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Dawn of the Magic Age

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***The Grand Cathedral***

"The prisoners have escaped!"

The panic that ensued was swarming, the culmination of everything Thedas had feared since the attack in Kirkwall. The Grand Cathedral swelled with waves of people trying to flee, but something or someone was barring all the doors.

Divine Justinia V stood atop the red central staircase as her eyes swept the room. She was waiting for the first strike; for the mages to begin torching the banners, crumbling the statues, and murdering the inhabitants. She knew it was a bad idea to allow the Champion of Kirkwall and his apostate lover to stay locked up with the general population, and now she was paying the price for her mistake.

She had tried so hard to prevent this. When the Templars responded to the Mage Rebellions with equal parts slurs and blood she tried to stop them; all of them. Everyone used their version of Andraste's teachings as their sword or staff, however. The mages and their sympathizers cried out that magic could help man if their kind were just treated with respect and decency. Those who feared magic, and even some mages who feared themselves, cried that the term was "serve," and servitude could not be accomplished without something to balance the inherent, unfair advantage that all mages had, especially when they can be seduced by blood magic.

And through it all what hurt most was knowing the truth, but that was a pain Justinia had promised to bear until the day she died. She had kept the one secret that all Divines kept, and she had guarded it with every part of her; as if she'd buried it so deep within herself that one would have to crack open her chest to read it etched in the bone there. It was such a highly-evolved lie; nurtured throughout time by an opposing mix of fear and good intentions. By the time she had risen to the position of Divine, it was the entire basis of the Andrastian faith. They were no longer about devotion to the Maker and goodwill towards all living things. They were no longer about charity and sacrifice. They had become the anti-mage force of Thedas; little more than an army with a pretty chant. Who were they if they were not the disciples of a martyr oppressed by the abuses of magic?

Justinia saw the crowd begin to part and waited for what she expected to be Anders at the forefront of an angry mob of mages, his skin crackling with possession as had been described to her in Sebastian's letters. No sooner had she thought of the prince then he was by her side, bow in hand as his eyes searching the crowd for a target to shoot at.

Anders did indeed arrive, but he was not leading, nor was it a full-on rebellion. Instead he stood beside two women, one of whom was a petite Dalish woman with a mousey demeanor that betrayed her insecurities. The Champion of Kirkwall soon joined them and reunited them with their staffs before claiming to "borrow" a set of daggers from a fleeing Andrastian.

The woman who was leading them almost evaded Justinia's notice entirely. It was Sebastian's eyes which gave away her location and her importance. The Divine watched as Sebastian reached back to pinch an arrow, but she wasn't sure if the language of his posture implied he was attacking her or protecting her.

The leader was tall, with matted, sandy hair that was poorly cared for. Her skin, obviously darkened and dried by a lifetime the sun, as well as her muscular build, made it hard to believe she was a mage. That disbelief was quickly put to rest, however, when a ripple of force magic knocked back those in her way. Justinia looked to Sebastian for answers, or at least protection, but found that the man was still frozen by his distraction.

Justinia wasn't surprised when the elf froze two Templars mid-attack with the crippling power of blood magic. The Champion and his beloved Anders guarded the flank, and just as the small band of rebels began to seem overwhelmed, the Templar Ser Carver appeared out of nowhere to aid them in their fight.

The leader continued her way through the crowd and Justinia waited patiently. Whatever happened would happen, and it would be the Maker's will. She gulped down the bitter taste of fear but kept her spine straight and refused to break eye contact, even if her mage adversary stood nearly a head above her when they were finally only a few feet apart.

"I will give you one last chance," the woman began to say. She spoke slowly, yet with a commanding voice that fought against the chaos behind her. The accent, however, was seemingly regionless. Justinia could not for the life of her place where this woman was from. "You will tell these people the truth."

Justinia drew a terse breath in, but otherwise did not react.

"Tell them!" the woman shouted, stilling the chaotic mob as well as her companions. She pointed the blade-end of her staff at Justinia. "Tell them about your lies, about how you and those before you have perverted this faith into a tool for your own fear and bigotry. Tell them!" The woman leaned in closely and added, in a whisper that only Justinia and Sebastian could hear, "Or I will, how did you phrase it? Ah, yes, open you up and let the people read it etched on your bones."

"What manner of heresy is this?" the Divine demanded. The boundaries of blood magic were always being tested, and she would not at all have been surprised to learn that mind reading was a new talent of the maleficarum.

"Heresy?" the mage practically spit out. "This is all you do now? This is what your Chantry is for? You do not like the gifts the Maker bestows upon us- maybe it is fear, or envy, or both, I do not know- but you take your own insecurities and turn them on the blessed and called their practice of this divine ability heresy?"

Her Grace looked into the crowd and found one Templar still moving quietly toward her while the woman's hysterical ranting distracted her companions. He was close enough to make eye contact in a way that asked for permission to act. Justinia tried to answer without giving herself away, but her failure to do so was all too apparent when the furious mage turned and thrust the blade-end of her staff into the Templar's abdomen.

That moment was Her Grace's only opportunity to act, adrenaline humming in her veins as she pulled a small dagger out of her robe and lunged forward. It happened in rapid fragments: the woman trying to pull her staff out of bone and flesh and armor to defend against the knife that had been raised against her; Anders, Hawke and their Daelish companion trying to help despite the men being too far away and Carver reaching out to hold the elf back; and somewhere, in the mix of all this, a bowstring being pulled back and an arrow being launched.

In the crowd many hands flew up, some trying to contain shocked gasps, others shielding unbelieving eyes. No one moved for a moment, not even Divine Justinia V: the head of the Chantry for all Thedas, the White Divine, the mortal human whom the people believed spoke for the Maker and the prophet Andraste.

The woman Sebastian had just killed.

Justinia touched the arrow in her chest before looking at Sebastian one last time. Had she the strength she would have asked him why, but she could already tell by the wild shock and confusion present in his eyes that he did not even know yet why he had betrayed the only thing he had left.

Her Grace fell to the floor, the red carpet darkening as the blood pooled around her body.

***One Month Before, Kirkwall Outskirts***

As Anders said they would, they ran. Not metaphorically, no, they pumped their legs and huffed out tired breaths for what seemed like weeks, afraid to stop while they could still see the smoke rising from the Kirkwall rebellion. When they finally did stop, they slept on and off for almost two straight days, waking up with panicked fervor at every sound, shadow, and bad dream.

One they felt they'd rested enough, Hawke took out one of his daggers and began demonstrating to Anders the tricky art of shaving with one. He knew he couldn't get right up against his skin, but he figured anything to make them less recognizable would be best. Anders passed on the shave, but cut about four inches off his hair, giving himself a very ragged, uneven cut.

They hadn't really spoken the entire time they'd been running, and now that they had finally slept and the smoke could be ignored in the distance, Hawke made an awkward attempt at breaking the silence.

"I don't know which of us is more infamous yet, or how far word has spread, but we need to figure out how to get new clothes."

Anders looked up, his face almost startled, as if he'd just realized Hawke was even with him. He opened his mouth to answer but nothing came out. Guilty eyes fell to the ground by Hawke's feet.

"No no, don't," Hawke pleaded as he slid his fingers under Anders' chin, "I understand, I do. Why you had to do this. No Viscount, a sadistic Knight Commander, Tranquil mages that passed their Harrowings. Anders I understand. I'm with you."

Anders laced his fingers with Hawke's and he squeezed tight; tighter than Hawke was expecting and tighter than Hawke knew Anders was capable of. The mage kept taking in shaky breaths and trying to speak on his exhales, but it came out sounding like bitter laughter every time.

Finally, "I had to."

"I know," Hawke said.

"No, I had to. Not for the other mages, I had to because... something inside me had to." Anders pushed away from his lover and stumbled backward. "I don't even know what I, Anders, think or believe anymore. I don't know," he paused to stare down at his hands, "who this is."

