s going to be one of those days….”

They’d barely left Darktown before Fenris started to talk to Hawke with a clearly exasperated tone. “You can’t seriously be alright with that mage killing Templars.”

Anders’ eyebrows shot up. He glanced at Varric, who had his hand over his face, and waited to see who the elf was accusing.

“I seriously am not alright with Templars knowing young children and unwilling mages under threat of tranquility,” Hawke responded. “There’s no magistrate in the Andrastian world who would give a sentence to a Templar, so justice has to be done somehow.”

Justice coiled under Ander’s skin, the spirit possessing him was quite pleased by the small act of justice visited on the Templars.

“And how do you know Ketojan didn’t lie about such things? Mages will always lie to get what they want, and the fewer Templars there are to deal with them the more dangerous they become.”

“So having more Templars is worth a few children and mages getting violated regularly?” Anders could no longer keep his mouth shut as they walked through Lowtown back toward the Hightown staircases.

If that was true… no. They would have to be dealt with.” Fenris glowered over his shoulder at Anders. “The point I’m trying to make is that not enough is being done to verify these claims. Did Aveline even investigate them?”

“Um, Broody… the city guard can’t investigate them.” Varric shrugged. “The Templars can only be investigated by the Chantry’s secret police, who can only be called in by the Grand Cleric or sent in by the Divine. And that’s literally never happened since Kirkwall got free of Tevinter.”

“Over nine hundred years, and not a single abuse of power? Not even one instance of a Grand Cleric looking to punish their Templars for an offense?” Hawke shrugged as she led the way up to the Hightown markets. “Either they’re on their absolute best behavior in front of Her Grace, or someone somewhere isn’t doing their job. Possibly both.”

“...In Tevinter, the Templars only exist to punish the weak and out of favor mages. They don’t take lyrium, so they lack the magic negating powers your Southern templars have.” Fenris admitted with a subdued tone. “I suppose… I have let my experiences with the Tevinter Templars color my expectations. They are not as powerless here as I imagined.”

“I will admit, I didn’t investigate Ketojan’s claims enough. But that’s because I’ve seen too many cases where Templars come to the families of mages to rough them up for their child’s behavior at the Circle, among other things.” Hawke shrugged. “All of this talk is quite ironic, considering we’re going to do some work for the Chantry today.”

“Oh, Chanter’s Board jobs? You’re that desperate already?” Varric arched his brow and smirked at Hawke’s back.

“As it turns out -- finding work in a city this big is not as easy as it looks, and the Chantry really wants some bandits out on the Wounded Coast killed.” She threw her hands up. “Hopefully it’s a straightforward job of ‘do good thing, kill bad men, get delicious money’.”

“Now that you’ve said it out loud, it’ll be anything but simple,” Anders said with a smile of his own.

--

Bethany

“So blood magic… weakens the connection to the Fade?” Bethany asked after Ketojan had finished his explanation. “Why do Tevinter magisters still have such strong magic, then?” They were in a study room where Ketojan had been re-tiling the floor. Bethany helped by moving his cart for him every so often so he could keep it up.

“The Vints spend some of their power insulating themselves.” Ketojan shifted a bit, a new row was to be started. “The Qun actively discouraged such, and refused to teach us.” He extended one clawed hand and drew a circle in the air. Mana the color of purple-red trailed behind his finger and crumble to nothing when the circle was completed. “Shapeshifting is the only thing with regular mana I have a strong enough connection to still do.”

“And this place… will help?”

“The Veil is weak here. It will help me rebuild what blood magic has eroded.” Ketojan looked at her with a calculating look. “I suppose… I could cheat and ask Anders to channel Justice through me as if he were reversing tranquility.”

“Wait -- what?” Bethany sat up straighter and frowned. “Reversing… what? Tranquility can be reversed?!” She’d meant to segue the conversation to the dream killing Marian had mentioned, but Ketojan had a way of taking the conversation on wild turns.

Ketojan frowned as well. “Oh… you didn’t know?”

“No! No, I didn’t know!” Bethany stood and paced around. Was it a lie? It had to be a lie. Tranquility couldn’t be reversed -- that’s why the Chantry was supposed to use it as a last resort. A brand of lyrium, applied to the forehead, would break a mage’s mind, turn them into an emotionless thing that did what it was told, and never dreamed, never did magic, never showed an ounce of willpower. “Anders killed his lover because he didn’t know! Karl was tranquil -- he begged to die rather than stay like that! If… if this is some sick Qunari joke -- !” Bethany pointed at Ketojan with fury and pain in her eyes. She didn’t want to hope it was true. She wished she could be cynical enough to brush it off as an obvious lie, but if it was true... so much pain could be undone.

Ketojan didn’t seem rankled by her anger or her implicit threat. He stood up and reached out to her. “Head and heart,” he said as he placed his left thumb on her forehead, and his right above her sternum. “The beckoner of the Spirit… or the possessor, in Anders’ case -- they send the Spirit in through the head.” He pressed down a bit on her forehead, then removed his hand. “Down through the body, out through the heart, back into the beckoner. And the process repeats until there is no resistance anymore.” His other hand was removed then as well. “The circle becomes unbroken, and tranquility is undone.”

“But… Spirits can’t possess tranquil.” She wanted to believe it was something as simple as that. But what she’d known about tranquility, and Spirits wouldn’t be silent.

“Ask Anders to ask Justice if that is true. Verifying the information won’t harm anyone.” Ketojan crouched down to resume his tiling. “Your Chantry teaches you wrongly on the nature of Spirits -- but Justice is strong enough to restore enough tranquil to prove me right, I imagine.”

“And how did you learn this? You said the Qunari don’t trust magic drawn from the Fade.”

“About Spirits? From talking to them. About tranquility? By talking to Spirits -- specifically Faith, Compassion, Love, and Hope.”

“Is that related to your… dream murder thing? It lets you just… find Spirits and ask them questions?” Bethany found herself calm again as she processed that. The Chantry told her that Spirits of those types were righteous and good -- to be trusted. Demons weren’t able to easily impersonate them, on account of their twisting by the Maker.

“Yes. I could introduce you to some, if you’d like?” Ketojan looked up from his work to meet Bethany’s eyes and smiled when she sat down to help him tile.

“Maybe… maybe after I talk with Merrill and Anders about it. I mean -- what girl my age doesn’t want to meet a capital L Love Spirit?” She charged her hands with blue mana and levitated the tiles on the cart so that they would find their place on the floor around her and Ketojan. “Now -- we should start on teaching you how to use mana again. I’m going to move these about, overcharged with mana, and you try to feel what I’m doing to copy it….”

---

Chantry ideologies teach Andrastians to implicitly trust Spirits and implicitly distrust Demons. That makes these kinds of appeals more effective than they would be against, say, Dalish mages who are taught that all denizens of the Fade are equally dangerous.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: Questions

---

Hawke

As they left the Chantry’s courtyard, Hawke turned and pointed back the way they’d come. “That wasn’t normal, correct?” She looked at her companions for confirmation. “Hot-blooded young men shooting arrows in the general direction of the Grand Cleric is not… normally done, yes?”

“Well, this is Kirkwall….” Anders said with a shrug and averted gaze.

“At least he only shot the paper out of her hand,” Fenris commented, similarly apathetic.

“Though that was a pretty good line he used, wasn’t it?” Varric’s turn to respond was, naturally, of literary intent. He struck a pose like holding a bow and spoke with a fake Starkhaven accent. “'No, what hap’nd ta my fam-i-ly was murder!'”

“His accent wasn’t that thick,” Hawke said to the dwarf. “And he… did say ‘family’ rather oddly, didn’t he?”

“Eh, but I’ll make it thicker if I write him into something. Maybe add some phonetic spelling.” Varric smirked, and returned to his neutral posture. “So! We have mercenaries to kill, yeah?”

“Though, hey!” Anders cut in with a big smile. “Your wish came true!” He gestured toward the stairs they had come up. “‘Kill bad men, do good thing, get money’.”

“Hurrah for me, and my powers of wishing for sensible things. Hopefully the next time I wish for breeches which aren’t itchy the first five times you wear them, it’ll come true.” Hawke shuddered. “Though something tells me this will be a drop in the bucket toward those fifty sovereigns for Bartrand.”

“There are worse ways to earn money than killing people who need to die,” Fenris softly observed. “You could be doing the dance of ten scarves on the street corner, for instance.”

“Oh please, I would never do a scarf dance. I’d make it a condition of a hand of Wicked Grace and absolutely trounce Anders into doing it.”

“I’m not that bad at gambling,” Anders defended himself with a pinched brow.

“Uh… yeah, Blondie, you are.” Varric, tactfully, added. “For someone who loves to play, you have tells the size of those Chantry statues.”

“Speaking of, who’s all down for Wicked Grace later tonight?” Hawke asked as she led them toward the route out of Hightown and toward the Wounded Coast, where they would do their killing.

“I’m… I almost fell for that, Hawke,” Anders had started with a chipper tone, but it shifted to suspicious as his brain woke up.

“Curses, foiled again.”

--

Aveline

“...the entire port authority -- you have been Guard Captain for two weeks, at best, and you pull a stunt like this?!” Seneschal Bran, the Viscount’s assistant and day-to-day de facto ruler of Kirkwall, had naturally found his way into Aveline’s office after she’d rounded up her new suspects. A redhead like her, he was more carefully groomed and dressed to appeal to the nobles of the city -- it was to him they made their complaints, after all. “All trade at the ports is halted because of this -- release them immediately!”

“No,” Aveline said without raising her voice or looking away.

Her refusal shocked Bran visibly, he recoiled at the simple response. “No? No?!”

“Sixty-one Tevinter slavers and a Magister snuck into Kirkwall at an unknown time, and we only found out about it when they were slaughtered by the Qunari. Their ship left this morning, before my men could arrive and put a stop to it.” Aveline walked around her desk, her gaze stronger than Fereldan steel, and advanced on Bran as she continued to speak. “The ports were supposed to be closed at the time, so someone in the port authority broke the law letting them in and out of this city. It is vitally important we find out who at the port authority did this.” The Seneschal stepped away as Aveline stepped toward him, inside his personal space. “Not a scapegoat, not one corrupt official out of many, all of them. The sooner we find that out, the sooner the ports are opened again. So either help,” Aveline jabbed the Seneschal with her armored finger, and kept her glare in place as he flinched, “or get out.”

Not once did Aveline raise her voice. Not once did she look away. The intensity of her bearing made Seneschal Bran back up into the wall even after Aveline had ceased her advance.

Bran realized he’d backed up into Aveline’s furniture and tried to play it off. As he side-stepped toward the door, he muttered something to the effect of ‘our full support’, and stepped out of the office post haste.

When he was gone, Aveline let out a sigh and returned to her desk, then her seat. She had paperwork that had to be done. Every ‘i’ needed to be dotted, every ‘t’ crossed. There would be no mistakes of procedure, protocol, or administration -- for the magistrates would likely take any opportunity to throw her case out.

She’d been an officer in King Cailan’s army, and soldier training had ingrained in her the need to do as ordered. To take a stand against her direct superior had been daunting.

'The Maker gave you a conscience, Captain Vallen, did he not?'” Ketojan’s words echoed in Aveline’s mind. Haunting to hear from someone who had just gotten their freedom back. It had prompted some self-reflection in Aveline.

She knew there was corruption in the city, and she knew it was wrong to let it perpetuate. Pragmatism told her to suffer minor corruption, to minimize the harm the people of Kirkwall faced as she navigated toward less corruption. But her conscience told her that every good man and woman who had sat in her seat before her had done that, and it hadn’t worked. The corruption just got worse.

The Chant of Light had a verse about that. “'Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.'” Wesley wouldn’t think highly of her if she forgot. He’d stood until he physically couldn’t, until he was at death’s door. She had to be just as strong. Her late husband’s shield caught the light as it hung on the wall -- curved to allow magic to deflect off it, the image of a sword surrounded by flame etched on its face.

The nib of Aveline’s quill saw a great deal of work as she made her choice. If every Guard Captain before her had attempted pragmatism and become corrupt in the end, she would attempt righteousness.

--

Merrill

She really didn’t want to go into that house again, but she had to know more about the Claim. It was a Keeper’s job to remember, and while she had work to do at home -- the topic of an elven nation other than Arlathan was something unprecedented. She could hardly imagine the reactions she’d get at the Arlathvhen! The Keepers would have kittens! She never understood why surprising news would cause someone to suddenly acquire kittens, but she wasn’t one to ask for fewer kittens in the world.

Merrill clung to the promise of kittens as she approached that horrid mansion. Tremors in the Veil made it easy to find even if she kept getting lost in the rest of Kirkwall. It was like the Veil was trying to fix itself, but lacked the strength. The Creators smiled on her, for just as she approached she saw Hawke’s sister Bethany and Ketojan step out of the mansion.

“Good morning!” Merrill trotted over to them, glad to approach the manor with pep so that she could leave it even happier. “Are you two heading somewhere?”

“...Merrill, it’s afternoon,” Bethany explained with a worried expression. “Ketojan and I were going shopping for food, since the only thing safe to eat in this place,” she gestured at the mansion, “is wine.”

“Oh.” Merrill deflated a little. “It was morning when I left to come here… I guess I must have gotten lost.”

“Kirkwall is about two and a half times as easy to get lost in as the Brecilian,” Ketojan said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “They don’t even have road signs, or bizarre trees to serve as landmarks.”

Merrill didn’t know roads could have signs, and evidently neither did Bethany, for they both raised their eyebrows in surprise.

“Well… you’re free to come shopping with us, Merrill.” Bethany calmly segued away from the topic of road signs or the lack thereof. “And… I need to set up a meeting with all of us and Anders -- a mage’s club or something.”

“Oh, how fun! We can serve snacks, and… whatever it is people in clubs do. Hit things really hard?” Merrill mimed swinging a weapon with her hand. “What would we hit though? The four of us, we’d be better off using magic on anything we’d want to smack.”

“Templars,” Ketojan said as if it explained everything.

“Don’t confuse her even more.” Bethany smacked Ketojan lightly, and they started on their way to the markets. “Fresh fruit will be expensive. But we should be able to get you dry goods -- like oats and wheat, easily enough.”

Merrill kept stride with her friends, and tried to think of something to say to broach the topic of the Claim, and what else Ketojan knew about it. He’d described it as a bawdry place, what with their bizarre religious practices. She couldn’t think of any of the Creators who would sponsor such a place -- even permissive June had limits on what he’d accept!

As if he could read her mind, Ketojan turned his head slightly in her direction. “I can feel you bubbling with questions, Merrill. Go ahead and ask.”

“Oh!” She stopped walking for a moment to process, then jogged to catch up. “Was I muttering under my breath or something, I’m so sorry.”

“It was kind of hard to miss, you know.” Bethany spoke with an understanding look. “How many times can you ask a Qunari questions and get answers other than ‘no’?” She dramatically deepened her voice for the last word, it almost messed with her questioning inflection.

Merrill giggled at the impression, and looked up at Ketojan. He seemed quite dour, like other Qunari but perhaps that was because he didn’t have a shirt. “Um,. I was going to ask about the Claim… well, anything else you know, really. This is the first we’ve heard of different groups of elvhen.”

“Arlathan was once only one city, in a vast empire, divided by the dominions of the Evanuris.” Ketojan spoke with his same calm assurance as when he first told her about the subject in the Hanged Man.

“I… don’t know that word.” Though she intended to write it down as soon as she could.

“It refers to the complete pantheon of the elves. Creators, Forgotten, and the wolf. As a whole -- they are the Evanuris.” Ketojan sighed and let his shoulders sag. “And… yes, the Claim was a place which worshipped one of the Forgotten Ones.”

That made Merrill stop once again as she parsed that sentence. All her hopes for sharing the story at the Arlathvhen seemed to go up in smoke at that moment. “But… the Forgotten Ones are evil, beings of plague… pestilence….” She raced to keep up with Bethany and Ketojan once she’d recovered. Keeper Marethari had always been keen to paint the Forgotten Ones as the foulest creatures, even worse than Demons, which actively sought to hurt The People. She’d never even considered that they would be venerated by anyone.

“It was not always so.” Ketojan sounded almost nostalgic. “The ruins we saw told a very different story -- one which challenges some parts of Dalish canon, and offers a viewpoint which was actively discouraged in the Dales.” Ketojan stopped and pointed at her, more specifically her face. “That vallaslin represents a Forgotten One.”

Merrill’s heart stopped, or it felt as if it had. There was a ringing in her ears -- as if a nearby thunderclap had struck her temporarily deaf. “What?”

“Before they were cast out -- her name was Saebonshae, winged goddess of memory, victory, and rainbows. She was first to be Forgotten, and the perversion of her dominion was used as a template for the others.”

But… those were all perfectly pleasant things! And none of the other elvhen gods had wings -- they could assume animal shapes, but it wasn’t the same thing. Why would she become a Forgotten One? Was… was Ketojan lying to her? She opened her mouth to ask that very question, but all that came out was: “Why?”

He looked at her with pitying eyes. “She did something very brave, and the Dread Wolf did not come to her rescue.”

After that they did their shopping in silence, mostly. Bethany seemed quite awkward about the whole situation, understandable as she had no frame of reference for elven theology, but Merrill was too distracted to diffuse or explain. She’d come to ask for answers, and just found more questions.

How could a brave act have gotten this elven goddess banished and forgotten? Why did her vallaslin represent her? Why would she even believe that the traitorous Dread Wolf would come to her rescue?

Just more and more questions….

--

Elthina

The Grand Cleric of the southern Free Marches didn’t often experience troubled sleep. The city was as she wished it to be. Her flock was as she wished them to be. Long years of careful guidance had put Kirkwall exactly where she desired it to be -- all she had to do was to stay the course. At her considerable age, she was fortunate that the situation was relatively stable -- she just didn’t have the energy to be a fiery orator anymore.

So, she slept soundly within the Kirkwall Chantry, and dreamed peacefully.

Until that was no longer the case.

The pleasant dream of her wayward youth faded by inches, replaced with ink-black darkness and two red eyes that glared at her. With a start, she shook herself free of the abyssal darkness and sat up in her bed. The dim light from the incense burners told her it was still late in the night. Her room was vast, as the Chantry had once been the estate of a Tevinter Magister when the slaving mages ruled Kirkwall, and little had changed about the building save it bore the golden images of Andraste and the sunburst of the Chantry in place of heathen Old God tapestries.

The Grand Cleric sighed, and was about to return to her sleep when she heard a shrill scream from somewhere in the Chantry. A woman’s scream. Fear began to spread, icy cold, in Elthina’s veins as she keenly listened. There was no alarm in the Chantry at the sound -- alarming in itself. Elthina parted the gossamer drapes which surrounded her bed, and carefully stepped over to her desk where she covered her silk nightshirt with a sunburst black robe. As soon as she approached the double doors that let out to the rest of the Chantry, she heard running feet and another woman’s scream.

Some horror was in the making in her Chantry. Her pragmatism told her to barricade the door and wait for dawn. But her pride would not allow the Grand Cleric to be seen as less than in control of herself and her city at all times.

She stepped out of her room, and saw a corpse on the lush carpet runner down the hall. One of the Chantry Sisters, dead with an arrow in her back. As Elthina walked toward the corpse, she saw the telltale drag marks left in blood from the corpse to a larger pool behind her. The poor girl had lived long enough to try and crawl away.

Doors were open as she walked the halls, and she found more corpses when she dared look through them. Swords plunged into sleeping Chantry staff and left there. An ordained mother which had been impaled to the wall with a spear. An absolute slaughter in the children’s quarters.

How had she slept through all that death, she wondered, and fought tooth and nail to appear in-control, calm about the bloodshed. Her panic would help no one. If she could get out, she could get to the City Guard, or the Templars -- they would see justice done.

All her hopes were dashed as she rounded a corner, and saw one of her Templars stride forth from a room with a blood-soaked sword in his hand. The recent Fereldan transfer, she noted. His curly hair and haunted eyes made him stand out -- Cullen, she recalled his name in a flash. The man’s head turned to look at her as if she were but a mere curiosity. He shrugged, turned, and walked from the hall in the direction of the grand chamber.

In silence, Elthina stood, and felt the cold winding grip of fear make her limbs heavier with every passing moment. With her hope gone, she slowly creeped toward the grand chamber, in the Templar’s bloody footprints. More and more familiar faces were among the dead she saw in the rooms she passed.

The grand chamber was once the entrance hall of the estate, long since changed into the central place of worship. Statues of blessed Andraste were many in the chamber, with one titanic figure at the back of the main altar. Candles burned everywhere, on candelabras, or arranged around the base of lesser statues of the prophet.

All around the chamber, she saw Templars in full armor. The sword engulfed in flames etched on their shields and their chests -- equally covered in viscera. Yet she couldn’t smell the death, or the blood. Only a few turned to look at her when she appeared at the top of the stairway which led from the west wing of the Chantry into the chamber, faces hidden behind inscrutable helmets.

“Wh-what is the meaning of this?” Elthina said with a frustratingly clear waver in her voice. She had hoped to shout it, get their attention, but it came out weak -- she had to fight for what volume she could muster. She clutched her robe shut against the terrible cold in her limbs as she walked down the stairs. “What have you done?!”

As she neared the main entryway, she saw Cullen reporting to other high ranking Templars -- she could tell by the quality of their armor, though she couldn’t recall their names.

Maker, she was so cold -- and it was spring! What foul magic was at play?

“Answer me!”

“Grand Cleric, it is unseemly to shout in the Maker’s house.” Meredith’s voice rang out in the chamber as she descended the steps opposite Elthina -- from the east wing of the Chantry. She had blood covering her arms from the elbows down, and some was splashed across her face. The Knight-Commander had the gall to chuckle at her. “Though, it seems you’re having difficulty doing so.”

“What is the meaning of this?” Elthina wanted to scream at Meredith -- but her voice had become a rasp. She shivered terribly as she walked to meet Meredith at the spot before the central altar. “Why have you done this?”

“I have done nothing, Your Grace,” Meredith smirked at her, and spoke with a politician’s neutral tone. “My Templars and I arrived after several blood mages broke into the Chantry… and butchered everyone inside.” She shook her head, as if it were some lamentable tragedy. “Naturally, we’ll have no recourse but to send for the Rite of Annulment.”

“What?” It was all Elthina could get out. She was so terribly cold, and could no longer hide her open shivering. “What….”

“And those mages.... How utterly barbaric, not even the Grand Cleric was spared.” Meredith’s smile was so smug as she pulled a deep green vial stopped with a cork from her pocket. “At least they had the mercy to poison her… in her sleep.”

Oh. Realization struck Elthina harder than any blow from her rambunctious youth.

“It’s a terrible shame, really.” Meredith closed her eyes and shook her head sadly as she pocketed the poison again. “Her Grace was such a strong ally of mine, so useful to have around… yet, now she is most useful to me as a corpse.”

Elthina’s shaking grew so severe, she toppled to the ground. She was so cold, instinctively she curled into a ball to desperately preserve some warmth. As she looked up, she found Templar faces looking down at her. Meredith’s victorious smug smile, and Cullen’s haunted apathy.

And behind them both… Andraste looked down on her with absolute, utter contempt.

‘...Grand Cleric?’

Elthina’s shoulders began to shake more violently than the rest of her as she felt cold death reach out for her.

‘Grand Cleric, wake up!’

Meredith’s eyes briefly shined with red light as Elthina’s vision grew dark, yet the last thing the Grand Cleric was fixated on was Andraste. The look of contempt from the prophet haunted her, as she slipped into death.

‘Grand Cleric, it’s only a dream!’

Elthina felt as if she had been held underwater, and was suddenly released to rush toward the surface. In a flash, she was in her bed again, sat up and desperate for air. A hand helped her stay sitting up as she desperately gasped for air and appreciated the warmth of springtime.

Sebastian Vael, the young man she had accused of murder just that afternoon, stood at her bedside with several obviously concerned Chantry Sisters.

“Grand Cleric,” the young man said followed by a sigh of relief. “We heard you shouting, and none of the Sisters could wake you.” He met her eyes, and tried to offer reassurance with a smile. “It was only a dream… there’s no need to fear.”

Only a dream that she could vividly recall. Every corpse, every bloodstain, the faces of some of those in her chambers at that moment, twisted in agony after death. The feeling of terrible cold from which there was no mistake. Andraste’s look of contempt.

But she was the Grand Cleric, she had appearances to keep up. Elthina bit down on the horror she felt, swallowed her fear, and took a deep breath to calm down. “I’m fine, Sebastian,” she said, relieved at the strength of her voice. “As you said… it was only a dream. I’m sorry to have woken you.”

Soon enough, she convinced the Sisters and Sebastian that she was fine and could be left alone. It was still late at night, and she had to get her rest. Yet, she hesitated to lay down to sleep again for hours.

Was it truly a dream? Or a dire warning from Andraste? Could she afford to appear as a madwoman if she acted on a dream and was wrong? Could she afford to do nothing? These thoughts hounded her waking time in bed.

And malevolent red eyes hounded her in her sleep.

---

Now with a helpful beta / idea bouncer!

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: Waspish

---

Fenris

Fenris returned to Danarius’ mansion to find it even cleaner than when he’d left to kill things with Hawke. There had been so much killing that needed to be done on the Wounded Coast and Sundermount that the sun had set by the time he got back, though they’d left in the morning. Flint Company was a private army, it had seemed -- though if they had fought as an army they would have survived the day.

He couldn’t understand why they had broken themselves up into so many small groups with limited communication -- it made them easy to pick off one by one. The forces they’d killed on the Wounded Coast hadn’t realized their peril until it was too late to call for their allies at Sundermount. The battalion on Sundermount at least had sent runners to the Wounded Coast when they did not receive regular updates. A shame those runners ran into Hawke, and could not warn anyone before the slaughter repeated itself.

Either way, Fenris found the house free of dust, blood, and corpses. The broken ceiling tiles which had once been part of a cover for the main skylight were gone and the cover had been pulled back. There was a haunting beauty to look up and see both full moons shine down on him. The floor was still a mess of half-torn up tiles, exposed floors, and ruined rugs -- but as Fenris left the foyer and central room, he found the wings of the house had been re-tiled completely.

Even re-tiled, the mansion was a mess of wrecked furniture and empty space, but he suspected the mage would not allow that for very long. Mages craved finery -- to live in squalor would be too much to ask. He batted away the image of Anders in the Darktown clinic -- it was an act the abomination put on, nothing more.

Ketojan was not in the study, nor the ruined dining room, and the door to the wine cellar was locked with a sign on the door that said ‘renovations in progress’.

When he checked for the sound of motion on the other side, he heard nothing, so Fenris opted to check the south wing of the mansion. As he neared what had been the kitchens, he suddenly picked up on the smell of food on the fire. When he entered, he found the greatest volume of intact furniture he’d seen in the mansion thus far -- intact tables, stools, and shelves all stocked with food. Sure enough, there was Ketojan tending to a cauldron over the fireplace. The only change Fenris saw in the Qunari was the addition of an apron.

“It turns out,” Ketojan said as if he were aware of Fenris’ entry, “that this place used to have those Tevinter hot-boxes for cooking. Which is why they got rid of the brick oven which used to be here.” He straightened and tapped the large wooden spoon in his hand to the cauldron’s rim before he turned to face the elf.

Fenris then saw that Ketojan’s apron bore the image of a bird with words stitched below it in gorgeous Orlesian calligraphy: ‘fuck you, I have great taste’. “You’ve been busy,” the elf muttered as he took in the smell of what was being cooked. A Seheron soup -- he could tell from the spices. Even if he suspected the mage for duplicity, the memories those smells brought back were enough to weaken Fenris’ resolve.

“I was. As were you.” Ketojan pointed to a stool, and grabbed a bowl from a shelf. In moments a bowl of the stew was poured and laid out alongside wooden cutlery. “One moment, I’ll get you some bread and wine to go with it.”

“Do you think to make me forget you murdering Templars with… with….” His stomach gurgled, and demanded his attention as he glanced at the stew. His decision to ignore breakfast and lunch had come back to bite him.

“I murder animals that wear the faces of Templars to escape their crimes. Just as I would murder animals that wear the faces of guardsmen, or Magisters, or priests to escape justice. Or would you rather all the Danariuses of the world go free?” Ketojan narrowed his eyes, and shoved the elf toward the stool. “Eat, before your stomach devours itself.” Before Fenris could retort, the Qunari had left the room.

Fenris scowled at the Qunari’s back before he caught the smell of stew. Bite-sized morsels of lamb meat called out to him, along with the cinnamon and nutmeg of Seheron. Before he realized it, Fenris found himself seated and in the act of eating. He had to fight to look up when a half-baguette of sourdough bread along with a glass of wine was set down next to him.

“They have sourdough bread here?” Fenris was honestly surprised. He took a bite of the bread and confirmed it was as he thought.

“They don’t have a strong grasp of bathing, but they have cheese and breads. The South is weird like that.” The Qunari returned to the pot. “And some sweets, though the Orlesians have the market on frilly cakes cornered.”

Fenris continued to eat for a minute more before he mustered the willpower to be suspicious again. “How do you know those Templars were abusing their power?”

“They are known to the Qun,” Ketojan said without turning away from the pot. “People who use power to shield their depravity are targeted by the Qun as possible turncoats. Promises are made that, if they betray their leaders, their friends, their families, then the power that allows them to partake of their sick desires will be granted to them in the new regime.” Ketojan’s shoulders shook as he chuckled. “No matter how many times the Qun fails to hold up their end of those bargains, their targets keep making them.”

Fenris frowned, but didn’t refute the Qunari’s words. It meshed with what he knew of Qunari intelligence doctrine -- get the bas to betray each other, for an agreement between a Qunari and the average bas was meaningless. The Qunari would have to declare the bas, the non-Qunari, basalit-an -- a bas worthy of respect -- for the agreement to hold any value. “If that is true… good hunting.”

“The same to you.”

The two of them remained in silence. Ketojan refilled Fenris’ bowl and wine glass when they were emptied out, for which the elf offered no complaints. They both looked up when they heard the door open again, with Ketojan a few steps ahead of Fenris as they moved to the central room.

For the second time that day, Hawke stood there -- but with the Rivaini pirate captain Isabela, and the Fereldan Guard Captain Aveline at her side. Hawke opened her mouth to speak, but stopped what she was about to say and instead pointed at Ketojan’s apron. “You tell me where you got that right now, because I want one.”

“Maker,” Aveline sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Bethany, Merrill, and I are already getting you one for your birthday,” Ketojan said and crossed his arms. “What’s up?”

“Well… the recent closure of the port authority caused the last battalion of Flint Company to come out of hiding.” Hawke jerked her thumb to indicate Aveline. “They’re stuck at the docks, with no ability to leave. I thought we’d finish the day and the job at the same time.”

Fenris sighed, and was glad he hadn’t put his sword away. “Very well,” he said and took a step forward. He only managed one step before Ketojan picked him up by his collar and put him back where he had started. A string of Tevene curses were directed at the Qunari in the brief time Fenris was in the air.

“It isn’t healthy for either of you to be fighting for so long with inadequate food.” The Qunari said with steel in his voice. “I will go in your place, and you,” he pointed a dagger-like nail at Hawke, “will take tomorrow off to rest.”

“...Did I just blink and the seven-foot-tall-and-change oxman suddenly became your mother?” Isabela asked with an arched eyebrow.

“Ketojan, I can’t afford to take a day off....” Hawke rubbed her forehead. “As much as I would love to rest a bit, coin won’t earn itself.”

“You obviously haven’t asked Varric how speculative investments work,” Ketojan said with a roll of his eyes. “I’ll round up these corpses you’ve spent all day making -- and wring every copper I can out of them.”

“Just so long as you leave the pig farmers out of it this time, I’ve no objections.” Aveline commented with a shrug.

Hawke glanced at Aveline, then to Ketojan, and repeated the gesture. “Pig farmers? You fed those Tevinter slavers to pigs?”

“I know, I know,” Ketojan said with a flicked wrist. “It’s cruel to those poor pigs, but at the time I didn’t know a pyre was fine for them.”

Fenris, who had been at a warm simmer from having been picked up like a damned cat, felt himself have to stifle a smile at the image of pigs devouring the slavers who had hunted him.

“Ketojan… the wharf was what -- five minutes away? I’m sure there’s plenty of fish who could have done the job with less hassle.”

“Corpses float, and there is no current in the wharf at night.”

“...You know, you’re right. That absolutely would have been worse. I’m sorry I doubted you.” Hawke graciously bowed her head in apology. “Well… go get ready. I hope you at least got a shirt to kill people in. Much as grinding people’s faces off on your abs would make Varric’s stories more interesting….”

Fenris scowled as he watched the mage leave them, to depart for one of the smaller bed chambers on the mezzanine level, adjacent to the master bedroom. He turned his gaze back to Hawke. “If you would rather I go with you -- we can depart now, while he is gone.”

“Ketojan was right -- both of us not getting any rest is just asking for the Maker to throw something silly at us.” Hawke shrugged. “Like dragons, a demon which farts fire, or flying cows.”

“...What’s so silly about flying cows?” Fenris tilted his head and frowned. “They are a common sight in Tevinter. Do they not migrate this far south?”

“...The worst part about this conversation is that I can’t tell if he’s joking or not,” Aveline said with a straight face.

--

Hawke

Ketojan had come back to them with what looked like an improvised cloak made out of bed curtains in lieu of a shirt. It struck Hawke that, once money wasn’t quite so tight, they might need to get a tailor for the Tevinter elf and Qunari mage so they had more than one set of clothes. But that plan was for later, there were more immediate murdery concerns that they had to see to.

“I don’t want to see a hint of blood magic from you,” Aveline warned Ketojan as they descended the stairs from Hightown to Low. “Not one bit.”

“Implying I need blood magic to kill humans,” Ketojan said with an offended tone. “Don’t worry, I’ll only use shapeshifting.”

“Ooh, shapeshifting. What are you gonna turn into, a dragon?” Isabela asked, then snapped her fingers. “No, wait, male dragons don’t have wings. A griffon, then? Merrill would love that.”

“I have other shapes in the dragon weight-class, don’t worry.”

“No,” Hawke said, stopped in her tracks, and pointed at Ketojan. “No big, enormous forms. That won’t work on them as they are right now.” She flicked her pointed finger dismissively. “They’ve all backed themselves up against the water -- something big for them to focus on would just see them take you out first. We’re going to have to do something reckless.” She slapped a fist into her open palm. “Something unprecedented in my time as a mercenary, and as a soldier of Fereldan.” She slapped her fist into her open palm again. “Something which could easily, easily get us all killed.” And a third time, she slapped her fist into her open palm. “We’re going to… use actual strategy.”

Isabela barked out a laugh, where before her face had been increasingly concerned as Hawke sold the buildup to her punchline. “Okay, that… that was good. I’m going to use that when I get a new ship.”

“My Fereldan pride tells me I should punch you,” Aveline said with an arched eyebrow. “My time in the army tells me you’re more or less correct.”

“Wait, what?” Isabela suddenly turned to look at the Guard Captain with visible shock. “Correct?”

“Most of the officers in the King’s army wouldn’t know military strategy if it buggered them in full view of their mother.” She made a disgusted sound at the memory of her time in the army. “I was one of the most junior officers there -- and I knew more than some of the actual strategists.”

“Huh. How the fuck did you all beat Orlais, then?”

“Our parents beat Orlais,” Hawke corrected her with a smirk. “Ostagar was the first real fight Fereldan had seen in a generation. The lesson here is to not raise idiots.”

“So, what strategy would you propose?” Aveline asked with her brow arched. “We’re seriously outnumbered, and the guard can’t mobilize faster than they can commandeer a ship to get out of the city.”

Hawke looked up to the -- blessedly quiet -- man of the group. “Ketojan, I’ve seen you do a giant form, and a human-sized form. Can you do something… smaller?”

“Yes.” The Qunari nodded. “I could become an insect or a swarm of insects. Wasps are a favorite of mine.”

“Oh, beautiful.” Hawke’s smirk grew three sizes. “I was going to have you scout them out first, but a swarm of wasps is just so delightfully disruptive.” Her smirk remained in place as they resumed their trek toward the docks. They went the long way, so as not to cross the Qunari compound or risk bringing the fight into Lowtown.

As soon as they started on the stairs from Lowtown to the docks, they heard the sound of fighting. As the buildings around the stairs thinned out, they saw a mass of people along the docks, with archers in the act of firing on a docked galleon and a desperate fight up the gangplank from their allies. They wore the same dour brown armor as the rest of Flint Company -- Hawke had killed so many of their men earlier, she could recall their uniform in her sleep.

“Looks like they’ve gotten desperate enough to try something stupid,” Aveline said, and shook her head. “At best, a ship that size can hold, what? Four hundred men?”

“Four hundred and twelve, for a very unpleasant voyage,” Isabela commented. “And her crew isn’t being trounced, either. They stupidly went after the biggest, best-armed ship in the harbor.” She shook her head in disgust. “Men. No offense.” She threw a smile Ketojan’s way.

“None taken.” Ketojan narrowed his eyes at the distant scuffle. “None of the other crews are coming to her aid.”

“A host of hundreds attacks a ship which can have at most four hundred and twelve men aboard, and they think -- what, the rest of Flint Company will wait calmly for the ship to come back and pick them up?” Isabela rolled her eyes. “How did you kill two whole battalions of these folks already, anyway?”

“They were spread out, it was easy to have Varric shoot the one with the signal horn and clean up the rest of the squad quickly.” Hawke shrugged. “Five sovereigns says they snuck into Kirkwall by that same passage which Petrice sent us down.” Her hand found the hilt of her greatsword, which signaled the other women to draw their weapons too. “Ketojan? Care to give them a swarm Kirkwall welcome?”

“...If you sting her for that,” Aveline gestured with her shield, “I won’t hold it against you.”

A cloud of stinging death flew through the air and thankfully spared no time for Hawke. It mingled among the Flint Company mercs for a second before the screaming started. Hawke had been there at Ostagar, and the screaming gave her an unfortunate sense of deja vu. As she, Aveline, and Isabela got within melee range of the mercs, she saw why.

Swarm-of-wasps-Ketojan was paying special attention to the eyes, ears, and to Hawke’s utter horror, gums of the poor soldiers-for-hire. She saw them tear off their helmets and drop their weapons to push wasps away, which just moved on to other mercenaries. Unfortunately, sans weapons and helmets, they were easy to dispatch. She imagined that, from above, it looked quite like a wave of panic went through the crowd as a wave of bloody carnage followed it.

The only members of Flint Company she truly felt pity for were those stupid enough to dive into the harbor to escape swarm-of-wasps-Ketojan. Their panic had been so severe they forgot that they were dressed in scale armor, not swimming attire. Drowning was not a good way to die.

Of course, neither was being stung by wasps until a woman with an enormous fuck-off sword chopped one’s limb’s off. But she found that hilarious rather than pitiable.

The sailors on the under-siege galleon cheered them on, glad for any reinforcement as Hawke and her friends slaughtered their enemies. Either they didn’t notice the wasps which swarmed among the desperate mercenaries, or they were glad for that too.

With the benefit of panic amongst their enemies, the battle quickly became a rout.

--

Varric

He woke up the next morning to find a lot of happy sailors in the Hanged Man, which meant that there would be precious little morning booze for him. It didn’t take long for him to figure out what the cause of the celebration was as soon as he came out for some breakfast -- in the night, Hawke had decided to keep fighting Flint Company and had chased them all the way to the harbor. According to the thoroughly drunk sailors, they were absolutely terrified of her, Aveline, and Isabela -- to the point where they tried to commandeer a galleon rather than fight the three of ‘em.

Poor bastards had been cut down to the last man, or drowned rather than fight the three of them.

Obviously he’d need to tweek some details when he told the story later, especially after he heard it from the involved parties. What stuck out to him was that only three people were described. Hawke was a four-man-band kinda soldier, and wouldn’t go out with less unless necessary. She definitely didn’t like to take on larger groups without at least one mage. A few words to his associates, a few quick notes passed around, and he had people investigating it quietly.

His first tipoff actually came when he saw a crowd outside the Fereldan Imports shop -- apparently there was a sale going on. Clothes, armor, weapons, all on sale cheap enough that even the dusters in Darktown could afford to come up and spend money. He’d seen such a sale just recently, because Ketojan had sold the gear from the Tevinter slavers to the shop owner.

Which, in turn, made him wonder about how the Fereldan Imports shop could afford to buy all the shit off the guys Hawke killed, and still sell it at cheap enough prices for dusters to buy it.

Either Ketojan was aiming to tank the weapons and armor manufacturing business with a surge of cheap products, or the owner of the Fereldan Imports shop was richer than she seemed. He would find out if the Dwarven Merchant’s Guild called for his head or not.

He’d need to talk with both the shop owner Lirene, and Shifty, because either neither of them thought what the effects of putting swords in the hands of so many desperate people would do, they didn’t care, or they actively sought after it.

None of those options boded well for his businesses, or his longevity.

---

I'm sure giving hundreds of financially desperate, starving people weapons and armor will turn out great! It's fine, it's fine, don't worry about it.

Also please come over here and stand on this giant red X while I stand next to this lever. I won't pull it. It's fine, it's fine, don't worry about it.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: Have some Words

---

Varric

Hawke had come to get him after she’d gotten some sleep. She, Bethany, Ketojan and the dwarf were all going into Darktown so they could sneak into Hightown and steal from slavers that had gone and acquired legitimacy. Per Hawke’s request, Aveline and Fenris were on standby outside the Hightown estate in case anyone made a run for it.

Once upon a time, many a decade ago, Hawke’s mother had been a noblewoman in Kirkwall until she eloped with a Fereldan apostate mage. Leandra’s younger brother, with gambling and whoring problems in abundance, had inherited everything and lost it by inches. Apparently, the estate they were to break into belonged to Hawke’s mother’s family, the Amells, who once upon a time might have ruled Kirkwall if it wasn’t for a number of scandals.

Varric would see about getting it back in their hands, all nice and official-like. If it got Hawke and Sunshine out of their uncle’s hovel, and away from his various debts and perversions, it would be worth being proper and dignified. Maybe. If he was really drunk at the time, perhaps.

“So, Shifty….” Varric said as they navigated the warrens of Darktown, in the dim light of the setting sun. “About… giving everyone with two coppers to rub together a sword….”

“I can’t control who buys the product, or at what rate it’s sold,” the shirtless-yet-cloaked Qunari said as he jumped a short drop which the others needed a ladder to descend to safely.

“Maybe I could get you in touch with a proper arms dealer, then? Lirene is desperate to help the refugees, she’ll sell anything you give her far below it’s actual cost.” Varric enjoyed the brief moments of being the tallest one in the group as he waited for Sunshine to descend the ladder.

“I don’t see what’s wrong with giving people a way to protect themselves,” Bethany said with a frown aimed at Varric.

“Possessing a sword does not necessarily correlate to the knowledge of how to use said sword.” Hawke shrugged as she waited for Varric to catch up. Or, rather, down. “Anders will be seeing an uptick in accidental amputations at his clinic. Most of them won’t even be funny, more’s the pity.”

“And that’s for people that survive being stupid while armed.” Varric glanced up at the Qunari once they had started to walk again. He wasn’t outrageously tall by oxman standards, but it still hurt Varric’s neck to look so far upward. “A lot of people are going to end up dead, who wouldn’t have if they just stayed home and stayed quiet.”

Ketojan stopped and squatted down to look Varric in the eye. The black sclera really made Qunari intimidating when they cared to be. “I can’t control what these people do with their money, or their weapons. I can certainly edge them toward learning, if they want to, but if they don’t -- all the dreams in Kirkwall couldn’t make them.”

“Which is why I’m saying -- go through a proper merchant.” Varric shrugged. “A higher price will keep it from being available to every idiot in Kirkwall.”

“Except the rich ones.”

“Ladies, ladies,” Hawke cut in as she doubled back to the menfolk’s talk. “You’re both pretty. Can we focus now?”

Near Blondie’s clinic was a half-collapsed hovel with a ladder up to a trapdoor in the roof. Everything except the space around the ladder, and a path toward the door, was in utter shambles -- like a hurricane had struck the poor home.

“Uncle Gamlen said these people he sold the estate to were connected to something called the Council of Five,” Bethany said while they approached the ladder cautiously. “We… won’t be starting a feud by going in here, will we?”

“Three, as of this morning.” Ketojan had to duck to move around the hovel at all. “They’re a bit distracted right now.”

Varric frowned at the giant. “Can you go one day without causing chaos, Shifty? Assassinating rapists in their sleep, fine, that’s a public service. But the Council helps keep gang violence under control in Kirkwall… mostly.”

“A fair point. Except two of its members happened to be rapist Templars. Retired.”

“Well… shit.”

“What I’m taking from this is that we won’t need to worry about reprisals, as the lovely slaving shitheels we’re robbing will have more important things to worry about.” Hawke started up the ladder, with Bethany soon behind her.

When Varric took his turn to get up the ladder, he found that on the other side was a sizable room with spaces in the walls for casks of alcohol, sadly empty. The new owners had made some changes -- added hooks on most of the support beams where chains could be threaded through and poor Kirkwallers tied up for processing as slaves.

Such as the dozen or so Fereldan refugees they found chained up, with signs of abuse that ranged from bruises to poorly cleaned wounds, all gagged and desperate for help. They didn’t make a noise as the four newcomers looked them over, but there was a plea for help in their eyes.

Varric found his earlier advocacy for the Council of Five turn to ashes in his mouth. This was unacceptable.

Without a word, Hawke gestured to the would-be slaves, and everyone moved to release them. Bethany broke their chains with magic, Varric picked the locks in their manacles, while Ketojan pulled the metal apart with his bare hands. Hawke herself stepped up to the door further into the Amell wine cellar and pressed her ear to it. Silent as the grave, she stepped back, drew her greatsword, and thrust it through the door with vigor. The blade came back red when she pulled it out.

As they were freed, the prisoners muttered praise of the Maker and blessings from Andraste to them before they scurried off to Darktown, and freedom.

“Right now, I think I’m on the side of arming people so fewer incidents like this happen,” Hawke announced as she cleaned her sword of slaver blood. “Bethany; sweet, merciful, kind, dear-to-my-heart sister of mine…. We have rats in our home, it looks like.” There was something deeply unsettling about Hawke when she stopped being funny and let her bloodlust shine unhindered.

“We’d best clean them out, then. Lest they make more of themselves.” Sunshine stepped up behind her sister, and placed a hand on her shoulder. “You want me to send the boys away, so they don’t see you angry?”

Varric arched his brow and glanced at Shifty. He seemed equally confused.

“No, no, no….” Hawke’s hands clenched the hilt of her sword so tightly Varric could hear the leather and wood creak. “But you’ll keep them out of my way, won’t you?”

“I’ll do my best.” Bethany took her hand off her sister, and stepped back. “You’re clear.”

Like an animal freed from a cage, Hawke charged forward through the door and left a splintery mess in her wake. Cries of alarm and shock sounded from the room Hawke had entered, followed shortly by pained screams and calls for help.

“When we worked with Meeran, he taught her some dwarven styles of fighting he’d picked up,” Sunshine explained. As she talked the pieces fell naturally together for Varric -- dwarven berserker style. “She’s still learning to control it, so… give her space, don’t steal any of her kills, and try not to get her direct attention for anything less than an emergency.”

“Can do,” Ketojan said, and walked toward the door. “Oop, more prisoners in here.” He passed through the ragged door remains, and passed out of view around a sharp turn. An animal’s roar followed by a cut-off scream signaled that he’d joined whatever fight was ongoing.

“Common sense tells me we should just stay here until the screaming stops.” Varric commented. He sighed, and walked with Bethany up to the ruined door all the same. “But if there’s more prisoners in there, they need to get out to safety.” Due to his short legs, he had to trod on the poor bastard Hawke had stabbed through the door to get around all the wood shards. At least the man was filthy enough that Varric didn’t leave a boot print on him.

He was proud of himself when he managed to keep his lunch down after he saw what Hawke and Ketojan had done to the new tenants. Though he would admit he never wanted to see the inside of human lungs ever again.

--

Anders

“Are… you really sure I should come with you to this mage’s meeting?” Evelina, an escapee from the Ferelden Circle of Magi who had come to Kirkwall during the Blight asked as she followed close behind Anders. They hadn’t been in the same class, but Anders had recognized her right away when Ketojan had pointed her out to him. A humble woman, she had ditched the fine robes and staff of the Circle and dressed like the other refugees. Anders had found her with a group of orphans -- Evelina had taken them in since no one else would. It didn’t take much to convince her to join him at the clinic -- his unofficial apprentice.

“You’re a mage, aren’t you?” Anders turned on the charm when he smiled at her. They had done a lot of walking from Darktown to Hightown, so it was understandable for the doubts to have eaten at her. “This is an opportunity to... recapture some of the academic exchange of information that the Circle offered.” He paused and phrased his words carefully. It wouldn’t do to have his apprentice thrust into a plot to rescue mages from the Gallows on day one.

Evelina looked doubtful, but followed along all the same.

Anders felt Justice stir at the thinness in the Veil as they approached the mansion where Ketojan and Fenris lived. The Spirit felt like home was just a step away -- he could leave and slip back into the Fade as easily as any man exhaled a breath. But to do that would require ignoring the injustices he had seen through Anders’ eyes. What good was going home, if he had to betray his ideals to get there?

The Grey Warden offered condolences to Justice, who could not quite settle back into dormancy, as they stepped into the house.

“This… is a nobleman sponsoring this meeting?” Evelina asked as she took in the sight of the mansion. It wasn’t nearly back to full splendor, but Ketojan had been busy making repairs and replacing furniture.

“Not exactly.” Anders flippantly gestured at Fenris who scowled down at them from the mezzanine. He smiled a bit when the Tevinter elf scowled at him. “This property was seized from a Magister recently.”

“Well, that explains why the Veil is… like this.” Evelina shuddered. “I half expect to see a Pride Demon in one of these rooms.”

Justice slipped into Anders’ eyes as they walked toward the study Ketojan had designated for the meeting. He could… almost see the way Justice did -- the feeling of injustice was like the way onions made one want to cry. It looked different when one was a victim versus perpetrator of injustice, the Spirit told him. Fenris shone with crimes done to him, but there was a tinge of that which he’d done to others -- like white with a smattering of red. Other people in the house shined the same, except one which was red and black with injustice.

The Spirit left Anders’ vision soon after. “I can only confirm I’m not seeing any Pride Demons around here.”

Evelina looked at him with wonder. “You have a spell to detect Demons? Can you teach it?”

“It’s… not a spell, it’s a unique gift.” He felt bad to dash her hopes like that, but it was easier to explain it that way than to admit to being possessed.

There were people already in the study when they arrived. The bookshelves which had lined the walls were repaired, though they were mostly bare. Some comfortable seating had been provided, along with a tray of food and drink on wheels. Anders recognized Merrill, Ketojan, and Bethany right away -- but he didn’t recognize the two new faces in the room. One was an elf, bare-faced so not of the Dalish, dressed in the Tevinter style of robes with an excessive number of belts and furry pauldrons with no sleeves. Anders had rocked that look before he transitioned to feather pauldrons to keep up with fashion.

The other was clearly a nobleman -- dressed in fine silk brocade, with boutique-styled red hair and a condescending aura about him. It didn’t take Anders long to figure out which of the newcomers was the one which Justice had singled out.

“Oh, another new face.” Merrill waved at Evelina with a bright smile. “Hello! Welcome to the club!”

With such a cheery reaction, and encouragement from Anders, Evelina broke off from his shadow to head over to Merrill's and Bethany’s seating. She sat down with them and they began to chat, with the two of them readily accepting her.

With the pleasant conversation being taken care of, Anders put on a stony expression and approached the newcomers. “Evening, gents.”

The nobleman curled his lip. “Ah. That Fereldan accent… you must be the Grey Warden our host told us about.” His thick Orlesian accent immediately set Anders on edge, even more than his condescending aura. “This had better not be a front to have us all conscripted, messere.”

“I would never wish being a Grey Warden on anyone. Not even Orlesians.” Anders narrowed his eyes at the man. “I take it you’re both mages from the Gallows?”

“Hah!” The elf barked out a laugh, and shook his head. “The two of you are the only Circle mages here. The rest of us are apostates.” He spoke with an Antivan accent, clearly amused by the irony.

“Really? You’ve done rather well for yourselves, it looks like.” Anders crossed his arms, and introduced himself with guarded eyes.

“Gascard DuPuis,” the Orlesian man introduced himself. “Technically Comte DuPuis, but that is a matter of debate among the nobility.”

“Call me Leech, cause I don’t give out my name to just anyone.” The Antivan elf said once his turn came around.

Ketojan cleared his throat, and stood from the small loveseat he had all on his own. Being quite large meant he could justify more space for himself. “The hour approaches for the meeting. If everyone will be seated?” The Qunari remained standing until Anders flopped onto a sofa next to Leech, whereupon he sat too. “The purpose of this gathering is to share magical knowledge, known threats, and to discuss topics we all can benefit from.”

“He said as he threatened some of us into being here,” Leech muttered.

“Mm!” Gascard agreed with a grunt.

Ketojan swiveled his head toward them, and narrowed his eyes until they both sank in their seats a bit. Once they had been cowed, Ketojan returned to speaking to the entire group. “I’m a shapeshifter, though I have extensive knowledge of Qunari blood magic. I don’t advise it be learned, as it lacks the self-insulating aspect of Tevinter and Orlesian blood magic, but it is extremely powerful.”

“I’m a Dalish Keeper, and… I have some knowledge of blood magic as well.” Merrill offered with a downward inflection. “I don’t go out and… slit open a vein every time I fight -- but I know how it works.”

“I’m training to be a force mage,” Bethany said with much more pride. “It’s not as flashy, or as academic, but I hope to push the style forward.”

“Spirit healer,” Anders said to follow up on the trend set by his fellows. “I’m the medium of a Spirit of Justice to help heal the sick.”

“I… don’t have a specialty yet. I had some ideas, back at the Circle, but they’re not options anymore.” Evelina’s turn to introduce herself was a lot more lackluster than the others, for understandable reasons.

“Blood mage,” Leech added with feigned cheer in his voice that wasn’t matched by his expression. “I do slit open a vein every time I fight. I use my powers to kill people or read their minds. I’m a very bad man.”

Anders glanced at Evelina and saw, to his surprise, that she wasn’t frightened or put off much at all by the number of people who had admitted to knowing blood magic. If anything, she seemed curious about the situation.

“I am… also a blood mage.” The Orlesian nobleman was more hesitant about it. “I don’t do it very often -- mostly just to… find things, or people.” He was visibly evasive, and rubbed his neck as he averted his eyes. “And sometimes bind shades to keep my house secure from thieves.”

Bethany narrowed her eyes at Leech and Gascard, and Anders joined in on the action since neither Merrill or Evelina seemed intent on shaming them. The two of them returned the looks.

“First order of business. There are two major threats which we must all be aware of.” Ketojan spoke up, a voice of neutrality between the two camps. “A coven of blood mages in Darktown has been kidnapping Templars to force demons into them. It is led by a human woman, Tarohne, who seeks to recreate Tevinter in Kirkwall.”