Uselessness weighed down on Hawke so heavily that it pulled down his posture and numbed his mouth every time he tried to figure out how to comfort the only person he had left in his life. He thought he still had Carver, but despite his brother's willingness to help them fight the other Templars, in the end he still elected to stay in Kirkwall. And Carver wasn't there in the Deep Roads. Carver didn't face down the man who carved up their mother. Caver didn't even seem to have his back during the Qunari invasion. No, that was all Anders.

Hawke had been trying for years to be Anders' comfort through distraction. Tension-breaking jokes were his specialty, and he'd churn them out for hours if it made Anders smile even once. His stockpiles of sarcasm and slapstick left him severely lacking when it came to thoughtfulness in dire situations, however. There was no question that he loved Anders, but he always felt incredibly awkward expressing it. He was, at best, good for one line of serious dialogue per conversation. Once Anders responded with a question or an argument, Hawke reverted to jokes. When that didn't work he resorted to using sex to communicate anything, letting his body describe how much Anders meant to him.

Lacking any other options, Hawke did just that. He wordlessly acquainted himself with Anders' new hair and leaned in to brush his lips against the mage's cheekbone, just under his eye. Anders sighed and calmed down a bit, tilting his chin up to kiss Hawke, albeit tentatively.

Their blankets were still rolled out from the night before, and they fell diagonally across them in a way that made Hawke laugh. Anders was less amused, but Hawke did his best to slide his eyes closed and hold on to the moment like it was the only tether he had to reality.

They didn't have the energy for much, so they just pushed aside the clothing that was in their way and reached between themselves; coaxing and moaning and letting go of the world for a moment. Afterward they cleaned up at a nearby river, refilled their water canisters and gazed unknowingly at the sky.

Anders seemed to ponder something for a moment before finally grabbing his staff and heading very deliberately in what Hawke thought was just some random direction.

"Where are we going?" he finally asked.

"Orlais," Anders said.

"Why Orlais? Anders when I said we needed new clothes I didn't mean we needed new, expensive, ugly clothes."

"We're going to the Grand Cathedral."

"What? Why?"

Anders stopped and rested his body against his staff. He didn't look back at Hawke. "I don't know," he said, and Hawke didn't believe that for a moment. "I guess we'll find out when we get there."

***Sundermount***

For days, Kirkwall was little more than a ghost city. Carver had no place to go, not after he'd chosen to fight alongside his brother and against his own Order. A new shipment of Templars would soon be arriving to track them down, even if Meredith was already dead. No, especially because Meredith was already dead.

He'd thought about just shedding the blasted armor and ridding himself of the loud and infamous Templar seal, but he was forced to admit his issued equipment was far superior to anything else he was going to find in Kirkwall. An empty coin purse and a war-torn continent pressured him into keeping the seal on.

In any other situation, his betrayal of his brethren to aid a terrorist apostate would have gotten him executed, but in the context of recent events he was a drop of water in an ocean. Instead of being clapped in irons, he was ignored and allowed to fight his way out of the city gates until he was able to just... leave. Wander, really.

While grasping for a place to run to, Carver recalled the trip he took with his brother up Sundermount over six years before. At best it'd be empty by now, if the Dalish were smart, and at worst there'd only be a few xenophobic, but otherwise helpful, elves left behind.

When he arrived he found the camp empty and thoroughly looted. “Maybe that amulet is still on the alter,” he said to no one. The witch wasn't in it anymore, so she wouldn't be needing it. It made him feel like a vulture, but if Carver was going to get anywhere, he needed something to sell that wasn't his armor or his sword. If nothing else it, would give him something to do while he waited for his brother's abomination lover to inevitably end all of creation.

Even the creatures that once inhabited the cave atop the mountain seemed to have the good sense to flee. Carver made his way through the passage on guard but completely uncontested. As he reached the exit, however, he felt incredibly off balance both physically and, somehow, spiritually. He hunched over a bit and tried to catch his breath, but no matter how much air he pulled in it didn't feel like enough. Something dark was invading the area, and Carver had no choice but to drag his sword behind him as he tried to push past it.

As he neared the shrine the thick smell of blood became pungent, and when he passed through the cave exit he was met with the gruesome sight of a Dalish woman sitting cross-legged on the alter, surrounded by tall, swirling arcs of blood that shifted in the air around her. The blood was so thick and disturbing that it took Carver a few moments to realize he knew the figure.

“Merrill?"

The bloodmage didn't respond, her eyes closed and her head bowed, but as Carver fought his way closer he became more and more sure it was her. “Merrill.”

The blood in the air was beginning to splatter on the Templar's face, but he shielded his eyes with his non-weapon arm and pushed on. When he was finally arm's length away, he reached out for her shoulder and tried one last “Merrill!”

Everything froze for a moment as Merrill's bright, round eyes snapped open. With no magic keeping it in motion, the blood dropped like a short rainfall, sticking in Carver's hair. Some of it ran down the back of his neck and across his temples, but years of fighting in Ferelden and Kirkwall had left him unfazed by the sensation.

“Carver? Carver what are you doing here?” Merrill screeched. She tried to use anger and volume to hide her embarrassment, but it didn't work.

“Shouldn't I be asking you that?”

“Asking why I'm in a Dalish camp?" she inquired. Carver supposed it was a stupid question, in hindsight, but he could also tell she was deflecting her obvious use of blood magic in front of a Templar, so he steeled his expression and didn't let her sway him from his original meaning. "It's not what it looks like,” she said as she slid her feet out and stood on the ground in front of him. He'd forgotten, in their time apart, how tiny Merrill was. With his added armor, he felt like an ogre next to her.

“Really? Because it looked like blood magic.”

“I know, and it was, but everyone always seems to think I'm using blood magic to- to enslave their minds and torture their children. I was only seeking guidance from Asha'bellanar.”

“Asha'bellanar? You mean Flemeth?”

“That's what humans call her, yes. I thought maybe I could use blood magic to connect with some part of her that's still left in the amulet.” She held the artifact up and Carver resisted the urge to ask if she was done with it now. “I didn't have anywhere left to go; I needed something... someone to...” She kept trying to finish her explanation, but the tears and the tightness in her throat stopped her. Carver wondered for a moment if that wasn't why Merrill spoke so rapidly all the time; to get her thoughts out before her emotions could catch up with her.

He grimaced at her tears, not out of disgust but out of discomfort and uselessness. Merrill was by far the most confusing person he'd ever met; a terrifying bloodmage in battle and a quivering mess in social situations. His hand hovered awkwardly near her face, then her shoulder, and eventually just dropped by his side again, abandoning any attempt to comfort her. An obnoxious voice in back of his head pointed out that he and Merrill weren't all that dissimilar in their oxymoron combination of weaknesses.

“Well, uh, did you... talk?... to her?”

Merrill sniffled and took a deep breath. “Yes, I think. I mean I think it was her. It sounded like her, but demons are powerful. Mimicking voices is barely a challenge for them. If it was her, and I hope it was, she said to go to Orlais.”

“Flemeth told you to take a vacation?” Carver laughed. “Did she tell you to buy a nice new dress and eat stinky cheeses too?" The minute the words left his mouth Carver cringed at the echo of his brother he'd heard in them.

“No,” Merrill answered seriously. “That wasn't in her directions.”

The humor drained out of Carver's face but the elf took no notice. Six years with his brother and she still didn't understand that not every phrase was a true and genuine statement. How that happened, he didn't know.

“Well what did she say then?”

“She said to go to the Grand Cathedral. Odd advice for a Dalish elf, I know, but I can't think of anything better to do. Or worse, honestly. But I trust her.”

“Funny, I'm having the same issue.”

“What issue?”

“Nowhere to go.”

“Oh,” Merrill said, and then the conversation halted to an awkward silence. The elf chewed on her bottom lip, looked up at Carver for a moment, toed the grass at her feet and then looked at Carver again. “I'm... I’m missing something aren't I? Ah, I can never keep up with you Carver. To be honest I was kind of relieved when you left. I mean, ma abelas, that sounded so rude! I mean you- see, like right now, you make me so nervous.”

Carver took a page from Merrill's book and forced himself to push through his explanation before he could get too embarrassed and drop it. “So that's a 'no' to accompanying you to Orlais, then?”

“What? Go to Orlais? With me?”

“That is what accompany means, Merrill.”

“Oh, my, well, I guess saying no would be pretty stupid, huh? You're so scary, but I need scary. Good scary, though. Strong scary. I can't do scary at all.”

“No," Carver agreed flatly. "No you cannot.”

Merrill laughed a bit, an odd image considering the two of them were still covered in blood. After that short moment of relief, however, Merrill finally seemed to notice she'd used a considerable amount of her own blood for the ritual, looking down at her wrists as if she saw six of them at once. Even if Carver thought blood magic was abhorrent, he could at least give Merrill the credit she deserved for never sacrificing others to fuel her spells.

When Merrill began to stumble around from light-headedness, Carver reached out reflexively and caught her as she began to faint. He sheathed his sword and, unsurprisingly, had no trouble lifting the petite woman with both arms.

“Well, how fitting,” he joked bitterly. “Heading to Orlais and living my own Orlisian romance novel.”

***The Keep***

“Take this letter directly to the Grand Cathedral. Do not stop for anything, do you hear me?”

The young Ferelden refugee clenched his jaw, squared his shoulders and nodded at the Prince.

Sebastian handed over the letter and the reins to the horse he'd purchased for his messenger. “You may keep the horse as payment for your services. Remember, it is for the Divine's eyes only. There is corruption enough in the house of Andraste, we cannot risk Her Grace's safety by trusting others with this information.”

“I understand, messere,” the young man replied. “I will do as you say.”

Sebastian wished he could deliver the letter himself, but he couldn't give up the opportunity to track Hawke and Anders, not when they couldn't have gotten far on foot. He'd have to trust that the Holy Order of Templars would provide sufficient protection for Divine Justinia. After the maleficar was dealt with, he would take his place wherever she decided he was needed.

He mounted his own horse, a grey mare that, in addition to his supplies, had cost him the rest of his gold. His options were many, but he could rule out a few obvious ones. There were no longer any Dalish for Hawke to take refuge with in Sundermount, and the Deep Roads were too dangerous for just two people, no matter how skilled they were. Ruling out to the roads to Orlais, that only left the Wounded Coast. It would be easy for a terrorist to hide among the raiders and slavers there. The abomination would feel right at home.

There were times during Sebastian's ride that he felt his heart being buried by overwhelming feelings of failure and loss, but he did his best to turn them into fuel for his anger. After the death of his family, the Chantry became all he had left, and Elthina his only source of guidance. She reminded him a lot of his father: a devout and honest individual with little patience for rash behavior. They both had a talent for producing never-ending streams of existential questioning too; something Sebastian always found frustrating until it was gone. Now he ached for it back.

In his hasty anger following the Chantry attack, he had promised to reclaim his throne and bring down the full force of his army upon the Mage Rebellion, but he yet again found himself unsure of his resolve to do so. He couldn't be certain until Elthina was avenged and Justinia had been spoken to. Though he felt it was egotistical to believe he deserved Her Grace's council, he wanted her to know that his army was hers if she so needed.

He just had so little time. He knew Orsino has sent many of the surviving Circle Mages away during the attack, telling them to provoke rebellion across all of Thedas. Still, he imagined that word of Anders' death at the hands of a devout Chantry brother would suffocate the fires of their cause. The maleficar had to be taken care of first, no matter how much he wished he could be in three places at once, and that meant he needed information.

He tied up his horse at the edge of the coast and ventured forth on foot with a great deal of caution. Close-range combat with archery was a foolish gamble that almost never resulted in victory, and Sebastian wasn't cocky enough to think he could take on a band of slavers hand-to-hand. He knew that traveling alone was a terrible idea considering his skill set, but he didn’t have a choice.

Attempting to be stealthy made Sebastian hyper-aware of every sound he made. He focused on every footstep, on the way his feet rolled from heel to toe across the dirt and grass. Worries regarding the movement and weight-distribution of his armor had him frozen from the waist up. It made his progress slow, but it was his only protection, especially as the sun began to set. Raiders didn't often rely on listening while the sun was up, so if Sebastian could stay out of sight he was fine. At night, however, everyone's ears would be on alert.

This included the Prince's, as he had been eavesdropping on plenty of conversations that day. “Look what I looted from the Dalish camp.” “Isabela wouldn't let me on her ship.” A story involving the words “Blooming Rose” and “rash” that he didn't stick around for. Finally, however, someone dropped a key word that caught Sebastian's attention.

“Just got word Anders is on his way to Orlais. One of my men overheard him intercepting a message for Divine Justinia. Said 'I'll just deliver this myself' and let the little refugee boy go.” The reaction he felt in response to those words was visceral. While he knew Anders was bold, the audacity to think he could waltz up to the Grand Cathedral and simply 'win' his war was a hubris Sebastian could not fathom. He inched closer to the camp of bounty hunters and slowly slid his body behind a rock. He could tell the speaker was a woman, and he figured her for their leader. “Get some quick rest, everyone. We'll head after the apostate before dawn, and we cannot let him get away. This could be the biggest bounty we've ever caught. I'm sure the Chantry would shell out a fortune for him.”

“'Ey,” a new voice shouted. “Where are my sheets?”

“What are you getting on about, Yurrick?”

“My sheet's gone from m'tent.”

“You'll survive,” their leader interjected. “Now go to sleep.”

Keen observation and a good tracking instinct drew a map in Sebastian's head, which pinpointed the location of the bounty hunters based on the sounds they made. He counted about twelve, all sitting in a circle around the fire. Those were terrible odds for him in a fight, but the sheer size of the group would make them easy to track. He could intercept Anders at the last moment and, Maker willing, possibly turn the abomination in to the Divine himself.

“Who's there?” the voice with the missing sheet shouted, his voice projecting into the wilderness at the opposite side of the camp. Sebastian resisted the urge to turn and look, but he wasn't pleased at the idea of someone interrupting his plan.

“Yurrick what is wrong with y-”

“Oi, get her!”

Sebastian finally risked turning around and peered over the rock, but he was immediately blinded by what looked like white fire raining down on the bounty hunters. Heat still radiated from the campsite even after the light died down, and the sound of screaming men and women echoed off the nearby rocks.

“Who are you, apostate? Why do you attack my hunters?”

Sebastian stood up again, this time with an arrow pulled back in his bow. He swept his eyes across the clearing as he alternated aiming between the two women left standing there. They didn't seem to notice him, however. Sebastian couldn't see what the leader looked like; only that she had short, dark hair and was clad in leather armor.

“You will not touch Anders,” the other woman declared. “He will make it to Orlais.

“Or what, you'll go all 'abomination' on me? Kill me like you killed them?”

“They are not dead, but they will be if you refuse to give up your search.”

“You don't scare me, bitch.”

The leader reached back for her daggers, but the mage woman dragged her to the ground with a pull of force magic.

“I do not wish to kill you, but defy my order again and I will.”

With an aggressive grunt the leader grasped for her blades again and struggled back to her feet. Realizing that her opponent wasn't going to yield, the mage raised her hand and prepared her final strike.

The force of Sebastian's arrow was enough to knock her clear off her feet, and her landing kicked up a significant amount of dust.

“Go!” the archer yelled. The leader rushed to her feet and checked on her party, discovering that they were, in fact, still alive. She pulled them up and yelled at them to crawl and limp as far from the clearing as they could get. When they were safely out of view, she looked back at her savior and nodded her thanks.

Sebastian slowly and carefully made his way over to the woman he'd shot and let himself get a good look at her. He discovered where the bounty hunter's missing sheet had gone. The woman was wearing it around her body with two of the corners tying it shut over her right shoulder. Her loose, sandy-blonde hair was messily strewn half over her face and half across the ground. It was long and poorly cared-for, must like the rest of her. He imagine she was teller than him when standing, and her skin was covered in scars, scrapes, burns and dirt.

Up close she didn't look much like a mage. He would have guessed she was a few years older than him, somewhere in her late thirties. Despite being unconscious, her jaw and shoulders still looked solid and alert. Unlike other mages, she had a build that suggested she'd be the woman to bet on in a fight and a skin tone indicative of outdoor labor, or training, or both. He also didn't see a staff anywhere, which made him even more worried about the power he'd seen her display.