Leech and Gascard’s reactions were exasperation and polite dismay respectively, while everyone else was shocked at the revelation.

“That’s just going to get the Templars even more suspicious, more aggressive, and crack down all the harder....” Bethany said with clear dismay in her voice.

“I know the crazy bitch he’s talking about,” Leech said with an annoyed tone and a snarl on his face. “She came into town with some Tevinter hotshot -- guess he left her behind when he left. My boys have been selling her and hers food, we know where she is. But she has way too many Demons -- not shades -- with her for me to take her out on my own.”

“I’ll talk to Marian about sorting this out, before it becomes a problem too big to ignore.” The younger Hawke had steel in her eyes. “With luck, the Templars won’t even know what happened.”

“And what’s the other threat we need to know about?” Evelina spoke up for the first time since her introduction.

“A necromancer by the name of Quentin,” Ketojan answered readily.

Anders noted how Gascard visibly perked up at the name. Something to look into, later.

“An apostate who escaped from the Starkhaven Circle of Magi decades ago. He married an Amell woman, had five children who were all mages, and went catastrophically insane when his wife finally died.”

“Wait, what -- ?” Bethany rose her eyebrows, widened her eyes, and did a double take at Ketojan.

“Right now, he is murdering women with the intent of summoning a spirit to inhabit a composite body -- and pretend to be his wife.” Ketojan continued as if he hadn’t heard Bethany’s question. “He’s powerful, but isolated in the foundry district of Lowtown.”

“And no doubt, he’s summoned a troop of Demons to serve his needs,” Gascard commented softly, as he held his chin between his thumb and pointer. “We’ll need to first find him, then see about cutting off his support. He has to be getting food somehow, no?”

“That seems like… an option,” Anders muttered. “Starving him might drive him loony, though.”

The Orlesian arched his eyebrow at Anders. “More loony than killing women to build a corpse look-alike of his wife?”

Anders hated how the damned blood mage had a point.

“So, that’s who we need to be on the watch for.” Ketojan spoke up again. “But there is also something to discuss. We all here have goals. Some major and potentially world-altering….” He indicated Anders and Leech. “Others more personal, small-picture concerns.” He indicated Merrill, Bethany, and Gascard. “And some of us have yet to decide what we want to be… who we want to be. We can all help one another.”

Anders and Leech each shared a mutual eyebrow-raised look at one another, before they each dismissed Ketojan’s implication.

“The Qun has collected magical knowledge from all across Thedas. Some lost traditions are documented in Par Vollen, as are secret rites of Rivaini Seers, Chasind Shamans and Avaar Augurs. Without access to the documents, we’ll need to write letters and do some legwork to reconstruct some of the niftier things. But one thing we can do here and now… Bethany, do you want to tell them, or shall I?”

Bethany was confused, as were the other mages at the gathering, but she cleared her throat all the same. “There is an alleged cure for tranquility… it involves beckoning a helpful Spirit, but we’ll need to get a tranquil to test it on….”

Anders watched her mouth move, and heard distant sounds to indicate talking was taking place -- but all he could hear was a keen whine, as if an explosion had happened close to him. A cure? Truly? The hope for a cure warred with the heavy regret such a cure would bring.

If there was a cure… then he’d killed Karl for nothing. If he’d let Karl live as a tranquil just for a few more weeks… Karl would have surely volunteered to be the first test subject. Anders knew it in his heart.

Justice came back to Anders, and tried to soothe him with a reminder that Karl had asked for death. They had respected his wishes, even though it hurt them. Yet still, regret and hope fought each other in Anders’ belly.

A glance to his side had him see a similarly conflicted look on Leech’s face, before the elf hid his expression once he’d seen that Anders had seen. Anders managed to distract himself from his conflict as he focused on how disgusted he was that a blood mage dared have similar conflicts. It was the actions of those such as him that made the Templars eager to turn innocent mages tranquil.

People like Leech, Gascard, Merrill, and the mages they had been warned about in the meeting, they were the cause of situations like Karl’s. How dare Leech feel any emotion but shame.

That sentiment of ‘how dare you’ allowed Anders to return to the conversation as they had begun to plan where it would be safe to test the cure.

---

Bit by bit, inch by inch, brick by brick, justice becomes vengeance when you put up walls between yourself and others.

Also, berserker Hawke! Do not cross her during business hours -- you will require a least two janitors to be cleaned up and put into buckets.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: Growth

---

Isabela

Not many people asked Isabela, known former pirate and cheeky scoundrel, to watch their money for them. It was, as the young people would say, against conventional wisdom. Ketojan hadn’t given two nugs about conventional wisdom, and had asked her to come with him to the docks. At first she’d been under a different set of assumptions, particularly when he went down to his smallclothes, but the Qunari explained he was going to go looting shipwrecks to bring back valuables. Per him, Isabela’s keen eye would sort out the truly valuable items from the pretty trash -- and if she helped him by watching the loot pile as he grew it, she’d get a share of the haul.

The prospect of sitting around for a bit, looking at treasure and imagining what she could spend it on was so difficult for Isabela to seriously consider. It almost took her a second to say yes.

Ketojan didn’t seem to mind Isabela’s ogling, though he didn’t seem to mind anything. She’d yet to see him truly angry, or happy, or sad -- no strong emotions at all. Once he’d dived into the harbor, and vanished in the form of a fish, Isabela wondered if it was the lingering effects of the collar or the Qun.

Her eyes snapped over to the distant Qunari compound, where she saw some of the oxman inside looking her way with spyglasses. Hopefully none recognized her, but they likely had recognized Ketojan. She remembered Qunari men having some magic warpaint on their bodies, which made her efforts to deal with them significantly harder. It’d been easier to stab between the paint lines and armor than to try and cut through them. With luck, her new Tevinter sickles would fare better since they were literally designed to fight Qunari.

Want to fight whales, buy from a whaler. Want to fight oxmen, buy from the Vints. If it weren’t so situational, that could have been one of those wise turns of phrase. Still, she could probably pitch it to Varric for his books.

Isabela sat on a barrel at the end of the pier where Ketojan had jumped into the water and imagined what loot he’d find. A bit of rum would have been nice to pass the time -- but the ports being closed meant that the Hanged Man had run dry. Lady Manhands was not endearing herself to the public or the merchants by keeping the port authority in jail for so long.

Speak of the meathead, Isabela saw a head of red hair approach the pier, and soon after heard the clink of metal armor. Aveline had to be extremely brave to come so close to deep water in full plate, Isabela would admit. She had her eyebrow arched curiously as Aveline approached, and sat down on a crate nearby. Poor prig, she looked distraught!

Aveline sighed, rested her forehead in the crook of her thumb and pointer finger. “Isabela. I… need to ask you for advice.”

The Rivaini pirate captain nodded, solemn and serious. “It’s okay, Aveline. First order of business -- trade in that drab armor for something with a bit of shine to it.” She kicked out her legs to show her silverite greaves. “Protection doesn’t have to be so dour. You want to draw a man’s attention to what you’ve got to offer.”

The Guard Captain raised her head and scowled at Isabela. She scowled harder when Isabela smiled into her initial expression. “I need your advice as a leader,” she clarified with an irritated tone. “The Guard is… not taking well to my way of doing things.”

Ah, insubordination in the ranks. Unfortunately, Isabela had much to offer in strategies to deal with it. “Well… fine. But, first things first -- there’s every chance that what insight I have just won’t work with you. Ships and local guard garrisons are wildly different.”

“I understand.” Aveline’s expression softened considerably as Isabela took her request seriously. “But I’m near at my wit’s end.”

Desperation did have a proclivity to encourage people to seek help from what had previously been their enemy, Isabela would admit. She sat up straighter, and leaned forward on her barrel to listen to Aveline. “Right -- what’s the issue?”

“The guardsmen… most of them are just refusing to obey me. I’ve made threats, I’ve tried being accommodating -- but they actively refuse to do their jobs the moment they leave my line of sight.” Aveline sighed, and shook her head in dismay. “We have gangs in every region of Kirkwall -- and the guardsmen just refuse to do anything about them. The few who listen to me are busy chasing hundreds of backlogged complaints and crimes which the old Captain never even took to the magistrates.”

Maker, it was like looking back in time to when Isabela had first gotten her ship. No crew worth sailing would have listened to her if she hadn’t gotten lucky and won a duel to secure an apprenticeship under a more seasoned Captain. “Right -- what’s their reasoning? Is it because you’re a woman, because you’re Fereldan?” She squinted, and snapped her fingers as she tried to think of other reasons to dislike Aveline that wouldn’t provoke Lady Manhands to drag Isabela into the water with her. “Because… you’re ginger?”

“I don’t know.” Aveline seemed at a loss. “It could be none of those, or all of them. It could be because I’m trying to reform the Guard, or I’m not reforming it as they want.”

“Well -- you weren’t Captain until recently, right? What did people think of you before? Are the friends you had in the lower ranks with you, or against?”

Aveline was quiet for a moment, before she looked at her feet and answered with a soft tone. “I didn’t have friends in the Guard. All the partners assigned to me requested to be transferred away shortly thereafter. They stopped giving me new ones eventually. I didn’t speak to the guards outside of work.”

Isabela felt a creeping dread with every word Lady Manhands spoke. And even worse, she felt pity begin to build up. Pity would only agitate someone as proud as Aveline, so Isabela decided to bite down on it lest Aveline see it in her face and eyes. “So… you’re in charge of an armed group which mostly doesn’t support you.”

Aveline scowled suddenly, and her tone became biting. “The irony is not lost on me, Isabela.”

The pirate captain had no idea what Aveline meant, until she reflected a smidge. Aveline had been an officer in King Cailan’s army. King Cailan, the idealist who had tried to do the right thing and was betrayed by the cynical majority of his army. “I didn’t mean like that Lady Manhands,” Isabela snapped back. “I’m saying… there are a lot more Fereldans in this city who have recently come into good weapons and armor. You said you’ve made threats? Make good on ‘em. Throw the insubordinate pricks out on their ass and get some Fereldans into the Guard to replace them. And keep doing it until they get the picture.”

The thought seemed to give Aveline something to think about, she was quiet with a distant look in her eyes up until a sudden uproar caught their attention.

Water splashed and women screamed in the distance as an enormous blue-green crab twice the size of a carriage and four horses rose up from the water, a rusted metal chest big enough to stuff three Avelines inside held in its massive pincer. While both women stared in shock, the creature deposited the chest on the pier in front of Isabela then sank back into the water.

“Ooh, loot!” Isabela perked right up as soon as she pieced it together that the giant crab had been Ketojan with his first bit of treasure. She hopped off the barrel to examine the chest. Sealed shut by rust, and with no crowbar nearby -- Isabela had no way to get it open. From the design -- it had to be an Orlesian treasure chest. The lion imagery and flowery pattern to the metal fittings were dead giveaways. “Hmm. Maybe I should’ve brought a hammer, or something….”

Without prompting, Aveline stepped forward and took the magically reinforced kite shield Hawke had given her -- ironically, in the design of an Orlesian Lion -- and smashed the chest with it. A crack was made in the layer of rust, which Aveline stabbed with the spiked end of her kite shield, then wedged open with her brutal strength.

“That works too….” Isabela said, though her voice drifted off as she saw the contents of the chest. Gold, glorious gold! Bars of the stuff, imprinted with the royal seal of Orlais. “Maker, it’s beautiful.”

“I’m going to assume this is legally salvaged,” Aveline said as she checked her shield for any deformities. Thankfully the magic in it had kept the shield intact and unblemished. “And… thank you for the advice, Isabela.” There wasn’t any scorn that Isabela could pick up in Aveline’s tone -- a genuine thank you from her, rarer than platinum. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go talk to Lirene at the import shop.”

Isabela waved her off, distracted by the gorgeous gold she had her eyes on and had to guard from the lookie loos already attracted by the sight of the mage turned massive crab. With luck, the next batch of treasure would be just as lovely.

It turned out to be silver coins, and gemstones.

--

Merrill

She hadn’t been on a makeover run before -- cosmetics and fashionable clothes didn’t usually come by the Dalish beyond what was needed to make their Vallaslin. The Keepers wore fine clothes, but they weren’t ever considered fashionable by human standards. So, when Bethany and Isabela asked her to come along for their ‘makeover’ for Ketojan, she wasn’t sure what she’d contribute.

Their first stop had been to put the intended recipient of their makeover in a spot where the girls could go to multiple Hightown market stalls and bring things by to reference against the man’s skin, hair, eyes, and personal taste. Isabela and Bethany seemed to instinctively know what to go for, while Merrill didn’t. For a while, she served as an extra set of hands to hold fabrics, or cosmetics.

As she watched, and waited, she noticed something about the friend they were helping. Once Bethany had found some cosmetics near his skin tone, they’d spent a few minutes carefully covering the scars on Ketojan’s face. Where the Qun had glued a visor over his eyes, and sewn thread through his lips. Without the patchy scars he looked remarkably different. Perhaps it was her imagination, but she noted how the big Qunari had smiled ever so slightly, with just a bit of wetness in his eyes when they showed him his face without the scars.

She also noted how all that happiness vanished like smoke when he glanced at the capped-off stumps that were his horns. Poof, and gone. At first, she thought it was obvious -- but Bethany and Isabela kept on going on about fabrics while it happened. To be fair, the talks about using the same cosmetics to cover his neck and shoulder scars were important where fabrics were concerned. But Merrill had an idea.

There was a merchant in Hightown that dealt with furs, animal heads, and other trophies taken from animals -- and while her friends chatted away, Merrill took some of the silver Ketojan had given them for the trip and went to see them.

The merchant gave off the airs of a true hunter, from the Planasene Forest. But Merrill could tell the woman had never actually stepped into a forest denser than Fereldan’s thickets. Certainly nothing worth being called a capital-F forest. She was dressed in fur-lined leather clothes with a strung bow across her back that was nowhere near a match for her physique. Yet the merchant had the gall to scowl at Merrill as she approached. “Move along, rabbit,” she said with an Orlesian accent. “I have nothing you can afford.”

Merrill had kept the coin purse she’d grabbed behind her back until the merchant made her racist remark. Then she smiled, and pulled the heaving purse into view.

“Oh. Uh….” The merchant backed off, or as Isabela would say ‘bitched her face right off’, at the prospect of Merrill’s purchasing power. “Pardon my rudeness, your ladyship, I did not realize who you were.”

“Oh, it’s quite alright.” Merrill put false cheer into her voice. “I’m sure all elves look alike to you.” She let the woman stew for a few seconds before she introduced herself. “I’m Merrill, and I see you’re a hunter.” She made a show of examining the pelts and animal parts on display atop the merchant’s tables.

“Y-yes, Lady Merrill. My husband and I regularly hunt in the Planasene, to bring only the finest furs to Kirkwall.” She stiffly gestured to some of the rarer finds, such as wyvern skin and great bear paws.

“Furs are nice, but I came to you for something specific, and I’m hoping that such great a great hunter,” she struggled not to laugh at the description, “would have it. Do you have any horns?”

The merchant was thrown for a second. “H-horns, your ladyship?”

“Yes. Ram, druffalo, nuggalope, bronto, dracolisk, dragon… show me all the horns you have.” Merrill got her wish, and was shown the items which normally would go to smiths and artisans. Some folks liked horns on their armor and weapons, or for decorative jewelry, Merrill herself remembered how Ilen would make wonderful weapons and crafts from them. But she wasn’t there for that. Instead, she sorted through the horns until she found a set from a dracolisk that looked like they could fit.

Merrill skipped back to her friends, where the two humans were debating fashion trends. Bethany seemed to be in favor of Orlesian style with its ruffles and decadent intricacy, while Isabela championed the more breathable Rivaini fashion style. While they talked, Merrill approached Ketojan -- who passively watched the women talk. She gestured for him to bend down to her, and showed him the dracolisk horns she’d bought when he did.

The Qunari was stunned as Merril checked to make sure the horns matched as she thought they would, and then used a bit of subtle magic to make the gold bands that capped off Ketojan’s horns grow vine-like extensions that held the new prosthetic horns in place. She grabbed the mirror they had been using to show him the effects of the cosmetics, and let him see how he looked with a full rack.

Ketojan stared at his reflection for a long time without words -- which worried Merrill for a moment. However, as he turned his head at various angles to see the horns, Merrill saw him smile stupidly wide.

She’d never seen a Qunari smile so wide -- she was afraid his face would crack from the strain.

“I think he likes it,” Bethany commented as she came up alongside Merrill. Evidently, they’d realized something was up and had put their debate on hold.

“Poor guy -- looks like he’s gonna cry,” Isabela added as she mirrored Bethany on Merrill’s other side. “Horns are a big deal to Qunari, I take it?”

“They are part of who we are,” Ketojan said with a waver in his voice. “To be hornless naturally means ‘this person will do great things’. To have your horns shorn off means ‘this person is to be feared’.” He touched his new prosthetics like they were glass and would break at any moment. It took him a few moments to feel brave enough to seriously test the strength of Merrill’s attachment. They were on good and tight. “I… with these, I don’t have to be just a Tal-Vashoth saarebas. I can be me again.” The big oxman was so emotional, he actually started to cry. “Thank you.”

“Aw, you’re welco-augh!” Merrill had set the mirror down and less than a second later, Ketojan had trapped all three women in a hug that lifted them off the ground.

“Ketojan… ribs….” Bethany choked out around the warm, loving embrace of a friend.

Isabela let out a pained wheeze, unable to form words.

Merrill wondered if all shopping trips had the chance to die by suffocation, or if this was a rare event.

--

Fenris

His prediction, that mages craved finery, proved all too true. Ketojan’s desire to repair the mansion was revealed when the blood mage had returned with the other apostates plus Isabela, arms full of luxury items -- fine clothes, cosmetics, soaps. Fenris couldn’t ignore the new horns the saarebas showed off as well. He had to listen to the women chatter at their oxman friend before he could confront the mage about his sudden gains.

“And where did you find the money to acquire all this?” Fenris demanded as he entered the Qunari’s room. It was one of the smaller lordly rooms, adjacent to the master’s chambers where Fenris made himself at home.

Ketojan spared the elf only a glance as he folded clothes and bound up rolls of fabric to place them into a chest. He pointed at the chests he had brought with him earlier in the morning -- one incredibly enormous Orleasian chest, a smaller steel chest with the crest of Kirkwall embossed on its lid, and a wooden box partially open at the top.

When Fenris looked inside the wooden chest, he saw gems and silver coins. While there were obviously thousands of coins, there were only fourteen gems -- however those gems were clearly of significant value.

“Salvaged from the ocean floor,” Ketojan muttered. He’d donned cosmetics to hide his scars, Fenris noted. He’d also traded in his Qunari saarebas garb for foreign fashion. Breeches tucked into knee-high heeled boots, a translucent shirt with a wide and deep neckline to account for his ‘horns’, and a sleeveless coat whose only function was seemingly to provide pockets. “As it turns out, there are many sunken treasure ships around Kirkwall’s waters.”

“Stealing from the dead, how noble of you.” Fenris scowled deeply. “First you bring in blood mages for that meeting, now this -- should I expect you to acquire slaves so you can power your rituals next?”

Ketojan spritzed himself with a perfume of some kind -- the spices it mimicked made Fenris remember the fragrant trees of Seheron. “You’re angry, so I’ll let that slide.” The well-dressed oxman placed the perfume in a wooden box on a shelf that he closed with a surprisingly loud sound. “What rituals would I do that I need slaves for?” The Qunari turned to face him with a scowl of his own. “Hmm? There is no magisterium for me to rise in the ranks of, I don’t need more power to kill my enemies…. And as you can clearly see, I have all the wealth I can want -- which I acquire with honest work.”

Fenris didn’t back down, he wouldn’t ever back down from a mage again. “It is in your nature to want more, mage. There is a thirst in mages which will never be quenched. If all you’ve said is true, you’ll seek to gain land -- so that you can rule over others.”

“Or to provide a home for people who have none.” Ketojan shook his head. “You, young man, have not seen as much of the world as you think you have. Once Danarius is dead, I suggest you travel some. Become worldly. Walk among the Avaar, speak to a Rivaini Seer. Hell -- maybe sail with Isabela.” Ketojan flicked his hand dismissively at Fenris. “Best way to see the world is by the sea. Or train, once I get around to inventing them.”

Whatever rebuttal Fenris was going to give was soundly ignored when the door to the manor opened again. Elf and Qunari both left the room to see who they had as guests for the day.

Hawke, and Varric, as it turned out. They were only momentarily confused by Ketojan’s appearance before Hawke called up to them. “Lovely day gentleman. Are the two of you up to crawling through caves, saving some miners, and maybe earning some money?”

“You had me at crawling through caves.” Ketojan ducked back into his room and came out with a mage’s staff that came off more as a cane due to his height relative to the height it was intended for.

“I’ll… go get my sword,” Fenris growled as he went off to his room. He had no idea what a ‘train’ could mean in the context of travel, but he was sure it was unholy and terrible in some way. He’d just need to get the details out of Ketojan while following Hawke.

“So, Ketojan, traded the bed curtains cloak for a… see-through shirt. Are you sure that’s wise?” Fenris heard Hawke asked. “We could end up fighting something that goes into a violent fit at the sight of nipples, you know.”

“I can use that to do something stupid. One of the good parts of the Qun is the exercise routine, might as well show off.” Ketojan’s voice had more energy to it than Fenris was accustomed to -- cheery instead of aggressive. “Look, I can make them dance.”

“Okay, I’ll buy Qunari dance by shaking their asses, but if… if you….” Varric had started off incredulous, but was driven speechless by what he saw. “Andraste’s ass.”

Fenris grabbed his greatsword and stepped back into the great hall as Varric and Hawke looked at each other, then Ketojan’s chest, and back at each other.

“Qunari dancing nipples,” Varric said softly, almost as if he couldn’t believe what he’d seen. “I… there’s no way I could put that into a book, no one would believe me.” He shook his head. “I’m not sure I believe me.”

“I will lend you every scrap of credibility I can, specifically by learning how to do that as well.” Hawke had an enormous smirk on her face as Fenris approached. “What about you, Fenris? Want to learn Qunari nipple dancing as well? We could make it a group thing.”

“I don’t need to learn, I can do it already,” Fenris answered, exasperated by the ignorance of the South. First, they had no grasp of hygiene, then they had no flying cows, and finally no nipple dancing? “Can we please go kill things?”

“Fine fine, we’ll discuss the nipple dancing after we get back from the Bone Pit.” She blinked as she processed what she’d just said. “There’s a sentence Isabela will be upset to have not heard in person. Oh well. Onward!”

---

This fic runs with the concept art version of Isabela, because that version kicks every single ass and no one can convince me otherwise.

Being able to look in the mirror and see something other than what has been done to you is a big win for people recovering from living in abusive situations. Also don't be concerned about Aveline giving a bunch of Fereldans positions in the Guard. It's fine, it's fine, don't worry about it.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: Bite

---

Varric

Outside of Kirkwall was the Bone Pit. A quarry that earned its name with the sheer number of elven slaves which had worked and died in the mines under the Tevinter Imperium. In some parts of the quarry, mass graves could still be found. Naturally, everyone native to Kirkwall suspected the place and the mines which branched off from it to be cursed -- haunted with the vengeful dead. Varric knew enough about magic to know that lots of death thinned the Veil, which let Demons pass through -- and there had been times when the Tevinter Magisters had killed literal thousands of slaves every year. That much death had to have an effect, but other than creeping Varric the fuck out he couldn’t pick up on it.

“Ah, the utter silence from animals having too much sense to be here, the faint smells of desperation and rotten meat, old blood stains that have permanently marked the earth, and bones everywhere you look but not always obvious.” Hawke put on an air of cheer as they walked the road around the uppermost layer of the quarry. “Reminds me of Lothering, shortly before I left.”

“...Weren’t you fleeing the Blight at the time,” Broody asked with a worried expression.

“Yes. Your point?”

Varric honestly didn’t want to know if the comparison was accurate. If Hawke hadn’t asked him, he wouldn’t have come to the damned haunted quarry. “These Fereldan miners must be desperate to work here,” he muttered as they started to move down to the next level in the quarry’s outer ring. “Huebert’s gotta be in the same boat. The gold from these mines is barely worth mining -- what’s he even hoping to accomplish out here?”


“You ever stop to think that this Pit might be haunted by a Demon which purposefully beckons desperate people in order to feed off their hope, gobbling it up and leaving them as bitter wrecks of who they were until they kill themselves when they’ve nothing left to hope for?” Ketojan spoke as if his hypothesis was brand new, spur of the moment, yet he delivered it with such detail that Varric felt there was some ‘I walk the Fade and have insider knowledge’ chicanery at play.

The substance of Ketojan’s hypothesis made the other three members of the group slow to a halt while he kept walking, as if nothing was wrong.

“Well, I am now!” Varric shouted at the Qunari’s back as he turned the corner. “Andraste’s ass, does he have to be so creepy?”

“I hate to speak well of a mage, but he might just be telling you the honest truth,” Fenris muttered and looked over the edge of the quarry’s upper ring to the levels below. “The deaths of all these slaves could have beckoned a Demon such as that, if it didn’t create it from whole cloth.”

“What I’m taking from this is that we’re not to let Bethany within visual range of this Pit,” Hawke said. “Such a shame. She’ll have to hear the tales of the Bone Pit’s majesty second hand. That’s never as fun.”

“Okay, now you’re purposefully thinking of lines to make Isabela jealous for having missed this.” Varric had to admit, despite Shifty putting the mood on a death dive moments ago, Hawke had lifted it back up. He couldn’t help but smile as he imagined Isabela’s pouty face when he told the story later that night.

Assuming they didn’t get eaten by a Demon, which was a tall order. Particularly since they heard a roar and scream of pain from the level below them as they began walking again.

--

Hawke

What she saw when they descended to the next level was a bunch of bandits in a panic, being toyed with by a giant monster -- obviously Ketojan. Unlike the first giant monster she’d seen him become, the new beast was mostly bare, with only a few quills on its pale flesh to indicate possible feathers. It was about the same size as the ‘tyrannosaurus’, but had visible arms that ended in vicious claws, and teeth that lined the outside of its mouth. Its white body showed the blood from Ketojan’s kills in stark relief as he snapped up a bandit and swallowed her whole moments later.

“I wonder if people taste good or if swallowing them with their armor and weapons on gives indigestion when he turns back,” she commented, utterly unfazed by the horror that unfolded before her.

“Is… that what scared the Qunari?” Fenris asked with a barely-there waver in his voice. The poor man winced when he watched Ketojan-as-monster smack a trio of archers over the side of the pit into the quarry below with his tail. They screamed the whole way down.

“No,” Varric answered with a much more noticeable waver. “It was smaller, had feathers. Just… scary in a different way.”

“Oh, you men and your fear responses.” Hawke was all smiles as she put her hands on her sword. “Come on, it’s not fair to make Ketojan do all the work.” She left her friends in the dust as she charged into the fray just like Meeran had trained her to do. The man was a prick -- but good at killing things.

Stolen Qunari steel lashed out and sloppily bisected a bandit that had his eyes locked on Ketojan-as-monster. The momentum from her swing lifted Hawke off the ground enough to kick another bandit to the ground, and drive the stabbing point of her greatsword into her as she landed. Rage was part of being a berserker, the use of momentum and turning every motion into an attack was another.

They were fortunate that the second ring of the quarry had wider areas where mining equipment might have been based before calamity befell the mines. It allowed Hawke and Ketojan both the space they needed to terrorize the bandits until Fenris and Varric came in to help with the mopping up.

“Something’s not right,” Fenris commented once the fighting had stopped. “These bandits can’t have been killing the miners -- there’s no blood on their weapons or armor.” He looked around as everyone sheated their weapons. “And I’m not seeing any bodies other than theirs.”

The ground shook with the approach of Ketojan-as-monster. Hawke turned to look at him as the monstrous figure turned into light and began to shrink down. Ketojan approached them, with only a faint trail of blood from the corner of his mouth to indicate his recent rampage.

“Shifty, uh, quick question.” Varric spoke up, with a tone like he was afraid of the answer. “Where… do the people you eat go when you change back?”

“They’re broken down into energy -- I keep what I can as extra mana, but when I’m unable to take on more, it’s sent to the Fade.” The Qunari answered and wiped the blood off his face. “I wouldn’t have been so mean about it, but they found my inability to do that ‘shoot-from-the-staff’ thing funny.” A demonstration was demanded, so Ketojan thrust his cane-staff in Hawke’s direction, and multi-colored sparkles emerged from the gold-studded head of the weapon, rather than any elemental damage. “I’m still working on it.”

“I don’t suppose that… very large and mean-nasty form you had just now could sniff out the miners?” Hawke asked, as she brushed the sparkling motes of light off her armor. They glittered in the dirt like gemstones. “Your nose was larger than Varric, it looked like.”

“I only smelled one still here.” Ketojan pointed toward the caves on the opposite side of the quarry, though on the same ring level. “Mostly, it was all dragons.”

Hawke blinked repeatedly as she tried to process those words. A glance over her shoulder let her know Varric and Fenris both struggled with the thoroughly unexpected news. Varric had pinched the bridge of his nose and Fenris dragged his hand across his face. “Dragons?” She asked when she turned back to him.

“Mhm. There’s at least thirty dragonlings somewhere in these caves, and their mother.” He sniffed, and made a face. “Their stool has a particular smell, you see.”

“Well… at least dragon bones sell for a lot, right?” Hawke tried to be chipper, and threw smiles at her other companions. “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

“Easy for you to say.” Varric muttered. “You’re not at eye-level with them.”

“Would riding on my shoulders make you feel better?” Ketojan offered, and bent down as if to let Varric climb onto him.

“No! Well… maybe, if you have a shape that’s less terrifying.” The dwarf initially shot the idea down, but reconsidered it after a moment’s thought.

A brief flash of light, and in Ketojan’s place was a blue-green crab that was as tall as Hawke when it stood at full height. Crabtojan bent down close to the ground, and let Varric cautiously walk on top of him before he stood back up. The crustacean then scuttled to the side, and in a circle as a test.

Varric nodded, and set Bianca up for further combat. “It’s… alarmingly stable. Like riding in a single-person buggy.”

“I’ll… admit this is new,” Fenris muttered with an interested look. “I’ve never known a mage content to be ridden like an animal.”

Crabtojan rapidly opened and closed his claws, which mimicked the sound of castanets.

“Maybe I should start bringing my dog on these jobs,” Hawke said as she led the way down the path around to the side Ketojan had indicated earlier. “If we’re getting animals involved, we might as well bring a mabari into the mix.”

--

Fenris

As soon as they found the caves on the far side of the quarry, they were beset by dragonlings. Their scales were grey like stone, with an irregular pattern that made them resemble piles of gravel until they moved -- the telltale mark of the Highland Ravager lineage. They stood at eye level for dwarves, but they were close to nine feet long from snout to tail -- even though they hadn’t yet aged enough to breathe fire, their fangs, claws, and musculature made them deadly foes.

Right away, Fenris and Hawke both noted how the dragonlings would stay well out of sword range until they had a numerical advantage. When they did, they did an odd ritual where they stomped their feet and bellowed before they rushed. Fenris could swear he saw an unnatural gleam to their otherwise dull hides as they approached.

Hawke’s Qunari sword, along with her brutal efficiency, made it easy for her to cut through the dragonlings as they advanced. Fenris and his common sword struggled a fair bit. More than once, his blade would get stuck in the neck of a dragonling that would scream and flail until it died. And more than once, while Fenris was distracted with one of its siblings, another dragonling would leap toward him with jaws agape.

Fortunately, Varric often had a pointed response to such unwanted advances on Fenris’ behalf. From his perch on Ketojan’s back the dwarf could easily cover a wide area and disrupt the dragonlings’ unity since his bolts could only penetrate the thinnest portion of their hides. He was kept safe by Ketojan as the walking crab -- the mage’s mighty claws could bludgeon the dragonlings or crush their necks if they got too close.

Though it would lead to hours of stinging later on, Fenris decided it would be best if he made use of the power in his skin. Blue and white energy coursed through the viney tattoos across his form, and he became a wraith. A dragonling’s swipe passed right through him as if he weren’t there -- Fenris did the same with his sword, and it had a much more substantial result. Though the beast didn’t seem injured, it fell over after Fenris cut through it.

“Incoming!” Varric shouted, and lept from Ketojan’s back suddenly.

Fenris saw why a moment later. A winged dragon, too small to be truly mature, had swooped down from the mine’s upper levels and gone after the dwarf. Ketojan held her back with one claw on her neck, and the other keeping the claw nearest Varric bound. Though the dragon was young, she still had the snowy white wings that yellowed at the furthest edges which truly cemented the Highland Ravager as the dragon type in play. Her extra age gave her the strength not to be killed by Ketojan’s crushing claws.

“Fenris,” Hawke called as she decapitated a dragonling and ran at the dragon.

“If we must,” Fenris replied and approached the dragon from the opposite side. Hawke made her intended maneuver obvious, so Fenris followed her lead. The two greatsword users held their blades behind them as they built up momentum, then swung forward when they’d flanked the dragon.

One diagonal cut each, up through the wings. Then, with precise footwork, they brought their weapons down on the dragon’s neck in two places. The dragon’s head was held aloft by Ketojan’s claw, while the body and a steak-like section of her neck fell to the ground.

“That… looks too small to be the mother,” Varric commented as he poked the dragon’s body with his crossbow’s built-in bayonet. “And why are the babies the first thing we see?”

“I’m not seeing any drakes,” Hawke said as she examined the bodies. “In fact… nearly all these dragonlings seem to have the shoulders to indicate they were growing wings. Short of examining their trousers, I’d say this means they’re… all females.”

Dragonlings either grew into the winged dragons if female or the flightless drake if male. A brooding female ought to have had close to a dozen drakes as her harem, who would hunt and protect the dragonlings until they were grown. Further, the fledged females ought to have left the nest. Fenris’ scowl deepened as he considered the things about this dragon infestation which didn’t make sense.

Ketojan’s claws clacked at the same time, and seconds later he shifted back into his Qunari shape. “I… could find out more about this -- but it would require blood magic.”

Fenris didn’t know his scowl could deepen any further than it had already. Of course. Of course!

“And why would it require blood magic?” Hawke asked, as if the question wasn’t a non-starter.

“There is a spell which allows a person to read another’s memories through their blood -- it is how Tevinter and Par Vollen collect information when every other recourse has failed.” He snapped his finger, and held his hand out. All the blood spilled by the group began to move visibly. It leapt from the soil, it slid off their weapons like oil on water, and gathered into an orb which floated in front of Ketojan’s hand. Alarmingly, the orb didn’t seem very big. Ketojan bent his pointer finger and touched the tip of a dagger-like nail to the orb, whereupon the orb blackened -- then it split into liquid which boiled away, and solids which fell to the ground.

Fenris had never seen blood magic quite like that. The disgust remained, however.

“These aren’t dragons,” Ketojan announced. “Not… naturally occurring ones, at least.”

“As opposed to what? The lovely crystal dragons from the Serault glassmakers?” Hawke had arched her brow at the magic, but didn’t seem bothered by it all that much. “Are they complex puppets?”

“If they’re puppets, I don’t want to meet the puppetmaster,” Varric muttered as he glanced at a corpse.

“They’re… basically a different form of shade,” Ketojan explained. “Someone beckoned several Demons to come through the Veil, and the spell they used showed the beckoned Demons how to create forms in the shape of dragons. That’s why there are no drakes or male dragonlings -- the spell didn’t include their shapes.”

That… was absolutely terrifying, and Fenris was almost glad Ketojan had done the spell to learn it. “I have seen Spirits and Demons summoned into many shapes, but only when they are incorporeal, malleable,” he told the group as he considered the new information. “Never something like this. The Magisters of Tevinter, to my knowledge, can’t control the form a shade would take. This would be something they deeply desire.” Fenris remembered the comment Ketojan had made earlier, about the Pit potentially being the lair of a Demon. He shuddered to think of what draconic form such a powerful beast would take.

“Either way -- there is more killing to do.” Ketojan pointed deeper into the caves. “Their eggmates and older sisters are that way.”

--

Varric

Shifty turned back into a giant crab for him to stand on while they worked through the caves. He opted for a slightly bigger one than the last time, so he could fight winged dragons if any showed up. Which, naturally, they did.

The one surviving miner they’d found hadn’t been very helpful -- the man was obviously shaken from having been hiding from hungry dragons for days without sleep. All they could get out of him was that they had opened up a new tunnel and the dragons had come pouring out of it. Yet no new tunnels were in evidence around the caves. Varric was the undwarfiest dwarf there ever was, but even he knew how to tell the age of mines and dig sites. All of the caves in the mine they’d seen so far were thirty years old, at least.

Then he let slip about ‘the huge dragon’. Which could have been two things -- a fully grown dragon who was at the start of her adult life if they were lucky, or a high dragon. High dragons were dragons who had years of experience in combat, hunting, and nesting -- they were the largest draconic creatures to be found in nature, since the Old Gods were always described as something more.

“Anyone got tips for dragon hunting?” Hawke asked the group.

“The webbing on an adult dragon is surprisingly durable, so that they can still fly with minor holes -- but the bones in her wings, particularly the smaller ones in the wing-wrist, are vulnerable to concussive force.” Shifty, as always, had oddly specific information, once he turned back into an oxman.

“Useful to know, but unless we get on her back…. Wait.” Hawke pinched her chin between her thumb and pointer finger.

“Hawke,” Varric said, warningly. He could see where her mind was going.

“If Ketojan provides a suitable distraction, we could….”

“Get carried off by the dragon and dropped,” Fenris said, clearly uncomfortable with Hawke’s implications.

“We get up on her back, where she doesn’t have a long enough neck to turn and bite or flame us….”

“My Indominus Rex form has the weight necessary to keep her from flying away, and a thick hide resistant to flames. I just need to bite her tail,” Shifty added, throwing his lot foolishly with the madwoman.

“How many ‘rexes’ do you have?” Varric asked, exasperated because he knew Hawke was going to cajole them into climbing the dragon.

“Three. Indominus, Tyrannosaurus, and Spinosaurus.”

Hawke’s mad smile sealed their fate.

They walked deeper into the caves, until they could smell fresh air tainted with some hideous odor. Somehow worse than dragon dung with a hint of Fereldan, it seemed to indicate the presence of the dragon. Shifty stepped out of the cave first and onto an outcrop on the outside, and took on the massive white-skinned shape he’d terrorized the bandits with.

A challenging roar from Shifty was answered with another, and soon after the white-skinned monster dashed forward. Hawke led them out after that. Varric saw a dragon of the same kind they’d fought earlier, only bigger, with glowing orange between the scales on her neck.

Shifty’s clawed hands swiped at her, which made the dragon hop away, right into the trio’s path. Her massive wedge-shaped tail was in the perfect position for them to grab onto. Hawke and Broody easily climbed the stony scales of the tail itself -- though Varric was slower about it.

Too slow, it turned out. The dragon felt them on her, and whirled her head around to see them. If they were already on her back, the dragon couldn’t have done anything -- but with Varric on her tail, exposed, she could easily line up a breath of fire to exterminate the dwarf.

The dragon’s intense throat glow turned red, and Varric was sure he was about to fry, when Shifty clamped his jaws down on her throat, right behind her head. Rather than a river of fire, only thin streams were able to get through her constricted throat as Shifty clamped down on the thrashing beast.

Moving around on her became significantly harder as she thrashed and struggled to break free of Shifty. Their claws tore deep wounds into each other, and when they parted, both were blood-covered.

Hawke reached back to help Varric, and the three of them found safety on the dragon’s back. Or so they thought -- for the beast reared up on her hind legs and slammed the ground in some sort of intimidation display. Shifty had some information they didn’t, for he started to run around her. Varric had thought the dragon was about to take off, but seconds later an explosion rocked the place where Shifty had fled from. A whole section of the ring path to their arena collapsed from the shock, and debris landed on the lower levels.

“Imma take a shot at her eye,” Varric shouted to Hawke as he steadied himself between two of the dragon’s spines. He waited for the dragon to twist to follow Shifty’s movements, and put his best piercing bolts into Bianca’s magazine. Moments later, she did as Varric wished, her eye had been focused on Shifty, but flicked to Varric briefly. He wondered if she knew what was about to happen, before he fired the bolt.

Immediately the dragon began to thrash and roar in agony -- it was as if her escape attempt from Shifty’s jaws had been a minor nuisance in comparison. She roared again when Shifty clamped his jaws down around her tail, to prevent any escape.

“Second verse, same as the first,” Hawke shouted to Fenris.

The dragon beat her wings, clearly desperate to get out of the situation in which she found herself. That proved to be a poor decision, as the human and elf ran from her hips to her shoulders and did to her wings what they’d done to her little sister’s. The plan stumbled at the decapitation step, as neither warrior had the means to cut through the thick scales on her neck. Fenris’ sword broke from the effort, and sent shards of steel everywhere.

Shifty released the dragon’s tail and began to change his shape. The white-skinned Indominus was replaced by the feathered and slightly smaller Tyrannosaurus, who made use of the dragon’s desperate attempts to get the trio off her back to line up another bite to the neck.

Despite being smaller, and lacking arms, the Tyrannosaurus seemed to have a much stronger bite attack. Shifty’s bite sunk into the scales of the dragon like a hot knife through butter, and with seemingly little effort kept going until a horrifying wet crunch echoed through the air.

The trio had to grab onto each other or the dragon’s scales as she suddenly went limp, then again when the body fell away from the neck -- Shifty’s bite had totally decapitated her.

After he dropped the head, Shifty turned back into an oxman while the trio climbed down from the corpse. He didn’t seem to have any of the injuries his Indominus form had taken, which was honestly good for him. He had enough scars.

“Well…. Hawke’s foolhardy plan went along great,” Varric said with cheer that swiftly soured. “Which of course means she’s going to insist we go along with the next one.”

“It’s better than being dead, isn’t it?” Hawke asked, slightly insulted. “Or being alive in the dragon’s belly for a few horrifying minutes, at least.” She threw her hands up. “Critics everywhere. Bah!”

“We’ve cleared the mines, for now,” Fenris commented, seemingly not bothered by the loss of his weapon. “We should collect our reward -- it ought to be sizable, given how much work was involved.”

“Considering I’m going to have to pay at least twelve launderers to get the smell of dragon dung out of my clothes -- it’d better be.”

---

Get up on the dragon's back!

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine: Righteous

---

Aveline

With a box of evidence and signed testimonials, Aveline made her way through the Keep. From the Guard’s garrison on the first floor, to the Seneschal’s office on the third, she passed many nobles who had come to complain about her arrest of the port authority, or that the merchants who came by land couldn’t meet the demand of Hightown’s markets.

She didn’t bother to spare such people a glance -- she ignored their insults and their anti-Fereldan slurs as if they were merely noise. It would be better if that were true. People usually lined up to see the Viscount himself, but for the Seneschal the line was much shorter. Aveline barely had to wait at all before she was beckoned inside.

A smaller, darker room than the Viscount’s office, with drawn red curtains that let in light that cast a bloody tint on everything. There were cabinets everywhere, bookshelves built into the very walls, and an impressive safe in the corner.

“Ah, our Captain of the Guard.” Seneschal Bran had forgotten how fearful he’d been of Aveline at their last meeting, and returned to his sarcastic tone of voice. “Found something, have we?”

“Yes,” she bluntly announced and set the box down on the table. “After some time in the cells, and making it clear that we weren’t going to let them out, some of the middle-managers cracked.” She produced a stack of testimonials. “Comtess Tsoirine, Comte Antioch, and Lord Vaelson -- their subordinates claim to have received orders from them to allow foreign military personnel, and at least three known slaving groups into Kirkwall without permission or proper procedures being followed.”

Bran closed his eyes and sighed out of his nose. “Of course. Their families have been most… vociferous in their demands for their release. A harsh reprimand, a steep fine, and their removal from the port authority should be ade -- “

“I’m not done.” Aveline’s face might as well have been carved from stone, it remained so unchanged. She reached into the box and pulled out ledgers, and a smaller stack of testimonials. “These captains allege that the same nobles either implied or ordered them to attack Fereldan ships -- and in one instance to raid a coastal settlement for captives to be sold into slavery.”

The color drained from Bran’s face as she talked. Ferelden was desperate for food and supplies at the moment -- they were buying Kirkwall goods at a high price, which earned the city a lot of coin.

“This ledger contains attempts by the Comtess to forge the Viscount’s seal,” Aveline continued as she opened it and showed the pages of failures. “You’ll note she’s obviously using the template of a letter of marque.”

“Maker….”

“And here are documents from the Comte and Lord, both to potential ‘buyers’ in Tevinter and Orlais.” Aveline indicated the ledgers, and stepped back from the Seneschal’s desk so that he could read through them.

As he did, his expression grew more and more agitated. “Where did this sudden burst of evidence come from? I was led to believe that the guardsmen were not being very compliant of late.”

Aveline didn’t shy away from her decision, and crossed her arms to indicate it wasn’t up for debate. “The guardsmen who wouldn’t follow orders have been removed from service. Replacements lined up at the door -- Fereldans eager to serve Kirkwall and make the city better.”

Bran’s brow arched as he set down the ledger he'd opened. “So a group of… Fereldans, led by a new Fereldan Captain of the Guard, find evidence about hostilities aimed at Fereldans by three established Kirkwall nobles….” He steepled his fingers and leaned back in his chair. “You must see how this looks.”

“I do. Which is why I brought this to you -- you can command the documents examined for falsities -- you can have the magistrates look at every decision me and my guardsmen have made. If any of it doesn’t pass muster, that’s the way it is.” Aveline narrowed her eyes at Bran’s own narrowed eyes.

“Passing muster… dear girl, this is no longer the realm of enforcing petty crimes. You’ve stepped into the realm of politics.” He shook his head, slow and deliberate. “What’s true matters less than what appears to be true.”

Aveline clenched her fists so hard she felt like the metal in her gauntlets would splinter. “Have a care, Seneschal. Fereldans are people who play by the rules, until someone cheats. Then they get nasty.”

“Are you threatening me, Guard Captain?”

Aveline lowered the corners of her mouth and softened her face a bit. Before she’d been able to strong-arm the Seneschal into going with her intentions -- something had changed so that he feared her less. Perhaps it was as simple as being in his office, on his terms. “I’m warning you. The Fereldan guardsmen won’t keep quiet about this if it doesn’t go to a magistrate, and no one answers for this. Many of these men and women know people taken by these slaving groups which were let in -- they demand justice.”

Bran scoffed at her words. “Justice? This is Kirkwall. Half of the reason people live here is because there is no justice for all that they’ve done in their meaningless lives.” The Seneschal began to collect Aveline’s evidence and put it back into the box. “Still -- we can’t risk them provoking the new King of Ferelden into building himself a navy to pay us back in kind. My original idea shall have to suffice -- a reprimand, a steep fine, and removal from the port authority.” Once he’d boxed it all up, he pushed it away from himself toward the edge of the desk. “For further justice, I suggest you contact the Antivan Crows, or the Orlesian House of Repose.” Assassins guilds, the both of them.

The two of them glared at each other, a battle of wills that Aveline wanted desperately to win. But she realized, as she glared, that she was faltering in her commitment to righteousness. She had a way to see justice done, if the government would not do it. The Maker had put a test before her -- did she want to win more than she wanted justice for the victims?

Aveline put on the airs of defeat. She sighed, and looked away. “Fine.” She stepped forward, collected her evidence, and turned toward the door. “As soon as the reprimand, the steep fine, and their removal are made official -- I’ll release the rest of the port authority to resume business.”

Bran smirked, confident he’d won their test of wills. “So glad you could see reason, Guard Captain. It will be done before the end of business today.”

“Then the ports will reopen tomorrow at dawn.” And if Ketojan wasn’t terribly busy -- there would be three extremely dead nobles for the criers to shout about.

--

Merrill

She was quite fortunate that she’d done as Varric suggested and wrapped the sword she intended to bring to Fenris up in a blanket. When they found it, it hadn’t had a sheathe, so it would have been dangerous to hold onto up the stairs to Hightown. She’d heard that his sword had broke after his latest outing with Hawke -- and she thought perhaps a relic of the ancient elves who had fought Tevinter at Sundermount would be a good replacement.

In the common tongue, it translated to ‘Her Song’. Hawke had found it on the way up Sundermount, when they had both gone to the altar of the elven goddess of love, motherhood, and protection -- Mythal. Perhaps the name referred to Mythal, but it could have been any of the elven goddesses. Any further information on who ‘Her Song’ referred to was lost with the sheathe. The weapon was slender, but still strong and sharp despite the hundreds of years buried under stone.

Hawke had been quite nice to let her keep the weapon, Merrill hoped she wouldn’t be upset that Merrill had given it away. But that assumed Fenris would accept the gift.

Every time she came to Ketojan and Fenris’ mansion, it was a bit more put together and nice. The tears in the Veil didn’t feel as ominous as they had last time, and certainly not as outright terrifying as the time before. There was even furniture in the foyer which wasn’t broken! And when she entered the great hall she saw a case on the wall -- between the stairs that lead up to the mezzanine. A swords’ hilt and shattered pieces of steel were mounted inside -- even down to tiny slivers of metal. It took her a moment to recognize the weapon -- Fenris’ old sword!

“And why are you here?” The agitated voice of the white-haired elf shook Merrill from her musings. He’d walked up on her as she beheld the mansion’s recovery, and she’d never noticed.

“Oh, um,” she stumbled verbally for a second and had to take a breath to even herself out. “I… we’re having another meeting today, so I thought I’d bring you this at the same time.” She held out the blanket-swaddled weapon to him, and smiled into his suspicious expression. “It’s… a relic of our people. When they fought Tevinter here.”

Fenris’ suspicion intensified for a moment before he snatched the blanket-wrapped object out of Merrill’s hands to look inside. When he unwrapped the hilt of the two-handed sword, with the large red gem in the pommel, his suspicion began to melt away. Fenris discarded the blanket wrapping and looked the slender two-hander over.

Merrill smiled all the wider as she watched him move through a set of swordsman’s forms with the blade. She knew that it was probably the fact that the sword had been used against Tevinter which sold him on it, not the shared historical link, but that mattered less to Merrill than a weapon of the People being put back into service.

“It’s… a fine sword. I’m not used to two-handed weapons which are this slender.” He rested the flat on his shoulder and threw a less suspicious look Merrill’s way. “...Thank you.” There was an awkward silence between them until Fenris flicked his free hand toward one side of the mansion. “Ketojan is in the kitchens, making dinner and snacks for your meeting. Follow the smells, you won’t be led astray.”

“Oh, thank you.” Merrill started off toward the kitchens right away. After the first door, she was at risk of being lost if not for the smells Fenris had told her about.

The kitchen for the mansion was bigger than Merrill’s entire house! There wasn’t any large stove, but there was a fire which Ketojan tended to with his humorous apron. On a table nearby were racks of small mince pies -- each roughly the size of a gold coin. Those had to be the snacks for the meeting, Ketojan would have to eat close to a hundred to feel full Merrill imagined.

The Qunari didn’t react as Merrill lightly stepped over to peer at what he was cooking. To her surprise, it was a vat of oil! Ketojan had a stool with a rack of pieces of chicken that were covered in a lovely golden crust, while he held a bowl full of similar pieces of chicken covered in white powder in one hand. As she watched, he put the powder-covered chicken in the oil where it bubbled vigorously.

“It’s a bit too expensive to be done regularly,” Ketojan explained, as if he’d been aware of her the entire time. “Kirkwall doesn’t have huge chicken farms which allow butchers to stock the meat. Go ahead and try some, if you’d like.” He tilted his head toward the rack of golden chicken while he used his long nails to turn the piece in the oil.

“Oh, no, you’ve already made all those lovely mince pies.” Merrill wouldn’t lie, the chicken did look enticing, but Ketojan had already made them a treat. It seemed greedy to take part of his dinner too. “Though… if you wanted to talk, when there isn’t boiling oil nearby, I’d love to ask some questions.”

“Merrill, my daughter used to ask me disturbing questions when I was doing stuff like this purposefully to cause mayhem. I’m used to it.” Ketojan shrugged. “Go ahead and ask.”

“... You have a daughter?” Merrill imagined Ketojan and a slightly shorter Ketojan with pronounced lipstick that in turn held a bundled up baby that had Ketojan’s fully-grown face. She fought desperately not to laugh.

“I did. She is no longer with us.” He delivered the news nonchalantly -- like he described the weather, and not the death of a child.

“I’m… so sorry.” She felt like a fool for having imagined something funny over what was obviously going to be a painful memory.

“Me too. But it happened a long, long time ago. The pain doesn’t come back as often as it used to.” Again, the Qunari shrugged. He quickly took the piece of chicken in the pot out of the oil using his dagger-like nails, and put a new one in. “If you’d like a point of reference for it -- I’m older than Keeper Marethari. It happened before she would have been born.”

Merrill’s train of thought was utterly derailed by that. Keeper Marethari had been old and grey-haired when Merrill had first come to her clan. There were perhaps two people in the whole clan on Sundermount who knew Marethari when she was younger, none now lived who knew her when she was young. For Ketojan to be even older… it boggled Merrill’s mind.

“But… I haven’t heard you complain about your hips once. And you’ve never snapped that things are too loud, or too quiet. And you certainly don’t have any wrinkles….” Merrill waved her hands as she counted off the reasons she couldn’t believe him.

“There are ways to age gracefully, you know. I’ll share them with you, if you want -- and only some of them involve blood magic.” He retrieved the chicken piece from the oil, and put a new one in. “You had questions?”

“...Mostly, I wanted to ask about the Claim, and Saebonshae.” It felt… weird to speak the name of a Forbidden One, if that was her name. It was like she was revealing something that was supposed to be secret -- something only Keepers would know. There was a strong compulsion not to speak the name, but Merrill had to know more. “How you learned to speak elven -- we’ve lost so much….”

Ketojan was silent for a moment, as he focused his gaze on the chicken in the oil. “I walk the Fade as easily as you walk the forest at night. There are Spirits who remember the old world -- and there are ancestors who still remain in uthenera in hidden corners of the world. If you show respect -- they will answer your questions.”

Hope, desperate hope, burned in Merrill at those words. There were ancients still in uthenera?! The deep, magical sleep that elven elders would enter to walk the Fade and draw sustenance from it -- with no need for food or water?! It was thought that such a thing wasn’t possible anymore after humans had arrived in Thedas and robbed the elves of their immortality. “And… they told you about the Claim? They taught you to speak our language?”

“They will tell you, with some reluctance.” Ketojan took his eyes off the oil for the first time since Merrill had arrived. “But if you speak to these Spirits, and these elders… you will eventually run into the Dread Wolf. Since his betrayal, he has taken to wandering places which remember how the world was before.”

A shiver ran down Merrill’s spine as she considered Ketojan’s words. She never thought that she’d actually have to face Fen’Harel, to look in the Wolf’s eyes and protect the world from him. But if she could regain even a scrap of ancient knowledge…. “You said Saebonshae did something brave, to be made a Forgotten One. And that the Dread Wolf didn’t rescue her. What did you mean?”