She was a dangerous apostate, but he couldn't just leave her to die. He knelt next to her and lifted her neck and shoulders off the ground. With one swift movement he pushed the arrow in her left shoulder all the way through and pulled it out the other side. Blood poured from the wound generously, but Sebastian tore off strips of the sheet dress and began wrapping while applying appropriate pressure.

When his temporary first aid was done he took the remaining strips and tied the mage's hands behind her back. He didn't want to drag her back to his horse, but her intent on protecting Anders had him very worried. If Anders was truly heading for the Grand Cathedral, and this woman knew that, then he had quite a few more questions for her.

It took a few attempts, but he was finally able to maneuver her dead weight onto his shoulder before standing up straight. As he stumbled his way down the Wounded Coast he remembered all the promises he'd made and failed to deliver on. This time was not going to end the same way. He promised he'd show Anders the true meaning of Justice. If need be, he'd use this woman to do so.

Chapter Text

***The Planasene Forest***

Awkward silence was like a third companion during the walk through the Planasene Forest. Hawke always stayed a few steps behind Anders, and he told himself it was because he had no idea where they were going. He’d have given anything to hear Anders speak, but he wasn’t about to start cracking jokes or asking questions.

Exhaustion and lengthy stretches with no conversation gave Hawke’s mind too much room to wander. The beat of his footsteps hypnotized him into a walking daydream, bringing his mind back to the mundane moments with Anders that he had treasured most. The mage used to always get up first, so Hawke often awoke to find Anders at the desk, writing. His desperate hold on that memory blurred the trees around them until they reformed as his bedroom walls. He watched the back of Anders' head and heard him proofreading and rewording his manifesto, pouring his focus into his writing and completely unaware that Hawke was behind him. As he got closer he raised his arm and considered spooking his lover, but when he reached out his hand he froze. He kept moving forward, but Anders constantly remained just out of his grasp.

“Hawke, how much food do w- Hawke?” Anders asked as he turned and found that the rogue was much closer than he’d thought.

Hawke blinked hard once and placed his feet shoulder length apart to help maintain balance. “I’m… sorry.” He laughed. “I think I was fantasizing about you.”

Anders almost laughed as well, but he realized the implications of Hawke’s statement immediately. “No, I’m sorry. I… don’t know what to tell you. I honestly didn’t expect you to come with me. I didn’t even expect you to- I didn’t expect to survive.”

“You really didn’t trust me, did you?” Hawke asked.

“No,” Anders corrected, “unfortunately, I did.”

“You’ve lost me.”

Anders closed the gap between them and rested the side of his face against the leathery belts on the shoulder of the rogue’s armor. Hawke raised his arms and wrapped them around Anders' shoulders, his mind confused but his hands trying to be comforting. Anders’ hands remained heavy and hanging by his side.

“I… don’t think I wanted to live through the attack."

If Hawke felt surprised at all it was a result of his keen ability to lie to himself. In all honesty he knew Anders wanted to die that day, and for many reasons. To become a martyr to his cause. To stop himself from potentially hurting another mage. To let Justice return to the Fade. To stop the nightmares from the Joining. To apologize to everyone he’d ever wronged. To spare Hawke. Unfortunately Hawke was far too stubborn and selfish to let that happen.

When the sound of rapid hoof beats began building up in the distance, Hawke instinctively pulled Anders behind him and drew one of his daggers.

“Anyone ever tell you I’m a dangerous apostate?” Anders asked. “I swear you think I’m some damsel in distress.”

Hawke ignored the comment. “Do you want to hide or see who it is?”

“I’m getting rather tired of hiding.”

At this point the late afternoon sun was almost done setting and people would be making camp. Hawke and Anders would have been doing the same, but they had begun sleeping during the day and traveling at night to avoid detection. This also meant, however, that they were avoiding any passing merchants they could have purchased supplies from. Before their conversation took a turn for the depressingly serious, Anders was about to point out how little food they had left. They could try to forage, but the light Anders would need to produce to make that possible would have been a glaring beacon announcing their location.

As the young man on horseback approached, Hawke raised one hand as a sign he wasn’t a threat. If the boy had some extra supplies they would have been glad to buy them off him. The rider pulled back on his reigns and squinted in the dusky light for a moment before his expression ignited with a brief spark of recognition. It only lasted for a moment as he tried unsuccessfully to hide it, but when he looked down at Hawke his eyes betrayed all his intentions.

Without a word the boy pulled the horse's reins to the right and gave a swift kick to the animal’s side, turning it in a tight circle to head straight back to Kirkwall. Hawke began to run after the boy, but stopped when the horse began acting, for lack of a better word, drunk. The boy toppled to the ground as the beast stumbled in a way that Hawke began to recognize as one of Anders’ stun spells. When he turned around Anders was in a familiar stance; staff in one hand with his knees bent and his body giving off that strange, magical… presence that Hawke hadn’t realized he missed.

Anders looked guilty, and Hawke guessed it was due to worry over the horse. Animals always seemed so sacred to the mage, mainly because they didn’t have all the bigotry that poisoned the rest of Thedas’ “intelligent” creatures. Human, Elf, Qunari: they were all infected with it, but no animal ever once cared that Anders was mage, and he almost seemed to respect them more than he did people because of it.

“Who are you? Are you here for us?” Hawke finally asked.

The boy scrambled to his feet, but his attention was divided between avoiding his flailing horse and waiting to be attacked by Hawke. “My name is Cadby, messere. I’m a Ferelden, like you. Please, don’t kill me.”

“Why does everyone think being from Ferelden protects them from your wrath?” Anders asked. He lit a small fire in his hand so he could get a better look at the boy and noticed something very telling about his posture. 'What are you holding on to?”

The boy shook like a naughty apostate in an Orlesian romance novel, but he didn’t answer.

“Hand it over and we’ll consider letting you go,” Hawke bluffed. He wasn’t going to attack some destitute Ferelden teenager. Not over what looked like nothing more than a letter.

“No, Sebastian said it was for the Divine’s eyes only. Even I have not read it. Please, Champion, I have to complete my mission. What if he finds out I didn’t? He’s a prince, ya know.”

“Sebastian?” Anders echoed. “Isn’t that lovely?”

“How about this?” Hawke suggested. “Let us read it, and then we'll give it back to you.”

“Really?” Cadby and Anders asked in unison.

Hawke stepped back and pulled Anders aside. “What is Sebastian going to write to the Divine that she isn’t already going to hear from the Templars who survived the attack? Do you think he’s going to tell her some secret weakness of yours that no one knows? Are you worried Her Grace might find out about the kittens?”

For a moment Anders just stared, his face falling flat at his lover’s predictably ill-timed humor. Eventually he shoved his way past the rogue and approached the messenger. “Alright, fine, we’ll give you back the letter. Now hand it over.” He allowed the firelight in his hands to grow a little out of control as he spoke.

“And you won’t hurt me?”

Anders rolled his eyes. “No, I won’t hurt you.”

Cadby handed over the letter and left for a moment to try and calm his horse.

“You’re right,” Anders said, “This is just a warning about me. Well, mostly. Remember how he vowed to go reclaim his throne and send the entire Starkhaven military after me? Well, his highness the royal Prince of Indecisiveness hasn’t changed a bit.” He passed the letter to Hawke, who skimmed it as well. “He’s now promising to kill me first, for the Chantry’s sake, of course, and then he requests an audience with Her Grace to discuss what he should do next. Maker, does this man make any of his own decisions?”

“Let’s not complain about things that work in our favor,” Hawke suggested.

They gave Cadby back the letter and vowed they’d never seen him before in their lives. Hawke’s stomach growled, but he wasn’t about to further traumatize the boy by demanding his supplies.

“We should head-” Anders began before his eyes shifted over to the brush at the edge of the trail. “Cadby?”

“Is someone there?” Hawke asked.

“We’re probably just paranoid. Come on, the sun's done setting. We should use the path while we can.”

Any other time Hawke would have been more cautious, but when Anders reached out and lightly touched the back of his wrist Hawke would have done anything asked of him. In the months leading up to the Chantry attack, Hawke had to initiate every bit of physical contact in their relationship. It had been what felt like an eternity since Anders had engaged in anything resembling deliberate affection. It was an obvious attempt to distract him from the conversation they were having before Cadby showed up, but even with that in mind it worked on Hawke completely.

And so they continued their journey, Anders joking about his willingness to deliver the message himself, neither of them aware of the man clad in leather armor who was running back to his horse, preparing to race back to the Wounded Coast.

***The Vimmark Mountains***

Carver had his lips in such a thin, nervous line that they all but disappeared as he hiked along the pass through the Vimmark Mountains. It was an incredibly awkward trip for many reasons, but the pace was by far the worst. He'd never actually been too far outside Kirkwall. Templars could be called to aid other cities, yes, but ever since his dear brother showed up in the Free Marches it was all hands on deck for every Holy Knight Kirkwall had to spare.

As a result of his ignorance in regards to the geography, Carver was forced to follow Merrill's lead and, by default, her pace as well. She was so short that she took a lot of time to circumnavigate what Carver thought were simple obstacles. She also required frequent breaks. And she talked.

A lot.

Carver would ask for silence or begin ignoring her, and Merrill would apologize profusely before plunging them into long stretches of awkward fidgeting and sighing. He always regretted his actions soon afterward, but despite having had an entire day to think of something to say, Carver had come up with very little.

As they began taking a strange path, however, he found the opening he needed.

“Why are we going this way?”

“It's a bit longer of a route, but our other option is a very steep decline, and I'm afraid-” She interrupted herself and began laughing.

“I have never seen someone so amused by their own fears.”

“No,” Merrill tried to correct between giggles. “I just, your armor, it looks so heavy. So I was worried that if we went too fast, or down too steep of a decline, that you'd just pitch forward and tumble down the mountain.”

Carver narrowed his eyes at her. Powerful bloodmage, he kept reminding himself. She was a very powerful bloodmage. “You really don't have to worry about me, Merrill. I live my life in this armor.”

“Oh, really? Every day?”

“Every day. So how do you know so much about the mountains?”

“I had to get here from Nevarra somehow. Ugh, it was such a long trip. When they decided at the Arlathvenn that I'd become the First under Keeper Marethari I was so proud but so scared. I knew... I feel like I knew even then I was going to fail, you know. Be no good at it.”

The silence that followed her answer worried Carver. Any time Merrill chose to be quiet he took it as a bad sign. “So... what's an Arthelaven?”

“Arlathvenn,” she corrected. “It's a gathering of all the Dalish clans. Magic, all of our old ways really, they're dying. In Nevarra I was only one of three People in my clan who were born with magic. The Sabrae clan, the clan in Sundermount, had none. They agreed I was needed there.”

“They agreed?” Carver echoed. “Didn't you have a choice?”

“I... never thought of it that way. All the Dalish are the People. I was needed in the Free Marches, so I went. I'd always wanted to revive our heritage. There were so many stories I read as a child, stories about huge clans and magic and, Creators, it sounded like a proud and noble Dalish Kingdom. All I ever wanted was to get even a sliver of that back, for them, but look what that got me. No one wanted my help.”

“Is that why you turned to blood magic?” Carver asked, his curiosity finally genuine, and growing less tactful by the second. “No, wait, you don't need to talk to me about that. I'm sorry I asked.”

“No,” Merrill said with such defiance that both she and Carver stopped walking. “If you're willing to listen then I will tell you.” In a move very unlike what the Templar had seen from her before, Merrill stood tall and looked straight into his eyes “Everyone thinks that blood magic is for the evil, but that is like saying a sword is only for murders. Everything is a tool and a tool's morals are not its own. People are the morals behind all weapons, and morals are complicated. We must accept that demons are just as much a part of our world as spirits like Justice. Without good and evil what would we be? There’d be no balance.”

Carver broke eye contact to stare at the ground. “I didn't mean to imply I thought you were evil.”

“No, I know,” she said as she began to calm down enough to begin their trek again, this time at a bit of a faster pace.“Your brother was a little less understanding than you are. Are you sure you're a Templar?”

“In all honesty, not really. I joined in the hopes of being a more moderate force in the Order, but apparently that wasn't on my list of options.”

“Oh, they gave you a list?” Merrill asked.

“What? No, not literally. The Order, Meredith especially, insisted that all mages were born corrupt, like they were all dying to become slave-owning magister bastards. Or abomination bombs waiting to explode. Then my brother- well, I'm pretty sure it was Anders speaking through my brother, but either way my brother complained that I didn't understand the plight of the mages. That with my father and sister gone I'd lost sight of how harmless magic could be. He never seemed to understand that without someone in the Order you and Anders would have been in the Circle long ago. Or worse.”

“Is that true?” she asked as she walked a bit closer to him, tilting her head up to more closely read his expression.

“Well, maybe not you personally,” he lied as he rubbed the back of his neck and stared off at the horizon. “But people like you. My father and my sister, I couldn't save them, but maybe I could save someone else who hadn't done anything wrong. My brother never stopped to consider that maybe I was helping in the best way I could.”

“No one wants to accept help when it means they also have to accept that the truth lies somewhere grey and complicated.”

For a moment Carver allowed himself to be relieved that someone else understood. He'd always believed that the notion of an epic and perfect hero was absurd; that the truly heroic made difficult decisions in the shadows without the luxury of fame and glory. He knew if he ever voiced that, however, he'd be bombarded with accusations of bitterness about his brother, so he kept it to himself. After a few fumbled attempts to convey his gratitude, Carver settled for clearing his throat. “How much longer until we reach Arlesans?”

“Um, a while,” Merrill admitted. But a least, Carver thought, it could be a little brighter now.

“Hey Merrill.”

“Yes?”

“What were you saying before about those halla things?”

Merrill smiled, and had a bit of bounce in her step. “Really? You don't mind.”

“Lecture on,” Carver invited. And as Merrill rambled, leaving topics and looping back like spoken knotwork, Carver smiled, and nodded, and listened.

***The Wounded Coast***

When the rising sunlight finally inched its ways toward Sebastian's face, he awoke with a startled jerk. He'd made it back to his horse with the unconscious woman over his shoulder, but after searching the Wounded Coast for hours, the task left him exhausted. At first he waited for her to regain consciousness, but the stress of the past few days pulled at his eyelids until he fell asleep sitting across from her.

“Did you sleep well?” a woman's voice asked. He turned to see the mage from the previous night awake and sitting on her heels. Her posture was extremely rigid and her eyes were fixed on a point just past him, like a soldier at attention.

Sebastian didn't answer, but he did get up and walk a full circle around her. The scraps were still holding her arms behind her back, which he attributed to her wounded shoulder until he realized she'd somehow healed herself while bound. With narrowed, incredulous eyes he continued to stare down at her face.

“May I ask what you intend to do with me?”

“I intend,” Sebastian began as he knelt down so they were at the same eye level, “to ask you where the maleficar is.”

“The? You think there is one maleficar in all of Thedas?”

“You know who I mean. Anders. Is he really heading to Orlais?”

A smile twitched at the edges of the woman's mouth, but something in her eyes betrayed that on the inside she was grinning. “He is.”

“What for? To kill the Divine? Does he really think he can get away with such a crime?”

In response, the woman only laughed. It was a low chuckle, and the sound infuriated Sebastian to the point that he dug his fingers into the woman's ragged sheet dress and pulled her shoulders forward until their noses were almost touching. “Answer me!”

She returned his enraged stare without an ounce of fear, and Sebastian finally noticed the unique shape of her eyes. They were set back farther than most humans' and curved slightly downward at the inner edges. They were an extremely faint green and surrounded by thick lashes that rimmed them in black. Once he stepped back and took in the whole of her features it became obvious where she was from. Muscular build, naturally tan skin, strong jawline, eyes so light in color they looked nearly faded…

“You are a long way from Tevinter, mage,” he whispered.

“And you are a long way from Starkhaven, your Highness.”