“According to the ruins of the Claim -- and the sources of the Fade, if they spoke true -- certain aspects of the Creators’ personalities were lost to time. Falon’Din being vain, Andruil being capricious, Fen’Harel being hasty… Elgar’nan being greedy. Elgar’nan marshalled the gods for war against the pillars of the earth, and demanded Saebonshae’s help. The assistance of the goddess of victory would be invaluable, no?”

Merrill didn’t like what she’d heard, and she didn’t know if she believed Ketojan. She wasn’t good at knowing when she was being lied to. Such as when Keeper Marethari lied to her about loving her like a daughter. There was obviously more to the subject -- Ketojan was about to speak again, when a question that Merrill had been dying to ask slipped out.

“Why did you learn so much about elven culture? Could you not learn about the forgotten aspects of the Qunari? Or humans?”

Ketojan briefly turned back to his chicken to extract the cooked piece and placed a new one in. “Because Koslun -- who wrote the tomes which became the Qun -- was an elf. I… wanted to learn about our parent culture.”

Merrill had too many mind-shaking revelations too close together. She needed time to process it all, lest she get overloaded during the mage’s club meeting. “Ah. I… need time to think about all this. I’ll be in the study until the meeting.” She rubbed her temples as she headed for the door.

At least the house wasn’t supremely creepy anymore -- or she’d have been forced to go home and come back.

--

Fenris

Something had happened in the last meeting of the mages’ conspiracy. He’d heard shouting -- Anders and the elf mage who was not part of Hawke’s companions. The topic was regarding tranquility, he could pick that much up, but what their positions were was lost on him. He’d been focused on keeping awake after a small feast of Ketojan’s chicken. It was rare that food was so delicious that it induced a ‘food coma’, to use the Fereldan phrase, in the battle-hardened elf.

It wasn’t until later that Fenris figured out a likely reason for Ketojan to have made such food, when the Qunari slipped out of the house in the early morning before the sun had risen. Fenris fought through his drowsiness and followed him with his new sword on his back.

At a distance, he tracked the oxman to the Wounded Coast. He walked as if he knew exactly where he was going, with no regard to the dangers.

Fenris followed him as he walked the sandy paths of the coast until he came to a wide open area above the shore at the top of a rock formation. The elf had to hide and observe carefully, for he saw what awaited Ketojan as the Qunari advanced.

A Qunari and a human -- a scout and a noble based on their clothing. To his surprise, the Qunari didn’t seem afraid or angry to have a Tal-Vasoth saarebas directly approach him. The only one to show fear was the human nobleman -- a young man with dark hair and a green doublet.

Hesitant, Fenris crept closer along the rocks -- hopefully he could hear snippets of conversation. Old memories of evading Seheron’s spotted cats in the jungle activated as he moved with as little sound as he could.

“...doubts,” the human noble said. “You’ve been so sure since I met you, Ashaad!”

Fenris had to break line of sight to get close enough to hear them.

“Doubt is the path we walk to reach faith,” Ketojan said. “To leave the path is to embrace blindness, and abandon hope.”

“You speak the Qun like a priest,” another gravelly voice, likely the scout, spoke with wonder.

“Just because I was born outside the Qun doesn’t mean I don’t know it. Considering I have Koslun’s tome, I’d wager I have a better understanding than you do.”

Fenris’ eyes bugged out of his skull for a moment as he contemplated that. Koslun, the founder of the Qun -- Ketojan had his handwritten tome?!

“...You know the Arishok needs it to leave this place.” The scout spat the word like it burned him.

“I do. But I have no intention of handing it over until I’ve convinced as many of our people as I can to leave Par Vollen’s bastardization of the Qun.”

The human gasped, in shock. Fenris was grateful someone had given voice to his sentiments. The Qunari had dealt with Tal-Vasoth in the past who were deeply selfish -- they had never dealt with someone who actively sought to weaken the Qun, or to attack their iron grip on Par Vollen.

“Saemus wants to learn the Qun, and you want to know why you aren’t happy. I will read the Qun to you and all who want to listen. And, if my guesses are correct, you will be upset with Par Vollen about how much they’ve lied to you.”

“And if I should tell the Arishok? Bring our entire force down upon you?”

“I will burn the tome, and none of you will ever go home.” Ketojan delivered his counter-threat with a vicious tone, as if he would enjoy such a scenario. “So… do we have an arrangement?”

“... I will hear the Qun,” the human said with false conviction in his voice. “If you will teach it.”

“If doubt is the path… I will doubt. Tell me the Qun the priests don’t want me to -- hrk!”

An arrow’s whistle, a pained gasp, and a cry of dismay all came together to put an end to the secret meeting. Fenris heard the sounds of steel and charging men -- likely bandits. However a second later he heard war cries turn into terrified screams as the ground shook. For a moment, he considered leaving his hiding place to join Ketojan in his fight, but that ended as he heard the screams grow fewer and tearing of flesh.

“It can turn invisible!” A terrified man shouted amongst the carnage. “It can turn invisible!”

With frightening quickness, the sounds of battle ceased. Still, the ground shook. Impact tremors grew stronger every second -- as if their source was on a course for Fenris.

He then remembered that Ketojan’s shape had likely sniffed him out when the Qunari’s arm reached over the rocks and grabbed him by his collar -- like he was a cat. Again.

---

Sorry about the lack of humor in this chapter -- Varric and Hawke were both busy helping Isabela mourn the missed opportunity for dirty jokes regarding the Bone Pit. Also -- you'll find out what happened to the Bone Pit next chapter.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: Squad B

---

Bethany

“Sister, where did all this gold come from?” Bethany asked as she indicated a literal satchel of sovereigns on the floor next to Hawke’s bed. Her sister had come back from a job at a nearby quarry stinking to high heaven with the satchel and without explanation-- she’d bathed and gone to bed quickly. The kind of quickly that Meeran would make them do to get enough sleep for another day of work on the morrow. So Bethany had bit her tongue and helped Mother tidy up their hovel while she waited for Hawke to wake up.

When she did, she posed the question to her at the dinner table. She’d brought some of the leftover mince pies from the mage’s club meeting. Mother’s face had lit up at the taste -- apparently the ingredients to get the ‘traditional’ flavor were all quite expensive. Unfortunately only Uncle Gamlen and Mother had the refined palates to figure out the nuances of the pies, which meant that Bethany and Marian had to make conversation while the elders gushed.

“The quarry I helped clear out was full of dragons, as it turned out. You know how it is, you leave a property vacant long enough -- rats get in.” Hawke shrugged and passed a mince pie to their mabari, Alonzo. The big old lummox was tall enough to sit and still have his head visible over the edge of the table -- back in Lothering, he’d even had his own plate. Hawke reached over and rubbed the enormous short-haired dog on the shoulder. “Enjoy the prelude to the high life, boy.”

“...How do dragons translate to lots of gold?”

“Well -- the merchant who owned the quarry wanted to sell the bones, scales, webbing, and teeth of the dragons. They’re quite valuable, see. However….” Hawke batted her eyelashes -- what would have been a coy look if not for Bethany’s knowledge of Marian’s bloodthirsty disposition. “We needed a reward, and were going to take the bodies for us to sell. A compromise was worked out -- the merchant signed over ownership of the mine, and paid a lump sum; in exchange he got all the dragon corpses for his personal sale.”

Bethany frowned. “So… you own a quarry, now?”

“Quite so.”

“A quarry which, allegedly, is haunted?”

“Very much likely!” Marian swallowed a mince pie whole, while Alonzo tried to position himself to steal one from her plate.

“And… this… is a good thing?” Bethany didn’t follow her sister’s logic, but she tried to lead the madwoman along into revealing it. Mother would have been much more forthright, but she and Uncle Gamlen were reminiscing on ‘currants’.

“As a quarry? No, not really.” Hawke shrugged, her mouth bent downward and her eyebrows raised. “The mines are all mostly done for. But with some time to repair the Veil… Ketojan thinks that all the land will be useful.” She casually slid another pie Alonzo’s way. “As it turns out -- it also confers ownership of the lands outside the quarry itself -- since the mines extend out a ways. Once the land is made safe -- we could see what use it’s good for.” She considered a moment. “All the bones would probably make it decent farmland….”

“Sister!” Bethany batted her sister on the shoulder. “Don’t even joke about that!”

“Fine, fine, they can’t all be absolutely hilarious.” Hawke shrugged. “Worst comes to it, we fill it up with water and make it into a lake.”

“...That wouldn’t be so bad, actually.” Bethany considered. And slid one of her pies to Alonzo, for Marian had run out. “Lakefront property is always a great thing to have. And we could skate on it when it freezes in winter.” Hopefully they’d be able to afford good skates, too.

“Can always count on you to see the bright side of things,” Marian said and finished the rest of her dinner. “Right -- we’d best be off soon. I’m going to start getting my armor on.”

“We’re dealing with Tarohne, are we?” Bethany made a face. That meant going to the brothel in Hightown -- the Blooming Rose -- where Tarohne’s minion would ensnare Templars and send them to the blood mage coven to be possessed.

“Quite right. Well, I am.” Marian smiled at her sister, which set off many years of ‘prank incoming’ vibes from Bethany. “Anders, Isabella, Fenris, and I are going after Tarohne. Oh, and Alonzo.” She reached down to pat the dog. “What do you say, boy? Want to bite some mean old blood mages on their hindquarters?”

Alonzo’s tail began to wag with such intensity, Bethany half expected him to polish the floors with his bottom.

“If you don’t mind, sister -- I’d like it if you could gather some of our friends and run a job too?” Hawke’s smile tried to be encouraging, but she just hadn’t the practice to pull it off. It came off as forced. “You’ve been in my shadow long enough… I think you have it in you to be a leader too.”

Bethany glanced at Mother and Uncle Gamlen -- still lost in their nostalgic conversation. “Sister -- you don’t need to do that for me.” Bethany folded her hands over each other, and looked at the floor. “Carver’s the one who always… wanted to be his own man. I’m content to be your sister.”

“Do you remember what the witch said on the mountain, Bethany?” Hawke’s smile had vanished, replaced with a contemplative look. “‘It’s only when you fall that you learn if you can fly.’”

“And you had the perfect reply to her, when she said that.” Bethany hardened her expression when she met her sister’s eyes. “‘Cheap advice from a dragon.’ I’m not you -- and I don’t want to make a fool of myself trying to be you.”

“Sister -- I don’t want you to be me.” Hawke almost… looked hurt by Bethany’s words. Her smile was gone, her mouth was curved downward, she looked so incredibly tired.... “I… want you to be someone better than me. Maker knows if I keep living like this I won’t be around much longer. And… I don’t want the family to just fall apart the way it did when Father died.”

Mother and Uncle Gamlen had stopped talking, when Bethany looked over at them Mother had a pained expression on her face that she hid the moment she realized Bethany had seen it. Alonzo let out a pitiful whine.

“With you gone, there wouldn’t be much family left to fall apart.” Bethany tried, she would swear to the Maker she tried, to keep the bitterness out of her voice. But it slipped out, and Mother flinched as if she’d been struck to hear it. “I’ll see who’s available, and try to find some work. But I’m not going to try and do better than you on my first attempt.” She said that like there would be a second attempt.

While Marian got ready in the other room, Bethany nibbled at the rest of her dinner to try and think -- who would agree to go with her? And what work could they do?

--

Varric

It wasn’t often that he saw Sunshine out of her sister’s shadow. He’d offered to buy her drinks to celebrate, but that just seemed to take the wind out of her sails. A hasty apology, and he found out that Hawke had asked her to gather up a group and find a job of her own to do. It was just like when Bartrand got tired of Varric spending his money, and demanded the younger brother find some of his own.

Given the way their relationship had changed over the years he was keen to make sure Sunshine got there with fewer hiccups.

A quick stop up to Hightown, and they had the Guard Captain and Shifty with them. That just left the task of finding work.

“Leech mentioned his crew was having some problems,” Bethany said with clear hesitation as the three of them walked down to Lowtown. “We could… offer to solve it for him?”

“Leech? Who’s Leech?” Aveline asked with an arched brow and worried tone.

Varric had to wrack his brains for a moment to recall the number of people who had that name and were in Kirkwall at the time. “That Antivan elf down at the docks?” When Bethany and Shifty confirmed that was the Leech they were talking about, Varric nodded. “He’s in roughly the same, heh, boat as Isabela. A pirate who’s lost his ship. The difference being that their ship’s… still around, I guess you could say.”

Varric left the group to wonder about Leech’s situation -- he didn’t know what sort of relationship the Redwater Teeth had with Shifty’s mage club, and he didn’t want to reveal business which wasn’t his.

Now -- writing about it was something entirely different.

With Aveline suspicious, and Bethany still hesitant, the four of them made their way down to the docks. It didn’t take them long to find the Redwater Teeth’s base -- the fine Antivan gentlemen in their leather armor with skirts gave the game away. Like most of Lowtown, the docks were carved out of the bedrock of Kirkwall. The same seamless white stone made up most of the permanent buildings, with wood stairs and additions where the docks had been expanded.

“We didn’t ask for no hookers tonight,” the raider who guarded the door told them as they approached. The Antivan man’s face was set in a dismissive scowl under his leather helm, perhaps because it lacked the space to accommodate his elf ears. “Get going, no coin for you four.”

“That’s a double-negative,” Bethany informed the man with a flick of one hand. “If you use two negatives, it creates a positive. ‘Didn’t ask for no’ negates itself, which means you did in fact ask for hookers tonight.”

“Also -- hookers implies we advertise.” Varric put a faux tone of mild affront in his voice. “We’re more like courtesans. People often come to us.”

The raider’s companions, an otherwise rowdy bunch of elves, laughed out loud as the doorman visibly floundered from being rebuked by both a woman and a dwarf back to back. He looked to be ready to pick a fight, from how beet-red his face had become, before Shifty and Aveline reminded him of their presence.

Shifty castually flicked out a finger and put it under the man’s chin. His dagger-like nail was clearly only a bit of pressure away from piercing into the man’s neck. The laughing stopped.

“Tell Leech we’re here to talk about his problem,” Aveline said with heat in her voice. “Before I put each and every one of you in a cell for a fortnight.”

As soon as Shifty retracted his finger, the doorman slipped inside the warehouse they’d been guarding -- and the remaining Redwaters watched the group warily.

Shortly thereafter, the door opened from the inside, and the four of them entered. Half the warehouse had been converted into living space -- while the other half remained as storage. Crates and bunkbeds both filled the rows. Leech met them at the stairs which led up to the second level of the warehouse, his arms crossed and his face set in a frown.

“I typically don’t like it when people threaten my men,” the Antivan elf said with a tone of barely-contained fury. “But Lorenzo got me to laugh by calling you all hookers. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who thought so.”

Ah, there was the raider’s ever-so-pleasant disposition.

“Leech, we came by to help you deal with that problem you told us about at the meeting last night.” Bethany spoke with a clear tone of forced professionalism. “The ones you brought up before you and Anders started shouting.”

Leech arched his brow, and narrowed his eyes. “What game are you playing, shem?” He shook his head slowly. “Just because we meet every few days and talk shop -- doesn’t make us friends.”

“It doesn’t need to.” Bethany shrugged. “The whole point is we help each other, even if we dislike one another.”

“...Fine.” Leech shrugged and relaxed his negative expression. “You want to clean up Kirkwall’s mess, be my guest. My Teeth have been getting into scraps with the gangs in Lowtown and Hightown. Put an end to them, there will be fewer fights on the docks.”

“And naturally, you’ll extend your reach into their territory once they’re dead,” Aveline sighed.

“See -- if I was a landstrider like you, I might think that way.” Leech’s face became viciously pinched. He slashed his hand through the air, and shook his head. “But I’m not. So I don’t. I hate being out of view of the sea -- so do my people. There is nothing in your rancid backwater of a city worth more than the sea and that far off horizon!” Leech’s tone became more heated the longer he talked, until he seemed beside himself with rage. “So don’t go thinking I want a bigger piece. If that oxman hadn’t twisted my arm, I wouldn’t be part of his stupid mage’s club.”

“‘Stupid’, he calls it,” Shifty said and tilted his head as if he were confused. “Yet a way to save his friend, free of charge, I offered.”

Varric could feel the tension in the room rise as other members of the Teeth became visible between the bunks and the crates. A fight was going to brew soon if the problem wasn’t diffused soon. He was about to try his hand, when Sunshine beat him to it.

“Lowtown, and Hightown you say?” She acted as if the recent spat between Leech, Shifty and Aveline hadn’t happened at all. “Which gangs, specifically? They’re a plentiful bunch.”

Leech sighed through his nose, and released a literal puff of smoke in so doing. However, his face relaxed visibly and his voice was more subdued. “A group of City Guard impersonators, called the Pretenders, and a ragtag bunch put together by a disgraced man-at-arms which call themselves Sharps Highwaymen who have been making moves in Hightown and Lowtown respectively. That’s who you’re hunting on our behalf.”

“Sharps, per the evidence in the Guard’s complaints, are most active close to dawn and dusk,” Aveline added with a tone of forced neutrality. “They often shake down businesses opening up and closing down. I don’t know about these Pretenders, though.”

“Maybe you should look into that.” Leech spat venomously. “You have your targets, shems. Go. There will be coin waiting for you if you live.”

Bethany had only to ask a question, and the mood pivoted out of a confrontation into something useful. Varric’s eyebrows were high on his brow, impressed. Not Hawke’s usual style, but a skill disarming of the situation nonetheless. Sunshine had potential.

Next they just had to deal with the gangs, and it’d be a smashing success.

--

Anders

“So… you’ve gone from broody loner to sharing a house with two Qunari and a nobleman tagalong.” Anders couldn’t help but jab at Fenris as they went over the Blooming Rose’s books to find where the Templars had been spending their coin. “Is that a smashing success for you, or a catastrophic failure?” The Blooming Rose’s office was surprisingly large, though it had no windows, so all the finery in the room was cast in shadow from the many candles needed for anyone to see further than their nose.

The elf scowled at him. “Mind your business, mage.” Like Anders, he was seated at a desk, looking over books. Isabela and Hawke were doing the same not too far away. Who knew whores kept such detailed records?

“Well, it’s sort of my business when I’m asked to come all the way to Hightown in the early morning to help a dying oxman with an arrow in his neck.” Anders shrugged, and smirked into the elf’s scowl. “Though the way that nobleman fretted over the Qunari -- Ashaad was his name, right? Do you suppose they’re….?”

Fenris cursed in Tevene and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“What? Humans are curious devils.” Anders’ smirk couldn’t grow any wider. “You won’t talk about why you and Ketojan were being weird when I came to the mansion… was it related to the arrow-in-the-neck thing?” He arched an eyebrow. “Should I go get Isabela to guess what lewd things you were all doing?”

“There was nothing lewd involved!” Fenris snapped his head up and glared at Anders. “What about you? Were you and that Antivan shouting at each other last night because of sexual tension?”

Anders scowled. That had been an unpleasant discussion. Everyone had been a little awkward after he and Leech got into a shouting match, even after they changed subjects. “No,” he answered honestly. “We had… strong beliefs on both sides of the issue. I’m sure you heard what we were talking about?”

“Only minimal details,” Fenris waved his hand dismissively. “I was fighting off sleep. Something about tranquility?”

The scowl Anders had developed lessened -- so Fenris hadn’t been fully aware of their talks. “Leech proposed an idea for how to get more mages out of the Circle -- it involved having them request tranquility, and how they’d be able to leave afterward.”

Fenris frowned. “I didn’t say tell me why you were arguing, mage.” He focused on the ledgers in front of him for only a scant few seconds before he glanced up at Anders. “Isn’t… being made tranquil the worst punishment a mage can endure?”

“It is. Short of being in love with a Templar.” Anders shuddered. “So you understand why I was upset.”

“More like I’m confused as to why Leech would propose it at all. A tranquil life is not one worth living.”

For a moment, Anders considered telling him that they had a possible cure for it. But he didn’t know if it would work -- they had to acquire a tranquil first to experiment on them. And even if he did know, Fenris had suffered under magic so harshly he might have reported them to the Templars for having discovered it. In the face of such decisions, he did what came naturally: Lie. “He’s Antivan. Maybe it’s one of their hangups? Being free at any price, and all that?”

“I’d expect such sentiment from a Marcher, or from a Fereldan.” Fenris scoffed and turned the page of the ledger. “Or from the Dalish.”

Anders considered that last point. He’d heard from the Warden-Commander in Amaranthine, and Velanna the Dalish Grey Warden at Vigil’s Keep, that the Dalish in Antiva were far more violent than elsewhere in Thedas. Could Leech have been a Dalish elf before he became a pirate? What did that say about his entirely-elven crew?

He’d have to ask Merrill about it, later on. There was still a coven of blood mages to hunt down.

With the menfolk quiet again, they could hear Hawke and Isabela giggling like mad Chantry sisters. Both men looked at each other with arched brows, then got up and went over to where the ladies were working.

They found Hawke bent over, her head close to Isabela’s, as they both read from a book too small to be a ledger. Anders blinked in the dim candlelight and squinted as he tried to make out details of the book.

“Sword… and Shields?” He read the title at the top of the page out loud. His words made both women shoot up, with Isabela’s hands covering the book. “Is the book good enough to distract you two from the blood mages we’re supposed to hunt?”

“N-no-ooo,” Hawke said as she sputtered and fought to contain laughter. It looked like her face was in a desperate civil war not to smile. “No-oot at all.”

“‘S dreadful,” Isabela hissed out through a clenched jaw as she smiled so acutely her mouth nearly resembled V. There were tears in her eyes, she fought against the laughter so hard. “Horrid, even.”

“...Something’s up.” Anders narrowed his eyes and pointed at the women with a stern tone of accusation. “You’re up to something.”

“Rea-lly not.” Hawke clenched her eyes shut as she clenched her fists and forced herself not to laugh. “You’re ima-imagining things.”

“S’just a book.” Isabela’s face turned progressively redder as she strained to contain her laughter. “Just… a normal book.”

“Swords and Shields….” Fenris pinched his chin between his thumb and pointer finger. “Didn’t… Varric write a book with that title?”

Hawke had to rock back and forth on her feet to contain herself. In lieu of words, she held up three fingers.

“Oh, it’s one of his serials?” Fenris’ brow arched. “What’s a copy of one of Varric’s books doing in a whorehouse, anyway?”

Isabela beat her first into the table as she kept her eyes fixed on a point just over Anders’ shoulder. The dam on her laughter would break at any moment. “N’idea.” She shook her head stiffly. “N’t’d’foggiest.”

Anders kept his eyes narrowed in suspicion. With Isabela distracted, he took a step forward and grabbed the book from the pirate’s hand. A casual flick of his wrist, and he had it open to the page where Hawke and Isabela had been reading before their arrival. “‘With another assassin behind her, the Guard Captain turned sharply to face them. Without her breastplate holding back the flopping flesh mountains, they moved with her and struck the assassin in the face so hard… he…’” Anders couldn’t manage to get more than a couple sentences in before he burst into laughter. A cascade failure took place, as Anders’ laughter released Isabela’s, who in turn released Hawke’s.

Poor Fenris was left to watch them in horrified fascination as the humans all laughed so hard it seemed they would suffocate.

---

And the humor comes back! Bethany's not being as terrible a squad leader as she could potentially be, something Carver would winge about most definitely.

Chapter Text

Codex Entry -- Saebonshae, First of the Forgotten

---

What follows is an archaeological report found within the vaults of Qunandar's Daarvarad, written approximately 6:41 Steel, translated from Qunlat.

-

A ruined city near the heart of the island was discovered by the vanguard recently. Griffon imagery featured heavily in all aspects of the city's designs. Bridges, columns, gates, walls, there was hardly any solid surface that did not include at least one griffon into its design. The engineers are puzzled by some of the ruins they've found -- it appears that there was a calamity in the past that laid the city to waste, where buildings fell onto other buildings. Short of the ancient elves having figured out how to levitate entire structures, someone must have tore these places from the ground and thrown them.

Several pentapodal voracious animals were discovered in the ruins, and were subjugated by artillery fire. They possess extreme regeneration, so it was necessary to stop investigations to plant explosives near them multiple times a day.

The engineers have found evidence that the design of the city started off in line with Arlathan orthodoxy, but began to shift as time went on. The newest buildings show signs of early kossith influence, or perhaps the kossith took these elements from the elves. A Deep Roads entrance, surrounded by shattered statues and mosaics which appeared to depict dwarves, was discovered at the bottom of what had been assumed to be a sinkhole. While none of the temples of the city remained standing, the door to the Deep Roads apparently had some religious significance.

One side of the door was divided into four sections. The first depicted an elf woman with wings and a sword in hand -- rubbings of the writing on the door were taken, and translated by the elvish specialist/translator.

'Saebonshae, victory incarnate, lead us into glorious battle. From the fickle seas you burst, as the Mother Goddess before you. The arch of many colors through the air is the sign that the battle is won, that the reward of rest is near.'

The second depicted an ambiguous scene, as the door had received damage. Saebonshae is depicted again, facing a male figure and holding hands in the stock pose of 'marriage'. On the male's side is a taller elf woman whom the translator identifies as Mythal. At her side is an even taller male figure identified as Elgar'nan. The man marrying Saebonshae does not bear the signs of being any of the known bachelor gods -- there is an implication that it could be their craft's god, as little information exists about him, Fen'Harel in an elf shape, or another of their Forgotten Ones. Behind Saebonshae are two male figures, but that is all that could be determined -- acid of some kind damaged that section.

The translator noted that Mythal and the two males behind Saebonshae are in the standard pose for blessing a marriage, while Elgar'nan is turned away. This indicates their chief god did not support the union. The translation read as such.

'Victory and (acid damage) this day! Mythal, Anaris, and Daern'thal lend their support to the union. Elgar'nan slighted them by refusing to attend, for his son deserved better. From their union are Elvhenan and (acid damage) the People.'

The third section is heavily damaged by acid, with only general shapes remaining. A figure that calls on another figure high above with a shaking fist. None of the writing on that section was able to be recovered. It is speculated that whatever acid attack struck the gate landed first on this portion.

The fourth has acid damage too, but at least some of the features remained, and some of the writing was recoverable. It depicts a woman being thrown into a pit with something over her mouth. In the background are several other figures, too small and acid-damaged to make out.

'Banished is (acid damage) and all her ilk! For abandoning the People, she and all those like her are cast out, exiled, Forgotten. Sealed are their lips, that they mayn't speak (acid damage) and thus they lose their (unable to be translated).'

The city is damaged, but sturdy enough to be repurposed into a fortified location. Please send gaatlok so that we can destroy these lies, and begin reconstruction.

-- Kathaban

---

Our first informational post of the story! Woo!

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven: Bottled Up

---

Merrill

She sat at home, seated on her bed and looked at the gaudy thing in the corner. The eluvian. A magic mirror from the days of the ancient elves, tainted by the Blight and instrumental in two of her clan members’ and friends’ horrible deaths. It had gotten her ejected from her clan, her desire to restore it. It had turned her to blood magic, her desire to restore it.

‘A Keeper’s place is to remember,’ she told herself. And her Keeper, Marethari, disagreed. Marethari wanted certain parts of history forgotten which didn’t fit her narrative -- certain facts omitted or repeating a lie when she knew the truth. Merrill couldn’t do that. She couldn’t look into the eyes of people who would come to their Keeper for wisdom and feed them lies.

Marethari made it seem like this was a betrayal. And presented that to the clan as justification for Merrill’s… leave of absence.

Then she met Hawke, by far the funniest human she’d ever met, and through Hawke she met so many new friends! And through those friends, she began to learn more about what she had left behind. Merrill couldn’t recall the last time anyone in the clan had been as friendly to her as Varric, or Isabela, or Bethany.

And in the short time she’d known him, Ketojan had been a big help. Particularly in that his words motivated what would be her next course of action.

“I’m going to dream,” she told herself so she didn’t forget anything. “I’m going to try and… find a spirit of knowledge, or memory, or whatever, and try to find out what I can.” Spirits were dangerous, as fire was dangerous, but at the same time they could be incredibly useful if properly respected. Be on guard, be watchful, and all would be well.

It wasn’t until after she had laid down and began to fall asleep minutes later that she wondered if she should have asked for Ketojan’s help first.

Her dream was so pleasant. Baking cookies for griffon hatchlings! She could almost smell the cinnamon and sugar in the air! But with an effort of will it all faded away, and left her in the Fade. Green sky, smoky clouds, rocks that floated in the air, a sense of existential dread every time she glanced in the direction of the Black City.

Yep, the Fade. Even though her eyes told her she walked on uneven stone, she couldn’t really feel it with her feet. Even though her ears told her a strong wind whipped the scene, she couldn’t feel a breeze. How things appeared was both how she expected, and also not. Confirmation and subversion in equal measure.

Merrill explored every inch of the rock she was on, and found no conveniently placed spirits for her to speak to. Which meant she’d have to venture out in search of them. “Alright… try to envision a path or something.” Merrill placed her fingers to her temples, and clenched her eyes shut. “A path. A path! A path!”

“A bath!”

“A bath! A bath! A… wot?” Merrill heard a strange voice speak up before she was suddenly swept away in a torrent of water. It was thankfully too shallow for her to be swept under the surface and drowned, but she couldn’t just stand up either. For a horrifying moment she was in freefall with the water all around her, only to land in a washbin without any of the water.

Afraid that a Demon might be around somewhere, she hastily stood and splashed as she looked all around her. She was still in the Fade, on another rock that bore elements of a large building. Pointed-arch doorways and tiled floors which had been overgrown with Fade rock, incomplete walls, and candles that hung in the air.

Though she had just been swept away, Merrill’s clothes were dry as ever. Even though she had fallen from a great height, she had no pain in her limbs or neck. It was as if the water and the fall had only existed to get her from her starting island to the one she found herself. Perhaps that was true.

“Pardon the interruption, ma’am,” the voice from earlier said as if it were right on her shoulder. There was nothing there when Merrill checked. “But I think you’ll find that in the Fade, the best way to get where you’re going is with a sudden left turn.” The voice was chipper, happy to be of service, and spoke with a Fereldan accent.

“Who are you? Where are you?” Merrill coated her hands with magic and ran them across her shoulders to try and brush the Spirit or Demon, or whatever, off her shoulders.

“I am the yearning for unseen places, long days on the road, the defeat of villains, and the making of friends all along the way. I am that which Isabela’s known which you envy. I am where I need to be, and needed where I am. Or so our mutual friend tells me.” The unknown Fade native chuckled. “I’ve been asked to stand at your side when you enter the Fade, and keep Demons away. They consider me something of a corrupting influence, you see.”

“Asked by wh -- “ Merrill didn’t complete her question before her thought completed itself. “Ketojan asked you to do that, did he?”

The invisible Fade denizen made a non-committal sound. As if they’d shrugged. “That’s not the name I know him by -- it must be a riddle, he’s terribly fond of those.”

Merrill paused and contemplated what the Fade resident had told her, and its implications. “Ketojan wouldn’t trust a Demon to help me, and other Demons wouldn’t worry about you corrupting them -- so you must be a Spirit.”

“...A bit of a leap,” the Spirit spoke with an upward tone toward the end. “But leaping is good! It’s how we learn if we’re ready to fly!”

“What are you a Spirit of, then?” Merrill was cautious not to place undeserved trust in the Spirit, but she had little ability to drive it off without being able to see it. So she climbed out the bin and began to cautiously explore.

“Every hero who’s ever lived knows me. I call out to them, and start them on their paths. I am the potential of stories, and if he could dream I would be well-acquainted with Varric. What am I?”

“...Are you so sure it’s Ketojan who enjoys riddles, and not you?” Merrill arched her eyebrow as she left the bin behind and walked toward a door.

“To quote our mutual friend: ‘Tell all the truth, but tell it slant. Success in circuit lies. Too bright for our infirm delight, the truth’s superb surprise.’”

“Odd for a Spirit to appreciate poetry, but… not unpleasant.” Merrill reached out and slowly opened the door, only to find a portal where the other side would be, colored white like milk and frothy at the edges. It smelled slightly of cheese. “I get the feeling this, however, will.”

“Only if you mind stomach cramps!”

--

Bethany

The Guard Pretenders prowled around Hightown, as it turned out. If Aveline’s shocked face was anything to go by, she recognized a lot of the men who came out of the alleys and shadowed verandas to accost them, yet she had no problem cutting them down.

Neither did Bethany, really. If they got too close, she could impale them on spikes of ice or crush them against walls with an explosion of mental power. And at a distance, she could strike them with a barrage of arcane energy or lob a fireball at them.

She’d watched Ketojan try and use a staff like she could, but all he got out of it was multi-colored rocks that glittered in the starlight after they bounced off the Pretenders’ armor. His response to their laughter was much more effective. And toothy.

The sight of a crocodile with horse-like legs which could chase down people would go down in Bethany’s journal as ‘one of the worst things the Maker has ever made’. At least Ketojan confirmed it was extinct. Bless the people who had killed all those wicked animals. She made a note to leave an underlined note in her journal as well: ‘Do not laugh at Ketojan. He gets mean.’

They chased the Pretenders all around Hightown until they tracked them to their headquarters: A noble’s estate, not far from the enormous section of Hightown run by the Dwarven Merchants’ Guild.

It wasn’t run-down like Fenris’ mansion, so whoever owned it either supported the Pretenders or had left recently. It mattered little to Bethany and her friends -- they kept killing every Pretender they could find. Just like with Meeran, kill everyone who wasn’t wearing an allied uniform, which was a little ironic since their enemies were dressed up like the city guard.

Ketojan as a bear batted a Pretender so hard his helmet came off when he hit the ground. Bethany was frozen when she saw the way his jaw moved slightly, how wide his eyes were, and more importantly how young he was as he lay dying.

It reminded her too much of the Tantervale job Meeran had put them on months ago. The first time she had killed another person. She’d been paralyzed for the rest of the fight -- and would have been dead if Marian wasn’t so skilled at murder. At the time, she had thought herself a monster -- a maleficar, accursed by the Maker for using magic to kill. Meeran, a surprisingly religious man, had helped her through that fit of morality.

Not even a year later, and she was so accustomed to death that the sight of a young man dying slowly from a bear mauling only made her stop for a moment. As if she hadn’t been lost in thought, Bethany easily threw a mass of icy air at another Pretender and froze her in her armor.

Then, as the last Pretenders fell, they found themselves alone in a nobleman’s great hall surrounded by bodies. The door to the master bedroom swung open and a haughty bald man in noble dress sauntered to the mezzanine to look down on them. “So, you’ve shown your hand, Guard Captain,” he pompously declared. How odd that a nobleman of the Free Marches had an Orlesian accent. “You and your turnip apostate friend come into my home after locking me up for a week, and butcher dozens of good, honest Marchers fighting to keep their city clean of filth.”

“Comte Antioch,” Aveline sighed and brushed some of the blood off her face. “You were involved in this?”

“Indeed. And I will be just as involved in seeing you, and every turnip in this city, cast out! The Viscount and I are good friends -- I need only whisper in his ear of how you slaughtered my new bodyguards over the Port Authority affair, and he will see the slippery slope he is on by letting you dogs live here!” The Comte was quite energetic with his monologue. It was as if he were on a stage, and needed to act in time with his words. A covered mouth to indicate whispering, several dramatic pointing fingers, and diagonal slashes to emphasize his lines. He seemed not to mind the blood all over his home, or the corpses themselves. Perhaps, for him, they were merely props for his speech.

“Hey, it wasn’t too long ago that Orlesians were just as unpopular here as Fereldans are now,” Varric snapped, his brows pinched together and his lip curled. “I’d watch it, as some people remember their history lessons.”

Bethany glared up at the nobleman as she tried to recall all the witty things her sister had said, in the hopes that one would fit the situation. However, she instead found a clawed hand on her shoulder, and Ketojan in her ear to whisper.

“As the daughter of the current Lady Amell, you are a noblewoman of the Free Marches. By ancient treaty, Marcher nobility may claim any land or holdings that are won in battle against forces hostile to a sovereign nation. Any sovereign nation.” He whispered quickly, as if he only had seconds to tell her everything. “Your mother has a meeting with the Viscount soon. You could take all that this lout has to his name.”

Bethany’s eyes widened as she realized what Ketojan had said. It was deceitful, underhanded, and maybe a little unfair… but as she glanced at all the dead men and women in the Comte’s hall, she found she didn’t care. “Your ‘bodyguards’ have been picking fights with the city’s gangs, harassed local shops for protection money, and impersonated the Guard,” she called up to the Comte.

Ketojan withdrew his hand and stood straight.

“Feh!” The Comte waved his hand, dismissive. “They were doing as the Guards have always done -- it is nothing exceptional. I’d have thought a turnip such as yourself, when people are expected to fight for their personal justice, would know better.”

In that moment she decided that the bastard didn’t deserve to live long enough to become destitute.

“You’re right.” Bethany recalled how, minutes ago, she had remembered how once she had been paralyzed by killing. Yet, even as she had, she’d dealt more death. Ice gathered in her hand, her expression hardened, and she lined up the shot. One more death seemed inconsequential. “I should have known better. And you should have stopped talking.”

After her spell landed, the Comte’s icy body tipped over the railing and shattered on the floor. His frozen pieces mingled among the blood and cadavers of the Pretenders he had fostered. And Bethany didn’t feel one speck of regret.

--

Hawke

“That was… alarmingly direct,” Marian muttered as she trudged out of Darktown toward Gamlen’s hut. “For how much of a threat that Tarohne person was implied to be, I expected a more substantial fight.” The sky was in the midst of transition to dawn -- night became twilight as they reached the surface. Kirkwall was just about to wake up, as early-risers went about their business on the streets. At least one baker was already making the day’s bread -- Hawke could smell it on the wind.

Maker, what she could do for some sourdough bread and cheese. She dared not hope for bacon to be available so early in the morning. Alonzo barked, his maw bloody, and hopped around as they cleared Darktown, and ran off when Hawke pointed toward home. He likely wanted to brag to Mother about his adventure.

“We managed to catch the mage by surprise,” Fenris groused and wiped some of the blood off his face. “She hadn’t time to summon enough Demons to be a meaningful threat.” The man left bloody footprints behind him in the streets -- not that any of the local Marchers cared to notice.

“And the ones she did have, she’d dedicated to getting those Templars to accept being possessed,” Anders added in, eyebrows pinched and mouth turned downward. His coat was singed in places, but he was the only one of the four to not be positively splattered with blood. He’d let the three of them charge the blood mages and introduce them to sharpened steel. “If we’d given her even one more day… that fight could have gone differently. And not in our favor.”

“You two are sucking all the fun out of this. And not even in a good way,” Isabela muttered and flicked her hands in Anders’ direction -- to get a small amount of blood on him too. “Four maleficars, all taken care of alongside all their pet demons, and a couple of Templars saved. Hopefully the loot sells well, then we can have a hat trick of good things.”

“We’ll have to agree to disagree on Templars being saved as a good thing,” Anders muttered mostly to himself.

“Even you can’t say they deserved to be possessed by demons, especially not Keran,” Isabela sounded surprised and a little annoyed with Anders. “The lad’s doing what he can to put food on his family’s table.”

“And if he were working at the Blooming Rose, or serving on a ship, I’d respect him a lot more.” Anders metaphorically dug his heels in. “There are a lot more negatives associated with being a Templar than being a whore, or a sailor. Or some sort of sailor-whore.”

“All of those things may be true,” Hawke cut in before Fenris or Isabela decided to smack Anders upside his head. “But we can’t change other people’s decisions. If we could, there would be fewer fashion disasters in Thedas.” She scratched her chin. “Or, perhaps there’d be more… it could go either way.”

“Hawke!” A familiar voice called to them as they passed the stairs which led down to the docks. Bethany, Aveline, Ketojan, and Varric -- all just as blood-covered as Hawke’s group -- ascended the stairs and met up with them. Bethany passed her sister six gold coins, a large smile on her face. “We had an eventful evening, what about you lot?”

“Killing maleficars, slaying abominations,” Fenris muttered as if the whole thing was old-hat by that point. “Hawke decided to keep one as a pet though.” He jerked his thumb in Anders’ direction, a smirk on his face. “Do remind her to have him deloused at some point, though.”

“Careful,” the Grey Warden mage said with narrowed eyes. “I’m Fereldan. I could decide to piss on your leg.”

“If they’ve been like that all night, Hawke, you have my pity.” Aveline said with a shake of her head. “I’ll be by the Hanged Man later tonight -- we’ll share stories then?”

“I’ll pay for something not watered down to celebrate.” Hawke smiled at the Guard Captain as Aveline went on her way back to her home. Soon, the entire group had split up and it was just the Hawke sisters who walked together. They walked in silence, and Hawke used the time to evaluate her sister. No haunted looks, no missing pieces, no burns. “Everything went well?”

“It went smashing, actually.” Bethany seemed surprised by the state of her first solo operation. “And… depending on how things go, I might have a backup plan in case the expedition doesn’t pay off.”

“Oh? I smell jucy, savory details.”

“Later,” Bethany waved her off and shook her head. “I’m tired. We’re both bloody. And I’m starving. Hopefully uncle Gamlen hasn’t eaten all the cheese.”

They rounded the corner, the picture of sibling togetherness, and stopped dead in their tracks when they saw the state of their temporary home. Gamlen’s door had been kicked down, and items from inside the home were thrown callously onto the porch and stairs outside. Their mother sat on the stairs with her head in her hands, Alonzo comforting her the best he could, while their uncle stood near the door with one hand rubbing the other arm -- as if he were a child who had been caught misbehaving.

The part of Hawke’s brain associated with murder woke up at the sight. She strode forward with berserker rage building up within her. “Mother,” she said with a tone of forced cheer. “What’s this all about?”

Alonzo looked up at Hawke and whined pitifully.

“After you left….” Mother’s voice was raspy, like she’d spent a lot of time crying recently. “Gamlen’s debt collectors came by. There wasn’t… I-I tried to convince them to give us time, so you could get back and figure something out….” The poor woman curled into a ball on the stairs, and fell against the wall for support. “It’s gone. That satchel you had, everything from Lothering I could save… I could only keep your grandfather’s will, likely because they didn’t think it was worth anything.”

Rage and frustration burned in Hawke as she stomped past Mother, up the stairs and physically threw Gamlen out of the door on her way inside. After a year with Meeran she’d taken to hiding her gold in scattered small caches in case a pickpocket got lucky. Her coin purse was strictly for silver and copper -- every scrap of gold she had to her name had been in Gamlen’s house.

Each time she checked one of her hiding spots, she found emptiness where coins had been, Gamlen’s debt collectors being very good at their jobs. And each time her rage grew. Oddly enough, she found she wasn’t mad at Gamlen per-se, but mad at the situation. She’d killed a lot of people to earn that gold, damnit!

In a fit of pique, Hawke grabbed a broken-in-half chair and smashed it against the wall. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears like a drum, everything she saw was tinted red at the edges, she felt like her hands would crush themselves into powder if she didn’t have something for them to squeeze.

If she hadn’t taken Alonzo with her… the debt collectors had been kept away for a year by that blessed mabari -- only able to send letters. The moment, the literal moment she’d left Gamlen and Mother alone, and it all went to pot.

“Marian?” Bethany spoke and stepped through the ruined doorway. Her sister was the only person she knew who could look at Hawke in a frenzy and not so much as flinch. “Is it bad?”

“All gone,” Hawke hissed and beat the remains of the chair against other pieces of furniture. “Every last bit!”

Her sister approached, and took the pieces of the chair out of Marian’s hands. “It’s a setback, sure. But there are ways for us to get more gold for the expedition.” Bethany looked around at the ruined hovel, and sighed. “They’ll involve us having to ask for a loan from Ketojan… or some unsavory people.”

Hawke grit her teeth and clenched her hands. She’d been so close to being able to say she earned her way to where she was. So damned close!

“And… that’s even if we want to go on the expedition.” Bethany shrugged. “A Comte was planning to run a gang in Hightown… and if we’re clever enough, we could spin that into treason against the Viscount, and be awarded everything he owned.”

“So our options are to beg for money, or steal it?” Marian’s heart rate picked up at the thought of it. She knew Bethany was right, there was no way to earn enough gold to accompany the Deep Roads expedition before it left Kirkwall. She made a disgusted sound. “This fucking city….

“I know, sister.” Bethany rested her hand on Hawke’s shoulder. “Believe me, I know. But… we don’t have a lot of options.” Bethany looked just as tired as Marian felt. They’d wanted to come home and rest -- but that wasn’t possible anymore. “Ketojan and Fenris have the most space… I’ll go, try and catch up to them.”

Hawke nodded stiffly, and watched her sister leave the hovel with speed. As soon as she left the house, she’d have to apologize to Gamlen, and try her best to make Mother feel better. But while she was inside, she could let the anger go and feel the frustration to its fullest. So before she had to put on the mask of cheer and wit, she smashed more ruined furniture, stomped, and let out primal screams to let all the bottled-up anger out.

Eventually, the anger passed, and a grinning madwoman stepped out of the hovel to make the situation better with some false cheer and snark.

---

In the game we hear a lot about Gamlen's debt collectors, but we never see any. I decided to at least have the consequences of them being shown.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve: As you Wish

---

Fenris

The mansion was becoming quite populated. First Ketojan had come to live there, then Ashaad and his noble friend Saemus had come to have their injuries treated. Then, not a day later the whole Hawke family had come to stay because of some dispute involving debts. Part of him wanted to leave, or ask them to leave -- but another found comfort in having other people just… being in proximity. Given the apparently creepy vibes the mansion had given off, he was surprised that anyone had remained for very long.

At first, he had been too tired to deal with it -- but when he woke he found the nobleman who had accompanied Ashaad talking with Hawke’s mother on the mezzanine, Saemus’ arm still in the sling Anders had made him. It felt… almost like when he had been among the Fog Warriors. He was surrounded by people who were both comfortable with his presence and were trusting enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was a Tevinter escaped slave elf, who had a fortune in lyrium in his skin. Conventional logic said humans would never see him as anything more than a threat.

Yet Hawke’s mother’s face brightened when she saw him. “Thank you again, messere,” she said with a wide smile. “If you hadn’t let us come live with you… I don’t know what we would have done.”

‘Likely end up in Darktown’, Fenris thought but didn’t speak aloud. “Think nothing of it,” he said instead, with a flick of his wrist and an averted gaze. “The house is a shambles, but you’re welcome to it.”

“I knew the family which lived here, before the… Magister acquired it.” Hawke’s mother took on a despondent expression, her eyebrows pinched and raised, her mouth turned down. “The Marningolds. They’d been in Kirkwall since before it was Kirkwall -- back when Tevinter ruled the Free Marches. Meri Marningold was one of my friends.” She looked wistfully around the great hall, like ghosts of the past had come alive and played out a scene right before her. “She told me every room in this mansion had centuries of history. And… now they’re all gone.”

“The cholera outbreaks,” Saemus said with a similarly despondent look. “A lot of Kirkwall’s great families were extinguished that way. And in the chaos which followed, a lot of history was lost.”

Fenris was not old enough to have remembered the last great cholera outbreaks, nor had Danarius seen fit to educate him on them other than what to do if the Magister contracted the disease. He also hadn’t considered the possibility that the mansion pre-dated Danarius’ owning it. A part of him was curious, and he couldn’t deny it. “You said this place had history? Do you happen to recall any of it?”

“Certainly,” Hawke’s mother said and stepped down the stairs. When the men had followed her, she gestured to the space between the two flights, where Fenris’ previous sword was mounted. “This was the spot where the rebellion against Tevinter was first formalized. The slave revolt was just getting started, and some of the Tevinter minor nobles decided it was best to support them….”

The more Fenris learned about the Marningold estate, the more insulting Danarius’ ownership of it became. They had seemed fine, upstanding folk who were against slavery in all its forms -- to the point where the family had made itself unwelcome in Orlais for their willingness to call a slave a slave. He could imagine Orlesian and Tevinter nobles celebrating the death of such a moral family once news had spread.

When they reached the end of Leandra’s knowledge about the estate, Fenris had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, he appreciated the knowledge that such a good family had existed and had dug in their heels against slavery. On the other, there was little he could do with that information other than attempt to kill Danarius slightly more dead when he found him for tarnishing the home with demons.

Leandra left to help Ketojan in the kitchen, which left Fenris and Saemus to socialize, such as it was.

“So… Ashaad is healing well?” Fenris started and gestured up to the large bedrooms above the mezzanine, one of which had been set aside for the Qunari scout.

“He seems to believe he’ll be made Tal-Vashoth for having been away for so long.” Saemus answered with pinched brows. “And for having accepted help from the Grey Warden mage. Even so, he’s recovering quickly.”

“The Qun is harsh to bas-saarebas, even more so than their natural-born mages.” Fenris disliked mages, true, but even he drew the line at using qamek on them wholesale. “He has a place here, as long as he wants it. Ketojan will probably enjoy another mouth to feed.”

“That… reminds me, I have yet to thank you and Ketojan properly for saving us.” Saemus bowed his head. “I’ll have to speak to my father about a reward for the two of you.”

“That really isn’t necessary,” Fenris said and waved the young man off. “Ketojan was the one who killed the bandits.”

“And you’re the one who told me how to keep Ashaad alive long enough for the Grey Warden to come help.” Saemus’ face was set in stone. “I don’t have a lot of friends. And I’d have one fewer without your help. With respect, I believe it is necessary to show proper appreciation.”

Fenris got the impression he wasn’t going to be able to convince the nobleman to leave the issue be. “Very well. Do as you wish.”

He would come to regret those words, though he didn’t know it at the time.

--

Isabela

Once more, Isabela found herself at the end of the pier while Ketojan swam around in the harbor to bring back loot. Really, she'd have to offer him a spot on her crew at this point if he could drag up sunken treasure elsewhere in the world too once she got a new ship, she was liking just waiting for gold to come to her.

The haul wasn’t too good this time around though -- the shapeshifted oxman had only brought up casks full of copper bits marked with Tevinter iconography. She knew their contents as she hadn’t forgotten a hammer and wedge so she could actually open the rusted open locks.
Granted -- there was enough copper coins in the casks to equal out to almost two hundred sovereigns, but that was still disappointing compared to the previous haul of gold bars.

“Enjoying the coin coming to you, Rivaini?” Varric asked as he hopped onto a nearby box. He had just suddenly appeared, with Isabela having seen not one trace of his approach.

“It’s quite fun, actually.” She ran her hand through the contents of one of the casks, the coins felt so nice as they passed through her fingers, and looked over at him with an arched brow. “Where did you come from, anyway? I didn’t hear you on the docks.”

“I affectionately call it ‘stealth mode’,” the storyteller said with a smirk. “Just a little trick which I picked up when dealing with humans a bunch. Sometimes being short comes with advantages.”

“If you are here to get in on the action, find your own golden goose,” Isabela said only semi-seriously.

“Please, who do you think has been helping make Shifty’s salvaged gold clean? As opposed to having every country who has ever lost valuable cargo around here demand that the Viscount get him to give it back to them? All while earning a tidy percentage for doing so?” Varric smirked twice as much as he had prior. “Though, it’d be better to do this at night and be more subtle about it.” Varric shook his head and shrugged in a ‘what can you do?’ way. “I’ve heard more than a few whispers of people below and above the board turning their greedy eyes his way. Then again, Shifty and subtle don’t tend to mix.”

“Considering he routinely turns into monsters bigger than houses and eats people, are you even a little surprised?” It was Isabela’s turn to smirk.

“I’m just glad he is our giant monster.” Varric shuddered. “I never want to see the business end of any of his rexes. Or that horse-croc thing he turned into last night.” The dwarf dragged a hand down his face. “At least everything he turns into is extinct. Except the bears.”

Isabela considered that while she pawed the coppers absent-mindedly. “It’s probably a bad thing that the least terrifying shape he can take is a bear, isn’t it?”

“I’m sure he can turn into a wolf or some other deadly animal which looks comparatively harmless.” Varric shook his head. He looked up just in time for another load of treasure from Ketojan to be deposited on the docks as the giant crab Qunari appeared, dropped it from his claws, and vanished again beneath the waves. “That crab shape for example would likely go well with a white wine.”

Ketojan hadn’t just dropped a chest or a cask on the dock, he’d dropped an entire section of a ship -- a pleasure barge, by the looks of it. The ship itself was worthless, but it appeared Ketojan had used it as a pseudo-basket to carry many small trinkets and treasure boxes all at once. Isabela was all in that as soon as the sea stopped foaming with Ketojan’s presence.

“Ooh, lookie!” She bent over to grab something shiny from the ruined bottom of the barge, then stood up and faced Varric. In her hands she had two identical topaz gems each the size of her eyes, affixed to hooks -- ancient earrings! “How do they look?”

“Not as good as what you’ve got already,” the charming dwarf said with a magnanimous nod. “But I bet some noblewoman in Hightown would love gems that just beg to be stolen like that.”

Isabela blew a raspberry at him and started to gather up the contents of the barge. Including the two topaz earrings she found twelve really nice looking gems, a pair of dice carved from citrines that had minute pieces of onyx to indicate their sides, two water-tight casks with art pieces inside, and many small sums of gold and silver which added up quickly.

Varric, as an artist himself, was naturally interested in the art pieces she’d uncasked while Isabela mixed gold, silver and copper together in the larger casks to enjoy the sensation of multiple types of metal on her skin.

He held up an ivory amphora with gold inlay that looked like it depicted elves. “Huh. This looks to be something from the Dales. Made from giant tusk.”

“Ooh, maybe we can give it to Merrill!” She smiled as she imagined how the Dalish elf would respond to such a priceless item in her little hovel.

“Isabela -- I’m not a trained appraiser or anything but this thing is worth at least four thousand sovereigns.” Varric’s tone was low, he glanced over his shoulder in case they were being listened in on. “If we gave this to Daisy, every duster desperate to get out of Darktown would be beating down her door.”

“Have it hung up in Fenris’ and Ketojan’s place then, would be safe there and Merril can visit whenever to marvel at it,'' Isabela suggested as she once more made it rain coins. “Besides, that place could use some culture about it since it’s supposed to be a noble’s mansion. Having expensive artwork hanging around is basically a requirement.”

“They don’t have any servants, but they’ll have artwork worth almost as much as their house,” Varric’s tone was sardonic. “Yeah, that makes about as much sense as anything nobles do.”

Their next bout of entertainment came as the ruined pleasure barge, out of the water, collapsed under its own weight and spilled back into the harbor.

“With all this wealth just laying on the ocean floor… do you even need to go down to the Deep Roads for more?” Isabela tossed a gold coin in the air and caught it between her fingers. “You could just have the one-crab-salvage-crew bring you up a fortune.”

“I’ve tried telling my brother about it.” Varric’s tone was long-suffering. “The only thing he wants from Shifty is the recipe for gaatlok. And… with all that’s been happening I haven’t found the right time.”

“You’re going to be asking him to turn over the biggest advantage his people have against being turned into the second coming of the elves.” Isabela rolled her eyes. She had no love for the Qun, but she knew that their blackpowder was one of the few advantages they had against the entire rest of the world. “Maybe there won’t be a right time?”

As if the Maker had sent them a sign, the water foamed and bubbled with the approach of Crabtojan again. As he clambered up onto the dock, he swept a massive claw and cleared the remains of the barge off the pier and laid two more chests down. With a flash of light, Crabtojan became an oxman again. Isabela enjoyed the show Ketojan put on as he dressed himself, though Varric was too delicate a flower for such sights.