Sebastian got to his feet and tried not to react to her reply. “Answer my question.”

“Is Anders going to kill the Divine? No.” Sebastian relaxed for a moment until she added. “That is the destiny of another.”

“Do you really believe you are in a position to brag so openly about such a heinous plot?”

“And what exactly is it that you are threatening me with?” The woman's smug expression faltered when a cold dagger blade was pressed against the flesh of her throat. She swallowed carefully and lifted her chin in an attempt to distance herself from the weapon, but Sebastian corrected for all her movements with practiced precision.

In the back of his mind the prince repeatedly wondered why she wasn't fighting back. He had tied the knots around her wrists tight enough that her hands were probably numb by now, but if she could cast without a staff and heal herself while tied up he didn't see why she couldn't escape him. Even so, he couldn't afford to let her sense his uncertainty. “With this,” he told her as he pressed the dagger in bit harder: as hard as he could without drawing blood. “You have chosen the wrong time to test my patience, maleficar.”

“Fine, what do you want?” she asked.

“Take me to Anders.”

“I do not know where he is, only where he is going. Also you are quite a full day, if not more, behind him by now.”

“Then we shall go there together, and on the way you can tell me all about this plan to assassinate Her Grace. In return, I won't kill you. I believe that is a fair exchange.” Without waiting for her to agree, Sebastian grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet. He was surprised to find she was still weak, and he actually had to hold her up as she regained her balance.

What in the Maker's name was going on with this woman?

Sebastian got on the horse first, and while it was an awkward task he eventually hoisted the woman on to the saddle behind him. He remembered back to his youth, when having women on the back of a horse with him meant good things for the evening ahead, but he was a different person now and this was a very, very different situation.

Chapter Text

***The Planasene Forest***

In Hawke's dream it was Bethany who was singing the song, though he couldn't understand any of the words. She was sitting on the ground in the middle of a field Hawke remembered from their childhood, and he was standing over her. Part of him was worried that someone was coming to attack her, but he didn't know who, or how he was going to protect her. He wanted to stop her from singing, but when he looked down at his sister's face she was staring off into the horizon, like she could see time and was singing toward the future. Despite his fear of losing her and his selfish desire to keep her from the world as a means of protecting her, Hawke understood that she had to finish her song. When she turned to face him and continued singing it seemed that a peace had fallen over her. Her eyes slid shut and Hawke smiled, but when she opened her eyes again they were glowing blue and her skin was cracking open to let magic pour out.

Hawke awoke with a desperate inhalation, not realizing that his attempts to scream in the dream were, in reality, choking him. He rubbed his temples and shook his head, but the blighted song was still playing in his mind.

It took a good minute or two for him to realize that it was Anders who was singing it. Now that Hawke was awake, he could finally recognize the sounds of the language, and while he didn't understand a word of Tevinter (save for a few of Fenris' more colorful outbursts) he was sure that was it.

The song was hymn-like in the same way as the Chant of Light. It was calming, so much so that he didn't try to awaken Anders, opting instead to continue listening. Hawke had never heard him sing before, and while Anders wasn't particularly good or bad, especially when half asleep, the nature of the song made the moment feel deeply intimate.

The sun wasn't very high in the midday sky; meaning the two of them had only gotten a few hours of sleep since making camp at dawn. Hawke sat up and shifted until he was on his knees and sitting on his heels as he watched over his lover.

When the song was over Anders' eyes opened and his face lit up with a peaceful, rested expression. He stared up at Hawke without blinking for a moment before finally announcing in a quiet mumble, "I had a dream."

"A dream?" Hawke echoed. "Not a nightmare?"

"No nightmares," Anders answered. His eyes began to narrow with suspicion, like he didn't trust anything positive anymore. "That's odd."

"What was it about?"

Anders ignored the question. "Since when do abomination Grey Wardens not have nightmares? And then to actually have a pleasant dream on top of it."

"Anders, what was the dream about?"

"I think someone is messing with my mind. Trying to send me messages. I've been dreaming, actually dreaming, ever since the night before the Chantry attack." Anders scrambled to his feet and began pacing across the dead leaves of the clearing they'd made camp in. "The dreams seem to promise peace in Orlais; peace for both of us. You're there, and the Templars and the Chantry, they're listening to me. I'm telling them that they cannot continue down this path of fear-fueled oppression. I call them sadists and they're listening."

Hawke couldn't help but laugh a little. "Your most precious dream is calling Templars sadists to their faces? If I had known I would have gotten you that for your birthday instead."

"Hawke," Anders warned.

"Right, yes, Orlais, serious, dreams, I know," Hawke relented as he stood up and brushed himself off.

"I've never even been to Orlais, but when I dream about the inside of the Grand Cathedral I feel like I have. These dreams aren't from my mind, someone has to be putting them there."

"And the hymn?"

Anders finally stopped pacing. "How'd you know about the hymn?"

"You sing it while you're dreaming. It's cute," Hawke commented as he reached up to brush the back of his fingertips along Anders' cheek. "You should sing in Tevinter for me more often."

"You do know I don't speak a word of Tevinter, right? Or I thought I didn't. You know, I don't understand the hymn, but I do. I couldn't translate it for you, I probably couldn't even describe the meaning to you if I tried, but I understand it. It's… rather beautiful."

Hawke tried to move his face in front of Anders' so the mage was looking at him instead of past him. "I'm not following. Do you still want to go to Orlais?"

"It's the only option. Whoever is guiding me-"

"Us," Hawke corrected.

At that Anders did smile a bit. "Whoever is guiding us is powerful enough to channel images into my dreams. There's no escaping it, we might as well go say hello."

"Well then, I'm ready to go greet this all-powerful being if you are," Hawke announced as he began packing up their camp. "To think they're making you have pleasant dreams. The nerve of some people."

***The Vimmark Mountains***

Deciding what the sleeping situation would be was incredibly awkward, but after repeatedly starting sentences at the same time, interrupting each other, and laughing nervously, Carver and Merrill found a spot large enough and flat enough that they could sleep safely and far enough apart to avoid any questionable intimate proximity.

Carver found a small spot surrounded by boulders on three sides that he would never have fit in, but Merrill settled in to it just fine. He stayed up for a few hours while she slept, keeping watch before finally putting out the fire and situating himself at the only exposed side of Merrill's mini fortress.

There had always been something different about the sound of Templar armor. It was probably the unique properties of the metal, which was laced with lyrium to protect them from magic, but it was almost like the material sounded like authority and pretentiousness. It brought Carver from slumber to full attention immediately, and he was glad he fell asleep gripping his sword.

The sound was coming from his left, so he rose to his feet and pretended he was heading in that direction anyway. When he rounded the corner he feigned surprise, but after recognition sunk in he didn't have to fake it anymore.

"Ser Wren?"

"Carver? Carver, my boy, what are you doing out here?"

Wren was an older Templar with grey-salted, golden blond hair and a constant beard stubble to match. He had a shorter-than-average stature and was less effective in actual combat situations, but he was a fantastic leader and trainer. He could always pull more drills out of the recruits, and while he was all smiles when they were drinking ale and telling stories, the smart ones were always ready for him to switch modes at any moment.

Carver laughed nervously but resisted the urge to glance back and check his campsite. He kept his eyes forward as he took a mental inventory of what was visible in the clearing. Smoldering pile of ash. Small brown pack full of food.

Merrill's staff.

His mental debate between keeping Wren away from the clearing or making up a lie about the staff had him so panicked that he didn't realize he never answered his superior.

"Carver!" Wren barked. "What in Thedas has you so distracted that you'd rudely ignore a commanding officer? I know for a fact you've been trained better than this."

"No, ser, I know," Carver babbled. "I just-"

Before Carver could make the situation any worse Merrill went ahead and did it for him. He wasn't surprised, though, not in the least. While his time with Merrill had been short, he gathered that situational appropriateness was never and would never be one of her strengths.

Carver couldn't make out the words of the song, but Merrill's tone echoed off the rocks and suggested the subject was something uplifting, if not a little religious. He slapped an embarrassed grin across his face and turned back to Ser Wren. "Lady friend," he explained with authentic embarrassment.

"Oh," Wren noted before a knowing smile crept across his face. "Well, that explains it. I take it you're also looking to report to the garrison in Starkhaven?"

"Of course, ser, the Order needs me," Carver lied. "I just, after what's been going on I could use-" He felt like an idiot, being so crass, but he hoped his over-sharing would make Wren want to leave quicker.

"Say no more, my boy," Wren interrupted. He reached up and clasped a hand on Carver's shoulder, an awkward gesture considering their height difference. It forced Carver to bend over under the weight of the man's hand. "But join us again soon. A war is coming. Maker, a war is already upon us. We need bright and talented people such as yourself now more than ever."

Carver almost forgot all about Merrill for a moment as he took in the weight of the compliment. Wren didn't flatter. Wren yelled when you needed to work harder. Wren scheduled extra training sessions in your weakest skills. Earning Wren's respect was satisfying because it was difficult.

In the ensuing silence, however, Merrill's singing rang a little clearer in the observant Templar's ears. "Is that… Tevinter?"

"Is it?" Carver asked. He figured he couldn't understand it because it was in Dalish.

"You shacking up with a magister?"

"No, ser, I would nev-"

"Then let's meet her, shall we?" While Wren's tone made his words sound like a suggestion he pushed by Carver like it was a threat. When the two rounded the corner Merrill's twisted wooden staff couldn't have looked any more like a beacon of treachery.

Carver knew an attack was coming, and while Wren had more experience he also had a sheathed weapon. Instead of wasting precious time drawing his blade, the commander raised his shield and bashed Carver in the chest, knocking him to the ground. The heavy sword in Carver's hand slid out of his grasp.

By the time Carver could get up and feel around for his weapon, Wren had already drawn his sword and was taking cautious steps toward Merrill. Carver frantically groped around and when he finally found the blade, he coughed out some dust and followed the lines down to the hilt of his sword.

Wren's assumptions ended up costing precious extra seconds. He must have pictured a well-dressed Tevinter woman standing behind the rocks, eating or perhaps packing up her things. When he was greeted by the sight of a petite, Dalish elf sleeping on the ground, he let his surprise and confusion freeze him for a moment. When Merrill finished the last line of her song, however, she opened her eyes, met Wren's gaze, and reminded him what he was there for.

Carver's mind rushed through a list of weak points in Templar armor. Armpit, behind the knees; all targets that were too small. The second a good idea and a clear opportunity presented itself, Carver acted without thinking.

One moment he was looking at the back of Wren's head, the next he was looking at Merrill's horrified expression.

There was a delay in the time it took for Wren's body to slump to the ground, falling on top of the head that had been severed cleanly a second before. Carver's eyes were on Merrill but he wasn't looking at her. The stress of what just happened had him seeing white spots that pulsated with his heaving breaths.

"Carver, oh Creators, Carver, what happened?"

"Why were you singing?" Carver asked, though his voice sounded far away.

"Singing? Singing what? I was asleep. I was having a wonderful dream too, about Orlais and how waiting for me there was someone who would make me feel accepted and respected; like I'd be a part of something that only I could help with. You were there, too. You were a part of it. And it had to be you. But then I woke up to-" Merrill didn't finish, opting instead to stare at the pieces of the Templar piled unceremoniously on the ground.

They were both uncomfortable with how comfortable they felt around a gruesomely murdered body. Merrill even stared right at the cleanly severed flesh and the stained white bone in the center of it. Years ago, Carver imagined she would have cried or gotten sick or ran away, but not anymore. Now her reaction showed no shock or disgust.

"Did you know him? Was he at least a bad person?"

"No," Carver answered honestly as he finally began to drop his guard, "but I wasn't going to let him murder you for no reason."

"I see. And what was I singing?"

"According to Wren, some Tevinter song."

"Tevinter? I don't know Tevinter. Or is it Teveen?"

"That's not really important right now. We should go. Wren might not have been traveling alone."

"You," Merrill paused and scratched nervously at her arm, "You go on ahead. I'll be right there."

"Merrill we can't afford to-"

"Maybe no one else has to die on this journey. Please, just… give me a moment."

Carver couldn't imagine what Merrill could possibly get up to in the span of a few minutes, but he still worried as he left to pack up the camp. After about a minute had passed he heard Merrill approaching, as well as what sounded like water moving in a container.

"Can you come here for a bit?" Merrill asked.

When Carver looked up the elf was standing on a rock a few feet away from him. "Why?" he wondered, even as he did what she asked.

Merrill focused very intently on using her canteen to wet the cloth in her opposite hand; using any excuse to avoid eye contact. "Well we might, ya know, um, run into… other… there might be other people, on the path I mean, or the way, on the way to Orlais. But yes, if we run into someone and you're…" she trailed off, hoping he would get the point.

He didn't. "I'm…?"

Merrill took a deep breath and pressed the wet cloth against Carver's face before wincing like she expected him to burst into flames as a result of the contact. When all he did was scowl, she took it as a positive sign and her intentions finally became clearer.

Carver was silent as Merrill moved the cloth over a splatter of blood on his left cheek and applied pressure while moving her fingers in a swiping motion. After each spot was scrubbed off she shifted the cloth a bit to gain access to a clean patch.

When she finished with his face she wordlessly went on to clean his armor. For some reason it was very different from the way she wiped off his face. While one would assume direct skin contact would be more intimate, it felt more maternal than anything else. Also Carver couldn't see his own face, so the help was actually necessary. To clean his armor, however, Merrill needed to take his large hand in her small, delicate one and move his arm toward her. With his arm extended she was able to run the cloth down it in one swift motion. She repeated the process with the other arm, and then moved to his breastplate. Carver drew in a long breath, and his chest rose to meet the pressure of Merrill's hand.

"There," she said to his chest, "All done." She hopped down from the rock with her characteristic bounciness, which Carver had not expected her to have back already.

"Is that all you did? Get a cloth and some water?"

Merrill ignored his question and turned back to him with a forced smile. "We should get going, don't you think?"

***Cumberland***

Sticking to the main path while on horseback allowed Sebastian to reach the edge of the Planasene Forest in a little over two days. His companion seemed to have taken a vow of silence, and didn't say a word to him the entire trip. At night he undid her bindings and every morning he awoke to her sitting on her heels and staring at him.

Sebastian had noticed that the woman was incredibly weak on her feet and clumsy when she walked. Over time he began to realize why she wasn't escaping: she couldn't. She could barely handle holding herself up, how else was she going to get to Orlais other than on horseback?

They seemed to be caught in a vicious cycle of using each other, in which Sebastian wanted her for information and as bait for Anders, and she needed transportation and food. Sebastian, however, was confident that at the end of it all he would come out on top. He just had to be patient.

Sebastian had remained on the lookout for Anders on the path through the forest, but when he never caught sight of the mage or Hawke he assumed the two had gone through the Vimmark Mountains instead. It was a much longer path, but less traveled and probably a safer bet for two traitors fleeing justice. Eventually, however, they'd have no choice but to use the Imperial Highway to get to Val Royeaux, and Cumberland was a great choke point to catch them at.

It was also a huge city, made even more huge by the flood of Kirkwall refugees, and the population was still swollen from the post-Blight boom of Fereldens. Every shop was buried under a cacophony of voices, each one trying to sell off valuables for food, weapons, or a room, and it was predicted the situation was only going to get worse. Sebastian was lucky there was still room at the stable for his horse.

Unsure of what to do next, he took care of his most glaringly obvious problem first. Dragging around a grown woman wearing nothing but a bedsheet was earning him far more attention than he wanted.

"Pick one," he told her when they approached an apparel shop. The owner, an older Antivan women, was so thrilled to see someone actually shopping instead of bartering that she insisted on seeing to them herself.

"I am not fond of dresses," she explained in a deadpan voice. She wasn't even looking at her options.

"Do you prefer the sheet then?"

The woman finally settled on a rather unisex set of heavy, forest green robes with white fur trim. Sebastian figured she chose them because they looked like Circle robes and she wanted everyone to know he was carting around an apostate. Unfazed, he purchased the garments, as well as some shoes, and waited while she changed in a back room.