Typical man.

--

Merrill

She’d spent a lot of the past day thinking about what she’d found in the Fade. Which was frankly not much. The frothy milk-like portal had led her through the dreams of nearby people in the Alienage, and… further from it.

She’d slipped into a dream of grassy hills by the sea and aravels drawn by halla with red chimes on their horns. Dalish people who had vallaslin patterns Merrill had never seen before, all in crimson red. Forgotten Ones worshippers. Though she’d never seen any of them before, she felt names whispered to her as she watched. At first the dream had been pleasant -- but then Templars came.

At their approach, the sky overhead turned stormy and dangerous. The scene of a Dalish clan, very different from Merrill’s, at peace on an average day became pitched combat. The Spirit Ketojan had asked to walk with her remained silent as Merrill watched the Dalish slowly lose the fight against the Templars.

She only needed to see Templar archers shoot down one Dalish who attempted to surrender to know there was no point in hoping for the best.

Suddenly, a voice called out. A young man’s, too young to take the vallaslin yet. She looked for the source among the crowd and saw a young elf with a dagger in one hand and his other palm splayed wide.

“Daern’thal, Anaris, Kieran, Saebonshae! If you were ever real, help me now!”

The blade came down, blood arched high, and lightning struck the drop which had reached the highest. Suddenly Merrill found herself looking into Leech’s face as tortured screams echoed in her ears.

Which brought her back to her present. On her bed, contemplating what she’d found out. Leech knew of Saebonshae at least, along with other Forgotten Ones. Leech was Dalish, from the portion of the People who venerated the Forgotten Ones instead of the Creators. And quite likely, Leech would never agree to share his knowledge.

As if the Creators were listening in on her thoughts, there was a knock at her door. Merrill shook herself from her deep funk and put on a smile as she quickly went and answered it.

Her smile and expectations were shattered when she saw a thoroughly pissed-off Leech in her doorway with a scowl on his face and a covered tray in his hands. “What’s the matter?” He asked, soft as snowfall yet his expression fierce. “Surprised to see me?” He thrust the covered tray through the door toward Merrill as if it were some terrible burden on his part. “You missed the mage’s club meeting. The oxman sent me down with some snacks, so you wouldn’t starve.”

“Oh. Oh!” Merrill looked at the covered tray, then Leech, and then processed what he’d said. “The meeting was today!” She spread her hand across her forehead as she’d seen humans do when they were exasperated with themselves.

“‘The meeting was today~!’” Leech mimicked her in a mockingly babyish tone of voice. “Your friends were worried about you when you didn’t show up.” He didn’t take a step into Merrill’s house, he just held the dish out until she took it and then crossed his arms. “I told them you’d found a Spirit friend and were hoping around in people’s dreams, being a snoop.”

She flinched as she set the tray down on a table. “I… I didn’t mean to see anything private.”

“You went snooping around in people’s dreams and didn’t expect to find anything private? The oxman tells me you’re supposed to be the smartest mage in this city -- you can’t expect me to believe that.” Leech’s scowl remained, but his eyebrows became more flexible as he talked, arching to show his disbelief.

“I didn’t want to go snooping in people’s dreams… I-I was hoping I could find a Spirit of Wisdom, or Knowledge, something….” Her hands clenched into fists, though her voice remained apologetic. She’d trespassed, and she needed to own that. “But I did end up snooping. I’m… I’m sorry.” She met Leech’s eyes and tried to will her sorriness through her gaze into his mind.

After a moment, Leech sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “You won’t find Wisdom or Knowledge around shem cities. They tend to linger near their universities and Circle towers.” He looked up and glanced at someone outside Merrill’s house, scowled at them, and stepped inside to slam the door closed. “Nosey old witch….”

“Oh, that’s just the hahren of the alienage,” Merrill said, an attempt to defuse the tense situation.

“I know who she is,” the blood mage snapped. “I don’t care.” He pointed at his eyes with two fingers, then thrust them in Merrill’s direction. “I’ll be watching for you, snoop. I catch you in my dreams again -- and I’ll bind you like a Demon.”

Merrill held up her hands, to make it clear she wasn’t going to threaten him back. “I’m sorry! It won’t happen again.”

“It’d better not! And I better not see any of your clan come after my crew.” Leech narrowed his eyes at her, as if to make sure he knew she wouldn’t bring her clan down on him, then turned to the door.

“Wait,” Merrill said as Leech reached for the knob. “I… we’re both Dalish, aren’t we? Can’t we… be on slightly better terms? I could share what I know, and….” She floundered as Leech turned back to face her, his expression disbelieving. She twisted her hands together, as if she could squeeze the nervousness out.

“...If you had met me ten years ago, I would have leapt at such an offer.” Leech spoke without heat in his voice for the first time since Merrill had met him. “But this city, these shems, and… some of the Dalish -- they’ve taught cruel lessons about trust.” He put his hand back on the door, and stayed there for a moment. Merrill could see his fingers wrap tight around the knob, then relax again. It was like he couldn’t muster the strength to leave. “Why would you even want to be on good terms with a bareface like me?”

Merrill didn’t have a good answer. She ruminated on the question, and put her answer to stumbling words. “I… don’t know about your crew. If they’re all Dalish too, or just… elves that serve with you… I just know that you’re acting like their Keeper, and I was being trained to be a Keeper. And our place is to remember the past… I don’t know very much about the Forgotten Ones, or why some Dalish follow them.” Merrill looked down at her hands, and twisted them tightly together until it hurt. The pain helped keep hesitation away. “A Keeper’s place is to remember. That includes the parts we might not necessarily like. The parts which we’re afraid of.” She recalled how Ketojan had talked about some of the traits of the Creators which had been forgotten. Falon’Din’s vanity and Elgar’nan’s greed lept out to her as traits which no orthodox Dalish would ever assign to those gods.

“...Maybe you do deserve to wear Saebonshae’s marks on your face, then.” Leech cleared his throat and his usual scowl returned. “I’m… not saying yes. And I’m not saying no. I don’t know if I can trust you yet -- so I won’t close or open the door on… being on better terms.” His free hand clenched into a fist so tight small drops of blood landed on Merrill’s floor. Perhaps his way of keeping hesitation at bay wasn’t so different from Merrill’s. “Trust must be earned. You deserve the chance to earn it.” He opened the door at last, and took half a step out of her house before he looked over his shoulder. “Oh. And the shem-woman said she and her sister wanted your help for hunting some people down tomorrow.”

“Ah.” Merrill nodded. She hadn’t gotten what she wanted from the interaction, but it was better than getting nothing. “Thank you. I’ll be sure to be ready.” She bit her lip, to try and stifle a question -- but it burst out of her when Leech took another step out of her house. “May I ask… about Saebonshae?”

Leech stopped and looked over his shoulder at her.

Merrill took a deep breath and tried to phrase her question as something Leech could easily dismiss if he didn’t want to speak about it. “Why… would she expect Fen’Harel to rescue her?” It was a fib, it gave the impression she knew much more about the Forgotten One than she really did.

Leech scoffed, and shook his head with his eyes closed. “According to our legends… she and the Dread Wolf were married. She truly loved him… and learned the hard way that he didn’t feel the same.” He closed the door behind him, and left Merrill to ruminate on his response.

It hadn’t really sunk into Merrill before that moment that the Forgotten Ones must have trusted the Dread Wolf for him to betray them so effectively.

---

For the elvhen, Fen'Harel would do anything. An admirable trait, and an abominable one at the same time.

Chapter Text

Codex: Horned Giants and Little-People

---

From an interview with a fex Tal-Vashoth, shortly before her execution. 8:01 Blessed.

-

The Qunari like to see themselves separate from the world. They create separation where non exists. Men from women, Qunari from bas, and Qunari from kossith. Our pyramids depicted the kossith which lived with us for a time, until they left one day. The Qunari never bothered to translate our writings -- or they'd know who exactly the murals depicted. And if they did, they'd likely destroy them. It has been a small secret us little-people have kept, even as we keep the old agreements by pretending to follow their Qun. They will learn, when they're ready to be civilized about it.

They didn't always have horns of their own, you know, and they weren't always giants. They had to wear horned hats -- it was some sort of mark of authority in their society. The ancients only noted that because they would gain real horns from drinking the blood of dragons. They naturally didn't get that stuff too often, living underground with the dwarves and all. ...What do you mean the dwarves don't remember them? Don't the dwarves write down everything like you humans?

Anyway -- they protected us little-people if we lived close to their entrances to the underworld, because they couldn't build anything on the surface for some reason. We'd build things big enough for them to live in, they moved in with us, and it didn't count because it wasn't them who made it. Guess the Qunari separation thing got started by that. Huh.

They taught us little-people how to keep secrets, how to do magic, and how to mine stone. Our pyramids were some of the first things we built ourselves. We didn't have much to do with the dwarves directly -- they would sometimes come with the kossith, but since apparently the dwarves don't remember I don't know who you would ask about their relationship. ...Look, I don't know if any non-Qunari kossith still exist, alright? The world's a big place. ...They might have black powder, they might not, why? ...Hey, what did she mean 'no longer useful'?! Hey!

---

I bet y'all forgot the fex even existed, huh?

They likely won't appear in-story, but story-canon considers them to use Quill's Better Halfling design: Quill's Halflings

Also don't go to the chantry and expect them to help you escape the Qun. You'll just end up losing your head.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen: Meat

---

Leandra

Most of the mansion was kept locked up -- repairs had to be made in waves, and only the most critical areas were available for anyone to live in. She could only hope the Amell estate had not suffered so terribly. Leandra had made it clear to the Qunari that she intended to help out in the kitchen while they were guests, her children, their hound, her brother, and herself. To her surprise, the first thing she saw next to the kitchen door on her first day of work was a rack with several aprons on it and nameplates above them. One was for the Qunari, Ketojan, while the others were for ‘Fenris’, ‘Hawke’, and the last for ‘Leandra’. Ketojan and Hawke’s were missing, but hers and Fenris’ were still there.

She did a double-take when she saw her apron -- it was white with a starling seated on a branch stitched into it, along with the beautiful Orlesian calligraphy which read: “Keep it classy, motherfuckers.” On inspection, she saw Fenris’ had something similar on it. A large-billed bird she recalled from a book in her youth -- toucan? -- with calligraphy which read: “I would be thrilled to see you never the fuck again.”

“We’re guests, and it… it’s quite good of them to provide aprons for us,” Leandra told herself as she put her apron on over her dress. Maker, she felt so rude. Once aproned up, she entered the kitchen and found another odd sight. The Qunari, her eldest daughter -- dressed in a vulgar apron of her own, which depicted a duck and the words “Good thing one of us isn’t a dumbass” -- and a dwarf, aproned traditionally. They were fitting metal disks into a large metal box with a hinged door on one side made of glass, and a glass-covered top surface where six rings of alternating sizes. Large in front, small in back, and the reverse for the next row, and repeated for the last row. It almost looked like a stove and oven.

“Morning, mother!” Marian waved enthusiastically. “We’re setting up a Tevinter hotbox!”

Leandra’s brows pinched together as she examined the box. Racks of wire were laid on the inside, fitted into groves at the side. Metal disks with glowing red marks appeared on the inside of the box regularly. “A… hotbox?” She asked, hesitant.

“It’s like an oven, but you don’t need to provide fuel, and you can control the temperature exactly.” The dwarf said without looking away. He was stocky as most dwarves were, with rich brown hair and a braided mustache over a short beard. “They’re not typically seen outside Tevinter, naturally.”

“And… it cooks food just as well?” Leandra looked around the box and saw knobs marked with numbers above the handle for the glass door, and strange symbols she didn’t understand.

“I’d say better, but I’m biased.” The dwarf smirked. He had his arms behind the ‘hotbox’ and moved them in time with metallic noises. “Just need to finish this last connection, and…. There!” The runes and symbols on and inside the hotbox lit up visibly brighter. The dwarf retracted his arms, a pair of unfamiliar tools in his hands. “All’s in order on my end, sir.”

The Qunari tapped the symbols on the hotbox as if he knew how to operate them instinctively.

Leandra had to fight the urge to take a step away from the oxman. He didn’t look a thing like that Qunari who had killed that family back in Lothering, but he was still of the same race and had a powerful build. As well as dagger-like fingernails, she realized. Leandra glanced at Marian for support and found her eldest ready to offer her an encouraging smile.

“Looks all in order, thank you messere,” the Qunari spoke with a surprisingly soft tone. “Please let me know if you make any progress on the ‘coldbox’ idea I proposed to you.”

“Of course, mi’lord.” The dwarf bowed. “I’ll continue getting set up in the workshop.” He smiled and bowed to Leandra as well before he left the kitchen toward the rest of the house rather than the servant’s entrance.

“Messere Worthy is our household enchanter and handyman,” the Qunari said as an explanation while he adjusted the hotbox. “You’ll find him in what used to be the wine-cask room. I’m going to be purchasing the warrens underneath the mansion to develop a proper cellar, as your Ladyship’s estate has.”

Leandra found herself frowning at the news. The wine-cask room certainly had the space for a handyman’s workshop, and the Marningolds had never had a live-in handyman of their own, but purchasing the warrens for a cellar reminded her that the Marningolds were gone. Things were going to change, and keep changing. Even as she had to accept the reality of it, she felt an intense desire to stop it somehow. “Wasn’t… he one of those mercenaries you worked with, Marian?” It was easier to think of it as ‘work’ rather than ‘indentured servitude’.

“Quite so. And our host poached him as soon as I told him where his shop was located.” Marian smiled and went to a cupboard. “Well, time to get cooking.”

Marian being the older daughter had all but been press-ganged into kitchen duty when she was a girl, particularly when the twins were young. Leandra had always regretted it, but she couldn’t see another way for them to have gotten through. Malcolm was busy in the fields, and she only had so many hands. At least the experience hadn’t embittered Marian to cooking.

“Right.” The Qunari grabbed hinged molds from a shelf along with some large mixing bowls. “There’s a long day of murder ahead -- so we have to prepare food for a group that will see them through it. Pigeon pie!”

Ah, a recipe Leandra and Marian both knew. They’d made it for Malcolm many times during the harvest season. As soon as she found a knife and a bowl, Leandra busied herself with chopping the mushrooms and spices Marian got for her from the cupboard. The work was divided thus -- with Leandra on spices, Marian on the pigeon meat, and the Qunari on the pastry. If Leandra suspected correctly, Marian and her friends intended to go after the debt collectors who had ruined her brother’s house and stolen her daughter’s money.

The pies would have to be expertly crafted if they were to sustain the amount of violence which would result. Leandra wasn’t going to give her girls anything less.

--

Captain Swent

The bosses knew something big was coming -- they’d called in every captain they had signed on, and sent desperate offers to every mercenary company in Kirkwall. Swent knew he’d regret going to work for a pair of debt collecting misers one day, but he didn’t expect it to be before he’d gotten grey hairs. Swent was one of the junior captains for Marley n’ Marley Collections -- they broke down doors, took what they were ordered to take, and left before any guards thought to interfere.

A good thing, that. Because more than once the bosses had neglected to give them paperwork to prove they weren’t just robbing a place. Swent was a big man, so it wasn’t hard to sock a guardsman and bolt while he was out cold. But it wasn’t professional.

The misers had offices in Kirkwall’s Hightown, but their bolt-hole was an abandoned dwarven ruin on Sundermount. It was strong, defensible, and easily overlooked unless people knew where to look. The Dalish hadn’t even noticed them yet. Swent had been looking forward to a day off, but naturally, the bosses had stepped in something and needed reinforcements at the bolt-hole, while their new mercs protected their office. A day of pouring-down rain no less!

Swent and six other captains, in full armor, plus their squads all turned up to the bolt-hole later that day to find it eerily quiet apart from rainfall and thunder. He looked around at the cliffs and frowned deeply. Though the rain was heavy, he couldn’t make out any glints of armor, or points of bows. “Somethin’s not right,” he told the other captains. “Where’s the sentries? Where’s the archers?”

“They could be inside -- and we’re expected to take their place out on the cliffs,” Captain Visenya shouted over the rain. A big ol’ Ostwick girl, one of the senior captains. “Visibility would be shite in this weather anyway.”

“Fan out!” Swent ordered and advanced on the cave entrance to the ruin with the other captains. “Search the area, and take up guard positions!” The troops grumbled but spread out through the rain to do as instructed. It’d been their day off too, so Swent didn’t bother them about the back chatter. The captains weren’t even to the cave before a shout went up among the men.

“We’ve got bodies!”

Weapons drawn, the captains diverted course and followed the voice which called out the bodies. In the pouring rain, with only the occasional flash of lightning to illuminate the scene, Swent struggled to tell the body from rocks until he was close. The troops were in the midst of forming a defensive perimeter around the body when they arrived. The rain had long ago washed away any blood and mess, and left a cadaver that was partially crushed into the dirt. From the pattern of the injury, and the crushed armor, Swent posited that something big had stepped on the poor lout.

“There’s one body,” another captain said with a guarded tone. “Where’s the others?”

They were directed around a boulder, where the company medic was in the midst of examining another fallen soldier. “This one might be alive, sers,” the closed-faced helmeted medic said. “Probably wishes he wasn’t, though.”

There was a massive dent in the back of the fallen soldier’s armor -- like something the width of a tree trunk had struck him. From the bow in his hand, he had to be an archer. Swent watched as the medic blocked the rain with his body and waved a smelling salt under the fallen soldier’s nose.

“Did a bloody dragon attack or something?” Visenya muttered as time dragged on and no new shouts of bodies were heard. “A wyvern? Do wyverns come this far east?”

“Historically, yes,” another captain, a former Templar, said with a pinched brow. “But not in the last hundred years. Would just be our luck to run into the first ones coming back to Kirkwall.”

The fallen soldier gasped and coughed red viscera onto the wet sand around his mouth, at last the smelling salts had worked.

“Son, you capable of speaking?” Swent knelt down next to the healer and blocked more rain with his body. “We’ll get you a Circle healer, get you your legs back right as rain.” He knew no mage in any Circle could mend the smashed spine the poor man had -- that would take blood magic. But he had to give the lad hope to get his questions answered. “What happened here?”

The fallen soldier coughed again, and drew a ragged breath. “It’s… not what it seems.”

“Say again, lad?”

“It’s not what it seems!” The archer was clearly in a lot of pain, he had to clench his eyes shut with every breath. “It… changes its shape. Each one does different things.”

Swent’s eyebrows went up as he looked to the former Templar. “A Demon?”

The captain didn’t reply, but his sour expression told Swent all they needed to know. They were in no way equipped to fight bloody Demons!

“The small one...,” the dying soldier gasped. “It puts some unnatural fear in you. The one with the sail -- it don’t make noise when it moves.” He coughed out more blood -- less than he had previously. “And the big one… the big one turns invisible.”

All eyes snapped to the former Templar captain, who scratched his face under his helmet. “Um. I don’t recall learning about Demons which could do that… but abominations might have those powers.” Lightning flashed ominously.

“Sail,” the dying soldier gasped, and started to wriggle desperately. “Sail!”

“What does he mean, the one with the sail?” Swent asked the group with an arched brow. “The fuck kind of sail does a monster have?”

“Sail…” The dying soldier sounded like he was going to cry. He tried to lift his arm and point at Swent. “Sail!”

Swent was about to question if madness had taken him when he really looked at where the man was pointing. Not at Swent, but slightly off to one side. Behind him. Slowly, with every prayer he knew aimed at the Maker, Swent turned and looked in the direction he’d been given. Clinks of armor let him know he wasn’t the only one to do so.

At first, the pounding rain made anything further away than ten feet impossible to see. But then lightning flashed, and granted a brief vision of the beast. Maker’s mercy, it was bigger than a house. Pebbly skin, clawed hands bigger than a kite shield, a long tail like a tree trunk, a long and narrow mouth full of teeth… and an upraised section of the back that resembled a sail. An eye in the side of the head that shined with yellow light for a second after the lighting faded.

Swent wanted to shout but he couldn’t open his mouth. How had something that big snuck up on them? Or… or had it been there the whole time, and they just hadn’t been able to see it?

“...it don’t make noise when it moves…” The dying soldier’s words repeated in Swent’s head as lightning flashed again, and revealed that the monster had come closer. Something that big had to have made noise louder than the rain. The Maker wouldn’t be so cruel as to do otherwise. And yet the evidence against a kind and benevolent god stared him in the face. Swent knew, unambiguously, that the creature knew they were there -- and it wanted them.

Why had no one else said anything? He knew he felt like he wanted to break down in tears at the sight of a beast they could not possibly win against, but had everyone else as well?

With all the men, he reasoned, they might have a chance. It was just one monster, and they had maybe enough men for someone to get lucky. They just needed to know that there was something to fight, and where.

Lightning flashed a third time, and the monster had drawn nearer to them. If he waited much longer for someone else to be brave, they would all be dead.

‘Andraste, see me to the Maker’s side with speed,’ Swent prayed and forced his jaw to move. “We’re under attack!

He heard the alarm of the men as they processed Swent’s words, and saw rows of teeth reach out for him from the darkness. A moment of agonizing pain was followed by sweet relief and an overwhelming desire to go to sleep. His last sight was of the soldiers he had served with, viewed from a great height, as darkness took him.

--

Isabela

“I tried to warn you, Rivaini,” Varric said with a sad shake of his head.

Isabela flipped him the bird as she tried to keep her stomach contents down. The pigeon pie had been too good to throw it up just because she looked out of the cave at the wrong time. The second heave made it clear she needed both hands for the job, so she abandoned her bird flipping.

The two of them waited at the mouth of the cave as Hawke and the others ransacked the vaults of the debt collectors who had robbed her uncle’s house -- on the basis that they’d gotten money directly from Ketojan already and didn’t need anything. Which, fair. She had added silverite vambraces to her outfit with the cut she got from Ketojan’s treasure.

Unfortunately, that also put them directly in the line of view for Ketojan in his third rex shape -- spinosaurus -- as he massacred the debt collector’s reinforcements.

“Not sure why you doubted me, honestly.” Varric smirked as Isabela won the fight to keep her lunch. “Why would I lie about how horrifying the inside of human lungs look?”

“Maker,” she muttered and leaned on the cave wall. “It was like….” She had been about to say a pink, fleshy skirt, when the mental image brought her right back to the cusp of vomiting.

“Don’t describe it!” The dwarf frowned at her. “I have enough horrible shit to imagine without critically thinking about what the mangled remains of human internal organs look like.”

“Is there any ginger beer left?” Isabela hoped that something to drink would help settle her stomach, and gratefully took the bottle when Varric passed it along to her. It did help, a little.

“Everything going alright?” Hawke approached them, dried blood all over her armor and sword, with multiple fine necklaces around her neck, bracelets from her wrist to her elbows, and a tiara on her head. Her mabari hound followed behind her, decked out similarly. How he managed to get the tiara to stay still, Isabela would never know. “I heard brutal carnage and came as fast as I could.”

“Shifty’s doing mop-up outside,” Varric gestured to the mouth of the cave. Beyond the dim lava light of the ruin, there was not much to see except rain and the rare still of violence revealed by lightning. “Nothing he can’t handle.”

“I like the new look,” Isabela said while she gestured with the bottle of ginger beer to Hawke’s new look.

“Alas, Aveline won’t let us take all of it.” Hawke looked wistfully down at her bling-covered arms. “Something about ‘rightful owners’ or some such nonsense.”

“You know you could just swipe some and not tell her, you know.” Varric chuckled as the mabari barked in agreement. “See? Alonzo’s got the right idea.”

“That is true. But what’s also true is I’m a sucker for freckles.” Hawke shook her head despairingly. “We all have our weaknesses.”

Isabela’s eyebrows shot up and she stifled a cackle with her hand. “You?” She gestured at Hawke with her beer and couldn’t help but smile. “For Lady Manhands?”

“It could be worse,” Hawke observed with a good-natured tone. “You should see the way Bethany looks at that one Chantry brother.” Hawke’s eyebrows rose up and down rapidly. “You know the one.”

“That’s different, he’s ridiculously good-looking!”

“He has Andraste’s face on his codpiece,” Varric said with a flat tone.

“Being good-looking doesn’t preclude terrible fashion choices!” Isabela rolled her eyes. “All it does is highlight how much better he’d look with fewer faces on his crotch.”

Hawke, the dog, and Varric all looked at her with eyebrows on the rise. In the end their esteemed leader turned to her right hand dwarf with pinched brows. “What’s in that to have Isabela advocating for fewer faces on crotches?”

“Apparently Shifty makes his beer stronger than anyone imagined possible,” Varric responded, his tone dry. “Though I think she just meant fewer Andraste faces, specifically.”

“You know what I meant.” Isabela shook her head. A glance outside let her see Ketojan-as-monster no longer in his massacre stance but on the prowl once more. A gust of wind from the storm brought her the smell of the sea, and air after lightning had struck -- familiar scents which put her at ease.

An ease which was promptly ended by Hawke’s dog flicking his ears back, hunching his back, and letting out the single most vicious snarl Isabela had ever heard from a dog.

Hawke uncrossed her arms and glanced at the dog. “That’s the growl he gave to let us know Templars were near the farm….” She suddenly whipped her head out to the storm, her eyes wide. “Andraste’s knickers, there’s Templars out there.”

“So?” Isabela arched her brow. “Ketojan can deal with them just like he dealt with the others.”

“Killing Templars isn’t like killing mercs, Rivaini,” Varric said with a worried tone. “If they’re out there at all -- someone might have let it slip about Hawke’s sister. In which case, killing the men out there will just make it worse.”

“Or,” she countered with narrowed eyes. “They’re going to provoke the Dalish, like Chantry-types always do.”

“Ketojan!” Hawke shouted as she stepped into the rain. She waved her hands over her head, desperate to get the monster’s attention. “Ketojan, come inside!” Lightning flashed, and revealed the sail-backed monster with his narrow head turned toward the cave. A few moments of darkness, and lighting flashed again to reveal him on his approach -- frighteningly quick and with no sound from his footsteps.

“The glowing eyes are so creepy,” Isabela muttered and sipped her beer.

“I’d say the way something that big moves that quiet is worse,” Varric responded and rubbed his brow. “At this point, I’m not going to be short on terrifying monsters to write about.”

The spinosaurus’ shadow was briefly visible at the mouth of the cave before it began to shrink down. Hawke stepped in with Ketojan, both soaked, though the Qunari had a pleased smile on his face.

“Sorry to call you off your work,” their leader explained. “But we’re not keen on picking a fight with the Templars just yet.”

“Aww, and I was looking forward to finding out how lyrium and blood taste together,” Ketojan said with a chuckle. “Some other time, then.” He sighed, wistful. “Just as well, probably. I smelled Cullen among them -- and as satisfying a kill he would make, he’s useful.”

Isabela got an intensely bad feeling all of a sudden. Like she’d just seen unfriendly sails on the horizon. She glanced at Varric and found he had a sour look on his face too. Even Hawke’s dog had his tail down and ears back. Only Hawke herself seemed not to notice.

“The bodies I left behind can be easily attributed to a wyvern. If he comes by before the rain stops, you can give him that explanation if you’d like.” Ketojan spun his cane-staff between his fingers as he walked deeper into the dwarven ruin. “Let me know if you need a monster to cover your escape, I’m going to make sure Merrill doesn’t try to swim in the gold coins.” He made more noise as a Qunari walking down a hallway than as a multi-ton monster on the prowl.

Hawke wiped some rain off her forehead once Ketojan had gone. “There. Potentially nasty situation diffused.” She glanced down the hall at the Qunari’s fading back. “He seems chipper, now that he’s eating people on the regular. In a week, I daresay he’ll have eaten enough people to start cracking jokes.”

---

And thus all the ‘rex’ type shapes Ketojan has are revealed! T-rex for crowd control and execution. I-rex for heavy combat, and stealth. And the S-rex as a middle-ground with stealth and amphibious combat options.

Chapter Text

Codex: Ostagar

---

An excerpt from the journal of Archon Ishal, days before she was found dead in her sleep.

-

We found evidence of a kossith colony in the far south, past the wilds at the edge of the Imperium's territories. It was old, abandoned, and even still the stone used for it will be useful in the construction of the fortress I have ordered. The cellars of the colony will be preserved, but everything at the surface is to be dismantled.

Before we arrived, we did not know what a kossith was -- their art in statues and wall carvings survived whatever drove them away. Naturally, this is why all the surface stone must be repurposed, and why the cellars may remain. The cellars are barren, unadorned, and only scant traces of their architects remain. It will be sufficient for us to claim their construction, and face no queries.

They were pointed-eared, like the slaves. And they were two of hands and feet, as all thinking creatures are. Their skin was likely dark grey -- for they used steel to color their statues and wall carvings. Several wall carvings tell the story of some sun-faced figure pointing down into the ground, where the kossith go through dwarven doors. However no such doors did we find at the settlement, or perhaps we have not dug deeply enough.

We know some of their writing, as it bears similarities to both dwarven and the slave's language. Our dwarven associate speculates it to have been a trade-tongue, between the two peoples that the kossith adopted for whatever reason. It no longer matters as they are gone.

Little of their legends survived the seasons of abandonment. But some scraps which could prove useful if they are encountered again remained. I will transcribe them for later archons to use -- for if they are weak enough, their great stature will make them useful slaves.

Preserved in secret places were images of decapitation. Carved into walls by crude hands -- frescoes in hidden rooms in mansions we find as we dismantle them. The former nobility of the kossith tell us the clearest story -- some figure associated with the ocean, a sailor or perhaps ancient sea god, tried to wrestle the sun beneath the waves. An ally of the sun decapitated the seaman, whose body wandered off in search of his head with water in pursuit. It is believed to be an allegory for pride -- and how even if one succeeds at their foolish aims, they can be taken by surprise.

Strangely, one such fresco included a map of the ancient world at the time of the city's founding. It depicted the waters of the world as much larger and higher than they exist presently. The city, apparently, was once considered coastal. Errors in map-making of the time are possible, these kossith would not have had as good an education as the Imperium presently enjoys. However, the possibility that a large volume of the world's water vanished to expose the lands we now rule is not impossible. Perhaps a dwarven king somewhere dug one of his roads into the ocean and drained some of it.

It matters little. The world is as it is now, and must be bent to Tevinter's will all the same.
---

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen: Haunted

---

Anders

Anders had expected to find chaos in his clinic when he’d come back from smashing debt collectors with Hawke’s crew. Bad storms usually meant lots of near-drownings and sickness as the bolt-holes the poorest members of Kirkwall society lived in flooded. Yet to his surprise, he found Evelina managing the patients adequately. Not smashingly, she’d had to draft some other Fereldan refugees as nurses, but no one was at risk of dying when Anders returned.

With the two of them healing and mending, the storm’s victims were dealt with and they just had to wait for the rain to stop. They left their patients at the clinic, where it was at least dry and warm on account of the Hightown estates above it, and made a circuit of their known patients who had previously needed housecalls. The elderly, the lepers, and the disabled. This eventually led them up to Hightown, where their Qunari and nobleman patients were.

‘It will be good to see if the cracks are closer to being mended,’ Justice spoke to Anders in the small spaces between them. ‘Joy is fine company while you dream, but I long to speak with others.’

Anders didn’t want to seem mad to Evelina as they walked in public, so instead of a reply he projected a confused emotion at the spirit. The stairs to Hightown were slick with rainwater, so Anders couldn’t afford to distract himself too much.

‘A broken mirror, with pieces missing, the empty spaces filled with dry blood. Still waters, turned choppy by betrayal.’

That didn’t address his confusion, it only made it worse. This prompted Anders to send the confusion again with frustration borne from not understanding.

‘Some betrayal broke him long ago -- and he used the fear he could beckon in others to keep enough of himself to remember the rest. A shadow that lingers while the sun tries to boil it away.’ Justice moved through his body, and for a moment Anders could see the injustices of Kirkwall as clearly as he could see his own hands. Good thing too, the sheer number of them almost blinded him. ‘A broken mirror, missing pieces, with dried blood in the cracks and gaps. I can explain it no better.’

He still didn’t understand, but he knew a bit more. There was an injured spirit somewhere, perhaps living in the mansion. Had that been why it felt so creepy, but had begun to lessen? Was the presence of people living in it enough to help the spirit heal?

‘Spirits of places are mended by that, yes. If you ever opt to speak to Joy again, they can tell you more.’ Justice let off a wave of frustration when Anders sent more confusion. ‘Joy! With whom you were consort before me! When you were merely a mage who healed with a Spirit’s help!’

Anders stopped to think, then physically stopped and slapped himself in the head. Of course. He’d been a spirit healer before he even met Justice, and he’d partnered with a Spirit of Joy.

“Anders? You okay?” Evelina paused on the stairs to look back at him with concern. The drizzle made it unwise for them to start and stop moving, lest they fall down the long flights of stairs.

“Nothing… just something I forgot about. I’ll handle it when we get back.” Anders responded. He hoped Joy wasn’t cross with him for replacing and forgetting her. He’d have to make a pretty good apology.

Stil, something didn’t sit right with him as he resumed the trek toward Hightown. Justice had spoken about ‘Spirits of places’ like it hadn’t been what he was talking about earlier. But if not that, then what?

The mansion’s windows were bright when they approached, and as they entered they heard people shouting orders in the distance. Anders had become acquainted with the sounds of saws and hammers since he left the Circle -- repairs to the mansion were underway, despite the rain.

New furniture had been added to the great hall -- an ivory amphora on a wide display stand, a couch had replaced the bench beneath the mounting of Fenris’ first sword, a duo of couches had been placed into one of the corners around a table, with a loveseat placed with its back to the rest of the room. All in all, far more homely than it had been just a couple days prior.

“Wonder if we could talk to who does their decorating,” Anders snarked with the corners of his mouth and eyebrows both upturned. “We could replace some of the cots in the clinic with sofas.”

Evelina fought hard not to smile, and had to turn away before Anders saw her lose.

They ascended the stairs toward the three ‘important’ bedchambers. Fenris’ master bedroom in the center, Ketojan’s to one side, and the third set aside for Ashaad to heal in. Contrary to popular belief an arrow wound was not particularly easy to heal because of the depth such projectiles could reach. Ashaad had been struck in the neck, his vertebrae chipped, and very nearly bled to death by the time Anders had even started to heal him -- so it would be at least a week before the Qunari was fully recovered.

Anders didn’t expect it to take long, he would pop in, check the bandages and provide the Qunari’s natural healing with a boost, then be done. However, as he approached the door, he heard someone talking inside. Curious as to what he would hear, Anders cracked the door and put his ear near it, with Evelina doing the same. Fereldan snooping was a borderline national sport.

“...When the sun reaches its highest point, it will begin to fall no matter who or what bids it remain in the sky. When it reaches its lowest point, it will rise no matter what weight burdens it.” Ketojan spoke with a somber tone. “Thus is it possible that the future might be known to some degree. When the night comes, the day will follow, and the night will come again afterward. The tide will rise, and recede, and rise again.” There was the sound of a page in a book being flipped. “This natural flow of existence cannot be struggled against, and to attempt it invites only suffering. Move with the flow, not against it.” Then came the familiar snap of a book being closed. “You have company -- so that’s all for now.”

Anders cursed internally -- they’d been spotted. Evelina and Anders both snapped into a ‘normal people doing normal things’ pose and knocked on the door all proper-like. “Housecall,” he called in with a forced good-natured tone. “Here to see my patient!” He saw Ketojan rise from a stool as he and Evelina entered, a massive book in his hand. Something had changed in his bearing, which evoked a surge of joy from Justice. It was like the Ketojan he had seen before was stiff, and that which he saw in the room was more at ease. Flexible. “Reading a bedtime story?”

He saw the nobleman, Saemus, that had refused to leave Ashaad since Anders initially healed him -- and Saemus’ broken arm -- seated on the Qunari’s bed while the injured oxman was propped up on pillows. Neither of them looked especially happy to have had the reading interrupted.

“Something like that,” Ketojan said with a small smile before turning back to his guests. “We’ll finish this after the workers leave for the day, you two play nice.” He gestured to the book, and stepped around the Fereldan apostates as he left.

Anders felt that perhaps the ‘play nice’ remark had been an actual command given how Ashaad and Saemus glared daggers at him and Evelina. He knew that kind of glare well, it was the ‘interrupted right before the good bit’ glare.

--

Aveline

It had been a busy week since she helped Hawke get her gold back. The power vacuum left from the destruction of the Pretenders and the Sharps had led to a lot of small-time gangs which wanted their old territories. True to his word, Leech’s Redwater Teeth had stayed out of the fighting so long as no one infringed on the docks. Aveline’s new Fereldan-majority City Guard quickly found itself bloodied and tested as the loop of cheap weapons and desperate people fed minor gang wars which the Guard had to stop.

On top of that, the Viscount’s son had apparently gone missing. Seneschal Bran started every day with a demand that she produce results or find new employment. Of course, the boy had been a recluse so there were no up-to-date portraits of him for missing person posters, nor would the Viscount authorize a reward.

And then finally Hawke asked her to accompany her with Bethany and Varric on a job to find a missing elf-blooded mageling that had run from the Templars. To their immense surprise they found a second apostate in need of rescue, another slaver operating in Kirkwall’s Darktown, and a smuggler hideout that they needed to kill their way through.

Until it came to the very last chamber in the smuggler den, a cave on the Wounded Coast, where the slaver’s leader, the last of their forces, and their hostage were all gathered. The Orlesian slaver held a blade to the blond elf-blooded boy’s neck and tried to look intimidating to the blood-soaked adventurers. Aveline could see the desperation behind his bravado though clear as day with his shaking sword-hand and shifting posture and constant glances toward the only exit.

“Varric,” Hawke said with an annoyed sigh and shook her head. “Tell this dirtbag who we are?”

The dwarf smirked and took a step forward. “If I were you, I wouldn’t be threatening the Viscount’s son.” He spun lies as easily as breathing, a trait Aveline despised but was forced to respect.

“What?” The slaver croaked, disbelieving.

“Granted, the boy’s a bastard born to the Viscount’s mistress… but his trueborn son has been missing for days.” Varric shook his head. “The Viscount’s a paranoid man. Which is why he had his Captain of the Guard look into this personally,” Varric gestured at Aveline. “With a small army of Guards willing to come storming in here if we take too long.” The dwarf’s smirk widened.

The slaver’s face twisted in a series of conflicted emotions as he pondered the veracity of Varric’s claims. The shaking of his sword hand worsened severely, much to the kidnapped mage’s fright.

“And, on the off chance that you were part of some actual plot against him, he asked for Hawke here to help out.” Varric’s tone of voice darkened severely as he talked. “I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors.”

“That she has some pet monster, a terrible beast that can fight dragons and win.” The slaver spat, literally spat, at the idea. “Preposterous.”

“Where did Flint Company go, then?” Varric’s dark tone remained, as he continued to smirk. “Where did Marley & Marley go, then? Why is the Council of Five now the Council of Two?”

“Two?” There was a note of genuine fear in the slaver’s voice, then. Aveline had to admit -- Varric’s bullshitting was legendary.

“Oh, right, the most recent death hasn’t been widely talked about yet.” He shook his head and spread his arms to say ‘what can you do?’ “Still… even if you fight us and win, you’ll still need to fight the guardsmen outside and win, and then fight Hawke’s pet monster and win. Hawke’s pet monster will be able to smell her blood on you, too.”

The slaver looked, for a moment, like he was about to cry before he threw his sword on the ground. “Disarm. Everyone!” The slaver tossed his shield similarly, and held his hands up. “We… surrender.”

“Excellent work, Varric,” Bethany whispered to the dwarf as the slavers mirrored their leader.

“Alright, everyone form a line.” Aveline barked orders at the disarmed slavers and grabbed a length of chain from a nearby abandoned mine cart. Rusty, and certainly old. But it would suffice since she didn’t have shackles. “We’re binding your hands, and getting you all into a cell.”

A cell was preferable to being eaten by Ketojan, apparently, for Aveline faced little resistance. All the while she had to listen to the boy, Feynriel, talk about how betrayed he felt that his mother had gone to the Templars to help him. It didn’t sit right with her how readily everyone blamed the Order and the Chantry for the terrible situation in Kirkwall. Wesley hadn’t been that way.

She flashed back to the blighted lands outside Lothering in Ferelden. When she and her husband had been surrounded by darkspawn that almost killed Wesley, and how they were rescued by the Hawkes. Wesley had been steps away from an attempt to arrest Bethany, Aveline had to plead with him that the Maker would understand.

“Hey,” Hawke said and bumped Aveline’s shoulder. “You’re doing that ‘thinking of Wesley’ face again. You okay?” Hawke grabbed a bit of rope and began to help her tie up the slavers.

“Just… thinking.” Aveline smiled faintly, glad that Hawke had opted to help her. “If Wesley had lived… if he’d made it to Kirkwall -- would he be as villainous as that boy accuses the local Templars of being?”

“S’not a very fair question, I’d say.” Hawke shrugged. “Implicit in that question is the foolish idea that you’d have let him get that bad.”

While she tied a frightened slaver’s hands together, Aveline chuckled and shook her head. “What do you supposed I’d do? Take a slipper and slap him with it until he stopped being corrupt?”

“It would depend on the slipper, and how hard you slapped him with it.” Hawke smiled back. “An Orlesian silk slipper wouldn’t cut it. But a Rivaini wooden block slipper? You could slap the soul out of a man with one of those. Or his teeth, whichever works for you.”

The slavers exchanged looks amongst themselves, realizing that they were deemed non-entities by the two women, content to have personal conversations in front of them.

“It’s also not fair to imagine what he would have done, because you know he wouldn’t have made it to Kirkwall.” Hawke shook her head sadly. “There was nothing you could have done, imagining him here only serves to torture yourself.”

Aveline’s mind brought her images of Hawke’s face after Carver had died. Maker, it was just a year and change prior -- it seemed a lifetime ago. The moment of pain when Leandra blamed her, and then covered up by a mask of cheer that had become Hawke’s second face since. Perhaps Hawke knew about torturing oneself from experience.

“Anyway, time to get these louts to jail, and the apostates to mage club. Maybe they can find a place to hide them from Templars or something.” Hawke sighed and rubbed her eyes.

“You should know better than to give them wriggle room like that,” Aveline replied with a smirk. “That frees them up to hiding them in the Blooming Rose or some such nonsense.” Aveline had intended to chuckle, but stopped to consider if the mages really would hide a pair of young mages in a brothel. She didn’t like how the answer wasn’t a knee-jerk ‘no’.

--

Bartrand

Sleep was an escape from Bartrand’s busy day of being the only one in the damn House of Tethras who had two good ideas to rub together. Granted, it was just him and Varric in Kirkwall at present, but he had letters from all across Thedas of his cousins and uncles all stupidly spending money on things they didn’t need. Servants, dowries, taxes. Ha! He’d spent years with just him and Varric in his Hightown manor, not one other person in their house. Sure, the cobwebs, dust, and giant spiders got annoying from time to time -- but he had knives to put an end to them. And while it’d taken a while, he learned to like the pea soup he made every day over the fireplace of his bedchambers.

He saved so much money this way!

Getting rid of most of his beard, and leaving only his extensive mustache and sideburns, helped him appear professional while saving on beard oil too! The other kalna -- old money conservatives -- in the Dwarven Merchant’s Guild thought he was referencing a Paragon with his choice, it was a convenient excuse.

And when Varric moved out, it helped save even more money. Shame the lout couldn’t earn it as well as Bartrand, but his little brother had the coin to buy into his expedition and hadn’t come to him for gold in years -- that, at least, Bartrand could tolerate.

Sleep was an escape from that. He could rest his eyes, he didn’t have to worry about ingrates, or thieves, or the Guild. At least for a little while.

Or so it had been on every night prior. As soon as he closed his eyes he thought he could see red eyes glower at him from the darkness of his eyelids. There was a sudden weird sensation -- like he’d been held underwater and was suddenly able to rise to the surface -- and he wasn’t asleep or in his Kirkwall estate anymore.

He found himself in a stone hall, at the bottom of a tiered chamber with statues of Paragons holding weapons aloft, and an empty throne in front of him. Memory stirred, and he recalled where he was -- the Orzammar assembly building! How in the Stone had he gotten all the way across the Waking Sea and deep underground? Magic?

As he looked around, he saw hooded figures where the deshyrs of the Assembly ought to have been. They had armored gloves and boots, but everything else was hidden by their billowing black cloaks.

“Bartrand of House Tethras, as demanded,” spoke an echoing voice from high above. When Bartrand looked up, all he could see was the light that was meant to shine down on the one addressing the Assembly… where he stood now.

“What is the meaning of this? How am I here? Why am I here?” Bartrand whirled around, angry and embarrassed to be in front of some shadow Assembly in just his nightshirt and smallclothes. “Who are you?” He couldn’t feel the stone under his feet, or feel any chill from being underdressed.

Mist gathered at the empty throne, blackened itself, and formed into another hooded figure with gauntlets and boots that sat regally as if a king. “Bring in the accused.”

Bartrand heard the stone doors of the Assembly chamber swing open, and turned as two more hooded figures dragged in a bloody prisoner dressed in rags. Had one of his fool cousins gotten in trouble with the Assembly? Had they used some lyrium item to call him to Orzammar to answer for it?

As they dragged the figure down to stand next to Bartrand, he recognized who it was. He was bruised and bloody -- as if whipped and beaten -- but Bartrand could remember his features from seeing his own face in the mirror. Even if he didn’t have a portrait of the man somewhere in his house. Even if he hadn’t attended the man’s funeral.

“Father?” Bartrand gasped. How was this possible? His father was dead! ...Was he dead? Had he died in his sleep and the Ancestors of House Tethras were about to judge him? Despite the proximity, and how heavily beaten his father had been, he couldn’t smell any blood. It was like all sensation besides his eyes and ears had been robbed from him.

The beaten and bloody previous head of the family glanced at him, but had his attention drawn elsewhere as he was callously thrown to the ground. Instinctively, Bartrand went to help him up but his father pushed him away. “Fool,” he hissed quietly. “If they see you helping me, they might make you share my fate.”

“Bartrand of House Tethras,” the figure on the throne boomed with the voice which had spoken from on high. “You are called before this body to answer three questions. All our accounting of your years have been done previously, but these three things we do not know about you.” The kingly stand-in held up three fingers. “Answer, and answer well, and you will be spared the punishment your father enjoys.”

“What -- why am I here?” Bartrand shook his head in confusion. “I was just in Kirkwall, going to sleep….”

“After having ingested poisoned food.” The kingly figure shook his head, slow and serious. “All your scrimping and saving did nothing to shield you from assassins.”

Ice flooded Bartrand’s veins, or so it felt. “I’m… dead?” So he had died. His Ancestors were about to judge him.

His father coughed, and spat blood onto the floor of the assembly. He hastily cleaned it with his sleeve and stood to glare at his son. “Idiot. How else could you be in front of the Ancestors?”

“The first question is this,” the kingly figure spoke, loud enough to silence Bartrand and his father from speaking further. “Do you know what the gangue is?”

Bartrand blinked, startled, and glanced at his father. The older dwarf snapped his fingers to point from Bartrand and then to the figure on the throne. The order was implied, ‘answer him, idiot!’

“It’s… the corruption of the Stone,” Bartrand answered, shaken. “Bad parts which need to be removed so the Stone can be pure… be healthy.”

The shadowy figures around the room all turned to look at the hooded figure on the throne.

“An acceptable answer.” The Ancestor on the throne reached under his hood and pinched the bridge of his nose. Bartrand couldn’t see his face, but he could tell from the body language and the disappointed tone with which he spoke. “Second question… do you know how the gangue is removed?”

Bartrand ran his hands through his hair and tried to remember everything he could about the Stone. Was there some ritual, some holiday, which referred to it?

“Come on, boy,” his father said, and coughed into his sleeve. “I told you this… didn’t I?” The judgemental dwarf’s face changed from disbelief to horror as Bartrand was silent even longer. “...Shit.”

“I… I don’t,” Bartrand answered at last. “I don’t know.” His father had died when he was a boy, Bartrand had only a few memories left of him. And there were no Stone priests among the surfacers, any Stone priest which got that sentence for a crime ended up killing themselves.

Furious whispers and shaking heads were what Bartrand heard from the Assembly of the Ancestors.

Shit,” Bartrand’s father said and covered his face with his hands.

“Indeed,” the enthroned Ancestor said, sardonic. “That changes the last question, and I don’t expect you to have the answer either. What does the gangue look like?”

Bartrand wasn’t used to being on the ‘talked down to’ side of a conversation. He was the one who talked down to people. But… these were the Ancestors. The people he’d sworn on, that he invoked as ardently as the stupid humans invoked their Maker. And they were ashamed of him. All the fight bled out of Bartrand, and he hung his head. “I… don’t know.”

A deep sigh from the kingly Ancestor was the response Bartrand got. When he lifted his head, he saw the Ancestor holding his head up with his thumb and pointer finger, while turned away from the scene. “All that effort… and one weak link in the chain undoes it all.”

Bartrand hadn’t felt so small since he’d seen the sky for the first time.

“Wait, wait!” Bartrand’s father spoke up, he reached his hand toward the enthroned ancestor and used his other one to do the same to the deshyr Ancestors. “The fault is mine! I had a duty to pass on the knowledge! And I didn’t!” He looked around, desperate. “Let me take his punishment, please!”

Bartrand blinked, confused that his father was willing to take the fall for something that may or may not have been his fault.

“He was head of the family,” the enthroned Ancestor said, soft and pitying. “He had just as much duty as you did.” The kingly figure turned to them and sat properly on his throne. “However, he’s also the last head of the family in the eyes of this body. This… grants us some flexibility.”

The entire experience of having died and been put on trial by his Ancestors paled in comparison to those words. Bartrand could almost feel the ground fall out from underneath him. As far as the Ancestors were concerned, he would be the last head of the House. Either Varric and all his uncles didn’t count... or some calamity would unfall and doom them.

“Bartrand,” the kingly figure said and snapped Bartrand out of his existential horror. “We offer you what can only be offered to the last link in the chain -- a second chance.” The enthroned Ancestor held up a hand as angry whispers from the deshyrs picked up in volume to become mutterings. When he had silence again, he continued. “Go back to the moment of your death. And comport yourself with greater honor than you have thus far in your life. When next you stand before us -- we expect you to have fulfilled your duty, and have the answers you didn’t this time.”

A second chance! He’d been given a second chance! After years of bitterness, hope felt strange. Unfamiliar.

Bartrand’s father sighed with relief and wiped the blood off his forehead.

“I will,” Bartrand swore with clenched fists held up. “You won’t regret this!”

The kingly figure shook his head sadly. “Pray that we don’t, O child mine….” The enthroned Ancestor held up his armored hand, and snapped his fingers.

Once more it was like he’d been held underwater and suddenly was able to rise to the surface, Bartrand saw a blur of colors and a pair of harsh red eyes, until he blinked and found himself in bed. Suddenly he had to gasp, like he’d been holding his breath, and rolled over onto the floor as he coughed air back into his lungs.

He’d neve been so happy to have the feeling of cold stone under his feet, or to feel aches in his chest from the coughing. He was alive! He’d been given his second chance!

Sunlight shone through the gaps in his curtains. Whatever poison he’d been given had taken a long time to kill him, it looked like, if he died just before he’d have woken up anyway. With the knowledge that he was the last link in the chain, and that the Ancestors were real, Bartrand cracked his knuckles as he walked toward his chest of drawers.

“Right. Time to get to work….”

---

Shame the ‘Ancestors’ didn’t give him any tips on where to look to find the answers to those questions, huh?

Chapter Text

Codex: Gaeshang, God of Stories

---

Fragments of a heretical document from the Dales, recovered and sent to the Circle of Magi at Monstimmard for analysis of a lingering aura in the letters.

-

Long ago, there was a king, well-educated about the world. When he built his castle, he made it into a great library where all that the king had read was kept. Authors fought with tooth and steel to have their manuscripts read by the king, so that their works would enter his library. Since the king was immortal, and his subjects not, they thought that to have their books in his collection would ensure they were remembered. The king kept the fond company of memory and cunning and developed a way to strengthen himself and weaken his enemies.

The king opened his collection to his kingdom and beyond -- anyone might have their book added to his collection, or borrow a tome for a time, provided they had the wealth to pay for the privilege. This brought the king from minor renown to being of great and terrible wealth. His people never went hungry, his gifts were always appreciated -- he felt like with a word, he could make a difference in any matter he wished. Such wealth made a monster of the king, who became known as the beast -- the Unbound. It was loyal to no one, for its wealth was vast and its knowledge vaster still.

Dirthamen came to the beast and asked him for a tome, for memory was not his ally and he could not recall its contents. The Unbound demanded a hefty tribute from the god, who bristled at the demand yet paid all the same. At their next meeting, Dirthamen complained to his father and his shadow about the hardship paying the Unbound's fee had put him under.

Filled with terrible anger, they stormed to the Unbound's castle and demanded he return what he'd taken from Dirthamen. But the Unbound refused. Dirthamen's shadow and Elgar'nan could not take what the Unbound demanded of Dirthamen, for Dirthamen had given it willingly. Together they threw hardship after hardship at the beastly king, and his dominion. Elgar'nan demanded cunning be his ally no longer, but could not make the same demand of memory -- for the sea from which she sprang shielded her. Even still, absent cunning the king did not always apply his vast knowledge correctly to negate the hardships thrown at him.

Inch by inch, year by year, life by life, the Unbound's kingdom eroded away into nothing. And when his kingdom fell, so disappeared the stolen riches of an age....

---

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen: Stop!

---

Fenris

Every day, the mansion became more and more complete. Fenris found he had an actual bed in his chambers when he came back after he went out to the Hanged Man with Isabela and Varric. It… wasn’t unpleasant, particularly because Ketojan was content to let him have the master bedroom. The blankets Ketojan had found for him were nice, they didn’t catch on his markings that often.

With the inclusion of a hotbox, Fenris could make some food of his own too. He heard, from other staffer’s gossip, that the dwarf Ketojan had hired was busy at work on some new projects -- the ‘micro-hotbox’, ‘coldbox’, and ‘icebox’ among them. There were more and more people employed by Ketojan to help with the running of the estate -- there was an elf, Tomwise, who mixed poisons and grenades for Hawke’s old mercenary company and now ran a small alchemy lab on the third floor of the estate. He had seen more than one elf about the house, dusting and washing -- along with several Fereldans. There was even a Fereldan elf in the kitchens!

He was used to such sights, though it made him uncomfortable sometimes when they bowed to him and called him mi’lord. Ketojan didn’t even bother to correct them! By the time he hired on a Dalish woman to be the household’s steward, and introduced Fenris to her as the master of the house, he’d had quite enough.

As soon as the Dalish woman, Arianni, had left to assume her duties Fenris pulled Ketojan aside with a scowl on his face. “What are you playing at, mage?”

Ketojan arched his brow at the Tevinter elf. “You’re going to have to be more specific, Vint.”

Fenris’ scowl deepened as he spread his arms to indicate the mansion. “All this! You’re hiring servants, you’re saying I’m in charge of this house, you’re acting as if this is all mine!”

“By right of conquest, it is yours, though.” Ketojan scratched the side of his face, and inspected the nails that had done it -- as if Fenris weren’t worth looking at directly. “Or did you just want to squat in a hovel for years?”

“I’d have been fine with that.” Fenris jabbed his gauntlet-covered pointer finger into Ketojan’s chest. “You’re the one who craves finery.”

“Says the one who knows every vintage of wine on the shelves from the bottle.” Ketojan didn’t relent, and put his hands on his hips with a stern look. “No one’s asking you to pay for this -- not until you get a revenue stream, anyway. What about them bowing to you, and using a respectful form of address, has you acting this way?”

“This is not acting,” Fenris snarled. “I really am this way!” He glared into Ketojan’s unconcerned look. He was almost angry when he saw understanding bloom in the Qunari’s eyes.

“Ah, that’s it.” Ketojan snapped his fingers. “You’re afraid they’ll turn on you if they realize how you really are -- that you’re not a lord -- and be angry that you ‘deceived’ them.”

“That’s not -- “ it wasn’t exactly what the issue had been, but it was close, Fenris mused. He floundered for a bit, then pointed dramatically at Ketojan. “You’re using blood magic to read my mind, aren’t you?”

“Young man, I’ve raised children and played politics longer than you’ve been alive.” Ketojan brought one hand down on its narrow side into his open palm along with his emphasized words. “You’re not some mysterious force that I need to read your thoughts to know what the issue is. You’re a young man with anxiety from people’s expectations, I’ve seen this before.”

Fenris pinched his brows together and dragged his mouth down in a frown. “...Perhaps,” he admitted. “You will refrain from doing so in the future -- I am not a lord, and this is not my house.” Not until Danarius was dead, anyway.

“Yet.” Ketojan nodded, lost in thought and placed his chin in the crook of his thumb and pointer finger. “Yes, legitimacy will help greatly with what I have in mind….” He walked around Fenris and moved deeper into the mansion.

“What do you mean ‘yet’? Hey… I am speaking to you, mage! What are you plotting?!” Fenris shouted at Ketojan’s back, then ran after him when the Qunari didn’t stop. “Answer me, damn you!”

“Oh, I’m just going to give Saemus an idea of what he can ask his father to give you for your part in his rescue,” Ketojan said, his tone sly. He kept on walking, with a smirk on his face, even as Fenris got in front of him and tried to physically make him stop walking. The Qunari walked as if there was not an elf in a braced stance against his chest and the ground, his feet making a squeaking sound on the tile as he kept moving. “Hmm, there are so few comtes in Kirkwall anymore -- but an elven comte might raise too many eyebrows… A lord, perhaps? A knighthood? Do they have landed knights in Kirkwall? Or baronets?”

Fenris desperately tried to find purchase for his feet to stop Ketojan’s advance, long after he knew that the slick tiles which lined the halls of the mansion would provide no such stopping power.

--

Isabela

Ah, the Blooming Rose! Always a good place for Isabela to earn or spend some coin when she needed an itch scratched. And with the tidy sums she earned from helping Ketojan with his dives, she had lots of freedom to scratch her itches.

It was quite lovely to be so stress-free so often. If Ketojan did his dives more frequently, she could perhaps afford to hang out at the Rose the way she did the Hanged Man. Lazing about, drinking all their alcohol, not a bad setup really.

And since Hawke’s uncle hadn’t come by since his house got broken into, things were even better!

Isabela had been in the lobby of the Rose, enjoying the wine at the bar, when she noticed something which made her choke on her drink. Tal-Vasoth had become more common around Thedas as the years wore on, but she hadn’t expected to see one in the Rose. Least of all Ketojan! The big man was turning heads for being an oxman where they weren’t expected, and they remained given his see-through shirt and defined musculature.

Considering Ketojan hadn’t picked up on any of the subtle flirting she’d done, she had him pegged for a bugger or just not interested. Nothing to be ashamed of, really. Had it been that she wasn’t his type, however?

The Qunari walked with his hands behind his back, his eyes on a journey around the establishment, and his stride arranged so that each step delivered an ominous ‘clack’ from his heel. At his side was a thoroughly unsettled older woman, dressed in purples and light blues with similarly colored makeup -- the part-owner of the brothel, Madam Lusine.

“A-and this is the main lobby,” she said and gestured broadly to the tavern-like setup of tables and the bar, where customers ate food with their nightly company before moving to the bedrooms for the scratching of itches. “We, uh, have a fairly decent cook. Our food hasn’t received any complaints in -- “

Ketojan held up a hand and looked down his nose at her. “A cook?” His eyebrow arched severely. “I’ll foot the cost to get us a proper kitchen set up. From what I see people eating, I’m seeing a pressing need for a potager, a rotisseur, and a patissier, at least. Which does the present cook specialize in?”

Madam Lusine floundered for a minute as she tried to answer the question. Isabela found the change in the usually holier-than-thou and snarky Madam to be absolutely hilarious. She had to cover her mouth to keep her smile from being obvious.

“So you don’t know.” Ketojan carefully pinched the bridge of his nose -- his dagger-like nails put him at risk of slicing his face if he did so without thought. He sighed, and flicked his face-pinching hand dismissively. “I’ll speak to the chef later on, sort it out. Which of the room-staff are currently unbooked for the evening? I’d like to meet as many employees as possible tonight.”

“I’ll… go check the ledger. Won’t be but two shakes.” Lusine had a waver in her voice as she walked off, clearly eager to get out from under Ketojan’s gaze.

Absent the harpy, Isabela pushed herself off her stool and approached the oxman with her wine glass in hand. “Fancy running into you here,” she said with a sly wink. “What’s got old iron britches in such a mood? You drop enough gold to buy this place out for a week?”

Ketojan waved his hand, as if shooing her idea away. “No no no, nothing so crass as that.” The oxman smiled, his pointed teeth gleamed in the bright lights of the Rose. “Harlan, the partial owner of this establishment, recently passed away. It seems he caught whatever’s going around the Gallows.” Ketojan put on an exaggerated sorrowful face. “How strange… he recently adjusted his will so that I, a complete stranger to him, would inherit this place.” Ketojan arched his back and placed the back of his hand on his forehead. “Apparently, he had been pining for me for weeks!”

Isabela saw more than one person give Ketojan a once-over at that admission, and she saw more than one person thin their lips and arch their brows to convey a sentiment of ‘not bad’. But Isabela had insider knowledge of what Ketojan could do to people in their dreams, and she found herself putting a hand on her hip at the Qunari.

“What?” He asked, totally innocent by voice but with a wide grin on his face.

Isabela frowned at him and began to tap her foot on the floor.

“Are you meaning to imply something?” Ketojan’s smile didn’t waver as he crossed an arm and rested his cheek in the palm of the other hand. “Why, what are you trying to say?”

“This one bothering you?” Lusine snapped as she returned from her ledger check. “Off with you, don’t go botherin’ your betters.”

Isabela waved her wine glass at Ketojan and squinted, to let him know they weren’t done with the conversation, then returned to the bar.

“Anyway, a couple of the girls are free right now -- they don’t got no appointments until at least --” “

Ketojan turned a suddenly steely, smileless, gaze on Lusine. “Names.”

“Um, there’s Vantia, Faith, Cora, Idunna and Sabina.” Lusine’s confidence melted in the face of the towering oxman who made demands of her. She wrung her hands and shifted on her feet as Ketojan continued to watch her.

“Idunna’s one of the premium girls, yes? I’ll speak with her first.” Ketojan turned on his heel and started up the stairs. “We’ve still got a business to run, so go ahead and get back to it… partner.” He continued up the stairs without regard to how Lusine attempted to follow him. Or perhaps his words had meant to stave off her following him.

Isabela watched him go up to the top floor of the bedroomsof bedrooms, and proceed as if he knew the layout by heart already. She was very much concerned by his attitude, so she downed her drink and snuck away from the bar to follow Ketojan. She remembered Idunna, an apostate blood mage who used her magic to make herself seem more beautiful than she was -- and enthrall weak minds. She’d been involved in Tahrone’s plot, and had been spared a knife in the chest by Hawke. Had anyone told Ketojan about that? And why hadn’t Idunna gone to the Templars like she’d promised?

It didn’t take Isabela long to find Idunna’s room, she remembered it from the last time they’d been by. She arrived just as Ketojan closed the door behind him, followed by the ominous sound of the lock on the door.

She could hear talking in the room, but struggled to make out the words, so the pirate queen stole closer to the door, and crouched low so she could possibly hear something from the bottom gap.

“...had a set of books. Tomes of blood magic. Did she tell you where they were?” Ketojan’s voice asked, soft, quiet.

“And what’s in it for me if I… I’m sorry. I forgot my place for a moment.” Idunna’s husky reply rapidly became demure after a few seconds of choking noises. Had he grabbed her by the neck?

Isabela creeped just a bit closer to the door, ears peeled for more.

“I don’t like pulling people across the coals like that, young lady, but these books are dangerous. They contain names that, carelessly spoken by careless mages, could unleash very bad things on this city.” Ketojan’s voice was hard as steel. “On top of the Demons your former mistress placed to guard them.”

“M-my apologies, mi’lord. It shan’t happen again.”

Isabela’s frown only deepened. Dangerous books? Demons bound in the books.

“I know where one is already,” Ketojan said with an obvious ‘I’m trying to be nice’ inflection. “But it has a barrier around it powered by the other five. So. Where are they?”

“S-she entrusted them to lieutenants in her organization. They were supposed to hide them. I-I can make guesses based off where I saw them last, but anyone could find them. It could take years to properly… locate them….” The harlot’s voice grew more timid as Isabela heard the ‘clack’ of Ketojan’s boots on the floor. “I’m sorry! That's all I know.”

“...Fine. We’ll do this the slow way.” Ketojan sighed, disgusted. “A few more years won’t do irreparable damage… I hope.”

Isabela let out a soft ‘huh’ as she pondered what she’d overheard meant. However she didn’t have long to ponder, as she heard Ketojan’s boots start to clack against the floor rapidly -- he had heard her! Rather than risk a run for the stairs, Isabela stood and jumped over the railing which encircled the hall on one side. She dropped from the bannister to the floor, and then swung herself to the floor below as she heard the door unlock and open suddenly.

With a shapeshifter at play, she knew better than to stop and rushed for the stairs to continue her flight. She only stopped once she was back at the bar, and sipped her wine. If she was lucky, Ketojan would assume she’d been to the lady’s room.

The pirate queen filed the information away for asking Merrill and Anders to provide more details later.

--

Sebastian

As a brother of the Chantry, he had been called to the Gallows earlier in the day to receive the confessions of several runaway mages that had been recaptured. According to the Templars, they had been caught on the Wounded Coast after a mercenary group had flushed them out and killed the only confirmed maleficar among them. A little digging got Sebastian the information that the mercenary group which had helped the Templars in that instance was the same one that had helped him obtain vengeance on Flint Company.

Surely the Maker had plans for them. He intended to pray for their safety when he returned to the Chantry.

The mages comported themselves with dignity in his presence, and only stammered slightly as Sebastian received their confessions. His heart went out to them as they told him about how they longed to feel the sun on their skin, to dance, or to have a child with the man they loved in one particular case. Sebastian had never agreed with stealing children from mages born in the Circle -- if the Circle was not a place for babes to be, then there ought not to have been wee children as young as four there. But it was the Chantry’s laws, and he was a man. He could never hope to change them.

He particularly pitied the woman who had desired a child, when he was done. Her intended had been the maleficar, and his betrayal of the Maker and his fellow mages had all but broken the poor woman. Her eyes were dead, she couldn’t lift her head very high. Truly, betrayal was the most vile sin in all creation -- that it could leech the life from people in such a way. The Templars were concerned that she hadn’t actually loved him at all -- and that her affection was the product of a blood magic spell on the maleficar’s part.

Sebastian didn’t stay long enough to find out -- he was not a Templar, he was a Chantry brother. His duty was done, and he left afterward. While he went, he considered the timeline of the Starkhaven Circle of Magi’s terrible fire, which saw mages from his homeland brought to Kirkwall. On reflection, it seemed that the fire must have happened as his family was put to the sword, and the city taken. Once he had Starkhaven back he’d build a new Circle tower -- perhaps partition some of the palace -- and send for those poor mages, driven from their home, right away.

It was well past sundown when he returned, and as soon as he entered the Chantry he was set upon by worried black-frocked Chantry sisters.

“Sebastian, it’s happened again!” “The Grand Cleric’s trapped in a nightmare, she won’t wake!” “Please, go to her right away!”

Sebastian sighed, and shook his head. “Aye, sisters. I’ll see to her at once,” he told them and began to briskly walk through the Maker’s house. There was to be no running in the Chantry save for emergencies. “Andraste, act as a shield for our beloved Grand Cleric,” he prayed softly to himself and the omnipresent prophet. The Grand Cleric had been tormented with weekly nightmares -- horrible visions that had left her a shaking wreck of the once indomitable woman. Through some providence, it was only Sebastian who could get her to wake once the nightmares had begun.

The things she would say in her sleep, tormented by her own dreams, they worried Sebastian terribly.

A throng of concerned sisters and revered mothers was gathered round the Grand Cleric’s chamber, and parted as Sebastian approached. He heard them scramble to listen at the door as he closed it behind him.

Elthina lay in bed, weeping in her sleep. “Leave me alone!” She begged her dreams.

His face pitying the poor woman who was as a second mother to him, Sebastian went to her bedside and knelt down next to her. “Grand Cleric, it’s only a dream,” he said as if it were a well-rehearsed script and took her hand into his. As soon as he touched her, he felt as if he had been held underwater and was suddenly able to rise to the surface. Colors blurred and he was no longer in the Grand Cleric’s chambers. He was in the Gallows, the courtyard he had just left. All around him were the corpses of mages, some he had just seen and others he’d never known the names of. Elthina knelt among a clearing in the bodies, while Sebastian looked down from on high. She cradled the headless body of the First Enchanter in her arms, weeping.

And, as if in perfect mockery of righteousness, in front of her stood Knight-Commander Meredith, a two-handed sword that crackled with red lightning in one hand, and First Enchanter Orsino’s head held in the other. With glowing red eyes and a vicious smile, Meredith presented the head to Elthina as if it were a trophy worth honor.

The First Enchanter’s head screamed at Elthina: “Look at me! Look! At! Me!

Sebastian didn’t understand how he could see Elthina’s nightmare, and looked around in horror at what the scene was. He’d never imagined the Grand Cleric to be tormented so harshly.

All of a sudden, the rising through water sensation repeated, and he was back in the Chantry. Sweat poured down his face, he gasped for breath and fell over from a sudden burst of weakness. Once he’d caught his breath, he sat up again and looked at Elthina, still asleep. “Maker, why? What has she done to deserve this?!” He took up her hand in one of his, then shook her shoulder with the other. “Wake up, Grand Cleric!”

“They were Templars, righteous in the eyes of the Maker,” Elthina said, defiantly, in her sleep.

Once again, the sensation of rising through water repeated and Sebastian found himself looking down on Elthina in the great chamber of the Chantry. She was alone, at the pulpit as if she had been about to give a sermon, while Templars in red-tinted armor, with crystalline growths jutting from their bodies, slowly surrounded her.

“Lies?” Meredith’s voice said, from among the crowd. She sounded… coy, playful. Totally out of place in the scene. There was an odd… warbling to her voice. Was she possessed, in this vision? “In the Maker’s house?” She laughed, low and malicious. “No wonder he abandoned you.”

“The Maker abandons no one!” Sebastian shouted, defiantly. The Templars stopped, as if they could hear him. “He is at your side, even now! Hoping that you will do what is good, and right!”

“He’s right, you know,” Meredith’s voice replied, still as playful and coy as before. “All it would take from you was one word to have stopped this. But you… said… nothing.” The playfulness left Meredith’s voice quicker than a cut could bleed. In its place was an impassioned fury Sebastian had only seen in her during speeches. “When I killed the mages as an example, you said nothing! When I killed the Dalish elves for denying the Maker, you said nothing! When I drove the Qunari to war with us, you said nothing!”

Brief flashes of scenes appeared before Sebastian’s eyes. A mage, one he had taken the confession of just earlier in the day, cinged low to the ground as a shadow lifted a sword high. And a burned campsite, Dalish aravels in pieces, as the shadows of many armored knights grew long over the ruin. The final one was of Qunari dreadnoughts in Kirkwall’s harbor, from the shore to the horizon.

Meredith spoke again, soft and nostalgic. “One word was all that was required. And you said nothing.” The Knight-Commander’s voice vanished, and the Templars resumed their advance on Elthina.

Sebastian tried to move from where he was to stand at Elthina’s side, but he could do nought but watch. Elthina cringed from Templar swords pointed at her as they advanced. “Grand Cleric!” He shouted down to her. “You have to tell them to stop!”

Elthina pressed herself against the pulpit as Templars and their weapons drew ever nearer.

“Grand Cleric, please!”

A near enough reddened Templar hefted his sword high to bring it down on the Grand Cleric.

Time seemed to slow, as Sebastian heard a heartbeat pound in his ears and slow down rapidly.

“Stop!”

One word broke the whole nightmare. Sebastian felt again as if he rose through water, but he could feel another’s hand in his as he did. He could swear he passed a set of malevolent red eyes as he went. A moment later, and they were in the waking world again. Elthina looked at him, as if she didn’t know if he was real. She seemed relieved when he squeezed her hand in his.

“I had no idea your nightmares were so… vivid, Grand Cleric,” Sebastian said to her as he withdrew his hand and bowed.

“I did not want you to know,” she replied in a soft tone and sat up. The weight of her years seemed to have caught up with her in that moment -- Sebastian noted the bags under her eyes and the slight hunch in her back. “I didn’t want anyone to know. I… was afraid of being seen as a madwoman.” She sighed, and ran her hand down her face. “Maker, I can still remember everything. The smells, the feelings, the words, the images….”

Sebastian pinched and lifted his brows, unsure of what to say to her in that instance. “Perhaps… the Maker wanted to speak to you?”

“That is more terrifying than the idea of being seen as a madwoman,” Elthina chuckled with her admission. Not an amused chuckle, but an ‘I’m close to a breakdown’ chuckle. She buried her face in her hands. “That the Maker could be so upset with me, it’s… I don’t know a word worse than fear to describe it.”

In the silence that followed, Sebastian found he agreed with Elthina’s last sentiment. The idea of the Maker Himself taking issue with one of his children thus… fear was too small a word for it.

“...The images.” Elthina lifted her head from her hands, her eyes distant. “I recall the images. The mage Meredith killed… you felt as if you knew him?” She turned her gaze on Sebastian, intense and piercing.

“I took his confession just this afternoon, Grand Cleric.” Sebastian’s concern grew as he watched Elthina’s eyes bug out of her skull and the color drain from her face. “Something troubles you?”

“She’s killing them,” Elthina said, with a tone of dawning realization. Her hands shook as she hopped from her bed and grabbed her robe. “She’s killing them right now!” Elthina ran like a woman twenty years younger, and forced her door open despite the throng that had gathered outside. “I have to tell her to stop!”

Sebastian pieced it all together with speed, and ran as fast as his legs would carry him after the Grand Cleric. The questions that the sisters and revered mothers threw at him as he ran were swiftly forgotten as he chased after Elthina. All the while, he prayed for Andraste to save the mages from whatever madness had taken the Knight-Commander.

---

If you convince the Starkhaven runaway mages to return to the Circle, Meredith kills three at random. I couldn’t find a reasonable explanation why she wouldn’t do this even if they try to escape and are re-captured.

Also I hope they realize how the rumor mill will respond to a young man with Andraste’s face on his groin chasing after the Grand Cleric in her nightie and robe. The things they’ll say back in Val Royeaux!

Chapter Text

Codex: Anaris, the Night

---

Found written in Veilfire on ruins in the Ferelden Hinterlands.

-

There are places where Elgar'nan's light does not reach, and thence come shadows. There are places where the shadows cast by Elgar'nan's light do not reach, and thence come darkness. These things, shadows and darkness, are the domain of one of the oldest ancestors of the People and kossith: Anaris. It is said he was older than the ocean, yet younger than the land -- the twin of the sun, created in equal and opposite action to the sun's birth. The two of them represented disparity -- hot, and cold. Light, and dark. Good, and evil.

Mythal entrusted the moon's care to Anaris, and Anaris raised him well. Never did he shout, and stomp, and scream as the sun and Elgar'nan did. Neither did Anaris desire lordship over all the gods as the sun and Elgar'nan did. Curiously, despite their radically different natures, Anaris and the sun met twice every day -- at dawn and dusk. On the day of longest night, and longest day, the two portrayed it as shouldering the other's burden for a time.

The moon painted the stars upon Anaris as a child, and Anaris wore them with pride. The ocean became still so that Anaris could see his reflection, and found himself beautiful. Our hunters would go out on nights where the stars blaze brilliantlty for Anaris was giddy with love, and the night would be gentle.

But beware nights where there are no stars in the sky. Beware those places where there is nothing but darkness. Those are nights where Anaris hunts for himself, and those are places where terrible monsters dwell.

---

Chapter Text

Codex: The Fell Grimoire

---

The following is an account of the most craven of texts in recorded history, and is only for authorized use by the Seekers of Truth, and Templar Order with explicit written permission from the Divine.

-

The book was bound with webbing from a dragon's wings, its spine was supported by the wing bones of a gryphon, on its cover was a clasp that bore a geometric pattern and had no release switch.

To open the book, blood is required. By some strange providence, the blood must be either the reader's own or willingly given. Place a drop on the clasp, and it will open. Inside you will find pages that shine like mirrors -- with no words inscribed. Blood will appear on the pages and show their contents as you read.

It is unknown who authored the book, or when, but according to the artifact itself it is a transcription of the contents of something called the 'well of tears'. Many potent spells, horrible rituals, and terrible pieces of knowledge lay inside the book -- but nothing worse than the Names.

Recorded in the book are Names, note the capital, of great power. To speak them with an appropriate offering is to conjure their owners. As they are spirits, they will first come to the speaker in dreams. It requires a great sacrifice for them to deign to appear physically, and all attempts to confine them will end with calamity.

Once you speak the Name, and make the offering, you are known to them. They will be able to pick you out of a crowd of thousands. Many have thought they could call forth the great spirits, do their business, and walk away. It is not so. When they know you, they will hound you. Some may want to do business again, some may want to pressure you relentlessly into giving them your body. One need not be a mage to be possessed. And some will torment you for the sake of torment.

How does an ant gaining the complete, undivided, attention of a human typically end? One should consider that before they open the Fell Grimoire.

Heed this warning: You must not read from the book.

---

Chapter Text

Codex: The Water Wolf

---

A memory found preserved in Veilfire in a Dwarven ruin near the Storm Coast.

-

Each of the gods have sacred animals which are protected by that god. Sometimes the animal's relationship to the god is complicated, sometimes they are considered aspects of the god that have flecked off and become alive.

The Mother Goddess has dragons as her sacred animal. Her blessing is needed to hunt them, and for this reason not even Falon'Din's reflection could directly stop a dragon that attacked one of his settlements. He had to create varterrals who would fight the dragon as a proxy.

Speaking of him, Dirthamen's sacred animal is the bear. The one animal which he deemed able to keep a secret. Dirthamen's shadow likewise has an owl as his sacred animal.

Fen'Harel's sacred animal is so obvious, it became part of his name.

Ghilan'nan's halla endures as a symbol of the People even to the modern-day. Andruil's hawk and rabbit are also common among the People.

Of the Forgotten Ones, we know a surprising amount of their sacred animals. Saebonshae identified strongly with the gryphon, perhaps to the point of obsession. Gaeshang, god of stories, identified with the long-lived mammoth -- though what this creature was or looked like appears to have been lost. Kieran is known to have had the Seheron jaguar as his sacred animal. Oedeon, Anaris, Imshael, Elgar'nan, Geldauran, June, Sylaise -- these are the gods whose animals are lost to us.

However, curiously, we have a case of the reverse. Where the animal remains, but the god attached to it is totally lost. Its name means 'water wolf' in elvish -- they are enormous aquatic animals with black hide and white spots that disguise their eyes. What Arlathan thought of them spoke of the terrible fear that every animal under the sea -- even Ghilan'nan's cetus -- felt when their singing could be heard. They are said to be intelligent, capable of speech, and terrifyingly cruel to their food. Yet despite all this fear, there is a degree of reverence that is only offered to sacred animals. Debates rage at every gathering of the red-faced Dalish that the animal could be Elgar'nan, or Oedeon's. But I don't think so -- neither of them had much love for the ocean.

What's more, they did not seem to enjoy being feared as these animals do.

---

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen: End Act One, part one

---

Leandra

Ketojan had shared with her a queer recipe -- ‘blood bread’. As in bread made with a large quantity of blood in it. The recipe was extremely versatile and could be made with any kind of flour, or into any kind of loaf. He even knew how to make it into a hardtack that kept just a bit more flavor than the traditional stuff. She’d been leery of it at first, but once she tried a bun Leandra found she couldn’t even taste the blood in it. It was like any wheat bread with a bit more honey, and some butter to her taste.

With pigs in massive surplus in Kirkwall, Leandra took to making some preserved jerky and blood bread for her girl’s expedition. She likely wouldn’t be able to make enough for the whole caravan, but she could give her daughter a taste of Leandra’s cooking to help keep her well fed in the Deep Roads. She didn’t know if there was game they could hunt, or water they could drink in those underground passages. Orzammar had those things, she knew, but what of the rest of the Roads? Did the darkspawn keep farms? Could they be raided?

All questions Leandra wanted to ask, but also wanted not to ask. She had things she had to focus on -- Ketojan had graciously set up an appointment with a tailor for some courtly clothes for Leandra and perhaps one of her girls, depending on who went and who stayed. Once she’d set the latest batch of blood bread dough into a cupboard to double in size, she realized she ought to ask the girls who would be on the expedition. Marian’s jests could make or break their appeal to the Viscount, while Bethany’s calm intellect would be a blessing and a half. She wiped down the surfaces she’d been working on, and went in search of her girls.

She found Marian and Bethany in the study on the other side of the great chamber, what had once been Meri Marningold’s father’s personal office. It’d been converted into a sort of meeting room, with sumptuous chairs, comfortable couches, an intricately detailed rug, and bookshelves filled to capacity along the walls. Her girls were seated on a couch, with papers and maps laid out on a table in front of them.

Marian noticed her first, and smirked as Leandra came into the room. “I thought you said you’d never be seen with that apron on outside the kitchens, Mother?”

Leandra realized she had the apron with the vulgar message on it as she’d wandered the house. The house staff had seen her with it, and she’d no doubt become the topic of gossip from the maids to the steward herself. With a deep sigh, she covered her face as she sat down across from her girls. “I… hadn’t intended to. But I was looking for you two.”

Bethany arched a brow, and set down the paper she’d been inspecting when Leandra arrived. It looked to be a supply manifest from what Leandra could make out while it was upside-down. “Is something the matter, mother? Uncle Gamlen causing problems?”

“Gamlen’s never been happier, as far as I can tell.” Leandra shrugged. “He’s got a stipend, his debts have been cancelled because all his creditors are terrified that the two of you will do to them what you did to Marley & Marley.” She shook her head, to clear it from details about her younger brother. “No, that’s not what I’m here about. I wanted to know which one of you is going on the expedition, and which is staying?”

Marian’s eyebrows pinched together, confused. “Mother, we’re both go-”

“I’m staying, Mother,” Bethany said with certainty and a definitive nod. She glanced at her sister, and raised her eyebrows at Marian’s baffled look. “I have work to do here, Hawke. I’ve got to keep helping Ketojan get the hang of mana based magic, keep the peace at Mage Club, and petition the Viscount for Comte Antioch’s holdings.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, I guess I forgot to bring it up.”

Forgetfulness, it seemed to Leandra’s discontent, was a quality Bethany had learned from her.

“But Bethany,” Marian started, then stopped and took a moment to articulate her thoughts. “I… was about to say something foolish. That I thought we’d both be down there together.” She shook her head. “But you’re right. There’s fancy meetings, with fancy men in fancy pants which you can see because so many of them wear hose in this country, and I’m just not good with those things.” She smirked. “Seriously, ask Aveline about the time I actually spoke to King Cailan, it was hilarious.”

“Marian, tell me you did not make insinuations about the fanciness of his majesty’s pants.” Leandra put her head in her hands and shook it gently. “Marian, please....”

“It’s a sin to tell lies, Mother, sorry.” Marian didn’t look sorry at all when Leandra lifted her head to glare at her. The elder Hawke daughter turned to the younger quickly to avoid her mother’s gaze. “The Deep Roads aren’t safe. They’re almost as dangerous as Kirkwall is on a good day -- don’t give me that look, it’s true.” She pointed at Bethany with a stern expression. “There is a chance I won’t come back from this. And, hey,” she spread her arms, with a playful smirk and a shrug, “maybe Ketojan can teach you how to become a dragon. So you’re less afraid to fly.”

Bethany was quiet a moment, then sighed and wove her fingers together. “I’ve heard something in my dreams. Maybe it’s Ketojan, maybe it’s a Demon, or maybe it’s the Maker but… it resonated with me. ‘If you don’t have a story of your own, you become part of someone else’s.’” She looked at Marian with conviction, a will as strong as steel. “I love you, sister. There is nothing in the Maker’s creation which could make that untrue. But I want a story of my own. Whether that involves flying, or falling… it’ll be mine.”

Those words resonated with Leandra too, when she heard them. Her girls’ conversation faded into the background as she contemplated how Gamlen, Carver, and even Leandra herself to some extent, had all become part of other people’s stories because they never had one of their own. She didn’t have time left in her life to make a grand adventure out of it… but perhaps she had time to make a humble, pleasant story for herself.

--

Merrill

Since Hawke, Anders, Fenris, and Varric were going off on the expedition Merrill had hoped to catch her favorite dwarf at the Hanged Man to say goodbye. She was sad to see he’d left already -- according to the tavern’s owner, he’d gone before the sun was up. With her, probably tearful, goodbye no longer possible she opted to sit at the bar with some mead and scribble things she recalled from her dreams. Adventure was a lovely companion to have in the Fade -- he had stories, and knew how to get the Fade to spin and churn and replay memories of things the living had forgotten. He was still dangerous in the sense he always guided her on the most interesting path, so she was wary, but according to him he never wanted to be ‘real’.

She wrote down his words on the subject: “If I became real, and had an adventure of my own, it would eventually end. I would end. But, as I am, I can start the ball rolling on the adventures of countless people. I can make the world fun, and unseat villains, without a body of my own.”

She scribbled her notes, and sipped her mead with no regards to the tavern around her. She missed an entire brawl because she was so engrossed in her work. From what she’d gathered, Saebonshae had refused to support Elgar’nan in a war against ‘the pillars of the earth’, but the spirits didn’t recall what those pillars were. She’d abandoned her form, somehow, and as punishment Elgar’nan forbade her from assuming that form again. Presumably the other Forgotten Ones had done similarly. So they’d originally looked like elves, and then had to become something else.

What that ‘something else’ was, or what it looked like, Merrill hadn’t found yet. Adventure seemed to be of a mind that Merrill already knew it, she just didn’t know she knew it. He was fond of speaking in riddles, as their ‘mutual friend’ was.

It was all very fascinating, once she was awake and could go through it without being on guard.

She was snapped out of it by a hand being waved in her face. With a start, she turned and saw one of her favorite humans at the bar next to her. “Isabela! You startled me!” Merrill chided her, all in good fun, and closed her notebook.

“I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes, Kitten,” the Rivaini pirate corrected her with a smirk. She gestured to a plate of food in front of her, and a bottle of rum in her hand. “You’ve been spaced out, looking at that book since I arrived. Have you even eaten?” Buttery mashed potatoes, battered and fried pork nuggets with visible flakes of herbs in the crust, and a bowl of melted white cheese with crackers was the pirate’s meal. The smell hit Merrill like a punch in the jaw.

At that moment, Merrill’s stomach twisted with a growl, which answered Isabela’s question for her.

The captain gestured to the barkeep to bring out a plate similar to her own, and patted Merrill on the shoulder. “You can’t keep forgetting meals, or you’ll waste away.” She refilled Merrill’s empty glass with rum from her bottle. “Got a story in mind? Going to compete with Varric?”

“No, it’s not that.” Merrill shook her head. “I… I’ve been doing research. And I’m getting all the things I’ve discovered down on paper. So that I can remember later, or someone else can if I don’t live long enough to tell anyone.” Normal people would tell each other not to think of death, but Merrill and Isabela both knew how the world worked. Death was everywhere. It would come for people who had prepared for it, or totally forgotten it all the same.

Isabela hmmed to herself, and ate a bite of mashed potatoes. “That brings me to something I wanted to ask you about.” She took a swig of her rum as Merrill’s plate arrived. “I overheard some mages talking about dangerous books. I got the feeling that they felt there were Demons in the books. But… how? Demons can’t possess things, right?”

Merrill had taken some of the pork nuggets brought to her and dipped it in the cheese just to see how they tasted together. Her face lit up with the combination of herbs in the crust, the creaminess of the cheese, and the pork itself. Like that, she’d found a new favorite to order from the tavern. “Mmm! Tasty.” She finished her nugget, then considered Isabela’s question. “Well… yes and no. They can possess literally anything. But they have to want to. When they possess trees, they can spend hundreds of years making them able to move enough to have similar utility to a person.”

“Ah, so… demon possessed books are a thing?” Isabela sounded just as dazed as when she’d confirmed from a Tevinter sailor that, yes, they truly did have flying cows. Though perhaps it was horror at having seen Merrill dip a pork nugget into her cheese -- as the barkeeper and one nearby patron had looked at her with visible disgust.

“That’s the yes part of it.” Merrill dunked another nugget in the cheese, and ignored the dismayed gasp she heard from the stranger who had nothing better to do than watch elves use cheese as a sauce for nuggets. “But what some Keepers do, and what used to be common in the Dales, was that they would mix lyrium with their ink and work spells into the books.” She ate her cheesy nugget with gusto, and relished in the combination of flavors. “Things like illusions to show the reader what played out on the page, compulsions if the author was feeling nasty, or even protections against water and fire.”

“So, hypothetically….” Isabela carefully took one of her nuggets and inched it toward her own bowl of cheese, with twitching eyes and sweat on her brow. “Could there be books which are… traps? Like, you read them and they possess you? Or summon Demons?”

“Oh, definitely.” Merrill was on her third cheesy nugget by the time Isabela had the courage to touch her first to the sauce. After her third, she opted to take the bowl of cheese, and began to pour it over the entire section of pork nuggets on her plate. The barkeeper had to cover his mouth and look away. The nosey stranger fell off his stool in fright. “It’d be a big investment, but it could be done just like that.”

Isabela sighed and ate her cheese-dunked nugget with resignation. She made a sour face, but worked past it as she chewed. While Merrill ate cheese-covered nuggets, Isabela slowly moved a second into the sauce.

“If that’s all about the magic books -- could you finish up that story about when your ship was trying to outrun a hurricane?”

--

Aveline

Hawke had been gone a week, and Kirkwall was still as mad as ever. Twice she’d had outraged nobles come to her and demand she arrest Bethany and Merrill each for different offenses. Merrill had taken to trespassing in the private gardens of some Hightown nobility, and they didn’t like that one whit. Bethany, however, had made enemies in her justified murder of Comte Antioch -- predominately in his relatives whose inheritance would be lost if and when Bethany won her appeal to the Viscount.

With Anders gone, his apprentice Evelina was in charge of the clinic -- and Aveline made sure some good-hearted Fereldan guardsmen and women patrolled nearby to help break up any nonsense which started. The girl wasn’t a Grey Warden, Aveline had thought, she didn’t have the capacity to kill people as often as Anders had to.

In the end, it wasn't necessary. One of Kirkwall’s nobility, Gascard DuPuis, hired a mercenary band to act as security for the clinic. Near as she could tell, the guards posted to the route and those mercenaries had developed a rapport based on their shared Fereldan heritage.

The complaining nobles got a lecture about the value of a Guard Captain’s time, and a harsh pointing towards the exit for their trouble. Then, Aveline happened to come by Fenris’ mansion at the right time to see someone she hadn’t expected. She’d entered the house as a friend, to ask Bethany for help in finding the Viscount’s son, and she found him chatting away with the household’s steward in the foyer.

“Saemus Dumar?” Aveline squinted at the young nobleman at a loss for words. One of his arms was held in a sling, had he been in a fight perhaps?

Saemus looked at her, and sighed. “Arianni, it looks like we’ll have to finish this another time,” he told the steward with a frown.

The Dalish elf offered him an encouraging smile, and nodded. “I look forward to it. I’ll be here if you need anything.” Afterward, she stepped into the steward’s office adjacent to the main foyer, and closed the door behind her.

“You’ve been here this whole time?” Aveline spoke with an utterly gobsmacked tone, and let her jaw hang open for a second. “Your father has been having kittens, and his seneschal has been breathing down my neck while we look for you.”

“I have. While Ashaad recovers.” Saemus stood with his back straight and his gaze intense. “He’s my friend. I have precious few of them, and I refuse to leave until he can come with me.”

Aveline sighed, and rubbed her forehead as she realized all the wasted hours of manhunts, the fruitless searches her guards were on even as they spoke, and all the screaming matches from the seneschal could have been avoided. Easily. “You couldn’t write a letter? Send a runner? Anything? Your father -- “

“Is a man of similarly few friends.” Saemus shook his head, slow and sad. “He should know how dearly a person can cling to their friends after not having had any for long periods of time. Ashaad will leave with me, and we will go to the Keep as soon as he can walk again. You may tell my father I’m here -- but I won’t leave.”

The Guard Captain tapped her armored boot to the tiled floor. “Young man, if your father orders me to bring you before him I will be forced to. Can you not just come with me, for an afternoon, and put an end to his feverish searching?”

“No, I really can’t.” Saemus pinched his brows together and frowned. “Because I know my father, he’ll order me confined to the Keep. And if I’m to be kept in that dreary old estate, I want to have some good company when I go.”

She couldn’t say he was wrong in his assessment of the Viscount. The man had gone bald from stress already, with Saemus’ period of being missing only worsening his stress. It was no small miracle that the Viscount hadn’t had a heart attack yet.

“I understand,” Aveline said and set her face in stone. “But I have a job to do, and I will do it even if it inconveniences you.”

Saemus didn’t respond verbally. He arched an eyebrow, and reached into his doublet. When his hand came out, he had a mail-breaker knife in his grip. The arm in a sling pulled itself free -- either it had healed, or he was desperate enough to fight with it anyway. His eyes never left Aveline’s. “Then we are at an impasse.”

Aveline wanted to be so confident that she could knock the weapon from the fool boy’s hand without effort. But she looked at him, and she saw someone ready to fight to kill. One day, he’d make a fine ruler with that attitude. Certainly a stronger one than his father. But in the present, he had drawn a weapon purpose-built to punch through armor like Aveline had. She couldn’t afford to be careless.

Her hand went to her shield -- not her sword, for that would escalate things even further. The shield could take the stab, and she could disarm him. He’d be forced to comply, then.

As if the Maker himself interceded, the door to the great hall swung open at that moment. Ketojan stepped through and walked toward the front door as if he didn’t pass between two people about to come to blows on the way.

At the door, he paused with his hand on the knob. “Ashaad is ready to be moved,” he said without a glance their way. “I’m going to deliver his measurements to a tailor, since if he is to be a guest at the Keep he will need more than one pair of trousers and boots. I imagine the Viscount would be happy to be distracted from his lunch by a sudden return.” Without a glance backward, he left the estate and left the humans to their dispute.

Aveline flicked her eyes from the Viscount’s son with a weapon, to the door, and back again. She sighed and lowered her shield. “Very well. As long as it happens today.”

“I’m glad we could resolve this peacefully.” Saemus returned his arm to its sling. “And I’m glad that, if you remain in service until my reign starts, that Kirkwall’s guard is not headed by someone completely unable to be reasonable.”

“If you had just told someone where you’d gone, this whole situation could have been avoided.” Aveline narrowed her eyes at Saemus. “But… I respect your willingness to fight for your friends.”

“Thank you.” Saemus walked sideways to the door into the great hall, he clearly didn’t want to turn his back on Aveline, and then backed into the hall. Shortly thereafter, there was a grunt, the clink of glass, followed by a cacophanus shattering noise.

As if she’d been listening in her office the whole time, the Dalish steward threw open her office door and raced by Aveline toward the great hall. “No!” She cried as she saw the scene inside, and tugged at her hair in her dismay. “That amphora was a treasure from the Dales! Priceless!”

“And that would be why you don’t walk backwards through a house,” Aveline muttered and put her shield back across her shoulders. “He might be dedicated, but he’s also a little stupid.” As she had glass-proof gauntlets on, Aveline walked to the scene of art destruction to help clean up.

Hopefully the Viscount had enough gold on-hand to pay for the ruined art piece.

---

We at the Chairly House do not endorse fully-loaded or cheese-covered fries, onion rings, or nuggets. We do, however, find insufficient proof to justify their banning under the Geneva Convention.

I apologize if this chapter’s quality’s tanked. My cat, Socks, passed away yesterday and I’m not sure if I’m okay.

Chapter Text

Codex: Imshael, the Elder Moon

---

A story told by a bard, who allegedly heard it from a red-faced Dalish, told to the scribes at the Circle of Magi in Monstimmard.

-

The gods and their chosen had intimate relationships. Not always overtly sexual, but to become a chosen they had to at least earn their god's respect. Ghilan'nan was once the champion of the goddess Andruil -- who earned the goddess' love by the creation of fantastic beasts of land, sea, and air for legendary hunts. Andruil had never been so in love with another person before, so she continued to heap gifts upon Ghilan'nan to give voice to emotions she lacked the words to express. When these gifts did not do as she wished, she petitioned her lord father to raise Ghilan'nan up among the gods for her spectacular work.

Elgar'nan agreed, on the condition that she find a dominion for Ghilan'nan other than the making of monsters.

Then entered the smiling beast, the giver of gifts, the liesmith -- then entered Imshael, the Moon. With gleaming teeth and glittering eyes he told Andruil he would capture a portion of moonlight in different quantities for every day, and use the light to create a second, lesser moon for Ghilan'nan to be the goddess of. In exchange, she would convince Ghilan'nan to slay all the beasts she had created thus far, save for a few that Ghilan'nan would decide to keep.

Without thinking, Andruil accepted the deal, and made the offer to her chosen. Only then did she see Ghilan'nan's eyes dim at the sight of her. Only then did she see her love cry for the first time as she murdered the treasured gifts she'd offered to her goddess. While the two goddesses remained close, and were as lovers forevermore, the smiling beast had tricked Andruil into placing a wedge in their intimacy for which they could never compensate. They were never as close as they had been as goddess and chosen.

And while time gradually forgot the part the Elder Moon played in the creation of the Younger Moon, and how the story was used to explain the phases of the moons, the world grew up with fewer terrifying monsters than it otherwise would have.

---

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen: End Act One, part two

---

Bethany

She’d been in the Viscount’s Keep before. Once the home of a particularly powerful Tevinter Magister, it had been the seat of Kirkwall’s ruler since the city-state won its freedom hundreds of years ago. Even while annexed under Orlais, the Keep remained the seat of government and rulership.

Bethany felt like an imposter, dressed in a dress of light blues and gold while her mother stood beside her in a purple, maroon, and gold dress -- both paid for by Ketojan so they could put their best foot forward. All around her were established nobles and powerful merchants who she was convinced could see her for a fraud in their company. While she stood in the crowd, in the waiting chamber for the day’s audiences, she wrung her hands at the sudden enormity of her undertaking.

She was going to accuse an established noble family of having intended treason against the Viscount so that she could possess their lands, their home, and their title. And, yes, she would only be able to do so if her mother succeeded on her appeal for the reinstatement of the Amell family as nobility. But Mother seemed so much more confident than Bethany. Bethany hadn’t seen her mother so animated, so alive, since… since Father had been around. It was like all the time since then she had been wilting, but suddenly found the strength to sprout anew.

Bethany remained quiet as her mother greeted people familiar to her, curtseying when she was introduced and otherwise watching and listening. She decidedly didn’t want to catch anyone’s attention, lest they make a fuss. At least, that was how it was until she saw someone across the audience chamber whom she recognized. Slicked back auburn hair, piercing blue eyes, white armor gleaming even in the Keep’s dim lighting -- the Prince of Starkhaven.

While her mother caught up with a tearful Dulci de Lancet, Bethany stepped lightly through the crowd so that she could approach the Prince. He was courteously greeting people who greeted him, but seemed unoccupied with a meaningful conversation. Bethany smelled opportunity in that.

“My Lady,” he said as he turned his head her way and bowed.

Bethany curtseyed in reply, the gesture earned some snickers from the other young ladies in attendance, but Bethany didn’t care. They weren’t important, she decided. Bethany and the Prince, however, were. “Your majesty,” she replied when she rose. “The Maker has let us see each other again.”

“And already this day is a bit brighter than it was prior.” The Prince’s charming smile was a prize Bethany was glad to receive. “Are you here to petition the Viscount as well?”

“I am.” Bethany felt confidence she hadn’t known before. The Prince was there to talk to her, not Marian, not Mother. Her. “I am going to be laying claim to the lands and titles of the late Comte Antioch for his attempt to create a private army to terrorize Hightown with.”

“I knew of the Comte, a vicious man.” Sebastian shook his head, sad. Around them, there were whispers as onlookers gossiped to each other. The Prince paid them no mind. “Such a waste of a life, to hunger for money and power with no higher goal in mind.”

“Hungering for power, the ability to project your will onto others, is wrong in all instances some would say.” Bethany didn’t shy away from the topic, it was something she’d thought about at length. “It’s better to seek strength, to protect the people and places you care about. Power is prone to becoming its own master, but strength is too humble for that.”

“A noble sentiment, and one I share. Sadly, we seem to be in the minority on that front.”

Bethany smiled, glad that she’d found some common ground with the Prince. “And what of you? Is your audience today in regards to Starkhaven?”

“No, unfortunately.” Sebastian’s face turned into a mask of anger. “I’m here on Chantry business. The Grand Cleric went into the Gallows the other night to demand Knight-Commander Meredith stop illegally executing the mages within.” He ignored the shocked gasps that followed, his gaze locked on Bethany’s. His anger melted away and left him with a concerned expression. “She hasn’t come back out. It’s been days, and the Knight-Commander won’t even answer our questions. The revered mothers are there right now, demanding the Grand Cleric’s return, and I’m here to petition the Viscount’s aide.”

Bethany’s eyebrows had steadily gone up through the Prince’s explanation. “Certainly a dire issue. I’ve never known the Templars to be so brazen in their corruption.”

“Had I not seen the Grand Cleric go into the Gallows myself, had I not been privy to the terrible visions she’d been having, I might have been hesitant to call it corruption. But no longer.” Sebastian shook his head. “My hope is that the Viscount will not be resistant to the idea of Templars that serve their interests before the Maker.”

For a moment, Bethany envied the Prince. To believe in the good in people so much that the idea of Templars being corrupt was horrifying. But a moment later, she recalled Anders’ friend, made a tranquil illegally. She remembered the vile monsters Ketojan had taken to killing among the Templar ranks. “Your Majesty, may I be blunt?” She waited for him to respond in the affirmative before she continued. “You’re… rather late to the party on that count. Not even fashionably late, I’m sad to say.”

Sebastian’s expression turned even more sorrowful, with downturned eyes and sagging corners of his mouth. “Is it truly that widespread?”

“There are honest, Maker obeying Templars… but they are either silent, or too tolerant of the corrupt many. My friend, Varric Tethras, tells me that the Chantry’s secret police have never been called to investigate the Kirkwall Templars. Ever. For many hundreds of years.” Bethany shook her head. “Realistically… they should have been called in a couple times, at least for accidents, but they haven’t. No armed force is skilled enough to make no mistakes across multiple different terms of leadership.”

Sebastian sighed, and sagged a little. “When you put it that way….”

“But,” she said and took a step closer to the Prince, “that can change. I know the names of some good, honest Templars in Kirkwall who you could call on for help if needed. I have allies, friends who would be willing to help if a peaceful solution cannot be found.”

The way Sebastian’s eyes lit up was the way other people had lit up when her sister agreed to help them. She had become the hero.

--

Anders

When Hawke presented him with a chunk of pork jerky, Anders let out a sigh of relief. “Hawke, you’re my hero.” In short order he’d taken the chunk and begun to chew it into oblivion. A week to even get to the right depth, and another two to get where Bartrand claimed the thaig to be, and the ‘good’ rations had all been replaced with hardtack and mushy oats. On the way, they’d hit the occasional obstacle which needed dealing with -- darkspawn, cave-ins, Bodahn Feddic’s boy getting lost and needing to be retrieved -- all time-consuming and tiresome things on top of the walking.

The Deep Roads, cavernous passages dug through the earth by ancient dwarves to connect their thaigs together into one vast empire, were awful to be in. The primary lighting element for the Roads was lava, so the whole place was uncomfortably warm. Any dark corner or pit could mask a warren of darkspawn, or indicate structural damage which they’d need to move around. They lost some people to the Blighted creatures and to collapsing bridges already.

Then, they came to the actual thaig which had set off Anders’ ‘shit’s about to get fucked’ senses like mad. It felt like there were darkspawn everywhere, dwarven ruins were mixed with an architectural style none of them had ever seen before. Huge veins of lyrium grew up through the stone and into the buildings -- all of it a deep, pulsating red instead of the serene blue typical of lyrium.

As soon as he’d seen it, Bartrand had shouted something about ‘gangue’, and had everyone keep at least ten feet away from the stuff. He’d actually threatened Varric with a knife when he demanded they at least check what was up with the red lyrium. Exploration of the thaig, given the ten-foot rule, was slow.

And all through the day, Bartrand had Anders trying different magics to try and affect the red lyrium. Moving it hadn’t been particularly effective, and neither had been raising the earth to encircle it. He knew something terrible was afoot when he noticed something about the same vein-like tendril of red lyrium that he had experimented on for days. It had been growing toward where Anders stood during the magical tests.

The realization made him abandon his experiments for the day and come back, whereupon Hawke offered him the pork jerky.

“Anything about the glowing red rocks?” Hawke asked as she sat near Anders in the caravan’s campsite, the former gates of the thaig, swung open and torn off their hinges. “You know, aside from them being a lighting option even more creepy than lava?”

“You know,” Anders said with a conversational tone after he swallowed some jerky. “I’m not hating the red glow. It’s a lot easier on my eyes than lava.”

“I suppose lava is certainly brighter than….” She gestured at the thaig ruins with a flick of her hand. “Whatever that is.”

“It is creepy, however. Almost like it’s alive.” Anders shuddered. Sudden shouting got both their attentions, and they followed the sounds to the source in case darkspawn had shown up. He seriously couldn’t understand why his Grey Warden senses told him they were everywhere but they hadn’t even seen any yet.

It wasn’t darkspawn, as it turned out, it was Bartrand screaming at the top of his lungs at Varric, all while he backed away from the archer dwarf. Anders saw why as they drew closer -- Varric had a strange piece of carved lyrium in his hands, the same red stuff that grew around the thaig, but painted and carved.

“I told you not to get within ten feet of any gangue, Varric!” Bartrand shouted. “We don’t know how dangerous this stuff can be!”

“And we won’t know unless we get some to test it.” Varric shouted back, his charm and patience having seemingly frayed to snapping. “We’re running out of food, we’re running out of water -- and you’re having Blondie spend whole days trying to figure this stuff out when we have runesmiths, and Bodahn’s boy to look at this,” he shook the idol. “This stuff was apparently safe enough for artisans to work on it, we can stand to be a little more hands on.”

Fenris came through the caravaneers to join Hawke and Anders as they advanced on Bartrand and Varric.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Hawke started with an amicable smile. “We are not at the point of tearing out each other’s throats yet, hmm? Then perhaps the leaders of this expedition ought to comport themselves in a way to convey a sense of calm to any caravaneers who feel we might be?” Her amicable tone hardened significantly as she spoke. “We are too deep underground for this shit.”

“You don’t know what it is, Varric,” Bartrand said with a pleading tone and visible fear as he kept well away from his brother and the lyrium idol. “It’s dangerous. It’s corruption made visible. Dark, evil parts of the Stone which we need to cut away.”

Varric shook his head, in total disbelief. “What’s with you? You’ve never been this religious. It’s lyrium -- of course it’s dangerous! But we’ve never seen this kind before, it might be useful.”

“To be fair Varric I actually agree with your brother on this,” Anders spoke up, causing his friend to stare at him… with a pointed look. “There is something off about this lyrium, and as a mage and a Grey Warden I think it's best we let it be. Starting with that gaudy statuette you are holding.”

“Can’t you hear it, Varric?” Bartrand sounded afraid, which no one had heard in his voice before though they saw it in his face. “That thing’s speaking to us!”

Varric slowly shook his head. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, brother, but I don’t hear anything from this.” Varric turned his gaze toward the others. “Anyone else hearing things from the magic statue?”

“I feel… a displacement.” Fenris said, soft. He ran his hands along his arms, over his lyrium tattoos. “It’s like vertigo. But also not. I’m here, but I’m somewhere else. If it were stronger, it would probably make me nauseous.”

“Nothing from me,” Hawke commented. “I’m feeling somewhat left out.”

Varric turned his pointed gaze to Bartrand. “Have… you been hearing this stuff talking to you since we arrived?”

“Yes!” Bartrand said, like his patience was at its end. “And… and you haven’t?”

“Bartrand… it’s just lyrium.” Varric dropped the statue in the dirt. “Lyrium doesn’t talk. It’s just rock.”

Bartrand recoiled as if he’d been struck when the statue hit the ground. Anders saw several dwarves -- even Bodahn and his boy -- flinch similarly. Curiously, it seemed to only be the dwarves born underground who could perceive whatever influence the red lyrium had. Surface dwarves had no reaction at all.

“Angry!” Bodahn’s boy, Sandal, shouted and covered his ears. “It’s so angry!” The boy’s father pulled him into an embrace, and covered his head protectively while whispering soothing words.

“Please, Master Tethras,” Bodahn called out as his boy cringed in his arms. “Get that thing out of the dirt!”

While Varric struggled to understand what was happening to the other dwarves, Anders took a step forward and snatched up the idol. Closer to it, he could see an image of a distinctly non-dwarven woman holding a similar male body in her arms, her eyes as sunken pits, with a hoop behind them held in the coils of a snake. As if he’d been called, Justice slipped through Anders’ flesh into his eyes and the Grey Warden saw the idol explode in a vision of black and red. In the black injustices that stained the idol, he saw shapes outlined in red. Indistinct figures writing as someone from on high cast a spell at them. A woman with her hair styled into horns decapitating someone who held a third person’s head in a basin of liquid. A winged figure that looked to be eaten by flame -- with facial marking eerily similar to Merrill’s.

As if whispered directly into his ear, Anders heard a feminine voice speak to him. “O, Warden mine….”

Justice remained on the surface as he took control of Anders’ body and held the idol further away from himself. “This is an icon of betrayal,” the Spirit said with his and Anders’ voices intertwined. “It must be returned from whence it came.”

“For once, I agree with the abomination,” Fenris muttered. “This evil must be put back to sleep.”

Hawke frowned, and looked at the elf, then Anders-Justice, and back again. “These two agreeing on something? Whatever that is, it has to be cursed.”

Varric threw his hands up, defeated. “Fine. Fine. Let’s go put away the priceless artifact which could make us all rich.”

Justice coiled tight around Anders in his mind, with an air of defensiveness Anders had never known the Spirit to possess. It was like he felt something else in their mind, which wanted to get at Anders. As they walked with the icon held far away, he began to notice how the hand that touched the icon twitched or twisted on its own. Perhaps Justice was right to be concerned.

--

Varric

“Hawke, have you finished the sketch on that rock wraith yet?” Varric asked as they ascended the stairs to Hightown one at a time. They’d been walking for weeks, even the ponies and brontos had sore feet. It didn’t help much that they were all laden with gold -- though Broody insisted on keeping his in his rucksack. The other three wore their trophies with pride -- Blondie with extensive ropes of pearls that twisted about his neck multiple times before they hung down to his waist, Hawke with her tiara crown and gold-cloth cape, and Varric with his enormously gaudy rings and smoked eyeglasses. Mere trinkets in the grand scheme of how much wealth the caravan had brought back, not even a significant amount of their shares, but all hard-won from fights with demon-possessed lyrium monsters.

Hell, even his brother seemed just as happy on the latter point along with the former, muttering about ‘corrupted stone being purged’ or some other nonsense. Bianca would be on his side when he told her about the weird red rocks they saw down there. She probably wouldn’t believe him about the rock wraiths without an illustration, however.

“Almost done,” Hawke replied as she led the group up the stairs one aching motion at a time. “I need to finish the shading -- to convey that the thing could make its own light. I should have it for you by tomorrow morning.”

“Ketojan should have the baths up and running by now,” Fenris mused. “We can all relax with a hot soak once we’re there. I’ll even allow the mage to come in.”

“Your graciousness knows no bounds,” Anders muttered.

“It does, doesn’t it?”

As they ascended the stairs to Hightown, they saw an inordinate number of city guards stationed around the area. It seemed they patrolled in larger groups than Varric remembered, and they had tower shields along with pikes in some cases -- neither of which were seen much aside from wartime.

Things in Lowtown had been mostly the same -- with a few more Templars on the street than Varric was comfortable with, but he had thought things had mostly stayed the same.

Then they got to Fenris’ mansion which had the ‘Marningold Estate’ plaque replaced with ‘Fenris Estate’. While Varric was the first to notice, Broody wasn’t far behind them.

“What in the hell is that mage playing at?” The elf growled as he tried to stomp to the door. He made it three steps before he stopped and hopped about on one leg with his other in his hand. “Ack! Cramp!”

“Maker’s mercy, here.” Anders sighed in exasperation and forced his legs to move slightly faster so he could help the elf deal with his cramped leg.

Hawke and Varric steadily swung their legs forward, shifted their weight, then swung the next leg forward because walking for weeks had worn them down to exhaustion.

Inside the foyer, the steward of the house, Feynriel’s mother Arianni, directed some of the servants in their assignments for the day. She hastily sent the maids on their way when she saw them enter. “Master Tethras, Lady Hawke, Warden, mi’lord, excellent to see you again.”

“I take it that the title petition worked out for my mother and sister, yes?” Hawke asked as she tried to stealthfully move towards one of the overstuffed couches in the foyer. It would have worked, if she didn’t frantically grasp for the couch as she drew near and let out a relieved sigh once she sat down. Varric grabbed the seat next to her, which left Blondie and Broody to either go for the single chairs on the opposite wall, or remain standing.

“It did.” Arianni smiled and bowed to Fenris as he swung his way over to her. “Mi’lord, the estate is in full working order, I’ll have a report of the events that transpired while you were gone drawn up immediately.”

Broody scowled, evidently not pleased with the news. “I told you to stop calling me that,” he snapped. “I’m not a lord.”

“Indeed, you’re a comte.” She seemed utterly unbothered as Broody floundered in the face of such news. “It caused quite a stir when it was announced. An elven comte? But the Viscount wanted to send a message to the slaving groups in Kirkwall’s territories that they were unwelcome. Ser Ketojan’s already taken the liberty to send letters to your family in Tevinter, to let them know they have a place to stay in Kirkwall.”

Utter silence was Arianni’s reward for the news. Broody stood there, frozen in shock before he began to tip backward. Frozen as if he were a statue, Fenris bounced and rolled on his back once he fell over, until he found a spot partially on his side to rest still in the pose he’d held while standing.

“Alright, that’s it.” Blondie was all smiles as he watched the display. Once it was done, he clapped his hands. “I’m going to go to the baths, and on the way I’m going to almost laugh myself to death. Anyone want to join me?”

“I feel… like everything’s tingly and I want to laugh,” Hawke said, as if dazed, “but if I do I feel like I might have a heart attack.”

“Maybe you just need some water?” Varric spoke as he forced himself not to laugh himself to death. “A bath sounds like just the ticket.”

“If Comte Fenris has invited you to the baths, then I’ll get some drawn up for you. It is a rather long walk from here to your mother or sister’s estates, Lady Hawke.” Arianni glanced down at the statuesque Fenris, concerned. “I… think we still have some of those carts from when the repairs were being done. We’ll put his lordship in one to get him to the baths.”

Varric’s shoulders shook as he struggled to contain his mirth from the mental image. This was going to be great material for a story.

It almost made him forget how tense the city seemed. They’d need to find out exactly what had happened while they were gone. But, in the short term, baths and laughing themselves to death was called for. Maybe some pork nuggets as well.

---

And like that, Act One ends. We'll have some short snippets which bridge the gap to the next Act, and go over what's happened in Hawke's absence. But we'll be starting Act Two off with a wyvern hunt, so y'all know.

Chapter Text

Codex: Kieran, God of Art and Beauty

---

A memory revealed to a witch while giving birth.

-

When the sea and the moon found each other they grew to love one another quickly. The sea loved how cunning and bad the moon could be, while the moon loved how utterly insane and fearsome the sea could be. Ever unpredictable, the sea grasped the threads of their love and strung them together before he dipped them in the abyssal waters which were his dominion.

From the wellspring of souls was raised Kieran, first of the gods to be born as a child. The moon was alight in joy, and drew the night down to behold what the sea had made for him. All the gods who had been born thus emerged fully grown and developed, made strong by the strength of their parents. The new god, Kieran, was unique because he started small and would grow stronger as time went on.

The mother of the gods saw how the young godling's strength was not capped the way her children had been and declared to the People that all children were to be born thus from then on. To be small, and grow with their years. Victory saw that her brother's knowledge was incomplete, and ferried him around the world with her wings to show it to him.

As the first god to have been a child, Kieran held the world his family had created in wonder. Wonder became awe, and awe caused him to invent that which brought tears to even cruel Elgar'nan's eyes: music, song, poetry. Everything that was beautiful in the world was described by the young god of beauty. From the highest king, to the lowest peasant -- there was beauty everywhere if one cared to look for it.

It was many long, long years of the earth before any mortal or god managed to create something which Kieran could find no beauty in. The ignoble creation to earn the distinction was deemed sin, greed, and named 'ugly', a creation of Elgar'nan who did not care for the dishonor he had brought on himself.

Elgar'nan marshaled his light to strike Kieran for declaring his greed to be ugly, and the sea rose up in his defense. The two struggled until the sea fell down and was still.

And Elgar'nan's greed became even uglier.

---

Chapter Text

Codex: Formless Oedeon

---

The ravings of a madman who went blind by looking directly at the sun. His words were found inscribed in all the journals within five miles of him at the time. The subject was apprehended, rendered tranquil, and the journals seized for heresy.

-

The first things which existed were the four great movers. The Land, and her pillars. The night, and its terrors. The sun, and its wonders. And time, and its horrors. Formless Oedeon was the wondrous and envious sun once upon a time. But a confrontation with his son humbled the sun, whence he was shunned to live in the Land -- no fun!

Formless Oedeon was the sun and yet he was not. He was a great ruler, yet he was not. He was a stomping, tantrum-throwing baby, and yet he was not. Contradictions he had in abundance, almost as many as the sea.

Once humbled, Formless Oedeon became the god of flame -- teacher of June and Sylaise. Formless Oedeon never took a physical shape -- he existed in the fires of every forge, every kitchen, every erupting volcano, every meteor that screamed down to the earth.

Formless Oedeon became sympathetic to mortals, after been shown that he was not invincible, invulnerable, nor was he liked. Visions of the future he would give to those who looked into flame and kept an open heart. When the sea came to him with salt and a plan to lessen the burden of mortals, together they created works of light and flame that burned in spectacular colors and patterns. With the sea's mirror calm, the beauty of their works of fire could be doubled.

Formless Oedeon yearned for a child, but could not have one as the Land shunned him, and none of the gods would lay with him given his temperamental history. Perhaps he could have convinced the sea to make a child for him, had the sea survived. Had Formless Oedeon not stood against his son a second time. Had they not all been Forgotten. Had he not listened to the wolf.

Had he not... had he not...

---

Chapter Text

Codex: Observations about the Templars and Seekers

---

An excerpt from a treatise by Magister Pavus on the subject of the cosmetic and substantive differences between the Imperial and Orlesian Chantries, authored 9:25 Dragon.

-

In the South, the Templar Order is more influential, yes. They are given lyrium to make their nullification abilities stronger, to the point where only a blood mage may prevail against them. They are afforded great respect, and often behave as thugs as a result. Ask a Southern resident to describe a Templar, and you will get a distant but vaguely positive description that many would get if you asked an Imperium citizen about Magisters. The closer one looks, and the more they know about the history of the organization, the more similar they become.

I say 'more similar', and not 'exactly the same' for a reason. The Magisterium predates the Templar Order significantly, it has had more time to accumulate accomplishments both for good and ill. Given time, perhaps the Templar Order will behave as the Magisterium has at its worst, perhaps it won't. These common points of behavior in the two organizations are not to be lauded in any case. Positions of authority that are largely unassailable lead to abuses of power, a lack of empathy, and an erosion of moral values. Power over a captive population who have little to no agency makes it easier to forget that they are not tools, they are not weapons, and they are not burdens -- they are people. People have rights, given by their Maker, and none less than their Maker may revoke them.

However, the Templars are not alone in their organization. There are also the Orlesian Chantry's secret police, the Seekers of Truth. These Seekers can start in the Templar Order, or be invited to join directly if the individual merits it. Like Templars, they are charged to defend against dangerous magic, and to limit the abuse of mages and mages abusing others in equal measure. In theory, anyway.

In practice, the Seekers are sent only after known mages both too strong for run-of-the-mill Templars but too weak to mobilize politics to protect themselves. Part of their goal is to place wedges between apostates and the nobility -- as even a position as court enchanter can provide just enough political shielding to make their elimination impractical. And while the Seekers are also meant to investigate Templar abuses, in practice they are meant to do two things on this front: find scapegoats for the higher-ups in the Templar Order to cover up systemic abuses; and to dispose of gadflies whose political usefulness has ended. Actual abuses of power are almost entirely ignored. In this way, they are most similar to Imperial Templars.

---

Chapter Text

Sidestory section One:

Author’s Note: These next few postings, barring a codex, will detail some of the perspectives of most characters to give you an idea of where the character goes over the three-year gap, and their adventures. Normal broadcast will resume shortly.

---

Leandra

Leandra had never known Dulci to weep so openly that she ruined her makeup in public before. When they ran into each other at the Viscount’s Keep, Leandra had expected rage, passive-aggressive disinterest, maybe a courteous acknowledgment and silence thereafter.

What she’d gotten instead was a wealthy comtess who had broken down and ran to hug her. Dulci’s words, whispered into Leandra’s ear as she squeezed as hard as she could, haunted her even days after. “When we heard about the Blight, we thought we’d lost you too. We thought we’d lost our best friend all over again.”

Two decades, and lifetimes of events, and Dulci still considered Leandra her best friend. What’s more, her use of ‘our’ had risen Leandra’s eyebrows along with those of several onlookers. Leandra immediately had slipped into her old habits and helped Dulci fix herself up. For a few minutes, it was like they were girls again and Leandra had to save Dulci from Tabitha Veldebaun’s horrid jokes again.

Poor Tabitha had died in the second cholera outbreak, last Leandra heard. As horrid as she’d been, she didn’t deserve that. While they’d waited for their audiences, Dulci and Leandra exchanged the details of their lives.

One of the events Leandra wished to Andraste herself they didn’t have in common was having lost children. It was evidently why Guillaume didn’t make public appearances anymore, though exactly why escaped Leandra.

At least it did until Dulci had invited her over to the de Launcet estate to catch up with Guillaume and meet her daughters. The estate hadn’t changed much since the last time Leandra had been there when her parents arranged for her to be wed to Guillaume shortly before she eloped with Malcolm. The rose gardens were spectacular, the wealth of the de Launcet family was on display by their possession of not one, but three Anderfels blue rose bushes -- with specialized gardeners who helped the plants adapt to the much moister climate.

Out in the garden, Leandra sat on a bench while Dulci went to go get Guillaume. She breathed in the rose-scented air, looked over the fashionably overgrown statues, and then noticed a new addition. A statue of seven children -- two girls and five boys -- seated on a bench with mosses, and lichen, fresh on the stone. At a glance, she could see Dulci’s magnificent cheekbones and Guillaume’s nose on some of them and knew who the children represented. While she waited, Leandra gathered her thoughts and put together a timeline. Dulci had said she had ten children, with seven memorialized in stone. She had two daughters and a boy, all around Marian and Bethany’s age… which would mean that the de Launcets had lost the seven memorialized children during one or both of the cholera outbreaks.

Leandra’s heart broke for her friends. Next to their loss, losing Carver and Malcolm seemed almost insultingly petty a comparison. She stood when she heard voices nearby -- Dulci’s and who could only be Guillaume. Age had deepened his voice and strengthened his accent considerably.

“Dulci -- I don’t know what sick game you’re playing, but Leandra’s gone,” Guillaume’s voice said, thick with emotion. “The Blight killed everyone south of the Bannorn in Ferelden… she couldn’t have made it out.”

Guillaume,” Dulci pleaded. “Please, trust me. I wouldn’t joke about this! She’s right on the other side of the hedges!”

“Bah. I knew we should have had that doctor take a look at your eyes. You probably dragged some poor woman through the streets here because you can’t see well anymore!” Red-headed and fiery-tempered Guillaume de Launcet stomped through his gardens and around a hedge wall with an irate expression on his face. “My deepest apologies Madame, I hope you enjoyed the gardens and I’ll be happy to… happy to….” His irate expression melted into confusion, then broke into dawning realization. For all his fiery passions growing up, Guillaume had always been teased about how easily he cried. Something he clearly never overcame as he furiously squeezed his eyes shut and turned on his heel to face Dulci as she came ‘round the hedges as well. “That can’t be her, ma belle. They just… they just look very much alike. She was in Ferelden during the Blight -- it hurts too much to hope.”

Dulci reached up and turned her husband around to look at Leandra again. “Lady Amell? My husband, the Comte de Launcet.”

Leandra walked over to them, then curtseyed as was proper when a lady met a lord. “Good afternoon, Comte. Such manly tears you have.” A childhood jab that had become affectionate with many years of use -- finally became a calcified in-joke Leandra hoped didn’t offend.

Whatever doubts Guillaume had about Leandra were undone. All at once, he was just as weepy and emotional as Dulci had been earlier. The big man grabbed Leandra in a vice-like hug and blubbered about how he’d thought she’d died in the Blight.

After Dulci and Leandra got Guillaume calmed down, they sat together in the rose gardens to catch up.

“I thought you two would be quite cross with me, what with me eloping with Malcolm,” Leandra said as she patted Guillaume’s back.

“You remember how Malcolm looked like all those years ago, oui?” Dulci replied with an arched brow as she too patted Guillaume’s back. “Maker they don’t make men that good looking anymore.”

“I was never angry with you,” Guillaume blubbered. “I was scared for you. Going off to be a fugitive, in Ferelden no less!” He rubbed his eyes. “Ferelden all that time ago was just as terrifying as Ferelden with the Blight.”

Leandra couldn’t say she disagreed. “I’m sorry for putting you two through that, you didn’t deserve it.”

Dulci smiled, bittersweet. “We’re all back together now. The three of us…. Though I think we’re a bit too old to celebrate with some shenanigans.”

“Nonsense,” Leandra smirked, her mind full of ideas. “We just need to engage in more sophisticated shenanigans.”

---

Guillaume’s not welcome at Orlesian court anymore because he heard the Duke de Montsimmard make a joke about the dead de Launcet children, and beat the man to death in front of witnesses.

---

Aveline

Since the Viscount’s son had come back, things had been… betterworse, to use a Ketojan word, in the Keep. The court had been livid with the Qunari who came with Saemus, but the boy had acquired a great deal of spine. It helped that Ashaad was polite, quiet, and rarely on his own. According to Ketojan, most Qunari were like that because they didn’t speak the common tongue well -- so to avoid appearing uneducated, they refrained from talking altogether.

Aveline had known some soldiers like that, back in the army.

But Saemus had thrown himself into the city’s administration -- which took some work off the desks of Aveline, the Seneschal, and other city officials. A slightly lesser workload was worth slightly more annoying nobility.

She’d passed by abandoned rooms in the Keep more than once to hear Ketojan’s voice. When she looked in, she often found him reading to Saemusu, Ashaad, and some of the Viscount’s staff. From the sound of it… he was reading a book of philosophy to them, or perhaps religion.

Sometimes she’d see some of her guardsmen in the room with them. And despite their other duties, Aveline let them. Sometimes, the lesson being talked about in the session seemed important.

In one such lesson where she eavesdropped, she heard Ketojan recount a parable from the book. “In his travels, the ashkaari came upon a village in the frozen south. For many years, he stayed with the people to understand their truths. There he spoke to a father whose child had fallen into the winter sea when they were fishing. He heard the man say that the child would freeze before they got to shore, and that he had to end their suffering. He heard another say it would have been better to try. He asked a question that silenced both: ‘Who asked the child what they wanted?’”

Aveline couldn’t help but remember Wesley. Her husband, two years dead. His eyes greyed out with the Taint, his veins visible and black, hunched over from the pain. He’d given her the knife to end his suffering with, and had made his preference known beforehand. She realized how lucky she’d been that he could still talk. His death would have haunted her even more if she’d never known what he wanted.

“Their silence was the answer. The ashkaari asked them questions no more, yet lived with them all the same. This concludes today’s lesson -- ruminate on the lesson, and ask any questions about it when next we meet.”

Aveline watched the door to the room open, the occupants leaving to return to their work. The guardsmen at least had the decency to look sheepish when they saw her lingering by the door. Saemmus and Ashaad were the last to leave. Ashaad had taken slightly after Ketojan in his fashion of late -- pale shirts which were borderline translucent, high boots with trousers tucked into them, and a largely ornamental coat.

“Ah, Captain Vallen,” Saemus said as he saw her. He’d had a smile on his face that turned slightly brittle as he spoke. “Good to have found you so quickly. Could you walk with us?”

“Of course, your lordship.” Aveline stepped away from the wall and glanced into the room as she passed the door. She saw Ketojan’s shadow, barely visibly against the dark room’s interior. His eyes shone red in the dim light, and he waved at her as she passed. So massively creepy.

Still, she waved back and went with the Viscount’s son and his friend.

They walked the halls of the Keep at a brisk pace, until they came to the door to the outer wall. Once they’d crossed, and found a balcony that suited their purpose, Saemus and Ashaad turned to look at Aveline.

“Do you want to continue to be Guard Captain?” Saemus asked, with brows pinched and raised. “Even though you will be asked to do unpleasant things?”

Aveline was immediately on guard and frowned. “I have been asked to do unpleasant things before. And I would continue to be such even if I stepped down. But I do want to remain as Captain, because I can tackle the corruption of this city and try to bend it back into shape.”

Saemus opened his mouth, like he wanted to say something, but he couldn’t. He turned to Ashaad, who nodded and turned to Aveline.

“Recently, the Viscount has received certain threats… which he has sworn myself and Saemus to secrecy about.” Ashaad shook his head, sad and theatrical. “I cannot tell you the content of these threats. Of how terrible and warlike their author sounded when they were read.”

Aveline had initially suspected someone in the city to have actually threatened the Viscount -- it happened somewhat regularly, he was a weak ruler and prone to mistakes. But then she realized the emphasis Ashaad had placed on one particular word.

Oh no.

“Is that so?” Aveline played their little game of ‘dodge the treason’. “It’s such a shame. I would love to know where they’d sent their letter from.”

Ashaad nudged Saemus who turned to look to the northwest -- right into the mountains that rose up in the distance.

“You know, if we stood on the tops of those mountains, I bet we could see all the way to Tantervale,” he said with clear hesitancy.

Aveline flinched. Tantervale, the single most pro-Chantry city-state in the Marches. Chantry law and Tantervale law were pretty much twins, and since the situation with Grand Cleric Elthina hadn’t been resolved… the violent fundamentalists were threatening war. Fan-fucking-tastic.

“Kirkwall doesn’t have a standing army,” Aveline muttered as she rubbed her forehead. “That’s going to be… a problem, because as far as I know Tantervale does.”

“Plenty of mercenaries, though.” Saemus shrugged. “And… experienced fighters.” He glanced at her multiple times.

Aveline got his meaning -- the Viscount was aiming to make her an officer in his war effort if Tantervale made good on their threats. There were other cities in the Free Marches who would leap at a chance to take Kirkwall’s lands or their prestige as one of the ‘big three’. Ostwick, Hercina, Wycome… Starkhaven might get involved just to put down a rival, and turn on Tantervale while they were weak.

Kirkwall was an economic power, not a military one. They’d be utterly smashed in an actual war. They had neither the population of Tantervale, nor the military tradition of Starkhaven to fight with. They had gold and abused peasants to work with.

Aveline flashed back to Ketojan, with his shining red eyes and his creepy wave. That could help tremendously.

“We also have a mutual friend,” she told the Viscount’s son and his companion, “who knows the recipe for black powder, and is willing to share it.”

---

You know that feeling you get when you push on ice just hard enough to cause it to crack? That’s what I feel when I do stuff like this. It’s fuckin’ fun.

---

Fenris

The weeks and months that followed his return were… odd. To say the least. He was a comte, and it came with duties he was asked to perform -- decisions he was asked to make. His duties were primarily the administration of the port authority, to make sure absolutely no slavers got into Kirkwall, or got out with slaves.

Any bitterness he had about the task melted like snow in springtime when he was able to catch a slaver he knew from his time with Danarius on an inspection. The man’s face was priceless as Fenris ordered what would be the new fate for all slavers who were caught in Kirkwall -- to be tied to heavy rocks and thrown into the deepest part of the harbor. In Tevinter, most elves didn’t know how to swim, so any body of water became convenient for disposing of slaves. Doing it to a slaver felt… just. He’d mended the world, just a bit.

The port authority did not run as smoothly as it had under the previous leadership, but it comported itself with greater honor and less corruption. Speed and smoothness would come with practice, Fenris was sure.

There were less pleasing parts of being a nobleman, he realized. He was unpopular among the nobility, for having replaced established families, for his wealth coming from Ketojan’s investments and the sale of Worthy’s boxes of various temperatures, his race and his nationality. Few nobles cared to speak to him, even fewer that did so were people Fenris would have cared to speak to. Many nobles found his preference for drinking in the Hanged Man to be insulting, below his station.

It meant more rum for him, so he didn’t much care.

Elves in the alienage sent him many letters of congratulations, and requests for a place in his household, or offers of daughters for marriage. Many he left unanswered, some he responded to with threats of violence, only one did he give a tactful response. Just because he was the only elf nobleman in Kirkwall many thought that automatically made him their voice when he could name only two local elves he could say he was close to at all, and one was a mage he kept half an eye on due to her admitted use of blood magic.

Arianni had mentioned Ketojan had found some of Fenris’ family in Tevinter, and sent letters to them. Eventually, one was sent back with a simple question.

‘So that I know you are not lying to me, what is my brother’s name?’

Like a candle lit in a dark room, memories bloomed where there had been darkness before. “Leto,” he wrote as he recalled his mother’s admonishments for eating their master’s wine grapes. “Leto, who was always far too angry for far too many reasons.” He wrote that as he recalled the scraps he would get into with the other slave boys around his age. Their master had found them entertaining.

He included gold enough to bring them to Kirkwall -- with an added note that if they had a happy life where they were, they were under no obligations to come to him. Their next reply told him they would move to live with him, but that his mother’s poor health would slow their pace.

When he learned of this, he had Tomwise the house alchemist brew as many healing tonics and remedies as he could, he prepared a room for his mother to live in, where she could easily be cared for and comfortable. And, after much nagging from Ketojan, he hired a gardener to turn the ragged jungle in the estate courtyard into something beautiful. Many nobles had rose gardens, or other flowers. But Fenris looked over the vines that grew up along the sides of the courtyard, and found a haunting beauty to them. It created a shady, cool place in the house where one could enjoy the dark if they pleased. His orders on the issue were to retain and cultivate that experience further -- dark beauty.

Purple, blue, and black flowers that did best with indirect sunlight were brought in, and new supports to help extend the growth of flowering vines were installed. A lattice was placed over the top of the courtyard where newer vines would grow with time.

All the while, he thought to himself: ‘Will mother like this? Or my sister? Am I making this place unpleasant for them so that only I can enjoy it?’

Such ruminations had gotten him through the portrait of himself that was to be hung in the Viscount’s Keep as a record for his noble house. It was him in his usual clothes, with his sword held pointed down and a cape that Ketojan had commissioned for him -- specifically to mirror the pointy design his usual wardrobe exhibited, to be worn for ceremonial purposes only. They had agreed to let him keep the portrait which he would be replacing -- that of the Marningold founder. It rested in his personal study -- a Tevinter nobleman from hundreds of years ago, with broken shackles piled up around his feet.

The Marningold colors had been white and red, which Fenris inverted with his own -- black and blue. Maker, he hoped that his sister and mother didn’t dislike the colors.

Eventually, the day came when his sister and mother were due to arrive at Kirkwall by ship. Fenris made ready to go to the port and meet them, when he noticed Ketojan and the half-elf boy in the great hall with bags all around them. Arianni was in the midst of hugging her son to death while Fenris approached.

“What’s the meaning of this, mage?” He asked, his hackles already up from the stress of the day.

Ketojan had taken to expanding his usual makeup, no longer content to cover his scars, he added things like shadow lines around his eyes and a gloss on his lips. He looked over his shoulder at Fenris with a finely arched brow. “I’m departing your household, and Feynriel is coming with me. You are free to celebrate in your own way.”

Fenris processed what he’d said and found he couldn’t understand. “What game are you playing? You rebuild this house, partially with your own bare hands, you retrieve incalculable wealth from the ocean and put it to use here… and then just leave it?”

“Yes.” Ketojan turned away from Fenris, as if their discussion was ended -- which only prompted the elf to grab his shoulder and forcibly turn him back. “You’re lucky I like you or I’d have punched you for grabbing me like that.”

“What scheme is this?” Fenris pointed a finger right at Ketojan’s face. “Have you laid some trap you hope to get away from? Is that it?”

Ketojan closed his eyes, sighed, then snapped them back open with an intense look. “A house is a building. I can live in others.” As he talked, he jabbed Fenris with his dagger-like nails, painted with a glitter-mixed resin. “Wealth I can make in any number of ways -- there is far more treasure in the sea than I have brought up thus far. And now I have a student who needs to be taught.”

Fenris did not back down. He jabbed the Qunari back. “You made me a noble, you hired an entire staff to keep the estate running, and you guiled me into assuming control of the ports. I would make the perfect pawn, yet you leave?! Why invest so much in me if you never intended to whisper into my ear to see your will done?!” He hadn’t realized he’d been shouting until he heard the echoes once he stopped.

“Because,” Ketojan said with a soft voice. “If I had done nothing, you would have stayed an angry young man with nothing but ruins and wine to keep you company. If I had done nothing, you would have remained a blade that others wielded.” Ketojan’s eyes were sad, but not pitying. He’d learned that Fenris hated to be pitied. “Slaves don’t think of anything beyond serving their masters. Blades don’t think of anything beyond their next kill. The Fog Warriors gave you the context to see yourself no longer as a slave -- what I have done is give you the context you need to be the hand, instead of the blade.”

Fenris processed those words as he watched Ketojan turn, pick up his bags, and start off toward the door with Feynriel in tow. “What am I supposed to do now?!” The mage had manipulated him expertly, Fenris hadn’t even realized what the goal had been. He was confused as he tried to sus out how the mage would exert his will upon him if he’d built him up so high. That confusion drove him to call out to the mage’s back, even as he left.

“You have a future worth living for.” Ketojan responded as Arianni opened the door to the streets for them. “Do that.”

And then he was gone, and Fenris’ coachman entered the hall to remind him of his appointment at the docks.

---

“I have begun to consider the future. Which has been a novelty for me, because I never really thought I had one.”

Chapter Text

Codex: Journal of Pestilence

---

A message found written in lyrium, in the style of Orzammar's memories.

-

The Stone is crying out in pain. We can feel the pillars of the earth rattle and strain under the weight of her sorrow. The elves have done some evil thing which causes her pain, physical and emotional.

When the shapers try to divine the source of the pain, they find two locations on the surface. Sha-Brytol have been commissioned to investigate the locations.

...

The first group came back with a severed head. It was one of the steel-skinned elves, the ones with the horns. When we showed it to the shapers they immediately began to panic -- apparently it had been the head of someone important. One of the few elves that could speak to the Stone like a shaper could.

The shapers went off to discuss what should be done -- we sent off the next batch of Sha-Brytol to investigate the second cause, and set the head up for last-vision viewing.

When a body dies, the last thing it sees is burned into its brain and eyes. By flipping the head upside down, and casting a light through its eyes, it is possible to see it. The viewing did not reveal useful information -- some other elven woman with odd markings on her face, and a bloody sword in her hand. She looked horrified at what she'd done -- for all the good it did.

...

The second batch of Sha-Brytol have not returned. Those sent after them as messengers have come back with carcasses half-melted with acid, the lyrium ripped from their armor and their blood. Apparently, some were alive enough to warn about a 'headless pestilence' which spewed bloody acid and drank it up from its neck-stump. Guess we found the head-guy's body. Damn elves, can't even die properly.

...

The shapers have decided what to do. We're going to cast the head into a lyrium well, and hope that something good happens. They seem to think it will restore the head's connection to the body, and end the pestilence which burns through the northern thaigs. I too hope it restores the connection to the body, so that we can kill both and avenge the fallen. I do not intend to tell the shapers that part though.

If this journal doesn't continue, know that we failed.

...

So, as it turns out, there are worse things than death.

---

Chapter Text

Codex: Geldauran, Time

---
A tune often hummed by Avvar in the Frostback Basin, with words added by an apostate who lived among them for a time.

-

Lady of Seasons, change your dress, the colors no longer match,
The trees are gold, and orange, and red, you look like a green patch!
Lady of Years, dress up warmly, the wind is awfully cold,
Dress in furs and leathers, thick 'nuff to warm bones so old!
Lady of Dates, remember well, the solstice and equal days,
Divided in four, you make the years, and you decide who stays!

Lady of Threads, let mine be long, put away your shears,
No matter the compromise, no matter the plea, I've ne'er enough years.
Lady of Progress, ever-moving, halt your constant advance,
Let me go back the way you came, I beg a second chance.
Lady of Numbers, help me count out the ones I've lost,
You've always kept a balance in your books, nevermind the cost.

Lady of Aging, you've been here all these days of mine,
From when I was small, to when I found love, and lost it all in time.
Lady of Growth, when did we plant this tree?
The aging bark, the sagging limbs, seem familiar yet not to me.
Lady of Sands, fill hourglasses with pale sand sublime,
Given to each and every one of us, to measure out our Time.


---

Chapter Text

Codex: Bones in the Ocean

---

One of a dozen reports in the Imperial archive on the topic of buried bones.

-

Gadzooks, that's exactly what I shouted when our diggers unearthed bones in the mudstone. I'd had them digging in a region that was typically underwater at high tide, in the hopes of finding some valuable materials. At least something valuable enough to justify the costs of hiring new diggers -- ideally ones who could swim! But they found something interesting, which was almost as good as valuable -- a skull!

It was rather draconic in design, but lacked horns. The teeth on it were mightily impressive, clearly it had been a fearsome foe when alive! Curiously, the bones were charred -- as if they had been burned. Digging in the same area produced a skeleton of similarly burned bones, which assembled into a two-legged animal with a massive tail to balance itself since its forelimbs were claws.

As the days went by, I hired more and more workers to dig in the narrow windows of low tide with greater efficiency. Every few feet, we found a new skeleton! All of them charred, all of them in a pose as if they had fallen over dead with minimal thrashing. Sometime in the past, a great and terrible fire must have raged and consumed all these poor animals -- who then had their bones covered by mud as the sea rose.

Yet... none of these animals have the look of even being slightly aquatic. If the sea was close enough to rise over their bones, would they not have something to give them advantages in the water?

A curious, curious find indeed.

I wonder if, in a millennia or two, someone will find the bones of all the diggers we've lost and wonder just as I have about what killed them? Oh, how fun! This archaeology thing is far more entertaining than maman said it would be!

---

Chapter Text

Sidestory section Two:

---

Merrill

“Ho there, miss! I think you’ll want to be seeing this!” Adventure’s voice called from over a hill of pock-marked rock in the Fade.

Merrill had been talking to a whisp who loved baking, and had been telling it how the Dalish baked their sweets so that it could be a full Spirit someday. She politely ended her summary and trotted over the hill to see what Adventure had gotten into.

Over the past year, she had begun to notice things about Adventure that let her… sort of perceive him. He was always evasive with answers to questions, and prone to riddles, so the more riddles she solved the more she could see him. By that point, she had solved enough to see him as a masculine figure dressed in armor made from kitchen utensils, with a pot for a helmet. But finer details like telling his nose from his eyes, or seeing a mouth that moved still eluded her.

Adventure stood at a cliff and pointed down over the edge. “Our mutual friend is giving that fine young man a lesson!”

Merrill knew better than to kneel down right next to a Spirit, so she kept about a wolf’s length away from Adventure when she looked down over the edge. “Oh, you’re right!” It was rare for them to run into others in the Fade, since Merrill had actively avoided people after her jaunt into Leech’s dreams.

Down below, she saw an island with a mostly clear interior and massive organic-looking buttes around the edge, like an arena. In the distance, she could make out Ketojan’s silhouette as he transformed repeatedly from his Qunari shape into another which was too small for her to see at a distance. A small fleck of blonde let her know Feynriel was there as well.

“Teaching him shapeshifting, always good to see the young people continuing a tradition!” Adventure was pleased as peaches. “Starting out small, that’s good, got to walk before you stomp and all that.”

Merrill’s brow pinched, as she didn’t think that’s how the idiom actually went, but stopped when she noticed a glittering light in the distance, near her friend and his student. “What’s that?”

“Hmm?” Adventure wrapped his hands around where his eyes likely were, as if that helped him see better. “Oh, that’s another one of our mutual friend’s associates. Likely the Spirit he’s asked to look after Feynriel.” He relaxed his hands and began to count off on his fingers. “Joy, Faith, Forgiveness, Rage, Hate… that one down there must be Truth.”

“...Does Ketojan have many Spirit friends?” Merrill asked, as she strained to get a look at the Spirit of Truth on the lower island. Eventually, she did as Adventure had, and wrapped her hands in tube-shapes in front of her eyes. Like magic, she could see the lower island in much finer detail, as if she were significantly closer. She could more clearly see Ketojan taking the shape of a hummingbird, and resting on Feynriel’s finger while the boy examined him.

Behind Feynriel rested a robed figure which sat on a floating throne, their head weighed down with a tall crown that had floating rings all around it. That must have been Truth. They were quite the idealized Spirit.

“Oh, very much so yes. Well… yes, and no.” Adventure shrugged. “He does have friends among us -- would you stop that?!” He turned and shook his fist at a nearby whisp which had made a strange musical sound when he talked. “Where was I? Oh yes. He has friends, but he also helped make some of us -- we’re quite fond of him for that.”

Merrill took her eyes off her tube-hands to look at him with a curious expression. “‘Made’ you?”

“Oh yes. You get some whisps together, you break off a piece of yourself and give it a name, Bob’s your uncle.” Adventure shrugged, like it was all rather old hat for him. “We help him grow the piece back, don’t you worry.”

Merrill considered this, and sat down fully to contemplate the idea. “So… could I do that?”

“Well, yes, of course. Anyone can, most people do. Varric, for instance, produces dozens of Story and Wonder Spirits with his books, he’s quite popular.” Adventure pinched his chin as he considered her. “Your fervent desire to remember might help with the formation of Memory Spirits.”

Merrill’s mind was suddenly alight with images of her surrounded by tiny gryphon Spirits, each holding memories in their beaks. It’d be so nice to be able to revisit any memory she wanted, even when she was old and senile… and her memories could be experienced by those who came after her. But she also had to appreciate that, even if she helped make them, Spirits were dangerous. They had to be respected, or they would lash out.

“Come to think of it… Memory Spirits might help out your search!” Adventure snapped his fingers with the sudden revelation. “But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Memory Spirit -- I don’t recall how to make them.”

“We’ll just have to look around for that too. I’ll add it to the list -- find a spirit who remembers Memory.” Merrill giggled at the notion of needing to remember the concept of Memory. Then she pinched her brow in consideration. “Do you suppose Ketojan knows?”

“He might, I distinctly recall him spending a lot of time with a Memory Spirit back in the day.” Adventure rubbed his chin in consideration. “Perhaps you could ask him -- I could give you a good toss, and you’d just glide down there to speak with him.”

Merrill didn’t stop to debate the idea of tossing her, she knew Adventure too well to think she could talk him out of it. Instead, she got to her feet and ran.

“Come now miss, a running start isn’t necessary! I’m quite strong, you see -- a good toss, and you’ll be airborne without issue!”

--

Elves Merrill’s age tend to be springy, but that doesn’t mean they like having to make emergency landings.

--

Anders

Justice’s vision helped him see the Templars in the dark. The small injustices which clung to the good few were as visible as candles in the distance, while the more corrupt and villainous Templars shone like bonfires. He looked across the water at the Gallows, a haunting sight at the best of times, but one year under siege and it had become an eyesore.

At first, it had seemed the Viscount’s plan was a good one -- stop the shipments of food to the Gallows until they at least answered the revered mothers about what had been done with the Grand Cleric. Ketojan had only been able to confirm she was still alive, but he couldn’t get further details -- they had her in a place where the Fade was disrupted, unstable, and magic couldn’t function. Anders had known what that was immediately, the solitary confinement cells in a Circle. Runes would be etched along the door so that magic would be dispelled automatically, and on the inside were nullification runes to allegedly stop any attempt at escape by becoming an abomination.

It really only ended making the confinement even more miserable, because while it was difficult for Demons to traverse the unstable Fade, it wasn’t impossible. Mr. Wiggums, the mouser of the Ferelden Circle, had been possessed while in the solitary confinement area, after all.

If the siege had gone as intended, they probably could have had the Grand Cleric out by then. The trouble was that they had this terrible problem of blockade runners getting to the Gallows and resupplying the Templars. Kirkwall’s geography and the enormous metal nets between the lighthouse on the other end of the Gallows, and the distant Twins of Kirkwall -- a pair of statues out at sea -- were meant to funnel ships to Kirkwall. They naturally offered no defense against ships that wanted to arrive at Kirkwall, and quickly leave.

Foreign nobles, particularly Orlesians, had been sponsoring ships to resupply the Gallows frequently. Ferelden didn’t have a navy to stamp out any smuggling coming from their shores -- and the free cities of Ostwick, Wycome, and Hercinia actively supported the blockade-running under the pretext of ‘we can’t let the Grand Cleric go hungry!’

It was all rubbish, bored nobles hoping that the Divine would call an Exalted March on Kirkwall or something, and they could have an entertaining war. However, after the plan for the night went off he wondered how many would want to try. He wondered how the Qunari in the compound in clear view of the Gallows would react.

Anders made sure the patrols were as expected, then turned and walked away from the docks. He passed Tal-Vashoth mercenaries preparing to cross on sloops to get in and out of the Gallows quickly. He passed Chantry officials who made faces like they smelled dung as he drew near.

Beyond all of them, he found Hawke and her crew. “I’ve confirmed that they seem to be favoring the far side of the Gallows,” he told them. “The patrols on this side seem light. We should be able to punch through and get a lot of the mages out.”

Hawke nodded, and looked around at her posse. “Our priority rescues are tranquil mages and children,” she announced to the group. “Ketojan’s managed to thin out their ranks but there are a lot of men in there who have been without the Blooming Rose for a year now, they might have gotten desperate.”

“Corollary to that,” Bethany added with a steely glint in her eyes. “We find any Templars in the act? They die slowly.”

“Sucking chest wounds are best for that,” Fenris added with a malicious smile. “If anyone needs a demonstration, I can show you how to inflict such a wound on Anders.”

“Yeah, yeah, fuck you too.” Anders flicked his hand the elf’s way. “Will we be ready soon?”

“As soon as Shifty’s new toys get unloaded from the carts,” Varric said with an uneasy tone. He jerked his thumb to indicate several covered wagons where Aveline’s guardsmen were being armed with tubes the thickness of a human leg and almost as long, topped with a spear-like dragon face on the ‘business’ end. “We’re sure these ‘cannons’ will work?”

“They’ve been testing them at the Bone Pit for a year now,” the newest addition to their party, the high-and-mighty Prince of Starkhaven said with steel in his voice. “If they’re not ready now, they never will be.”

“We have done extensive testing,” another mage from Mage Club, Gascard DuPuis commented. He was ‘officially’ only a sponsor of Ketojan’s weapons project, alongside the Viscount, as his magical talent wasn’t public. The red-headed mage smirked. “With the adjustments we’ve made to the basic recipe for black powder, our ‘prismatic powder’ could level the entire Gallows if we had enough shoulder cannons. When the siege cannon is approved for production, we -- “

“I’m sorry to interrupt the riveting details of what you lot have been using my abandoned quarry for,” Hawke cut in with a wave of her hand. “But we have limited time while the Templars are distracted with their resupply and there are hostages to rescue. A demonstration of the weapon is in order, yes?”

Gascard frowned at the interruption but then smirked at Aveline when Hawke called for the weapon to be used.

Anders was of mixed feelings as he watched the somber Guard Captain signal her men to get into position. They were going to do battle against Templars, and rescue at least some of the mages trapped in the Gallows. But they were also going to irrevocably shift the balance of power. Not only had they obtained Qunari black powder, something no other Theodosian nation had accomplished, if Gascard was to be believed they’d improved on it.

He watched in hesitation as the guards who would field the cannons went down onto one knee, and placed the dragon-headed weapons down onto a tripod mount so that they would arc into the sky and come down on the Gallows. With them in position, it was time for Hawke’s posse to get to the boats so that they could land with the mercs.

As soon as they were off the docks, Anders heard a keening whine and saw dragon-headed projectiles arc into the sky, trailing multi-colored smoke and sparkling motes of light. They would have been beautiful if he hadn’t watched them go and explode into balls of flame and light bright enough to illuminate the whole harbor. The walls of the Gallows which faced the harbor caved in on themselves as more cannon fire struck them, as more bursts of red, gold, and green lit up the night.

--
The Mark 00 Prismatic Cannon: A shoulder or tripod-mounted weapon designed to deliver an explosive payload at medium to long-range. Waterproof, shock-resistant, and only one region of the rocket able to receive an ignition spark, the prismatic cannon is a substantial upgrade from the black cannon variants.
--

Varric

Kirkwall was a city where things changed a lot. Yet, they more or less stayed the same. Who exactly one paid protection money to would change, but there was still a need to pay protection money to someone.

However, he didn’t think there would be a way for things to stay the same after he watched a dozen or so sparkling dragon heads slam into the Gallows’ walls, which then came tumbling down as rubble. The Gallows was all stone, so it didn’t burn, but the stones showed massive scorch marks when they rushed the walls to rescue mages and -- if they were lucky -- the Grand Cleric.

They weren’t lucky.

Well, that wasn’t exactly true, Varric considered on the boats back to the harbor. No one had died. At least, no one he knew. A few of the Tal-Vashoth mercenaries probably died to some Templar who got lucky. But Hawke and her crew had come out of it pretty clean. Clean, and with armfuls of rescued mages. Blondie had a spell that burned through the locks on cell doors quicker than a cut could bleed, and if he ever got past his ‘raggle fraggle mage rights’ hangups, he could make a fortune as a thief.

Next would come the issue of where to put the mages that’d just been rescued. There wasn’t another building in Kirkwall which was prison-themed and large enough to make them feel at home, so they might have to settle for civilized accommodations. With the possibility of war brewing, it was unlikely the Viscount would send the mages away -- not when there might be a pressing need for fireballs or chain lightning in the near future.

Such was politics.

Varric had been in Hawke’s squad, so he sat with her, Shifty, and Isabela as they unwound after the raid. With his ruminating done, Varric tuned back into the conversation.

“...And I say,” Isabela said with a wicked smile on her face aimed at Hawke, “that you should definitely go to Varric’s editor. She might not be in the Coterie anymore, but she’s wicked good at what she does.”

Apparently, he did so at the right time. Varric didn’t dare stand up in the boat while it was moving, but he turned his head around to look at Hawke with an arched brow. “What’s that? You thinking of getting into story-writing?”

“Well, not exactly,” Hawke said with a shrug. The ocean spray did a good job of washing the blood off her passively -- none of it had dried yet. “But I’ve been doing some illustrations for Ketojan’s book -- and I thought maybe I could do the same for other authors, or design book covers. Everyone needs a hobby.”

“Well shit, yeah!” Varric’s face split into a wide smile. “Your sketches are pretty damn good for a bumpkin who grew up in the ass-end of Thedas.”

“He said while on a boat less than five feet from water deep enough to drown in,” Ketojan commented while he rowed for them.

“Don’t give her ideas, Shifty!” Varric waved his hand at the Qunari dismissively. “Anyway -- an editor can be sorta like a go-between for authors, publicists, and traditional artists, yeah. I’ll put in a good word with you -- though she’ll want to see some of your work.”

“Well that’ll be a challenge,” Hawke said and scratched the back of her neck. “Most of my work’s either in your letters, given off to random urchins, or in Ketojan’s book. And he’s already using your editor.”

Varric whirled around at the Qunari, disbelieving. “Wait, you have a book in the works?”

“Mhm,” the Qunari said and shifted his weight so that the boat would jostle as reprisal for Varric’s tone of voice. “Though, mine’s non-fiction.”

“A history book?” Varric clung to the boat as he tried not to develop seasickness.

“Do you have a copy on you?” Isabela asked with delight in her eyes. “I’d love to see his reaction.” She leaned in close to Varric and whispered with glee. “I helped with the title, and some of the details!”

Varric’s eyes narrowed as he looked around at his companions. “What the hell have you people been up to? I smell mischief that didn’t involve me, and I’m so incredibly offended.”

Hawke sighed, and reached into her pack. “I don’t think Ketojan has a copy on him, but I have one. I’m doing the illustrations, so I needed to read through it.” She passed a thick stack of papers bound with string through holes in an approximation of a book over to the dwarf.

Varric’s eyebrows shot up as soon as he saw the cover art -- a sketch of three of the ladies from the Blooming Rose all with coy smiles partially covered by their hands. The title also gave him a sense of dread: ‘The Pervert’s Cookbook’.

“If I actually read this, it’s going to give me nightmares -- isn’t it?” Varric looked over at Shifty with an accusatory look. “It’s going to somehow break reality and make me start dreaming.”

“Stranger things have happened.” Shifty smirked, and kept rowing. “You’ll only know if you read it.”

Varric hesitantly flipped past the cover and acknowledgments until he got into the meat of the book. His eyes immediately bugged out of his skull and he regretted that his thoughts had been about meat seconds prior.

“Oh look at him,” Isabela said and shook her head. She shrugged at the others. “A man totally stunned at seeing another man naked. Here, flip the page,” she said and reached over to do so for the stunned dwarf. “There’s some tits, that’ll snap you right out of it.”

To his shock and horror, they actually did. Varric was able to think in somewhat completed thoughts again, and shook his head to clear the mental image of what he’d seen prior. “Is this… an instruction book on sex?!”

“I own a whorehouse, why are you surprised?” Shifty muttered, and rolled his eyes. “There was a time when I was considered an authority on the subject, you know. I thought I might as well share how it was done in my day with the young people.”

An instruction book on sex, themed after a recipe book, complete with alarmingly detailed illustrations. Varric honestly couldn’t tell if it would sell like hotcakes or be burned for obscenity. Possibly both.

“So, how was his reaction?” Hawke asked with glee in her voice. “I can’t rightly tell considering we’re facing opposite directions.”

“Oh, it was a thing of beauty,” Isabela sighed. “Wait, he just glanced at the text and it’s happened again!”

Varric had, and realized that he hadn’t even been one percent ready to read the Pervert’s Cookbook. “Shifty -- why does this one call for a heated crowbar?” He knew he would regret asking, but he couldn’t leave the question unasked.

“In case nuzzling happens afterward,” Shifty answered as if it was painfully obvious. “Seriously, what kind of boring lays have you young people been having? Or is this another Southern Thedas thing?”

Varric glanced at the book, looked at Isabela’s smirk and Ketojan’s disbelief, then went back to the book. “Alright. If the Qunari and Tevinter ever stop fighting over it, I definitely need to go to Seheron at least once.” He flipped the page, and his eyes almost left his skull again. “Andraste’s flaming knickers.”

“No, no, that recipe’s on page four-hundred and three.”

---

Sex is like cooking. Anyone can do it, but it takes an expert to make something delicious.

Chapter Text

Codex: Nobles in Name

---

An entry from the private journal of Perrin Threnhold, archived in the hall of records -- Kirkwall.

-

The DuPuis family irked me again, as they tend to do any time I must acknowledge their existence. They came into my Keep to petition me for something -- I didn't bother to hear what. As soon as that Orlesian dandy entered the chamber, I rejected him and went on to the next case. No Orlesian will get so much as a kind word from me, not after how they treated my family.

Being a Pentaghast on my mother's side, I suppose I've inherited her grudges. That Loghain chap across the pond, Teyrn of one of Ferelden's big port cities, he is of a similar mind to me. In our letters, he's encouraged me to try and get the damn fops out of my city and my lands -- and oh! How my heart would soar to give them all the boot myself. But the Templars... the Templars are in the way. That damn Beatrix remembers too fondly fellating the Emperor, so she serves Orlais more than the Maker.

The DuPuis family... Maker, I ought to kick them out of their estate sometime. They're nobility in name only -- they have merchant ships which earn them goin -- COIN -- damnit, and they have homes in my city and others. But they have no land anymore -- Perendale got snatched by Nevarra, and Nevarra doesn't recognize Orlesian claims. As well they shouldn't!

I'm too worked up to sleep. I'll get my crossbow, and tell the guards to grab me an Orlesian woman from the Rose. That always helps me rest.

Chapter Text

Codex: The lyrium well

---

A note found in the ruins of Amgarrak thaig.

-

The lyrium well we've developed is a simulacrum of an older device spoken of in the ruins of Arlathan. The ancient elves referred to it as a lyrium spring, but in Dwarven it was called lyrium well. The common denominator is their effect: Sufficient lyrium in one place to draw power from the Fade continuously. The Fade energy drawn by our orb-style wells is sa pittance compared to the energy produced by the spring-style wells, yet still they provide enough energy to heat the forges, power the barriers, and regulate the temperature in this damn cave all at the same time. I'll have to see about connecting them to the braziers to provide some actual bright light. The dwarves would probably cringe at it, like they do sunlight.

Spring-style lyrium wells were kept in a liquid state, somehow. Possibly the ancient elves had a way to bond lyrium to an alchemical substance which helped liquefy it. Each elven lyrium well was dedicated to one of the elven gods -- though they assigned fanciful artistic names for them.

Their mother goddess' well was named 'sorrows', while the father god's was named 'hunger', and some winged goddess who wasn't named had a well named 'tears'. Didn't the ancient elves know the point of religion is to glorify your gods so that the populace can glorify you for serving them? Idiots.

Curiously, the dwarves also had spring-style wells apparently. Once I described what I was referring to, the shaper-dwarf immediately made the connection. They were more pragmatic about their well names, assigning them numbers. We know that because some idiots conducted an experiment at lyrium well thirteen so devastating that the Dwarven king commanded they be struck from the Memories, which prompted an assembly vote that lost. Bureaucracy is so good at getting things into public record, it seems.

Thankfully, our orb-style lyrium well is sufficiently controlled that we could not hope to create so infamous a blunder.

---

Chapter Text

Sidestory section three:

---

Bartrand

Two years, and Bartrand’s mansion had changed radically. The windows were open, the dust had been cleared away, and the halls were full of dwarves busily moving between rooms which had been converted into office space. Even after his vision of the Ancestors, he couldn’t bear to waste money on pointless luxury, but keeping the place presentable for the purpose of business had been something he could get behind, no problem.

His estate housed four interconnected teams of bureaucrats, merchants employed by House Tethras, and mercenary handlers. They worked mostly independently, with only collaboration on big projects. Big was relative -- as each team’s standard daily mission would be considered ‘big’ from an outsider’s perspective.

Varric’s friend Ketojan had revealed two lost thaigs near the surface in Ferelden which the Qunari had apparently flagged for possible fortress locations when they turned their attention to the South again. Bartrand was more than happy to help scoop up ownership of the land from the cash-strapped and starving Fereldan people so that he could start resettlement procedures. Daerwin’s Mouth and Valammar’s resettlement teams worked to get food and materials their colonists needed to repair the structures and make them livable again, while the merc handlers made sure that they had boots on the ground in both locations to keep the darkspawn and bandits out.

The third team was a smaller-scale resettlement effort to work with Orzammar on Kal’Hirol. None of their people could actually enter Kal’Hirol yet, because the Assembly fought King Bhelen on allowing surfacers into the reclaimed thaig, so it was a more hands off project.

Lastly, Bartrand’s personal team of researchers, smith and miner caste exiles, and diplomats had one mission: To find a way to destroy the gangue which had infested the thaig that had made Bartrand exponentially richer.

While his other endeavors had been at least on the upswing in recent times, Bartrand’s personal mission remained stagnant. Which in turn led to him getting letters that reminded him -- if a situation faces no progress for protracted periods, it will beget chaos.

Bartrand sat at his desk for hours as he stared at the letters he’d received after lunch, head supported by his hands and for the first time since his death and return -- utterly at a loss.

“Brother?” Varric’s voice said, off to the side. He sounded worried. Maybe he was right to be worried.

“I’m here,” Bartrand said, and didn’t move an inch. “Something happen with those humans in the harbor?”

Varric’s hand found Bartrand’s shoulder. Neither of them were very ‘touchy feely’ people, so Bartrand wondered if he’d been deeply lost in thought for a while. “Bartrand -- it’s almost midnight. Your workers came to me, said you hadn’t moved or responded to anyone in hours.”

Bartrand blinked and moved his head slightly. Stiff muscles and popped joints let him know that he truly hadn’t moved in a while. The darkness that he could see perfectly well in -- from becoming accustomed -- let him know that the time was mostly correct too. “Shit.”

“Yeah.” Varric patted Bartrand on the shoulder. “What’s gotten you like this?”

As Bartrand stretched his joints back to his full range of motion, he slid the letters to Varric to see for himself. He recoiled when Varric lit a candle to read with.

“Master Tethras,” Varric read from the first letter aloud with pinched brows and a confused expression. “It is with a heavy heart that I tell you the motion I have sponsored before the Assembly on your behalf was defeated. The Valdasine thaig’s location is no longer protected information, and may be passed along to anyone who makes the appropriate requests of the Shaperate.” Varric stopped reading the letter and pinched the bridge of his nose with closed eyes and a sigh. “Shit.”

“Yeah.” Once Bartrand had gotten Stone priests and the Shaperate involved in the hunt for a way to excise the gangue, it had entered into the awareness of Orzammar’s nobility. Nobility who stupidly cared for the chance at more gold and would be far, far away from the gangue’s influence. “It might take ten years, or twenty, or a hundred. But someone’s going to decide to go down there for that stuff.”

“...We could try to cave in the paths there,” Varric said with a calculating expression. After his Grey Warden friend had to physically fight his own body to put the idol back on its pedestal, he’d come around to the idea that maybe the gangue wasn’t worth the risk. “We’ve got Shifty’s version of Qunari black powder, we’ve got the lyrium sand that wacko from Kal’Hirol was peddling -- there’s no shortage of explosives.”

“Read the second letter,” Bartrand sighed and slumped in his chair after he’d finished stretching.

Varric glanced at the second letter and moved his mouth like he was going to read it out loud before his eyes bugged out of his head and held the note further away from his face. “It’s infectious?!”

“It can turn blood into more of itself,” Bartrand corrected him with a sigh and dragged his hand down his face. “So, as long as there’s no one around it which has blood in them, it’s perfectly safe. Oh, wait….”

“Andraste’s ass.” Varric tossed the letters onto Bartrand’s desk. “...What are we going to do now?”

“Well, first of all -- I have to write notes to all these people’s families,” Bartrand tapped the second letter with a scowl. “And tell them why their families aren’t coming home, and that we couldn’t give them their bodies to bury even if we could get there. Then I have to find a new research site in the Deep Roads.” Over thirty of some of the best minds he could find on the study of lyrium -- already rare -- gone. Because they didn’t realize what the warbles in their voices meant until it was too late. Out of the entire facility, only the messenger had gotten out clean it looked like. Bartrand would have to have him watched, to make sure he was actually clean.

“I can help with that. You let me handle the people problems, and you tackle the logistics.”

That would be the easy thing to do. Two years ago, and minus one successful assassination attempt, Bartrand would have taken that offer. But he was not that man anymore. That man had been the weak link in the chain. Bartrand shook his head at the thought of his Ancestors having such disdain for him again. Never again. “No, little brother.” Bartrand met Varric’s eyes and forced himself to remain strong at the worry he saw therein. “Rule number one of being in charge: You own the mistakes, and give away successes. I have a responsibility to these people, I can’t shirk it off onto you.”

Varric’s worried expression intensified, and for a moment he looked about ready to argue the point. Instead, he sighed and threw up his hands. “Fine. Can you at least shirk it off onto yourself after some sleep? And food?”

“I think the Ancestors would accept that.”

--

Research facility ‘Site A’ status: Containment failure, self-isolation measures implemented with majority success. Infected staff unaccounted for: One.

Site B activation approved.

--

Bethany

The snowfalls in Kirkwall were surprisingly beautiful. Bethany Hawke, Comtess in her own right, saw that with her own eyes as she looked through what had once been Comte Antioch’s windows -- now hers. Attached to the ballroom of her estate was a porch that led out into the gardens. Comte Antioch’s gardens had been themed after water-flowers, so ponds and channels took the place of hedges and statues. In summer it was humid, but beautiful to see. In winter, it was haunting. The gentle snow Bethany watched come down on the porch and garden added a layer of softness.

In the face of such softness, she could almost ignore the Orlesians talking to each other about the shock that Varric and Ketojan had decided to collaborate on a new serial. After the success of ‘Hard in Hightown’, and ‘The Pervert’s Cookbook’, they had opted to combine their efforts. It was all the bored nobility talked about -- even at a ball.

Bethany’s ballroom was alight with music, will o’ wisps to provide white light that carried far in the winter night, and rich food for her guests. She’d spent months researching entertainment and themes to make sure she didn’t make a political fool of herself. Her position with her back to the party, despite being dressed in a dancing gown to indicate she clearly wanted to be danced with, would hopefully give her an air of detachment. All the while, the servants in her household listened, watched, and would report to her when they came to refill her wine glass.

Looking out on the garden would give the Orlesians in attendance the idea that someone had yet to arrive, and that Bethany watched for them fervently. Mother and Marian could keep the guests entertained with wit and charm while she pulled strings from afar.

Once she’d known the steps, the dance of politics was frightfully easy. The Orlesian Game was too ruthless for Bethany to ever be a darling, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t play at all. She just had to cultivate a similar persona to the de Launcets. A persona which said to the Game: “Trifle with me at your peril.”

At last, her grandstanding paid off. She could see the lights across the garden which signaled the arrival of her special guest. A flick of her hand had a wave of magic soundlessly melt a path through the snow, her signal that she was in position. Shadows moved in the garden, which motivated Bethany to finish her wine and set the glass aside on a conveniently placed table.

Bethany placed her hands on the glass-paned door as she waited for her guest to come closer. Her other guests had noticed her change positions and took an interest in the arrival. The white light of the ballroom caught on armor polished to mirror-shine, which was Bethany’s cue to pull open the doors.

She’d planned it quite well, the great warmth of the ballroom -- provided by air from one of Worthy’s forge-boxes -- created a breeze effect as hot air rushed out. Her guest stepped in, fur-lined cape billowing from the impromptu breeze, as all the guests’ eyes were drawn by the drama of it.

Sebastian Vael looked quite princely, in a military dress that bore Chantry colors and mirror-like pauldrons in place of epaulettes. His fur-lined cloak was fastened with a broach in the shape of Andraste’s face -- though it was soon removed and passed to a servant who had been scripted to be nearby.

“My lovely guests,” Bethany announced -- it carried weight, as she was the host -- and took the Prince’s hand in hers as she presented him to the group. “The man of the hour -- His Majesty, Sebastian Vael, rightful Prince of Starkhaven!”

Sebastian glowed under the polite applause and distant ‘hear hears’ of the attendees. The ball had been arranged to help him lobby support for retaking Starkhaven, with a side-goal of putting an end to the Templar problems.

Or so Bethany had thought, until the Prince opened his mouth.

“Dear friends, fellow guests, let us give thanks that our lovely host has offered us a sublime evening of warmth and merriment in the bleak winter.” Sebastian bowed to her as other attendees continued polite applause or lifted high their wine glasses to show thanks. “Let us forget, for an evening, the troubles of the world outside. Let us bask in the warmth of this room, this company, and this occasion.” Sebastian took what should have been Bethany’s next step, and closed the door against the winter symbolically. “Celebrate with us, dear friends, be merry and gay until the dawn comes.”

The party-happy Orlesians in the room enjoyed that idea very much, less so the pragmatic Fereldans in attendance. Least of all Bethany.

She kept her smile in place and hooked her arm into Sebastian’s as they walked toward the dance floor. “That’s not the speech we practiced,” she whispered with a pointed tone that didn’t match her face.

“Two more Templar garrisons have gone rogue,” Sebastian whispered back. “Jader, and Antiva City. Ghislain might be next, they’re making threats. A bit of joy is desperately needed to soften the news.”

That news took the wind out of Bethany’s sails for a minute. Damn. “All this effort to try and get them in a mood to offer support… ugh.”

As they reached the dance floor, Sebastian effortlessly pulled Bethany into position to move with the music. “The world outside has plans of its own. Everything is moving, always. Tomorrow, these people will have frantic letters to write and family members to worry about. But tonight? We dance, we laugh, and eat.”

“You’d better dance smashingly well to make up for all that wasted effort, your Majesty.”

It was a good thing that royal education includes ballroom dancing lessons, for his sake.

--

Jader’s Templar garrison refused to comply with revered mother Giselle’s plans to assist the Fereldan refugees by providing food, clothes, and security against the depredations of Orlesian chevaliers. Antiva City’s garrison was worn down and exhausted by the Three Queens civil war which had been going strong since 9:00 Dragon. Ghislain’s garrison’s threats were entirely based around the Duke de Ghislain’s relationship with First Enchanter Vivienne de Fer of the Montsimmard Circle of Magi, with allegations that he ought to abdicate to his son.

--

Isabela

The Hanged Man was always popular in winter. The building had fewer holes than other taverns, so the heat stayed a bit longer in the air, in the food and in the flesh. That popularity meant that the price for alcohol went up, and the amount of it available to buy went down. Isabela had to make sure she got enough rum for herself, before every sailor from Val Royeaux to Wycome guzzled it all.

Two years in Kirkwall, and the city hadn’t been boring for a day. Just earlier, Isabela had watched a man stack up a pile of six pies and try to run off with them, only to slip on ice. Pies went up… and came back down. Hilarious. Granted, she ran into a twofold problem as time went on -- there weren’t a lot of ships for sale in Kirkwall, and the ones that did weren’t suitable for her lifestyle or just barely held together.

And also Ketojan had the damn book. The book she needed to pay back that bastard Castillon for losing his ‘cargo’ during the Blight. He was reading it to people on the regular. She didn’t want to have to steal it from a friend, and she really didn’t want to sit through all that sermonizing to copy it down and give Castillon a transcript.

Maybe she could ask Ketojan to dream-kill him? Was Estwatch too far away? Either way, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The simplest solution would be to ask Hawke to help her steal the book -- so it wasn’t just her. But then Hawke might throw a spanner in the mix by asking Ketojan for the book or some nonsense.

Hawke was a soldier, not a pirate, the thought processes didn’t always line up.

The bartender got her attention by clinking a bottle against Isabela’s. When she met the castless dwarf’s eyes, he gestured toward a table in the corner. “The woman with the weird hair’s betting a ship.”

That snapped Isabela out of her funk. She looked over and saw a couple regulars leave a table with their heads shaking. They left an older woman in maroon armor, with her hair styled up into horns and a metal spike on a tiara. Isabela was about to think the woman was mad, when she cackled at her pile of winnings. That was the laugh of someone who was mad and loved it.

“Thanks for the tip,” she said to the bartender and finished off her rum. She’d need to be buzzed to be confident enough to gamble with a madwoman. Mad people could cheat as well as a master gambler.

The woman looked at Isabela with piercing gold eyes as she approached. “Well, well! Such a brave lass, coming to play after I trounced so many.” The woman patted her hand on the pile of plunder she’d won. “After some treasure, hmm?”

“I heard you were betting a ship,” Isabela said and sat down across from her. The chair creaked ominously from her weight. She began to gather up the cards others had left and shuffled them back into the deck. She made sure to slip a few choice cards away under her vambraces for good measure. “And I’m in the market, assuming it's fit to sail.”

“Oh, a ship over all this treasure?” The woman smiled, but her eyes were still piercing. It was as if the entirety of her face were a mask that only revealed its true self in the eyes. Funnily enough, Isabela found the way those eyes looked familiar. “Such an odd thing for a gambler to covet.”

Lightning flashed, and Ketojan-as-monster’s eye shone gold for a few seconds afterward. Like a bolt out of the blue, she recalled where she’d seen it before, and she suddenly felt a lot less confident.

“Such an odd thing for someone to be betting. I had to come see why.” With a smirk, Isabela began to deal. “You’re wagering a boat, I’ll wager some loot -- “

“Oh ho ho, no.” The woman held a gauntlet-covered finger up. “You’re setting what I bid, and what you bid?” She waved the same finger as if at a naughty child. “Don’t be so stingy, dear girl. If you set my wager, I’ll set yours. As it happens, you seem well-informed, and I have some questions that need answering.” She chuckled to herself, low and clear that she found the situation fun.

“Seems fair.” Isabela was cautious, but information didn’t cost her much -- she could keep at it until she won with those stakes. She wagered one question answered, and placed down a three of songs.

“I wager a ship, against your answered question.” The woman took a sick delight in drawing her card, and placed down a one of knights. Her armored sleeves caught the dim light of the tavern and gave her an odd glow at times.

“I’ll up the bid with an additional question answered.” She set down a four of angels. Carefully, she was going to swap out her hand for four of a suit, the knights of roses, ages, sacrifice, and wisdom. That was always a strong hand going into a bluffer of unknown skill.

“I’ll up the bid by promising not to steal your future children and cook them in a stew.” Then the woman set down a song of forgiveness.

Isabela was baffled at the bid, and why a face card had been discarded. That didn’t make sense, unless the rest of her hand was better. Or she was bluffing.

“Three answered questions,” Isabela muttered and drew two cards under the guise of one. She saw the sinister scythe of the angel of death on her second card and carefully made sure it wasn’t visible at all. Her hand was nowhere near strong enough to win if the game ended. She discarded a six of serpents -- the only serpent in her hand.

“A ship, a promise, and some loot.” The woman drew, and put on a clearly false look of surprise. “Oh my. It looks like our game is done.” She set down the angel of death.

Isabela glanced at the angel of death on the table, then back at the hidden death in her hand. The fuck? But she couldn’t do anything about it without letting it slip that she’d cheated. There was always next time. With a sigh, she laid out her half-finished hand. Her two knights gave her something to work with at least.

The woman laid out a hand of all angel face cards. Fire, chaos, knowledge, art, and valor. From her smirk, Isabela was sure she’d been out-cheated. Yet she couldn’t figure out how. She clasped her hands and leaned forward with a delighted expression. “I have a proposition for you, young lass.”

“Look -- I love the sound of your voice but those horns would get tangled up in the sheets.” She defaulted to flirting in the face of defeat, just to hide how frustrated she was.

“Oho! Alas, you’re too thin to survive my company on that front. No.” The woman shook her head with a smirk. “My proposal is -- instead of answering questions, you help me find a book I’ve been seeking for quite some time.”

The pirate captain arched her eyebrow curiously at the dragon-haired woman.

“You see, I find myself… in need of a new grimoire.”

---

You must not read from the book. You must not read from the book. You must not read from the book.

Chapter Text

Codex: Worthy's worthy boxes

---

A flier advertising the latest runesmith luxuries, provided by the Dwarven Merchant's Guild and noble House Fenris of Kirkwall.

-

Are you tired of needing to chop wood for hours for your fireplace and your stove? Does your home not have a basement deep enough to get cold? Do you wish you could prepare ice in the summer to help keep cool? Worthy's worthy boxes will help with all these problems!

Our standard 'hot box' replaces both a stove and oven setup, with a mystical marvel that requires no fuel to heat -- and allows the owner to set the temperature precisely to what is needed for their dish. The hot box was invented in Tevinter, but our runesmiths have inspected the design and removed any unsavory Tevinter add-ons, and replaced them with safety features. If the stovetop detects a person's hand too close to the cooking element, it will automatically stop and direct the heat to a cooking element further away. And the oven features a lock which can prevent little ones from climbing inside.

Our 'cold box' is a Worthy original, designed to keep the contents of the box cooler than a room no matter the season, but not frozen. It is ideal for leaving drinks to chill, and keeping fruits and vegetables fresh. The cold box contains multiple shelves so that sorting the contents is easy. And because the box never reaches freezing, there is no risk of serious bodily harm from little ones climbing inside.

Another original is the 'ice box', which serves a similar function to a cold box, but operates at freezing temperatures and below. It is ideal for creating ice out of water, or keeping meats edible for prolonged periods. Because of the dangers of freezing, a handle to the door is mounted inside the ice box in case a little one gets adventurous.

Our newest product is the 'forge box', which has the function of providing heat for the whole home. It uses pipes to ferry water and air that is heated by the forge box to anywhere in the home it is needed. Want a hot bath? Open the pipe, and steaming hot water will be provided. Want to keep your home warm in the bleakest winter? The forge box's heated air will shield you and your entire family from the cold.

Please contact Ser Worthy at the Fenris estate in Kirkwall to have a runesmith visit your home and give you a quote on installation! Worthy's boxes are worthy of your gold!

Coming soon: The breeze box!

---

Chapter Text

Sidestory section four:

---

Sebastian

The Kirkwall Chantry was a somber place in recent years, the revered mothers and sisters all afraid of the future as more Templar garrisons went rogue and the Divine did nothing. Some, like Mother Petrice, saw their political futures go up in flames as they became associated with the madness which had taken the Templars. Others, however, were afraid that the tenuous peace that the faith had brought to Thedas would be shattered.

The constant threats of war from half the Free Marches, which included the phrase ‘burn Kirkwall to its foundations’ certainly didn’t help.

Despite his new commitment to retake Starkhaven and help put an end to the madness of the Templar rebellion -- as it had come to be named -- Sebastian often found himself visiting the Chantry again to pray. Every time he hoped he would see Elthina at the pulpit, and every time he was disappointed. It was like she had died, but without the closure.

And as much as he wished he had been able to go with her into the Gallows, after years of siege and raids he knew that his presence wouldn’t have changed anything. He’d be in a cell far from Elthina, or a free man again with her still prisoner. The Maker had stopped him from being trapped, he needed to accept that and be what was needed.

In one such instance, he was still someone within the Chantry who had access to their records, so he helped his associates Aveline, Varric, and the fair maiden Bethany Hawke get at them. They were there for a specific and noble pursuit -- to math out how much lyrium the Gallows still ought to have had, and when it would run out.

The results had been troubling to say the least, so they went to speak to a man whom had recently been on the inside and would have insight to share.

The Chantry building had been deemed large enough to house the mages rescued from the raids on the Gallows, and one of those rescued mages was the First Enchanter -- Orsino. He was a man younger than Sebastian, yet already his hair had lost its color and he had haunted eyes like Elthina after her visions. He seemed unbothered when he received several guests in his chambers without much announcement.

“Please, come in,” Orsino said and gestured across from his bed where a couch and chairs had been arranged around a low table. “I’ve sent for tea, it should arrive soon.”

“They set you up quick,” Varric noted as he walked through Orsino’s door and hopped onto the couch. “Hopefully better than what you got in the Gallows.”

“Having any place to sit besides my bed has been an odd luxury.” The mage smiled weakly, and led the others through his room. In moments, they were all seated and talking like civilized people -- something Sebastian was glad for. “How can I help you today?”

“We were conducting an audit of the Chantry’s purchases regarding lyrium earlier,” Sebastian said as his hand ran along the fine leather arm of Orsino’s couch. “And we found some… irregularities. According to our numbers, they should have been out of lyrium within a month of the siege.” The Prince’s eyes drifted to the floor. “Yet here we are. Three years later.”

“I think I see the issue.” Orsino leaned back in his seat and steepled his fingers. “You’re not accounting for the scavenging of Circle lyrium supplies, and you’ve underestimated Meredith. Not a wise decision.”

“She can’t have stored years worth of lyrium without someone noticing, can she?” Bethany asked with a concerned expression. “The stuff is dangerous to have in large volumes.”

Sebastian let his eyes unfocus as he contemplated what Orsino’s words could mean. Likely, Meredith had some smugglers as secondary lyrium suppliers prior to the siege. Would she have been able to afford enough to create a reserve that could last her years?

“A lyrium brand used for the rite of tranquility could supply several Templars if you break it down,” Aveline said and sat back in the chair opposite Orsino. There was some magic in the seat, as the Guard Captain’s armor didn’t catch or poke at the leather. “Lyrium potions, unused runes….”

“And the large sums kept on hand for harrowings. The Chantry believed they had a system which would keep their Templars sufficiently in line. Yet they are people of faith, not numbers.” Orsino shook his head. “And the Circle stood to benefit from the lack of adequate accountancy, so I and others in my position ignored the problem. We’re reaping the rewards of that apathy now.”

“...I’m sorry,” Varric said and held up a hand as he fought a grin. “I’m just imagining Meredith tearing apart a lab for any scrap of lyrium, and huffing a rune she found in a drawer.”

Everyone else remained silent until Orsino’s stoic face broke at the corners of his mouth. He fought a losing battle against a smile and covered the lower half of his face. His shoulders shook with suppressed laughter.

That was something Sebastian knew the Maker had wanted him to see. A haunted man, victim of terrible abuse, made to laugh again. For a few seconds, Sebastian could see that Orsino, a man younger than him, was still able to heal from the hurt. To find joy again. Like when Lady Leliana saw the rose in Lothering which signaled ‘even in darkness, hope remains’, Sebastian took the omen to mean ‘even after terrible suffering, there is still joy’.

It was also humorous to imagine the high-and-mighty Knight-Commander debasing herself thus. Pitiful and broken and desperate. Sebastian had a dark chuckle at the thought of it.

“See, I got Choir Boy to laugh at it!” Varric seemed quite pleased with himself.

“Hmm, I think I could beat that….” Bethany smirked and pinched her chin in consideration. “Oh, I know. Imagine the Templars getting down on all fours to lap up a lyrium potion that had spilled on the floor!”

The laughter was a lot less dark, and a lot harder to fight back with that.

--

You know what happens when you fill an organization with unwanted third children, political creatures desperately hungry for power, and folks who genuinely believe the Maker will provide for them? There are very few people who can read a finance report or create an international budget.

--

Gascard

Even though their association had begun with threats and blackmail… Gascard found himself glad to be on the right side of the conflict which his Qunari associate had kicked up. As an Orlesian, he had the skill to sit back, watch the Game play out, and figure out whom was responsible.

It was absolutely terrifying how Ketojan had killed just enough Templars with a ‘disease’ to get them suspicious, and then work the rest of Kirkwall to confirm their fears. Tricking the Grand Cleric to go to the Gallows at night on some foolish mission had been masterful. Gascard hadn’t realized at first what the Qunari had been up to -- but then he heard whispers of war, of conflict, and that new weapons were needed to fight it.

In the dance of politics, one of the most successful opening moves was to cause your opponent to stumble. Mistakes could be capitalized upon, and compounded with further manipulation until those who had thought themselves untouchable found hands around their throats. Gascard had been playing the Game for years, and he still found no greater pleasure than to watch the life bleed out of his rivals as he gripped their necks tight. With silk gloves so no fingerprints were left on the corpse, of course.

Ketojan often came to him to get mages out of Kirkwall through legitimate means -- most of them were sent off to the Circles of Magi at Dairsmuid or Orzammar, but he also told Gascard of secret things. Words, that when spoken to the red-faced Dalish of the Tirnashan, would have them put away their weapons and speak civilly. Places in the Western Approach that had great power still.

Since the Western Approach had no nobility attached to it -- it had been a property of the Imperial House Valmont, one they were eager to part with for a pittance given the sheer amount of land in the Approach. It didn’t restore his family’s Orlesian title, but it gave him a large, mostly empty, region to set up a lab for Ketojan and himself to send certain mages away -- to work on projects best left out of polite discussion.

The other members of Mage Club, or the Mage Underground as the Grey Warden had put it, were not keen on the allegations that Ketojan had put forth: That blood magic had the potential to save people or lands from the Blight, and great restorative powers for both subjects. It became a topic of debate when the Underground meeting was hosted at Gascard’s estate, in his vast library.

“Blood magic is a sin in the eyes of the Maker,” Bethany said and flounced onto a sofa. “You’re throwing away your one chance to find happiness in the next life -- for what?”

Gascard sipped his wine and considered the small forest that was his garden -- full of trees planted with the ashes of family members that had been lost to Nevarra and cholera. “For the chance to bring something back to the world. People in Ferelden are starving right now -- even with so much foreign foodstuffs going into the country. They lost half their arable farmland to the Blight -- and if we could get it back….”

Nearby, leaning on a bookshelf with a snickerdoodle biscuit in his hand, Anders sighed and shook his head. “I get what you’re trying to do. But if it could be done, Tevinter would have done it by now!” He threw his hands up in frustration, and accidentally tossed his biscuit with them. His next few seconds were spent catching the biscuit before it hit the ground.

“Tevinter doesn’t know everything about blood magic,” Leech commented with a scowl. He sat in a chintz chair near Bethany’s flouncing couch, with his arms crossed and his snacks untouched. “No one knows everything about any aspect of magic.”

“Leech is right,” Merrill said and dunked her biscuit into her wine. She didn’t react to the revulsion some of the other Underground members regarded her tastes, and waited for the biscuit to bloat with wine before she took a bite. “There is always more we could uncover. Some lost magic that slipped through the cracks -- or something entirely new. Or new ways to use old magic.”

“Baked into that position is the belief that if Tevinter had such knowledge, they would share it.” Ketojan spoke up, near the fireplace with his student hidden in his shadow. “Tevinter has been hit with multiple Blights… yet they recover well enough. Curious, isn’t that?”

The newest addition to their club, First Enchanter Orsino, watched them all with careful consideration. He didn’t say much, but he watched keenly, Gascard noticed.

“Point out where, in the Chant, it says that blood magic is prohibited. Point out where, in the Chant, it says that all of the good things blood magic can do are invalid in the face of the bad.” Ketojan was silent a moment as he waited for the more religious among the Underground to answer. “Oh? Does it not? Is it perhaps, then, a law of the Chantry and not the Maker?” Ketojan sipped his tea, and forcibly pushed his student out of his shadow. “Stop cowering -- if I didn’t think you were fit to be here, you wouldn’t be.”

“I might be out of line for saying this,” Orsino said, his first spoken words for the evening, “but I think perhaps your blithe attitude comes from being outside Andrastian society. You, Leech and Merrill, all come from cultures where the practice is at worst considered suboptimal and dangerous.”

Gascard cleared his throat with a frown aimed at the First Enchanter.

“With some exceptions, of course.” Orsino bowed his head toward the meeting’s host. “For those of us who have lived our lives in the shadow of Chantry orthodoxy… it is harder to consider the positives.”

“Unless you’re Nevarran,” Ketojan pointed out with an extended finger. Gascard didn’t know how the Qunari could have his dagger-like nails painted with glittering paint yet still make them look dangerous. “Regardless of our feelings about the practice -- I don’t think we’re ready to commit to a vote yet, hmm?” The Qunari looked around the room, and nodded when several shaken heads were his reply. “Alright. Then the next item on the docket is my barbwood project. Feynriel and I are going to the Frostbacks in a couple of days, and we’ll be experimenting with barbwood sylvans to see if the material is adequate for our purposes.”

“You’re going to be creating barbwood sylvans?” Orsino looked at him like he was utterly mad. “Whatever for?”

“A couple years ago,” Bethany said with a pinched face, “my sister and Ketojan encountered shades which had manifested in the shape of dragons. Ketojan’s been working on reverse-engineering the process, and finding ways for Spirits or Demons who want to come to our world to create vessels without the need for possession.”

“If he wasn’t madder than every hatter in the known world,” Ketojan muttered and shook his head, “Quentin would be of great help in that regard. Such as it is? I must research this on my own, and snag a copy of Quentin’s research once we help Gascard murder him.”

Orsino’s eyes snapped to Gascard, with an eyebrow raised and a question in his eyes. His expression didn’t improve when Gascard spoke his explanation:

“I called dibs.”

--

The cholera outbreaks left many noble families extinct in Kirkwall, but it left just as many childless or orphaned. The DuPuis household was one of the latter, and the young Gascard DuPuis was left to be raised by his eccentric mentor Quentin before the man vanished mysteriously.

--

Hawke

Three years, lots of killing, and more than one political snafu, and Hawke finally had her vacation at the beach. Granted, it was an artificial beach made from having flooded a quarry which may or may not yet be haunted by a hope devouring Demon, but still. She had a lounge chair, a shade umbrella, and a lovely alcoholic drink to enjoy on a fine spring afternoon. If only she didn’t have the sounds of construction to distract her from the peace of her new Bone Pit lake.

Beside her, also on a lounge chair but with smoked glasses to cover her eyes, was Mother and her friends the de Launcets -- both of whom had decided to nap. On Hawke’s other side was Bethany, her lounge chair positioned more upright than the others as she enjoyed a book. In the distance, construction workers were hard at work on the foundations for the Hawke family home outside Kirkwall. The name was still up for debate between the two sisters. Bethany favored Chateau Hawke, while Marian was a staunch advocate for Caern Hawke. The name would also indicate the purpose of the building -- was it to be a forward defensive post for Kirkwall in the ever-increasing chance of a Tantervale/Starkhaven invasion? Or merely a fancy lakeside home for a noble family?

They had a few weeks before the foundations were finished in which to make their decision.

“I wonder if we should allow boats on the lake,” Mother mused as she sunbathed. While Bethany and Hawke were more accepting of showing some skin -- Mother and her friends were more or less totally covered by their full-body bathing suits. “It won’t be long until there’s fish and other water life that would be entertaining for boaters to observe.”

“Let’s wait for Ketojan to come back from Orlais, hmm?” Marian asked and tried to drown out the sound of construction in the distance. “I want to make sure that whatever was cursing the Pit when it was a quarry is either dead, or moved elsewhere.”

“Hmm. Spring is here, and people will be looking for entertainment to distract them from that mess out in the harbor.”

“Which I completely understand. I just don’t want a Demon to get ideas and try to drown anyone.”

Mother made a face, but let the issue rest.

“You needn’t worry,” a familiar but unexpected voice said from the other side of Bethany. “The crabsquid has moved on -- it dares not compete with a water wolf.” When Hawke and Bethany both looked over, they found a familiar face seated on a lounge chair which hadn’t been there previously. Maroon armor, spiked tiara, hair styled into the shape of horns, and a coy smile. Flemeth waved to the girls who recognized her. “It’s been a while. I hope you don’t mind me enjoying the sunlight with you.”

“Not at all,” Hawke stiffly replied with a smile of her own. Anything to conceal how helpless she felt without a weapon nearby. Flemeth was a witch, and a dragon -- neither of which could be defeated with lounge chairs. “The more the merrier.”

“Hawke, is someone -- oh!” Mother sat up and lifted her smoked glasses to see Flemeth. “You again!”

“Me, again.” Flemeth seemed to enjoy the shock she generated from the Hawke family, her tone of voice positively dripped with amusement. “Though there are fewer darkspawn for me to rescue you from, this time.”

“Quite,” Hawke said and held up a hand to stop her mother from speaking or worse still -- thanking Flemeth. To give thanks could have potentially allowed Flemeth to spin them into a new favor to ‘fully’ pay back her charitable deed in Ferelden during the Blight. “What brings you out here? The strapping young men doing construction work over the hills?”

“Well it certainly isn’t hurting the view, oh ho ho ho!” Flemeth waved her hand in front of her face as if to brush away an insect while she laughed. “No, no. I’m just here to ask a question. One for sure, maybe others. If you’ll indulge me?” The legendary witch smirked, as if daring the Hawkes to refuse her.

Bethany glanced Hawke’s way with an expression of concern. Marian tried to answer it with confidence and put on a veneer of charm. “Ask away.”

Flemeth leaned back in her lounge chair and tapped her gauntlet-covered fingers on its wooden arms. “What do you know about the Qunari mage which has been causing a ruckus around here?”

“Ketojan?” Hawke answered before she realized Flemeth didn’t know his name, and wanted to punch herself for giving that away for free. Bethany’s pointed look did the job just as well. “Well… he was a captive of the Qun for a long time. Merrill says he’s far older than we assume, and I’ve heard that he’s from Seheron from another friend of mine.”

Flemeth nodded in response, a polite gesture to convey she listened. Her eyebrow arched as she turned to look at the Hawkes. “Is that all?”

“There’s some more odds and ends, but that’s the general summary.” Hawke narrowed her eyes. “What do you know about the Qunari mage which has been causing a ruckus around here?”

“Things which would send you running just as you did from the darkspawn.” The witch stage whispered it to them, like it was something she ought not to share. A coy smile, delight in her eyes -- Hawke got the feeling there was definitely something between them. “When I knew him, he was a visionary, but mercurial. Like the sea, he could be vindictive or forgiving at any moment -- a trait which runs in his family. But that was so long ago.” Her smile faded by inches, until a sad frown was in its place. “I wonder how time has changed him.”

“He’s still fond of turning into big-nasty monsters and eating people alive, if it helps.” Hawke didn’t quite know what to make of Flemeth and Ketojan knowing one another. It seemed… improbable that a Qunari from the other end of the world would know the Fereldan Witch of the Wilds. “But he’s taken to writing books, owning a whorehouse, and teaching a student.”

“A student?” Flemeth’s tone was one of clear interest, but her face remained unchanged. She shook her head and stood from her seat. As if it were made of smoke, her lounge chair vanished once she departed it. “Here’s hoping this one breaks the chain of betrayals.”

“And what do you mean by that?” Bethany asked, her tone pointed. Marian wanted to smack her from poking the woman who could become a dragon, but hoped that Flemeth would let it go.

“His last student usurped him. A family matter, quite nasty.” As she walked away, Flemeth spread her arms and let them fall back to her side, to say ‘what can you do?’ “Now that I know who I’m dealing with, you might see me around here some more. Try not to die too soon, hero.”

Once Hawke was sure she’d gone, she flopped back into a resting position on her lounge chair. “I think I need to invest in security or something. Anything to keep the weirdos out.”

“Sister, why would you pay people to keep you out of your own home?” Bethany took her turn at being the funny one. It didn’t help Mother look any less worried than she had been throughout their discussion. “Don’t worry Mother, as long as we mind our manners, she… probably won’t turn into a dragon and eat us alive.”

“Said the woman who took an uppity tone with her.”

“I was polite about it!”

---

Hawke really, aggressively, needs people to stand between her and every weirdo who wants to be ominous on a random Friday.

And like that, we start the transition to Act 2! Hope you guys are excited for Qunari and Orlesians!

Chapter Text

Codex: A Curse on You

---

Frantic notes scribbled down in an ancient elven script. As if there is magic in the letters, they shift and become words in the common tongue.

-

The sea has begun to recede enormously. At first we thought a tidal wave, as the lord D -- (a blotch of ink has covered the word) -- would do when someone offended him and Shambala, or when Imshael would lift his waves high. But the water never came back. Our ports have gone dry, our canals have emptied out. We call the rains, and what falls is but a trickle compared to what it was before. We have no idea where the water has gone, the children of the Stone will not ask Shambala on our behalf. They say she howls with grief and pain, that the pillars of the earth are afraid because they have never known their mother to suffer so.

What has happened? What calamity unfolds upon us? I will write to the Elvhen, and hope that they answer with something other than knives. For once.

...

I know now why Shambala howls with grief. I know now why Saebonshae is suddenly well-liked and trusted by the god-kings of Elvhenan. I know now why the moon does not show his face. I know now why the sea has left us, become a shadow of itself. I know why our lord's son-in-law claims lordship over all that was Daer -- (a water stain, possibly a tear, obscurs the word) -- and names it 'Fade'.

They killed him.

They killed the Sea.

Curse Saebonshae! Curse Elgar'nan!

Curse Fen'Harel!

(The letters are different, like ink mixed with blood) A curse on them all!

(The rest of the note is covered in blood.)

---

You know what happened with killing Poseidon in God of War III? That, but in reverse.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen: Foul Demon

---

Aveline

The barracks had become a grim place over the past three years. A lot of her men had to get training in the cannons Ketojan and his proxies had developed, and then the new anti-personnel weapon which had followed -- the firebrand. A couple of her people had injured themselves to the point of retirement from the training, others had damaged their hearing from not using the muffled ear plugs provided. The ones who did pass it were fighters who were on the cutting edge of a new style of warfare.

They’d demonstrated that when they first knocked down the walls of the Gallows, and it would soon be time to prove it again. More and more Templar garrisons were going rogue, breaking their leashes. Abandoning their oaths. As long as the Gallows stood, it would embolden others -- so the Viscount wanted her and her friends to put an end to it. At long last.

On her desk was one of the earliest models for the firebrand, the mark four. It was a weapon built on the end of a short staff -- with a round cylinder tank affixed to one end with a nozzle at the peak, and buttons around a grip just below the tank. Prismatic powder mixed with a flammable liquid would be slotted into the tank, and the user would use the buttons to spray flaming liquid up to fifteen feet in front of them in either a long stream or wide cone. Plate armor provided no defense, Aveline had seen it herself when they used the firebrands in raids on the Gallows to get mages out.

The mark four had been solid, literally -- she’d used it as a mace more than once. But improvements had been made since, and the current mark six her guardsmen used outperformed it in every way.

One thing that Ketojan hadn’t figured out yet was how to get the memory of Templars burning to death, the smells and screams, to fade into oblivion. Sleep was hard for the Guard in recent times.

While she was in her office, in the middle of planning the eventual assault, she heard the tell-tale taps of a visitor at her door. A unique style of knocking she recognized. “Come in, Hawke,” she sighed and closed the folder with maps of the Gallows and battle plans.

Hawke had changed relatively little since she became a noblewoman by proxy. Her sister was a comtess, and her mother was the Lady Amell, which put her in the position of being nobility without having a title herself. Aveline had seen it play out well for everyone involved, given Hawke’s bloodthirsty nature. Leandra and Bethany had used the implicit threat of Hawke to advance their schemes more than once within noble circles.

She entered Aveline’s office, kitted for a fight with a smile that promised mischief. “Aveline,” she started with a smarmy tone.

“Whatever tomfoolery you have planned, no.” Aveline tried to dig her heels in, but Hawke’s smile… Maker it was like trying to fight the tide. “What mischief have you planned?”

“One of Varric’s associates wants to meet with me tonight,” Hawke did a little dance as she walked to Aveline’s desk. “And a sudden influx of Orlesians came in by way of the docks today.”

“...Another assassination attempt, I wager.” Aveline shook her head. If the nobility of Thedas weren’t sending assassins after Fenris -- because elf -- or Bethany -- because mage -- they sent them after Hawke. At least with Hawke there was often a ‘she broke my arm in four places’ justification. “Right, who else is going?”

“Varric, naturally, and I’m bringing Anders along. Merrill’s off trying to get Leech and her Keeper to play nice again.” Hawke shook her head sadly. “And Ketojan’s not back from Orlais yet.”

“He’s overdue.” Aveline frowned. That was something they’d have to talk about later -- what could keep a shapeshifting cannibalistic Qunari from his schedule? “But that doesn’t change the assassins in Kirkwall needing to be dealt with. Tonight, you said?”

“Tonight.” Hawke glanced at the firebrand on Aveline’s desk with an arched brow. “You’re still using a mark four?”

“I’m a close-quarters fighter, the mark four is ideal.” Aveline moved the flame-spitting weapon slightly, just enough to be out of Hawke’s reach. She had proven too enthusiastic with the mark three, which had resulted in the mark four’s sturdiness. “And I’m comfortable with the weapon now.”

“But the mark five has flanges on the canister.” Hawke crossed her arms. “Makes it better at punching through armor.”

Aveline shook her head. “Hawke, if I run into someone with armor? I give them the firebrand’s payload. Faster and easier than punching through armor. I only smack unarmored targets with it -- so that the bone injury will keep them out of the fight.”

Hawke arched her brow and lowered the corners of her mouth. “Didn’t you say you don’t like burning people?”

“Neither do I like killing a bunch of Orlesians. I don’t like killing, Hawke.” Aveline shook her head and looked at the weapon. “Or… maybe I used to, and I’ve stopped. But I keep doing it because if I don’t, more people will end up dead later.” She met Hawke’s eyes, sad. “You can’t tell me you still enjoy bloodshed for its own sake, can you?”

Hawke’s face was stony. She was silent for a minute, long enough for it to become telling. “It’s what I’m good at, Aveline. I had to learn to enjoy it for its own sake or I’d have gone crazy.”

Careful to keep pity out of her eyes and off her face, Aveline couldn’t help but feel that perhaps Hawke had gotten it backwards.

--

Varric

Kirkwall was a lot less fun than it had been in the past. It was a problem that Varric was trying to fix. He had to play the Carta and Coterie off each other, so that they didn’t swell up and implode or leave an exposed power vacuum since the Council got axed a few questions. Leech had been surprisingly useful for that -- since his Redwater Teeth kept the docks in line through a simple mixture of intimidation, threats of violence, and having functioning brains.

The blood magic helped. A lot.

Bartrand was surprisingly on board for helping keep Kirkwall’s spirits up -- he was back to hosting fancy parties, which kept Hightown happy. That freed Varric up to keep Lowtown in good spirits. Fortunately, after years of the standoff with the Templars having only infrequent flare ups, people had started to settle down. It had become normal.

As had, unfortunately, assassins in the streets. When Edge sent him a note about an emergency meetup, Varric knew right away that there would be assassins involved somehow. Edge, true to his name, liked to live in dangerous environments and situations. That meant he got into trouble, a lot. It wouldn’t be the first time he was used as bait, it wouldn’t be the last.

So, he let Hawke know, Hawke grabbed Blondie and Aveline, and the four of them went to the entrance to the Hightown Market to inevitably get ambushed. Except, when they arrived they saw Edge with a crowd of Orlesians all around him. Rich ones too, from the way they were dressed. There were thirty of them, men, women, and children -- with the kids staying close to their parents. The way they jumped at any loud noise made Varric deeply concerned.

“Edge, my man,” the smooth-talking dwarf said and craned his neck to look up at the Tal-Vasoth with two broken horns. “What’s this all about? Your letter was vague.”

Hawke looked around, and glanced at Varric with an arched brow. “These don’t look like assassins. Or, maybe they’re just excellent assassins.”

The broken-horned Tal-Vashoth sighed and pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders. He was dressed like it was winter, but the first day of autumn had been just a week before. Weak-skinned tropical oxmen. “I don’t like getting involved in your friend’s affairs, bosss, but they paid good money to have a talk with her.” He jerked his thumb at Hawke, then turned to an Orlesian man with rubies in his mask. “Go on -- ask.”

“I’m getting the feeling that this isn’t going to be a fun night,” Anders sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Was really looking forward to some exercise.”

The Orlesian man hesitantly approached Hawke, like he was afraid she’d hit him, then feigned strength when he spoke to her. “Madame Hawke,” he said, his accent having shorn the ‘H’ sound off her name, “I must ask what grievance you have with the House of Repose. We have had no business with you or your family in centuries.”

Varric, Aveline, and Hawke all raised their brows and looked at each other. Hawke shrugged at them, flummoxed.

“The House of Repose are the Orlesian version of the Antivan Crows,” Anders explained. “They work exclusively for the rich, and for the nobility. What?” He asked when they all looked at him. “The Warden-Commander of Ferelden was once part of the Carta -- she knew people in the House.”

“The Grey Warden is correct.” The Orlesian nobleman assassin said, and focused his attention on Hawke exclusively. “Or at least he was. You, Madame Hawke, have ruined the House of Repose -- we are all that’s left.” He spread his arms to indicate the group, women and children all. “You have destroyed our coworkers, our hideouts, our families... all we want to know is, why?”

“You must have me confused with another Hawke,” the woman of the hour said with an uncomfortable tone. “...Which is worrying, because I’m related to both of them, and neither of them have given me the implication that they’ve been waging a secret war.”

“Liar!” One of the children shouted. She made like she wanted to run at Hawke, but one of the other assassins grabbed her and held her back. “Your monsters came for us! Killed our friends, ate my mother and little sister whole!”

Varric had never heard a child’s voice filled with such anger, hate, and pain before. His wariness at her being an assassin was overshadowed by what he’d heard her say. “Hawke’s monster?”

“I have a monster?” Hawke looked even more confused.

Aveline cursed, and clapped her armored hand to her forehead. “Years ago, people were talking about how Ketojan was a monster you controlled. The rumors died out here when he left, but they might have kept going outside Kirkwall.”

“Ketojan has been known to eat people whole….” Anders said with a tone of concern. “But… why did she say monsters? Plural?”

An excellent question that no one got the chance to answer as the spokesman for the assassins spoke up again. “So they have been doing this without your knowledge? They escaped?” He threw himself onto his knees and held up his clasped hands to Hawke. “You could then call him off? Make him leave us alone?”

“Um,” Hawke’s eyebrows were pinched and raised, she tried to take a step away from the man as he knee-walked toward her. “I can try but I don’t know who the other one is….”

“Please, messere, we’d give you everything we have left for a reprieve!”

Varric tried to think of what the shit Shifty had been up to in Orlais, which allowed him to tune out the shameless begging the Orlesians resorted to when their own necks were at risk. Because he wasn’t distracted by that, he could hear something else echo down the empty Hightown streets. The tweeting of birds. The tweeting of a species of bird that ought to have flown south by the first day of autumn. “Don’t want to worry anyone, but I think you were followed.”

The assassins immediately looked around in fear, with their spokesman even more desperate to secure Hawke’s help in light of that.

Hawke cleared her throat and shouted. “To any and all Qunari assassins in the vicinity!” She shouted. “Please cease your hostilities and come out like a normal person to have a conversation.”

Varric didn’t know what to expect from that, but it certainly wasn’t a pouty Qunari to just step out of the shadows. Shifty hadn’t changed much -- still sparkly in places, still with the translucent shirts, and still taller than was reasonable. Behind him trailed his student Feynriel -- three years older and much more obviously a mage, being dressed in green robes with a repeated leaf pattern. But Varric definitely, definitely didn’t expect a red-headed elf woman dressed in armor covered in Qun symbols with two large knives on her back to leap down from the roof of a nearby building too.

Shifty and the newcomer glared at each other, while Hawke blinked in confusion.

“Hawke, you need to pick your words better,” Varric said at last. “You tricked a real Qunari assassin to come out of hiding.”

--

Anders

“So… you’ve been busy.” Anders leaned against a column at the edge of the market square. He looked up at Ketojan and tried not to let Justice’s unease show in his face. “You’ve… been eating a lot of people, apparently.”

“Orlais is full of rotten meat,” the Qunari answered with an arched brow. He stood away from the wall, with his staff acting as his support. Every so often, his eyes glanced toward Feynriel who stood near Varric -- the dwarf had wanted a private talk. “We’ve been cleaning it up.”

Anders glanced over to where Hawke, Aveline, and the Qunari elf were talking. “Don’t suppose you know her?”

“I do.” Ketojan smirked. “But I like her, so I’m not going to gossip about her.”

“Oh come on,” the healer huffed and rubbed his temples. “I’m trying to steer the topic away from you apparently eating children -- “

“If I ate all their children, then none of the brats over there,” he jerked his thumb toward the crowd of assassins who cowered in fear, “would be alive.”

“Why didn’t you just dream-kill them like you did the Templars?” Anders’ frown became more and more pronounced the more he thought about it. Ketojan had only ever gone big and monstery to take the heat off Hawke and the rest of the gang. It was risky turning into a giant monster, with giant blood vessels which could easily bleed if nicked.

The sparkly Qunari sighed, and glanced over at Feynriel. “You know… that young man’s mostly human. But he identifies more strongly with his elf heritage. And… Orlais doesn’t treat elves very well at all.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I should’ve taken him to Antiva, like his mother wanted.”

Anders pieced it together when he glanced over at Feynriel again and saw how Varric seemed ill-at-ease with the young man during their conversation. He noticed the hardened, pitiless eyes Feynriel had, and how he glanced at the assassins every few seconds and clenched his fists at the same time. “You weren’t the one who started it, were you?” Anders asked Ketojan with a soft tone.

“No. But he’s my student, my responsibility. One mistake led to another, which led to this.” Ketojan shook his head. “He wanted -- wants -- revenge, but he calls it justice. And if I taught him how to kill with dreams, he’d have gone utterly mad in the pursuit of it.”

Anders looked up at the stars above, both thankful that Evelina wasn’t nearly as much of a handful as Feynriel apparently was, and also dreading the mistakes he’d make when her orphans started to grow up after having him as a role model. Hopefully none of them got the idea to become abominations. “So, you brought him back to chase them down?”

“I brought him back because there are people like you, Fenris, Leech, and others who can get through to him that revenge against those people,” he pointed at the assassins again, and caused one Orlesian man to scream like a woman with the gesture, “isn’t going to make him feel better.”

Anders looked at him like he was utterly insane. “Not a single person on that list you mentioned is of the opinion you described.”

Ketojan popped a hand onto his hip and arched his brow at Anders. “You’ve killed how many Templars now? You’ve freed how many mages? You’ve helped heal how many tranquil? Do you feel better for it? Does it make Karl being dead sting any less?” Ketojan’s look escalated into a glare as Anders glared at him. “I didn’t think so. Feynriel won’t listen to me that there’s a difference between vengeance and justice.” The Qunari’s eyes softened as he glanced the young man’s way. “He won’t believe me when I say I know his pain -- because I’ve moved past it, and right now he doesn’t think he’ll ever move past it.”

“...We’re going to need to talk, in detail, about what the hell happened to you two in Orlais,” Anders said with steel in his voice. “At the next Mage Underground meeting. No arguments.” He glanced toward Feynriel as Justice slipped into his eyes. The boy was covered in white and red blotches of injustice coiled tightly around a jagged point of black and red. Something had definitely gone pear-shaped in Orlais.

“Spoiler warning,” Ketojan sighed. “It turns out, it’s still dangerous to catch the eye of people with fancy titles.” His eyes snapped over to Hawke and Aveline as they broke away from the Qunari elf. “And that meetup will have to be postponed, it looks like.”

Anders pinched his brows in confusion, while Hawke and Aveline approached. He saw Aveline throw her gaze skyward, her standard ‘Maker, why me’ gesture. Hawke, meanwhile, was grinning like a loon. That never ended well for them.

“So, I hope everyone knows how to eat Orlesian food with the proper forks,” Hawke announced as she drew nearer. “We’re going to a fancy party! Except you,” she said and pointed to the assassins. “I’m afraid we’re at our ‘kill people for money’ threshold already, you’ll have to find some other city to haunt.”

“There’s always people in Orzammar who need folks killed for money,” Anders called with a faux-helpful tone. “And you’ll be far, far away, deep underground,” he muttered to himself and Ketojan. The further they could be kept from Feynriel, the better. “Maybe they’ll clean up the nug dung if the Orlesians mock them for it.”

“You know damn well,” Ketojan muttered back, “that there is no force under the sky, in the sea, or beneath the earth that can make Orzammar invest in janitors. They’ll say the dung adds character, or something.”

---

A bit shorter than usual, but I hope y'all enjoy the shenanigans!

Chapter Text

Codex: The Lying Game

---

A memory found in dreams of moonlight.

-

Once, Daern'thal glided through his domain in the shape of a water wolf. The Sea became empty of life where he went, for everything was afraid of him. Daern'thal both hated and loved this, for his moods would shift with the waves. In one moment, he would hate loneliness while he craved it in the next. The unpredictability made all who lived in the Sea avoid him out of fear of which mood he would be in.

Imshael shone down on him at night -- content with being too high for Daern'thal to leap at him.

"If you are as bored as I, O Sea," Imshael cried as Daern'thal's mighty dorsal fin cut the water, "then would you care to play a game?"

A keening cry shook the Sea for miles, and echoed down to unfathomable depths.

"Wonderful." Imshael counted off on fingers of moonlight, his face a-grinning. "My game is simple. I tell you two truths and two lies, you win by telling me which is which."

Mighty flukes rose from the water and crashed down.

"I know the secret shape you guard from all others, I know why the Mother Goddess hardly speaks to you." Imshael spoke his words and grinned all the wider. "I believe you and Elgar'nan are actually the same person, and I believe your fearsome nature is all an act." The Big Moon clasped his hands and waited.

The fin and beast retreated into the Sea, and Daern'thal emerged in a shape that reached up taller than the Moons and the Sun in the vault of heaven. Daern'thal looked down on Imshael, and made his guesses with a mouth filled with lightning and teeth. "The truths were when you set the rules, and marked their simplicity."

Imshael's grin faded, as he was not used to losing his game or to looking up at the Sea.

"Best two out of three, then?"

---

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen: Tired

---

Bethany

Her library was abuzz with talk as she waited in the wings with Marian. Hawke was busy telling her about the latest developments regarding her latest assassination attempt and Ketojan’s return. He was months overdue, so she eagerly awaited to know what kept him. Once Marian spilled the beans, however, she found she might have been better off not knowing.

“Killing children, Maker,” Bethany sighed and poured herself a glass of wine far too full for polite company. In seconds, it was gone and she’d filled the glass again to a more reasonable level. With her nerves steadied, she continued to fill other glasses and bade them float through the air to a serving tray. “His explanation best be extraordinary.”

Marian stood out like a sore thumb in Bethany’s home. Bethany had taken pains to soften Comte Antioch’s estate, figuratively and literally. Plush carpets, sheer drapes, delicate furniture. And then there was Marian, kitted for war with a sword bigger than she was tall. It was a good thing Mother had let Bethany borrow Sandal to enchant her furniture, or poor Marian wouldn’t be able to sit anywhere. Even still, Hawke made do with leaning on a wall as Bethany did her servants’ work for them. “Ketojan gave me some vaguely ominous response when I asked, be sure to press him on that will you?”

“Too right I will, assuming Leech doesn’t try to skin him for making us all wake up before dawn for this emergency meeting.” Bethany closed her eyes and sighed out her nose. Three years in, and she still got so irate when she had to leave her bedchamber. All her life, she’d made do with straw-stuffed mattresses -- Comte Antioch’s down-stuffed mattresses were heavenly. If left alone, she’d spend all day in their comfortable embrace. Summarized: She was upset. “I have a long ride to Chateau Haine later today, and he’s woken me up hours early with this monstrous behavior.”

The serving girl hesitantly took the floating tray of wine as soon as it was finished and entered the library where the Mage Club crowd had gathered. The servants still weren’t used to Bethany being a mage, or how often the estate was full of mages. That same serving girl had worked for Bethany for two years but still hesitated.

Or maybe it was the discussion she’d overheard -- Bethany reflected and found it might be both.

“Oh, that’s another thing,” Marian smirked. “Turns out, I’ll be coming with you.”

Ice ran through Bethany’s veins and stole the heat from her ire. “W-what? You? But Mother’s already gone,” Bethany tried to gently curb her sister’s interest in the biggest political break Bethany and Mother had managed to make since they arrived in Kirkwall. “The, um, wyvern hunting part is… alright, I won’t lie -- it sounds right up your alley.” Bethany gave up, and threw her hands in the air. “But if I bring you with me, I have to leave some of the people I already promised to take behind….”

“No need to worry about that, dear loveable politician-in-the-making sister of mine.” Marian’s smirk deepened and drove the ice in Bethany’s veins deeper still. “I’ll be there on the invitation of someone else.”

“Oh. That’s… good. I….” Bethany sighed. “Is it Varric?”

“Why no, Isabela’s an old friend of the Duke de Montfort. Of course it’s Varric.” Marian pushed off the wall and started down the hall. “Now -- I need to go pack and make sure Alonzo knows to take Gamlen on walks. Have fun in there!”

Varric at the Duke’s party would make the politicking Bethany and Mother had hoped to do harder -- all eyes and ears would be on the dwarven author. They’d need prybars to get people away from him.

Bethany sighed, straightened herself up, and put on the airs of a completely serious mage and comtess for her guests. As soon as she entered the library, the chatter slowed to a crawl and died down. Comte Antioch’s library had been a dusty, neglected room when Bethany found it. Three years and the slow destruction of the Gallows later, she’d turned it into one of the finest private collections of magical lore. At least it competed with Gascard’s library.

Mage Club had expanded to include some new members as the years went by -- Fenris’ sister Varania was among them. Thin as a whip, with garish makeup and red hair that contrasted with her dress in House Fenris’ colors. Though she pulled off the ‘spikey and menacing’ look just as well as Fenris. Another, though arguably just as unpleasant addition was the eminent Emil de Launcet. Emil wasn’t terrible to look at, but his time in the Gallows had left him socially awkward and lecherous. A dangerous combination.

Bethany noticed Ketojan and Feynriel arranging boxes on a long table toward the back of the library, far removed from the chattering Club, but found herself distracted by an enthusiastic friend.

“Bethany,” Merrill hissed and waved her over to a plush couch. “I saved you some wine -- figured you’d need some with it being so early.” Sure enough, there was a full glass of wine held in her free hand.

“Oh thank you,” Bethany said as she approached and sat down to accept the glass. “I fear we’d all need it if this talk goes poorly.”

“S’alright.” Merrill was all smiles, in contrast to virtually everyone else in the room. “I’m sure it’ll go well. Our meetings haven’t gone poorly since we stopped meeting at Fenris’ house.”
“Here’s hoping.” Bethany cleared her throat and spoke up. “Alright. This meeting of the Mage Club is hereby in session. To start, I move we table the lingering old business from last session and move to new business. All in favor?”

A round of ayes was the response, with the only abstain being from Varania -- too busy with snatching glasses of wine from the serving girl to down them and snatch another.

“The ayes have it. First order of business -- the disreputable killings one of our members has partaken of.” Bethany hardened her gaze as she looked Ketojan’s way. “The slaughter of children, namely. What have you to say?”

Feynriel had changed more than Ketojan in the intervening years. He dressed more obviously in Dalish fashions and seemed to have altered his ears to appear closer to elven. The effect came off as him trying too hard, however. He responded to Bethany’s accusation with a sour expression such as Leech wore by default. “I have an outstanding blood feud with the House of Repose. They started it.”

“Started it?” Anders, seated alone with an empty wine glass in hand curled his lip and raised his eyebrows at the young man. “Is that how you justify it? Killing children requires a bit more than a failed assassination attempt.”

“They killed my child, I kill theirs.” Feynriel spat the words like he wished they would strike Anders dead then and there. He might have gone further, with his face red and his veins bulging in his head.

In the silence that followed, Bethany could almost hear her heartbeat in her ears.

Merrill and Leech both got up from their seats to approach the angry young man. “Da’len, if you want to just tell the two of us -- “ “My men could intercept them before they get too far.”

Feynriel swept his hand to silence them. Rather than talk further, he turned to the table and leaned on it with his back to the group.

Bethany stood as well and walked to the table. Without a word, she set her wine glass down where Feynriel could drink from it if he wanted. Then she had eyes only for the oxman in their midst. “What happened?”

The oxman looked at her, glanced at his student, then sighed. “Summarized? Boy meets girl. Girl gets pregnant. Girl is assassinated. Boy is upset.” Ketojan delivered the words with an air of great weariness. It was easy to forget that he was old -- that he might have seen the same situation play out before.

Feynriel slammed his hand into the table, then blindly grabbed for the wine. A clear sore spot.

“Nothing could be done?” Bethany felt awful for how suspicious she had been earlier, though her intellectual brain told her she’d been justified. Feynriel’s murderous fury seemed so much more understandable now that she had a rough idea of the events.

“Not when the standard funerary practice is cremation.” Ketojan straightened several boxes which had been made crooked by Feynriel’s fit of pique. “With the House of Repose no longer functional, Orlais is badly destabilized. Every two-copper assassin will be trying to make a name for themselves to become the House’s replacement. Or worse.”

“So all our business in Orlais will naturally be less secure.” Gascard, quiet up till then, commented as he looked over the shelves of Bethany’s library. “I’ll see to it that precautions are taken at the research labs.”

It all seemed… callous, to Bethany. How quickly the scene had shifted from accusation to horror and then to business. She didn’t know what she could say to Feynriel -- she didn’t know if there was anything that could be said. Still…. “Feynriel -- does your mother know?” When the boy didn’t answer her Bethany gestured to Merrill. “Could you take him?”

Merrill smiled and moved to stand beside Feynriel. “Come along, da’len.”

“Before you go,” Ketojan said and tapped a box. On closer inspection, it had Merrill’s name faintly inscribed on it. “Don’t forget your souvenir.”

All the boxes had names on them -- Bethany realized. As Merrill took hers and led Feynriel from the library -- the young man seemed to have spent his rage -- Bethany eyed the box marked for her. While the other members of the Club drew near, Bethany opened hers to find a wooden egg. Bigger than her fist, with a purplish tint, and carved with a spiral pattern from the base to the blunted point. “I thought you were working on sylvans….”

“We were. And -- happy to say that the results were smashingly effective.”

The egg seemed to pulse when Bethany’s hand brushed it.

--

The chevaliers of Orlais have a particular tradition for graduates of their academy. Take the blades they have earned, go into the local alienage, and test their effectiveness on the elves therein. Sadly, similar organizations have taken on similar traditions. The House of Repose’s is a graduating exam for their assassins. Find a pregnant elven woman, and murder her in such a way that her infant lives -- not out of kindness, or compassion, but out of a rigid need for technical skill. So that their reputation is not damaged by inadequate killers.

--

Hawke

“So, while we pack things up, do you want some wine? Some tea?” Hawke looked over her shoulder and noted how dreadfully thin her new acquaintance was. “Perhaps some breakfast steak?”

Save Gamlin, who kept mostly to himself, she had the run of the Amell Estate with all its indirect lighting and red furnishings. Not quite blood red, but still an acceptable shade. All the darker colors made the pale elf Tallis stand out -- though her hair blended in more or less.

The Qunari assassin smiled and put a finger to the corner of her mouth in faux consideration. “Hmm, I do love me some breakfast steak. But eating rich food before going on the road is probably asking for trouble.” Tallis was the sort of person who fit right in with Hawke, Varric, and Isabela -- coy and snarky. Perhaps, in another life, they could have been friends.

Hawke hmmed to herself as she loaded her trunk with an emergency medical kit. In case of amputations, it would be needed, since Anders wouldn’t be coming with them. “Is it less trouble than casually stepping out when someone calls for Qunari assassins?”

Tallis, a-leaning on one of the posts of Hawke’s bed, shrugged casually. “I couldn’t be sure if you’d spotted me or not. With that rogue Saarebas around, even things as small as insects could be spies.”

“He does have a thing for wasps when he goes small.” Hawke nodded to herself, the screams of Flint Company as they were driven into the sea amid stinging death a pleasant memory for her, and held up two shirts. “Which do you think? Crimson, or vermillion?”

“Crimson looks just a bit more like blood, which I think is the look you’re going for.” Tallis squinted at the shirts and nodded. “Definitely crimson.”

“Crimson it is!” The vermillion shirt was returned whence it came. “So -- you and Ketojan know each other?”

“Know is a strong word.” The elven Qunari turned her profile to Hawke, her arms crossed. “Up North they have a saying ‘holding a tiger by the tail’. The gist is you have this dangerous animal which can and will kill you whether you let go of its tail or not.” She sighed through her nose and rubbed her forehead. “But if you let go, there’s a chance it’ll just leave you alone.”

“That does seem like the sort of thing Ketojan does. Kill people, that is. Leaving them alone, why, that’s heresy.” Hawke flicked her hand, filled with socks, at Tallis. “I’ll have none of it in my house, good Qunari.”

“My apologies, Grand Murder Cleric,” Tallis played a being repentant for a moment, then returned to her leaning. “With him in cargo setting, the higher-ups thought he’d been safely neutralized. Well -- now everyone on Par Vollen is afraid to sleep.”

“Oh dear -- a nation of sleep-deprived Qunari. That can’t possibly end well.”

“No, it can’t.” Tallis shook her head, slowly. “So far, your friend hasn’t come up North for revenge. But everyone in charge back on Par Vollen knows it’s only a matter of time. Technically, one of my objectives down here, other than retrieving the Heart of the Many, is to kill him if I can manage it.” She shook her head and looked at her feet. “I… don’t think I even want to try.”

“Probably for the best. Your knives aren’t long enough.” Hawke closed her trunk with authoritative clicks and locked it shut.

Tallis turned to her with narrowed eyes. “Look, not everyone’s knife is as big as yours. It’s not the size, it’s how it’s used.”

“Counterpoint: Nu-uh.” Hawke put her hands on her hips, willing to die upon the hill of big knives. “Momentum and inertia are needed to kill bigger animals. A dragon’s vital blood vessels are down deeper than your knives could cut.”

“Which is why you coat them in poison so that those last few inches of flesh aren’t an issue. Stab, run, let the poison induce sepsis.”

“Now hold on,” Hawke wagged her finger at Tallis, her eyes narrowed. “Fenris and Ketojan have told me that up North you have dragons that breathe poison, thus they’re immune. That strategy wouldn’t work on them!”

“They’re immune to their poison, not all poison.” Tallis smirked. “You’d be horrified at how quickly something so big can die to poison from a little mushroom.”

“Well, that settles it.” Hawke hefted her trunk, physically larger than her, aloft as if it were nothing. “We’re going to have to find a poison dragon so you can kill it and prove that small knives are valid.”

“Do wyverns count? No? Darn.”

--

Wyverns are related to dragons in much the same way hyenas are related to big cats. They’re each other’s closest living relatives, but the point of mutual ancestry is so far back as to almost invalidate the familial comparisons. Summarized: No, they don’t count.

--

Isabela

“Could you volunteer to go with Hawke before she asks me?”

Isabela had been minding her own business, having a drink, when Lady Manhands’ voice came out from nowhere and posed a question to her. If she wasn’t already in a rowdy tavern with an ongoing barfight over by the fireplace, she might have been surprised enough to jump. As it was, all Aveline achieved by startling her was a bit of spilled rum.

Isabela coughed and wiped down the front of her shirt as she processed the request. “What’s in the pit brought this on?” She looked Aveline over and noted the hints of oncoming bags under the Guard Captain’s eyes. “Something happen?”

“Not yet.” Aveline sat down at the bar next to Isabela like she couldn’t bear her own weight a moment longer. “Hawke’s going to a fancy Orlesian party -- and I could tell right away she wanted me to go with her.” Aveline shook her head. “But I can’t. The Viscount could give the order to level the Gallows any day -- and I need to be here for that.”

“Didn’t realize you wanted to get another go at them yourself.” Isabela decided to be generous and signaled the barkeep for another rum, for Aveline. “There’s plenty of blood in Orlais to spill, you know.”

“I do. But I need to be here to keep the Guard under control.” Aveline didn’t hesitate when alcohol was placed in front of her, she took a hearty swig. “The Viscount has been pressing them to be trained as proper soldiers -- and DuPuis keeps putting newer, more terrifying toys in their hands.” Aveline drank again until her rum was gone. “I need to make sure they don’t firebrand everyone in the Gallows and accept surrenders.”

“And your reputation wouldn’t be too high among all those Fereldans if you went to an Orlesian party,” Isabela said before she drank herself. “A proper mess, that.”

“Too right.” Aveline sighed and rested her head on her hands. “So -- could you…?”

“Of course -- though I’m going to cause absolute havoc in your name as a trade.”

“Fine by me. Just get to Hawke before she gets to me about it, please.”

Isabela didn’t bother to ask why Aveline didn’t want to tell Hawke ‘no’ on an adventure. Everyone and their long-dead great-grandmothers knew Hawke was sweet on Lady Manhands, with the aforementioned prig being too unsure to reciprocate or shut down Hawke’s affection. At first, it seemed like a crush -- only crushes didn’t last so long. Isabela had poked fun at Aveline about it more than once, which only ended up making it awkward when Aveline did nothing about it.

So, once her drinks and tab had been paid for, Isabela made her way to Hightown and the Amell Estate. The staff knew her well enough to just let her in without any waiting -- the perks of being infamous. She found Hawke in the main hall -- crouched down next to Alonzo while Gamlen stood like a petulant child with his hands crossed across his chest.

When were you going to tell me you had a party in Orlais you were going to crash?” Isabela demanded with a mischievous glint in her eyes and the promise of havoc on her face. “When are we leaving -- is it now? I can go now. I have everything all packed already.”

Hawke and Alonzo shared a raised eyebrow look before the bloodthirsty Fereldan spoke back. “Um. I… didn’t know you wanted to come.” She stood and rubbed the back of her head awkwardly. “Well… I suppose, in hindsight, we really ought to bring you along.” She sounded put out by the realization. “Since the book which Ketojan and Varric wrote which got them this invite is partially about you….”

“I knew it,” Isabela lied as easily as breathing, as she pointed at Hawke with double index fingers. “I knew it’d be about me! Yeah!” She did a little victory dance. “Did you do the illustrations for it too? You did!” Another victory dance was had. “Ooh! Going to wine and dine some Orlesians!”

Hawke still looked a bit put-off by the situation, but shook her head and had a much brighter expression after. “Not too cross that we won’t be crashing the party, then?”

“Well….” Isabela shrugged. “It’s not my favorite part of the setup. Do you have shenanigans planned?”

“Do I ever.” Hawke’s mischievous face matched Isabela’s. “We’re going to be robbing the Duke de Montfort of certain goods he’s stolen from the Qunari -- a favor we’re doing for them so they’ll officially ‘owe us’ one.”

That information stopped all Isabela’s mischief as she contemplated how excellent the Qunari owing her a favor would be, given their shared history. “Hmm. That’s such extremely good news that I might be dreaming.” She promptly pinched herself, then gushed when she disproved her theory. “Yes! What’re we stealing? I want to steal at least four of those stupid mask things.”

In her mind, she already had plans of how to cart back everything the Duke didn’t have nailed to the floor. It was a bit much to hope that the Duke had a ship far inland, but he was Orlesian, so Isabela held out hope.

---

Man -- I’m rusty with this stuff. I’ll get back into form in no time, don’t you worry.

Chapter Text

Codex: Well of Tears

---

The last words of Vera Allery, a Seeker of Truth who read from the Fell Grimoire and spoke to [REDACTED]

--

I asked the spirit what the Well of Tears was. The book said it was a transcription of what was recorded in the Well, and that didn't make sense. Wells are for water, wet, wetting, wetted. Not for knowing, knowledge, kneading into your brain. But -- ah, sorry, it's hard to breathe. Breaking. Buckling. Laid bare bearing the weight of truth. Am I still making sense?

I'm sorry.

The spirit, [REDACTED], he said that the Wells were repositories, storing stories of liminal lifetimes. The weight of the memories built upon layers until they form a liquid. Drink, drank, drunk -- and they live on through you. The healer said when I tasted blood it would end soon, right? Got to hurry. Harried, hastened, hobbled by death coming soon.

I'm so cold.

They all had their Wells. Sorrow, Pain, Regret, and the like. Tears, it was -- who doused the candles? Oh. Tears, right. Tears was -- what he was born from. His mother was in so much pain -- he called his Well Tears to remember. Did they all do that? Name their Wells that way to remember, recall, relive the feeling?

Maker, why is it so dark? Dreary, dim, devoid of light. Andraste, why is it so cold?

Please, I'm so cold.

---

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty: Hunting Prep

---

Tallis

She was less than ten feet away from an unleashed Saarebas who had her entire government working themselves to death to try and avoid reprisals from. Tallis had opted to stay near Hawke on the carriage ride through the Vinmark mountains to Chateau Haine, and unfortunately the Saarebas, Ketojan they called him, had been in there already.

She tried to avoid looking at him, or getting his direct attention -- the Ariqun had been insistent that the Saarebas was extremely dangerous. Which is why they’d sent an elven convert on the mission where killing him was a side objective. If she died, nothing of value would be lost.

Of course, it made her primary objective all the harder.

She did her level best to keep her unease at a minimum, and chatted pleasantly with Hawke and her friends while they rolled through the mountain pass. “You’d think Nevarra would be more concerned with Orlaiseans having fortified homes near their border,” she started one such conversation with Hawke -- the noblewoman seemed very militant, but pleasantly so. Not like the Antaam, but like a Hisraad sorta person.

“Oh, I imagine they are.” Hawke shook her head. “It probably greatly upsets them -- but Kirkwall and Nevarra are already unsure on if they’re still married. Best to ignore their brief tryst with Orlais than try to address it.” She casually dropped historical tidbits wrapped up in gutter language, an odd mix of her origins. Like a turtle carried its shell, she carried Fereldan low-humor.

Oddly cute.

“Great,” Tallis said and leaned against the back of her seat. “Now I’m imagining Viscount Dumar and the King of Nevarra as lovers on the rocks. That’s a thing you’ve forced me to imagine.”

“Oh damnit,” the pirate-friend of Hawke’s, the one who had stolen the Tome but Tallis couldn’t confront her on, covered her eyes and leaned forward. “Now I’m imagining it too. Bugger me, they make an ugly couple.”

“Oh come on, Dumar wasn’t always so aggressively weak.” Hawke flipped her hand. “Mother had a suitor portrait of his from when he was younger -- surprisingly good looking.”

Varric and the Saarebas remained relatively quiet as the journey progressed, and the conversation went toward more the imagined relationship between Viscount Dumar and the King of Nevarra.

Isabela sighed and ran her hand through her hair. “Can we please move on from the sex life stuff? I know it’s hilarious coming from me, but I’ve seen the King of Nevarra and I don’t need to imagine the flapping noises involved.”

Hawke shuddered at the word ‘flapping’. “Aww, but we were giving Varric such good ideas for more sordid romance serials.”

The relevant dwarf chuckled. “Oh I’m not doing that for a long while. Shifty and I’ve been working on the new book -- which,” he leaned back, pleased with himself, “earned us our invitations to this event. You’re welcome, by the way.”

“Which reminds me, Varric!” Isabela pointed at him dramatically. “You didn’t tell me the new serial was based off me!”

“The main character is based off you,” the Saarebas said with one finger held up. How he he got his nails to look like talons while painted glittery colors, Tallis didn’t know. “The story is based off an older series of folk tales which Par Vollen destroyed.” His eyes casually glanced at Tallis. “It should irk them that the stories re-enter circulation, given it paints them as the villains.”

Ah, there was the very mild flavor of vengeance she’d been told to expect.

“Ooh, is Hawke doing the illustrations?” Isabela grinned ear to ear. “I hope you got my good side in the cover art.”

“Sadly, no,” Hawke said. “I’m taking a bit of a break while I stab people graciously at the moment.”

“How do you stab someone graciously?” Tallis asked with an arched brow. “Oh you poor man, here, have a solid foot of sharpened steel -- this will surely help.” She pantomimed a magnanimous noble.

“Only a foot? My good Qunari -- you need at least three, or you’ll be seen as stingy.”

So their banter went -- entertaining as they passed through small villages in the mountain passes and hilly landscapes. Sometimes they would see the northern border of the Planascene Forest and the bizarre creatures therein.

There was a massive quadrupedal animal that they could just see in shadow -- something bigger than the wagon they currently found themselves in, that could easily have made a play against them. But the beast turned and walked back into the forest -- though not before Tallis smelt a small amount of blood and heard soft whispers from the Saarebas.

“Wow, great bears are really big,” Isabela commented as her hands drifted away from her Tevinter sickles. “Coulda sworn that thing would come after us.”

“Great bears don’t last long on this side of the Waking Sea without extreme intelligence,” the Saarebas commented as he crossed one leg and took out a book. He didn’t seem to be visibly bleeding anywhere, so Tallis couldn’t be sure it had been him. The book he had also gave her a hefty distraction -- which the Saarebas drove home with a smirk. “Speaking of which, shall I bore you all with the words of the extremely intelligent Koslun?”

Suddenly, the bear seemed like the smartest person Tallis had met in the South.

--

“Hallowed are the dragons -- power incarnate. She is the queen wild world, the peak of the individual. None surpass her strength. But greatest is she, when she has young to defend -- when she has her mates to ease her burden. A dragon, alone, is powerful. A dragon, with the strength of her comrades and a future to protect, is holy. Victory is in the Qun.”

--

Sebastian

“So… no one has seen your sister’s wagon after it started to go the wrong way,” Sebastian informed his staunchest ally and closest friend in decades as they walked, arm in arm, along the train of wagons which were arrivals to Chateau Haine. It was much like his time at home in Starkhaven, when a gala was called. Only, he was alone then, and only concerned for himself. His face pinched as he imagined how his friend must have been worried. “You don’t suppose she was waylaid?”

Bethany waved to the Orlesian, Marcher, and Nevarran nobility in attendance with courtly grace. “In fairness, majesty, she is one of the single best warriors the Maker ever put on Thedas. Even if waylaid, I don’t see her being so slowed.” Once the waves were done, she rested her arm on Sebastian’s. “Now, if she’s not here by sundown, it’ll be a different story. As it is? We should continue as we intended.” She looked around and tilted her head. “There -- Madame de Fer, a staunch loyalist I’m told. Shall we begin with the most daunting potential ally?”

Sebastian would be a liar if he didn’t look out over the sea of Orlesian hats and feel a chill at the twin pointed horns of Orlais’ court Enchanter amongst them. Madame de Fer was everything Bethany cultivated in her own courtly bearing with the raw power of a dragon to back it up. “The Grand Cleric will sing your praises if you brave Madame de Fer’s direct attention to rescue her.”

“I’m sorry to say it’s not wholly for her.” Bethany calmly turned their path to gracefully intersect with the powerful mage. “The Templars need to be dealt with -- and there’s every possibility it’s only getting worse out there.”

Madame de Fer was a respected player of the Game, but none were willing to trifle with her. So she hade the host of the great hunt, Duke Prosper de Montfort, all to herself. The two of them could not be more different -- Duke Propser had a hunting outfit on, made of leathers and stiff cloth to shrug off wyvern venom and mud alike, though his hat was stylish even still. Madame de Fer wore more conventional Orlesian fashions of draping cloth and high collars -- though Sebastian could make out magic in the clothes themselves. Perhaps the Enchanter aimed to join the hunt herself?

“Ah, highness,” the thickly accented voice of the Duke greeted Sebastian as they approached. The incorrect form of address no doubt a purposeful slight. “Welcome to Chateau Haine -- your grandfather was a frequent guest of mine, though his archery never carried him through the hunt.” The Duke shook his head sadly.

“If the Maker wills it,” Sebastian responded without his hackles raised, “then I shall break that string of bad luck.” He and Bethany bowed their heads as was customary, both to the Duke and to the court Enchanter. “Your grace, your ladyship -- may I introduce the Comtess Hawke?”

“Ah, your mother has been regailing us with stories about you my dear.” Madame Vivienne de Fer graced Bethany with her complete attention.

Sebastian didn’t feel her tense up in the slightest. Maker, she was made of iron too.

“When the news reached us of your ascendance, along with that of House Fenris -- many in the capital were certain Viscount Dumar had finally gone quite mad.” Vivienne flicked her fingers dismissively. “Most would see your assumption of Comte Antioch’s titles and lands to be a naked bid for power. Yet, the stories I hear about you…. Such ambition you have, my dear.”

“Ambition is good in a young lady,” the Duke said with a coy smile. “Repairing her family’s reputation after such ignobility in her mother’s generation? As an apostate?” There was a cold gleam in his eye Sebastian didn’t like one bit. “I believe the turnips call it ‘gumption’, yes?”

Sebastian was careful to avoid visible signs of his displeasure with the slur directed at Bethany, and having her apostasy thrown in her face. But still, he felt Bethany’s fingers grip his arm slightly harder. “With how wicked the Templars of Kirkwall have been revealed to be, it’s clear that outside help became necessary.”

“Quite,” Madame Vivienne agreed with a soft tone. “It seems every week that a new garrison slips the leash, citing some farcical grievance. I was just telling the Duke about the saber rattling being done at the… White….” She covered her eyes and looked out in the direction of the forest to the south and east of the Chateau. “What in the Maker’s name?”

People turned and looked at what she pointed out -- with some people such as the Duke taking out monoculars to see it better. Over the trees there was something moving -- thick as a tree trunk but taller than the evergreens on the mountainside. A strange trumpetting cry carried down the mountain and startled many birds from their roosts. Sebastian could make out few details until it drew closer.

Red at the top, with a mottled pattern that transitioned to brown and then to grey down the neck -- odd quills at the top of its skull and down the front of its neck. Its forelimbs were longer than its hind, and its neck far outstripped its tail in length and girth. No fur or feathers covered its flesh, and seemingly tiny figures rode on its wide back by way of an improvised saddle.

One of the figures stood up on the creature’s back and waved to them.

“See?” Bethany said and gently nudged Sebastian. “She’s right as rain.” Though she had a smile, Sebastian could tell at a glance that Bethany was less than pleased with the development. “She just needed to capture everyone’s attention on arrival is all.”

--

“Riding in on an extinct animal loud enough to get every wyvern for miles agitated. I rather like this Hawke. She should be entertaining, for a turnip.”

--

Varric

As expected, the handsome dwarf was the center of everyone’s attention. The nobles were so enraptured by him that they mostly failed to realize Shift had changed his shape from something called ‘brachiosaur’ to Qunari.

When they’d first reached the end of the pass, and a village that hadn’t had a working route to Chateau Haine since the Second Blight, Shifty had opted to take a massive shape and ferry them across. Who knew something so big could climb almost vertical surfaces by dint of denting a mountainside?

Regardless, it was a story he was happy to regale to the nobles as a warm-up to the reveal which got them their invite in the first place.

“And now, because Duke Prosper’s been such a good customer and helped me recover my good name in Orlais,” Varric built up to the big reveal and gestured for Shifty to drop the crate. “I have a gift for all of you. A secret draft of my next serial.” Varric smirked at many pretty noblewomen as they gossipped about what it could possibly be. Once Shifty had pried open the box, he took a simple paper-bound text from the top -- one of many -- and held it up. “Pirates of the Boeric: The Curse of the Golden Wind. It’s only a draft, and only for the first half -- but….” He held the copy out, limp-wristed, and fought back a chuckle as three Orlesians broke out into an actual fistfight to claim it.

Bruised and bloody Fifi de Launcet ended up the owner, and made her getaway before anyone told her mother she’d headbutted someone for part of a book. That girl would go places, Varric guessed. A jail cell was at least one of them, sometime later in her life.

“Alright folks, everyone grab a copy!” Varric passed out the copies to the nobility, content that he’d ended the sample at exactly the right spot to hook them into buying the finished copy. Giving out advanced copies wasn’t usually his thing -- but his books sold so damn well in Orlais that getting his audience excited seemed prudent. Bartrand had suggested it.

Shifty tapped him on the shoulder and blocked out the sun leaning down to Varric’s ear to whisper. “Tell them about Isabela -- it’ll put them off their game before the hunt.”

“Shifty,” Varric whispered as if to chide him. “Are you implying we skew the hunt towards our friend’s victory? How un-Andrastian of you.” But all the while, he smiled ear to ear. “Ladies and gentlemen -- as you’re reading, I’d like you to meet the person who inspired the main character from this serial. Captain Isabela!” Varric gestured beyond the gaggle of nobles, who turned to look toward Isabela’s current whereabouts.

Which happened to be cozying up to a powdered handmaiden for a noblewoman with a drink in her hand and impure intent in her eyes. Once she noticed everyone looking at her -- she whispered something to the handmaiden which drove the poor girl as red as rare steak.

Immediately the Rivaini and her new friend were surrounded by people hounding her for spoilers and autographs. It made for decent entertainment while they waited for the hunt to actually start.

It all seemed rather rude of Duke Prosper -- to make everyone arrive and then hunt wyverns immediately after travel. Some guests, his friends, had arrived well in advance to enjoy his hospitality and were well-rested for the hunt. Some, on the other hand, were already exhausted.

Thanks to Shifty, their group was more rested than most -- if a little sore in the saddle.

When they met up at the forest’s edge with Bethany and her posse, Hawke let them know what was happening. “Right, sister,” Hawke said as they conspired under an evergreen tree, “Duke Prosper is about to receive some stolen goods from a Qunari defector -- goods which they desire back.” She indicated Tallis, who bowed to the other group. “Our esteemed friend has, on pain of death should she lie, told us that the Ariqun and Arigena have promised us a favor in exchange for its safe return.”

“Whatever this is,” Bethany said with narrowed eyes, “it must be extremely valuable for them to make such a promise.”

“It is,” Tallis said and produced a scroll from her bag. She unrolled it on the ground and revealed a sketch of an orb on a cushion, its surface etched like rippling water. “This is the Heart of the Many, it’s a magical gemstone that the Qun wants kept locked up in a vault forever. Sallit, the thief, is going to give it to Prosper in exchange for protection.”

“Shifty,” Varric waved him closer with two fingers, “you know anything about this?”

“I do.” The oxman leaned over them and tapped the scroll. “It’s made of lyrium, and while they give it a flowery name, it’s better known as a Qamek.” He arched his brow at Tallis. “I honestly expected Sallit to trade information rather than something Prosper could easily use on him.”

That visibly unnerved Tallis. “You, ah, know each other?”

“Oh yes. Sallit and I have been writing to each other for years.” The oxman snorted and stood up straight. “Qunari names are titles, a Sallit is the head of the ‘Dangerous Actions’ branch of their secret police.”

“Hold a moment,” Bethany held up a hand. “Isn’t Qamek that poison which turns people into mindless laborers.”

“Yes,” Tallis and Shifty answered at once.

“It’s been their word for lyrium this whole time?”

“Yes,” they answered together again. “Though the context doesn’t translate as well,” Ketojan added with a raised finger. “For instance, you can call it ‘a’ Qamek, but you can’t say ‘a’ lyrium. One refers to a finished product, while the other refers to raw material.”

“As lovely as grammatical lessons in Qunlat are,” Hawke cut in with her usual snark, “what I take from this is that Prosper getting ahold of this orb would be a frightfully poor decision. How shall we proceed?”

Sunshine shared a look with Choir Boy, as if she was apologizing without words. She smiled weakly when Choir Boy did so with greater strength. Forgiveness without words. “Duke Prosper holds a special feast after the hunt -- with those who have killed wyverns honored greatly, and a special prize for the one who kills the largest creature.” She explained quickly, as if time were of the essence. Or perhaps, as if her nerve would fail her any moment. “That grand champion also is given the royal treatment, and as much of the Duke’s time as they wish. I intended to use it to help push politics.” She sighed, and glanced again at Sebastian, and the strangers she had with her in her posse. “But this is more important."

“The Maker wouldn’t want such a terrible weapon on the loose in such a time, Bethany,” Choir Boy explained gently, as if she were a parishioner of his. “It’d be too easy for fearful men to steal the minds away from people. A Tranquility that I don’t think even your odd ritual could break.”

Varric narrowed his eyes, and remembered an offhand remark Broody had made to him about Shifty and Qamek, though he couldn’t recall exactly how it went.

“If it’s worth anything, the Qun doesn’t want that either.” Tallis rolled up her scroll and put it away. “Well then, shall we?”

“Right then, Isabela?” Hawke directed her attention to the pirate amongst them. “We’ve got five people here, and I’m strict on my four-man-band setup. Would you be alright staying at the Chateau and casing the place for our robbery?”

Varric scoffed, in mock hurt. “What, you think I can’t do it?”

“I was going to offer to you if Isabela had her heart set on fighting wyverns, Varric, don’t fuss.”

Isabela’s eyes were mischievous as she joined in on the fun. “Oh, I see how it is. I don’t have a repeating crossbow like Bianca, so naturally I’m the first one to cut.”

Hawke rolled her eyes, though the smile she wore made it clear she knew they were playing.

“If it interests you,” Shifty said as he turned away from the group. “Duke Prosper happens to own a handcrossbow made in Bianca’s style. I don’t know if she’s another Davri original, but….” He shrugged, and walked away with the implication hanging there.

While Isabela gushed at the possibility of stealing such a crossbow, Varric felt his mood dampen. She’d… made another? After she promised not to? He looked over his shoulder at Bianca, and the sad face he saw in the reflection of her steel seemed to come from the crossbow too. Another broken promise for the pile, it seemed.

---

Look, I’m like, really not with it right now -- you guys can create your own pondering orb jokes yeah?

Chapter Text

Codex: Help

---

A letter in a bottle, with bloody fingerprints along the parchment. Found adrift off the coast of Seheron, 6:55 Steel.

-

If you read this message, I implore you to stay far away from the fogs on Seheron when there are no birds.

We came to the island to reinforce the colonies from Qunari aggression, but we found their camps in disarray. Everyone thought that the jungle cats and terror birds had gotten the better of them -- but the Praetor grew concerned when we found their bodies. Bits and pieces of them, anyway. Like something big had been in their camp and gobbled them up.

I saw its footprints in the mud once. Maker, what a sight.

It hunted us when the fog was thick, and when there were no birds.

It wasn't what it seemed though -- it could change its shape. Mercon went to take a piss and we heard it take him. I heard his scream cut off by a crunch.

Only, he showed up at camp later that night. All smiles, as if nothing was wrong. When the Praetor drew steel on him, Mercon picked him up like he weighed nothing, and carried him out into the forest. Again, a scream cut off by a crunch.

We saw the Praetor in the fog a few times after that. Men kept going missing. We'd see them, or we'd hear them. It lured us out by mimicking their voices, calling out for help. Maker bless the men, they jumped at calls for help -- even when the Captains told them not to.

By the time they ordered us back to the ships -- it was too late. We were so few, it didn't need to play with us anymore. The next fog -- it waded into us with a big shape that could go invisible it seemed. White as bone. I got away by luck and nothing else.

The fog hasn't lifted -- and I can hear it out there. It mimics the voices of my dead friends, calling out for me like they're worried for me. The birds around me are still singing, but when they stop I'm going to chuck this bottle as hard as I can.

It hunts in the fog, when no birds are sounding. It will wear your friend's faces to kill and eat you. The Maker help you if you find yo--

(The message cuts off abruptly).
---

I was telling a friend about how useful codex entries were for information that doesn't fit the ongoing scene, and this happened. Woo!

Chapter Text

Codex: Painted Face

---

A whispered conversation between two exiled Dalish, both Keepers in their own way. Subject identifiers: D.01-M, D.01-L

--

D.01M.01: "Why don't you have any vallaslin?"

D.01L.01: "The easy answer is that no one remembers what the pattern I'd wear looked like."

D.01M.02: "And the not-so-simple answer?"

D.01L.02: "...Why do you want to know? The arlathvhen would throw you out if you ever tried to tell them."

D.01M.03: "Maybe. Maybe not. Not all Keepers are like.... The point is that some would listen. Some would understand that the more we know, the better off we'll be."

D.01L.03: "You're an idealist. That'll get you stabbed, down the road."

D.01M.04: "I'm not stupid. I know how to dodge."

[D.01L laughs for an estimated ten seconds]

D.01L.04: "Alright. Well, the more complex answer is that they mean different things to us. I'm told you black-faced Dalish use them to claim a connection to the gods, a mark of adulthood. We red-faced Dalish use them to connect to concepts. They say what we value, not who."

D.01M.05: "You don't use vallaslin to mark adults, then?"

D.01L.05: "No. But you can't take them until you're grown, so I guess it does the same thing. It's... like saying a long braid of hair is a mark of being grown, while in order to grow that much hair you'd have to be. Your gods were all barefaced, while ours wore their marks with us."

D.01M.06: "So, what do they...?"

D.01L.06: "Mean? Saebonshae's naturally mean memory, or victory in battle. Your pattern is sort of... muddled? Like where you got it from must have had an incomplete picture. A red-faced Dalish wouldn't know if you dedicated yourself to remembrance or to always win a fight."

D.01M.07: "You sounded, for a second there, like you weren't one."

D.01L.07: "...I don't really feel like one, anymore. Me and my crew haven't been to any gatherings of the red-faced Dalish. Near as I can tell, there are none this far East. We're alone."

D.01M.08: "...Maybe we should go back to what we were originally talking about and -- oh. You're writing them down."

D.01L.08: "Yeah. I... don't know how to pronounce some of these words, it's easier to just write them."

D.01M.09: "You said you don't know your god's pattern? What would it represent?"

D.01L.09: "...Before I answer that question, I want you to know I will leave if you start giggling like a hyena."

D.01M.10: "Oh my. Is it something dirty?"

D.01L.10: "Why do you have you say it like that? I... would wear the marks of Daern'thal on my face -- since he's who me and my Keeper prayed to. It's why I'm a sailor -- or I used to be. Daern'thal's the god of the sea, and I would wear his mark for how much I love the sea."

D.01M.11: "...You're hiding something, aren't you? You wouldn't get all flustered for something as benign as that."

D.01L.11: "...He's... also the god of life, and... how it comes to be."

D.01M.12: "How it comes to be? Well, he's a man so it's unlikely to be birth -- oh."

D.01L.12: "Yeah. Hey. Hey! I warned you about the giggling!"

D.01M.13: "I can't help it! You're the one who's chosen to be a Keeper of the sex god!"

D.01L.13: "Sea god! Sea! Here's your list, I'm gone. I'll see you next week! ...And stop giggling at me!"

---

I've been playing Destiny 2 a lot, and reading Grimoire cards to get better at these. How's it look?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One: The Third Hawke

---

“Who will I be? When I go back?”

“For better, or for worse, you will be you.”

--

Hawke

“So we split up -- with each mage throwing up a flare if they engage a wyvern,” Hawke told her group and Bethany’s as she paced in front of a tree. “Efforts to sabotage other hunters, for or against?”

“Against,” Bethany’s beau, Sebastian Vael, voiced quickly. “Wyverns are tricky enough to hunt already -- these men don’t need our help to fail.”

“Any for?” Hawke looked among the faces familiar and not, and saw no sentiments contrary to Sebastian’s. “Againsts have it, next on the docket -- do we rescue them if they need it?”

“Against,” Tallis piped up. “A lot of these guys would accuse us of stealing their kill -- get us thrown out. If they’re fighting a wyvern, it’s on them.”

As expected the very moral Chantry Brother turned Prince-in-Exile took a dim view of such pragmatism. “We cannot simply leave people to die.”

“There are more than wyverns in these mountains,” spoke one of Bethany’s crew, an Ox-man Hawke knew as Katari. Bethany’s answer to Ketojan was a Tal-Vashoth mercenary in her employ -- a big man wielding a respectable two-handed axe, with his chest and face covered in blue vitaar. Katari stamped the ground. “Little creatures, ghasts, scurry underground. Dragons prowl the skies.” He swept his hand grandly in an upward direction. “We can save people from those, and leave them to wyverns.”

“An… acceptable compromise.” Tallis nodded and looked to Sebastian. “Agreed?”

“...Agreed.” Sebastian crossed his arms, his face pinched in displeasure. Even pouting, he was handsome.

“Then it’s agreed.” Hawke nodded to herself, and extended her hand to Bethany. The sisters shook, the deal was struck. “Don’t be proud if it goes pear-shaped, Bethany.”

Her sister arched a fine eyebrow dangerously high. “I’m not Carver, you know.” Bethany either didn’t notice or didn’t react to how the sudden dropping of their brother’s name startled Hawke. “I’m not so desperate to do this myself that I turn away help. You don’t go getting yourself in so much trouble that I can’t rescue you.”

Hawke shook off her surprise and smiled as her ego demanded. “I don’t think it’s possible to get in that much trouble.”

She felt an awful chill run down her spine as soon as she finished. Perhaps it was that strange duck-egg dish Ketojan had made for them earlier in the morning not agreeing with her.

--

“Will I remember? All of it?”

“The good, and the bad. Just as promised.”

--

Bethany

They were getting ready to split up when Ketojan suddenly appeared in Bethany’s path. In his hand, he had the wooden egg she had packed up with her. There was no time to put it in the vault back home before she went on the road.

“How did you -- “ Bethany asked, her eyebrows pinched together before she was cut off by the Oxman shoving it in her face.

“It won’t hatch without being near you. And on this mountain, every advantage must be used.” Ketojan held up one talon-nailed finger as if to reprimand her. “Carry it in your bag, if nothing else.”

Sebastian, Katari, and the fourth member of Bethany’s group -- a dwarven outcast from Orzammar named Phogoth -- all looked at her with various expressions of confusion or worry.

“What will it even hatch into?” Bethany sighed as she held the pulsing wooden object. If she so much as felt a prick of barbwood grow into her skin, she would chuck it.

“A sylvan, of course. But not like what you’ve read about in books. A benevolent spirit rests within, and will emerge once it has attuned to you.”

“Demon magic,” Katari muttered under his breath.

Ketojan’s eyes were the only thing that moved in Katari’s direction, but the slightly taller Oxman flinched back all the same at meeting them. “The sylvan will help -- I made sure it was seeded with positive emotions and memories.”

“Can’t you tell me what this is a spirit of,” Bethany swung her pack around so that she could place the egg within and asked with exasperation. Why did he always have to make things creepy or complicated? Was it an addiction of his?

“It’s not a ‘what’. It’s a ‘who’.” Ketojan shrugged. “Through the Fade they walk, feet firmly planted in the path Andraste tread to reach the Maker. And with them will they dwell.”

Bethany paused in her egg-storing while she and Sebastian exchanged a shocked look. “You know the chant of light?”

“Despite how often I read from the Tome to people, I’m not a Qunari. I read all kinds of religious texts.” The Oxman turned and walked away once the egg was deposited. “I’m not going to spoil the surprise. Good luck out there.”

“So we’re setting it on fire, yeah?” Katari asked as soon as Ketojan was out of earshot. “The demon egg? We’re burning it, right?”

“Not until it proves itself a threat.” Bethany left no room for argument as she righted her bag and stamped her staff into the ground. “Alright, let’s go.”

They wandered through the mountainous forests in search of their prey. Bethany didn’t see much of her sister for a while -- Marian helped an Orlesian man find his lost mabari hounds, and rescued a couple men from ghasts. As Bethany looked down on the ghast battle from on high, she was afraid that Marian and her friends might be overwhelmed by the knee-high green-skinned goblins. But Ketojan became a swarm of wasps and turned the tables on them right away.

Bethany turned her back on the fight, confident that the fight would resolve itself in her sister’s favor. She had work to do. Bethany wanted to catch up with some of the men Marian had helped, spin their gratitude into a favor perhaps, but someone had to hunt the wyverns.

Instead, they found dragons. A couple winged juveniles and many, many dragonlings, but no mature female or adult drakes. Once their group had gotten over the shock of their appearance, it was actually relatively simple to rout them.

Phogoth wiped the blood out of her blonde hair as she walked among the corpses. Bethany left her to it as she worked with Sebastian and Katari to determine which would attract a wyvern -- a winged dragon, or a dragonling. The debate of ‘defend territory’ versus ‘hunt prey’ as the wyvern’s motivation was of chief importance at the time.

“Hey, um, miss?” Phogoth called out to Bethany from among the corpses. When Bethany turned to her, the dwarven sword-and-boarder kicked one of the nearby corpses. “Um. There are no males in this group. None, at all. Not juveniles, not dragonlings -- none.”

Bethany’s instincts honed in on those details as she hastily reached into her bag for a vial. “We need to get a sample of this, and test it back at Kirkwall. Katari, get me a decently large bone would you?” When the Oxman pried it free of its flesh, Bethany wrapped it and put it into her bag along with a full vial of collected blood. “Marian ran into something like this years ago -- and this is the only other time we’ve encountered something like this.”

It had also informed Ketojan’s experiments which resulted in a wooden egg in her bag. So distracted was Bethany that she didn’t notice the egg had grown larger.

“The Maker has odd taste in omens, of late,” Sebastian said while he looked over the field of slain dragons. “The Duke would look favorably on us donating some of this to him -- dragon bone is greatly valued by the nobility.”

“That’s the first sensible thing I’ve heard about your nobility,” Katari muttered as he patted off his knees. “Ten years, literally the first -- “ he paused, then started running. “Flare! Flare!

Bethany whipped around and saw a bright red streak of light, like a rocket of prismatic powder, shoot up into the sky. Without words she, Sebastian, and Phogoth, all ran after Katari at full speed. With reckless abandon, they ran off the paths through the forest and into the trees, clambering over rocks with Bethany’s magic, and up the side of a mountain.

Marian had taken her group almost exactly in the opposite direction Bethany took hers -- a decision she desperately wished to chide her over assuming her sister still lived. She didn’t want to look at Marian the way she’d looked at Carver. She didn’t want Mother to blame her for Marian’s death. She didn’t want to lose another sibling.

“Andraste, ever present, ever forgiving, guide us with speed to our friends,” Sebastian prayed as he ran. “See us to their sides in time to beat back death, amen.”

Bethany’s force magic kept them from falling too far behind Katari -- but he still spotted them first.

“Arcane Horror,” he shouted as he lowed his head for a goring attack. The man’s impressive horns saw work often with his charges.

Bethany overlaid a barrier on him as he sped up to charge, and ducked out of her line of sight. When she and the other slower members of her group caught up they saw a clearing -- an altar built of stone at its center, surrounded by brown-robed figures dead on the ground. She saw Varric at the edge of the clearing, pulling an unconscious Tallis by the back of her vest with one hand while he aimed Bianca with the other.

She looked around for the Arcane Horror -- a mage’s corpse possessed by a demon -- and missed it until she looked up. About forty-feet off the ground, it floated, its figure similar to a Qunari in proportions while it was dressed like an Avvar in furs and leathers. All around it, rocks floated in the air -- which Bethany saw Katari use to jump up toward it.

Already on those rocks was Marian, leaping from boulder to boulder to grow close enough for an attack. “Sister! Join the party!”

Where was Ketojan, though? She could hardly spare a moment to look for him, though. While Katari benefited from a barrier, Bethany wove a spell of telekinetic force around Sebastian and Phogoth’s weapons. Sebastian could get to work peppering the Horror with arrows, while Phogoth had to follow Katari’s lead.

Bethany, a dedicated student of force magic, cast a spell of her own making on Phogoth to help the Dwarf close the gap. Bounce. Like springs had been put in her heels, Phogoth could leap up and between the rocks to shield bash the Horror.

“Blessed Andraste, bride of the Maker, sharpen our weapons that we may end this poor creature’s suffering,” Sebastian prayed while he shot it repeatedly.

Arcane Horrors weren’t durable, but they were powerful. As Marian and Katari moved in to attack together, the possessed corpse casually caught the weapons inches from its outstretched hands with magic. The two warriors were slammed into each other telekinetically and then thrown toward the ground.

Bethany darted ahead with a dashing spell called Fade Step and caught the two of them before they hit the ground. Her magic righted them and put them near the rocks so they could jump up again. But in so doing, she’d drawn the Horror’s direct attention.

Empty eye sockets with pinpricks of white light looked down at her while the Horror’s hand collected fire. Luckily for Bethany, Phogoth finally bounced her way up to the Horror and caused the explosive ball aimed at her to miss. Slightly.

Rather than strike her dead-on, it hit the ground behind her. Bethany was sent flying, as her pack tore open from the force and spilled its contents everywhere. She was sent flying toward the edge of the clearing and saw the steep side of the mountain there for a horrifying second. Fortunately, one of the floating rocks was nearby -- and was irregular enough for her to catch onto it rather than bounce down the mountainside. She had to ditch her staff to use both hands for it.

“Sunshine, you okay?!” Varric called from the other side of the clearing, in the midst of pouring a potion down Tallis’ throat.

“I’m good!” She replied as she looked around for the others.

Phogoth’s speed with the bounce spell was too much for the Horror to keep up with, it seemed. Which in turn provided Marian and Katari openings to get in attacks of their own. With Sebastian’s arrows locking up the Horror’s joints, it seemed everything was going well.

Until the blasted creature played them all for fools. Katari and Marian were about to attack from either side when the creature rose straight up through the air faster than Bethany could fade step. Marian’s sword dug into Katari’s horn while Katari’s axe buried itself in Marian’s flank. For the Oxman, it was just an annoyance -- but for Hawke….

For Bethany, it seemed like time slowed down. She saw Marian’s shock, the red leak out from the axe wound, and how both of them started to fall. She wasn’t a great healer, but Bethany tried to tell how easily she could heal that wound. Ketojan could do it easily -- but where was he?!

The Horror looked down on them, even higher up. Too high to see if its half-rotted face had changed expression. But it didn’t matter to Bethany.

She held her hands up and magicked the two warriors to the ground so she could start to heal.

“Sunshine, can you take the rocks so Shifty can fix Hawke up?!” Varric shouted again, while Bethany pushed aside Marian’s hands to get at the wound -- there was so much blood.

“The flaming pit do you mean take the rocks?!” Simple healing spells weren’t working -- it just sealed the skin for a moment before it split open again. How did Anders do this?!

“Use magic to hold the rocks!”

Was that what Ketojan had been doing the whole time?! Holding rocks in the air so people could melee the horror?! Bethany was a bit frayed mentally, so she forced herself to stop healing Marian and focused on the boulders around her. Her magic reached out, sapping the bounce from Phogoth, the telekinetic weapon spell from both her and Sebastian, and the barrier on Katari.

As soon as she did, all the boulders sank a solid ten feet in the air, as the crushing weight of the spell hit Bethany like a punch in the jaw. From out of the nearby trees rushed Ketojan to kneel next to Hawke.

Bethany tried not to look at the wound as Ketojan bit his thumb and wove bloody spells to seal the wound. In so doing, she noticed that Varric suddenly brought Bianca up with an ‘oh shit’ expression on his face.

A puff of air and sudden shadow reminded Bethany that the Horror was still in play. She looked over her shoulder as the impassive corpse pointed at her and gathered a bead of pure white magic on its finger. The same impassive white which lingered in its empty eyes. Whatever spirit lingered in the corpse -- it felt nothing as it prepared to kill her.

A screeching cry broke through to Bethany -- followed by a feathered creature that dove at the Horror’s face. A red-tailed hawk had dove down and begun to tear at the Horror, beating its wings and slashing with claws. All as it screamed as only hawks could.

“I’ll carve your face for hurting her, blighter!” For a moment, Bethany thought she must be mad -- it sounded like she had heard Carver’s voice.

The Horror tried to gently push the bird aside -- something odd for the undead, but the hawk kept at it. Even when the Horror flew back into the air, the bird beat its wings to chase after it.

“You think you can run?! I’ll chase you down like a mabari!”

“There,” Ketojan said as he withdrew his hands from Marian’s side. “Right as rain. I’ll take the rocks now.” He spread his hands like he held something across his shoulders, and the boulders shot back up to their usual height.

Bethany felt relief, not having to bear the weight of the rocks, and quickly checked Katari now that she wasn’t occupied. “All good?”

Katari had been trying to pry Hawke’s Qunari sword from his horn -- if he hadn’t had Bethany’s barrier, he might have lost it entirely, and only managed it when Marian got up to help.

“This whole thing’s going proper pear-shaped,” the Oxman muttered as he picked up his bloody axe. “Let’s kill that thing quickly.”

Bethany looked up, and saw the Horror completely distracted by the hawk which assailed it. No matter what, the corpse seemed to refuse to hurt it -- all it managed was to push the bird away briefly, not a single attempt to counterattack. “Well, it’s distracted. Get up there and take its head off.”

“Way ahead of you,” called the actual Qunari in their midst. Back on her feet after Varric’s potion, Tallis jumped between the boulders just as easily as Phogoth had with the bounce spell. Before Marian and Katari could even get onto the boulders again, Tallis had her daggers out and lept at the Horror.

With the hawk distracting it, Tallis had an easy time slashing the Horror’s neck in two places. The head, body, and a slice of neck flew apart as Tallis fell down to a lower boulder. The body continued to move for a moment -- its hands reached up to where its head was, before the corpse finally went limp and fell.

The body fell into the clearing, along with the cross-section of neck, while the skull bounced down the side of the mountain.

The boulders Ketojan held in the air shifted into two groups right away. The four that their friends rode on gently settled onto the ground and dug into the soil so that they would be stable enough to jump off of. The other group harshly crashed down on the Horror’s body and left it buried in an impromptu cairn.

Bethany checked her people over, she put her healing magic to work on the gash in Katari’s horn and looked Phogoth over for any damage. Meanwhile, Ketojan did the same for his group -- Varric and Tallis were subject to more healing magic, though Marian occupied herself with pouting.

“This doesn’t prove your point that small swords are valid,” she said to the elf amongst them.

“I think it does,” Tallis responded, sing-song.

Sebastian arrived, his quiver half-empty of arrows, out of breath. “Is everyone alright?”

“We’re fine,” Phogoth muttered as she sheathed her blade. “Thanks for the save with the bird, though.”

“Bird? That hawk?” Sebastian shook his head. “It wasn’t my doing.”

“You didn’t pray to your Maker and He sent that bird?”

“No -- well, yes, I did pray, and yes the Maker undoubtedly sent it, but….” He shrugged. “I’m no mage. I can’t just magic hawks to appear.”

Bethany looked up to try and see if the hawk remained in the air. She didn’t see it aloft, but she saw it sitting on a boulder near the ruins of her pack. “Oh heavens, the samples!” She rubbed her forehead as she approached. “Maker -- the blood’s all gone and the bone’s missing!”

The hawk opened its mouth and chirped at her. “Nice to see you too. You’re welcome, by the way.” Carver’s voice again.

Bethany shook her head. “Ketojan, can you look at me? I think that fireball messed my head up -- I’m hearing things.”

The flamboyant Oxman approached, looked at her, the hawk, and crossed his arms. “I don’t think you are.”

The hawk chirped again. “Oh, wait, you didn’t tell her?”

“I wanted it to be a surprise.”

“Ketojan, stop talking to birds,” Marian snapped, annoyed while Tallis grinned ear to ear. “You’re giving them notions of being people.”

Again, the hawk chirped. “She can’t understand me?”

“Not naturally, the way Bethany can.” Ketojan shrugged. “Give it time, and practice -- you might learn to speak like a human again. You’re magic now -- plenty of trees learn to speak with magic.”

Bethany looked from Ketojan, to the hawk, to Ketojan again. His encouraging smile told her she was missing something. Then, like a candle lit in darkness, it became clear.

The spirit in the egg was a ‘who’, not a ‘what’. And she was hearing Carver’s voice.

The hawk chirped. “I know that look, she’s figured it out!”

Bethany looked at the hawk, heard the voice of her dead brother, and felt light as a feather. “Carver?”

“Alright Shifty, enough’s enough. Fix her up before she makes herself look silly.” Varric was clearly tired of all the nonsense which had happened in the last half hour.

The hawk chirped. “In the… magical living wood. Doesn’t work as nice as flesh.” With a wingbeat, the hawk took to the sky and shifted shape. Seemingly natural feathers became redwood as the hawk froze in a pose of wings folded to his sides -- atop a long, slender staff that grew out of his feet. Covered in a sanguine glow, the hawk staff floated to Bethany’s side and slipped into her hand. “Took me a while, but I found my way back.”

“With some help,” Ketojan added, along with rolled eyes.

“Shut it, you.”

All too much, much too fast, Bethany’s eyes rolled into her head and she fainted dead away.

--

“And how do I know this isn’t a trick?”

“Because my tricks make people laugh. You are utterly humorless -- so, no trick.”

“Hey!”

---

Guess who’s back. Back again. Carver’s back. Palisman.