When they finally arrived at an inn, they were told it was booked solid for two weeks out. Sebastian could feel how out of place he looked in expensive, finely crafted armor practically begging for any room they could spare. A waitress at the inn overheard the conversation and noted the pain the Tevinter woman was in. "If you and your wife don't mind sharing, messere, there's a list of people willing to split the cost of their rooms to save some coin."

Neither Sebastian nor the mage woman felt like correcting someone who was trying to help them. They agreed to split a room with a mother and her newborn child, the widow of a Templar who died in the Mage Rebellion.

After purchasing some wood, the two arrived at their small, austere room well past sundown. There were two beds, pushed against the left and right walls, and the widow was already sleeping in the one on the left. She was curled around her sleeping child, Sebastian guessed in an attempt to keep them both warm. Her dress was made of expensive purple and pink silks; not great for staying warm in the first place, and even less effective since it was obviously wearing thin in places.

The Tevinter mage used the sash from her robes and tied her hair back so she could build a proper fire without setting herself ablaze. Sebastian knew she was going to use magic, but he decided he would rather stop the shivering of the poor widow whose space he was invading than go on a tirade about magic being used in his presence. Plus, did Andraste not say magic was meant to serve man?

When the sleeping woman awoke to the sound of wood crackling in the fireplace, which was located between the two beds on the wall opposite the door, she looked down at her son and mustered a half-hearted smile.

"Andraste bless you both," she whispered. "I did not know where my son and I were going to sleep tonight, and our ship to Orlais does not leave until tomorrow."

"Do not worry yourself, serrah," Sebastian told her. "I believe the Maker was watching over us tonight, and I am glad we could help one another." He noticed that his mage companion was curled very awkwardly in front of the fire, as if she was attempting to physically distance herself from the conversation. An odd reaction, he noted, to such a simple mention of the Maker.

The widow tried to re-position herself without waking the baby in her arms, but her failure was evident in the wail that bounced off the walls of the cramped room. Someone on the other side of the wall began pounding and demanding someone "shut the bastard up."

Sebastian, being the youngest in his family, had literally no experience with children. He stepped back to let the mother try to calm the baby, but was surprised when the apostate crawled toward the bed.

"Let me," she said, nodding her assurance when the mother gave her a skeptical look. She took the child and turned so she could sit on the floor with her back against the bed. From that position she was able to rock her body forward in a gentle swaying motion until the baby began to calm down again. "Rest," she whispered back to the mother, "I will watch him for the night."

There was only the briefest of "thank you"s before the exhausted widow fell back asleep.

Sebastian stared down at his prisoner for longer than he intended. He probably would have continued to if she hadn't spoken up.

"Do you not trust me? Do you think I intend to harm this child simply because I am a mage?"

"No, but-" Sebastian considered how to word the question delicately, but decided being blunt was a better course of action. "Are you an Adrastian?"

"Am I… an Andrastian?" The question had her so confused she stopped rocking and the baby began to stir. She quickly tucked his face into her shoulder and resumed her swaying.

"Yes, do you believe in the teachings of Andraste?"

"Why don't you enlighten me? What exactly are the teachings of Andraste?"

Sebastian sat on the empty bed and placed his hands on his knees. He shook his head and a laugh almost escaped his throat. "Do they teach nothing of Andraste where you're from?"

"I am sure it differs from your interpretation severely." Her low, condescending tone of voice and the use of the word "interpretation" made Sebastian's jaw tighten, but if she was asking, he was most assuredly going to give her plenty to listen to.

"Andraste was a slave in Tevinter," he began to explain, but his companion looked like she was already displeased. "What?"

"Start at the beginning. Where was she born?"

"That… is up for debate. Most make pilgrimages to Denerim, but some believe she was born in Jader instead."

"Which do you think is correct?"

"Denerim is where I have journeyed on past pilgrimages."

"What if she was not born there?"

Sebastian was already getting frustrated. "And why are you suddenly so curious about my thoughts on Andraste's birthplace?"

The baby seemed to be asleep so the Tevinter woman finally stilled and rested against the widow's bed. "Do you not worry that your pilgrimages are for naught? What if she was indeed born in Jader?"

"I believe the spirituality of the premise is more important than the authenticity of the location."

The woman blinked hard and tried to start a few different sentences, but no words came out. "You," she started, her tone angry, but she took a deep breath and her face relaxed into what looked like disappointment. "You would truly rather feel good about yourself than know the truth? To question your superiors? Are you so afraid of uncertainty that you would prefer to remain blind?"

"Is that how magisters view faith in the Chantry? Blindness?" He felt the volume of his voice rising and stopped himself for the sake of the child and his mother. "You may pity my reliance on faith, but I pity your inability to surrender to yours."

"Do not presume you know anything about my faith."

"And yet you have the audacity to claim you know so much about mine?"

Unwilling to answer the question, the apostate changed the subject. "She was a slave in Tevinter?"

"Yes," Sebastian continued as if he'd never been interrupted, "but she escaped and returned to Ferelden, where she married a warlord named Maferath and rallied her people, the Alamarri, to fight against the Imperium. She knew the magisters were weakened by the First Blight, but she couldn't defeat them with her army alone. So she prayed for guidance every day even though no gods answered her pleas. Finally she began to sing to them, and the Maker was so enchanted by her voice and her resolve that he invited her to join Him at His side."

"Meaning?"

"To be his bride."

"Really?" the woman almost laughed. "Explain to me how that marriage would work."

"Do not pervert the honor of being the Maker's chosen. It was not a… consummated marriage by any means. It was a recognition of Andraste's character. And true to that character, which the Maker so valued, she instead implored Him to help her people bring down justice on the Imperium. Even after the First Sin, even after man betrayed the Maker by turning to the Old Gods, she was able to persuade him to forgive us. He rained down fire on her enemies and ravaged Tevinter with droughts that killed their crops and dried their fresh water reserves. Andraste lead the Exalted Marches up from the south and quickly proved her prowess as a leader."

"I take it something changed all that?"

"Yes, Andraste's mortal husband, Maferath. There is no excuse for why a man would become so weak as to betray not only the Maker's chosen, but his own wife."

"Do you… do you really value the vow Maferath took when he became Andraste's husband over the fact that she was the Maker's chosen?"

"He was her husband before the Maker heard her voice. It is one of the reasons we Brothers in the Chantry vow to take no bride but Andraste."

"So you honor Andraste by never…" she cleared her throat to get the message across without being crass.

"Yes," Sebastian answered, his voice unashamed, "Men especially must prove they can overcome these sins. Through chastity we demonstrate that we are devoted, faithful and without distraction. Still, Maferath represents the worst in all of us: men and women alike. It is the traits he showed when he betrayed Andraste that are the reason why the Maker has abandoned us."

"What happened when he betrayed her?"

"She was burned in public, a gruesome death befitting of no one. This was declared by Archon Hessarian, but it was decided by his wife, Lady Vasilia. She made her husband promise that he would use Andraste's death as a symbol and a message, not just a punishment. He agreed to have her executed in the town square of Minrathous with an audience of both her enemies and her soldiers. She did not struggle, however, nor did she scream or plea for her life. When Hessarian saw her true strength in that moment he regretted his decision and instead granted her a quick death to end her suffering."

"How?" the woman asked as she shifted carefully.

"He stabbed her though the heart," Sebastian answered. "She died instantly. Some say the Maker spoke to Hessarian in those last moments, but I would like to believe he made the decision on his own. He was the first Andrastian. He spread word of her valiance in the form of the Chant of Light and made sure the Alamarri knew of Maferath's betrayal."

"And do you believe it? Do you believe every word of it?"

Sebastian looked down and directly into the woman's eyes. "I do."

"Do you believe the Maker will ever return?"

"I do not possess the hubris to claim I know the Maker's intention, but by following a religion that preaches the importance of self-reflection and repentance, we can begin to demonstrate that we are ready for such forgiveness."

"Is there anything you think you would not do if it would grant is the Maker's favor again?"

An uneasy silence seeped into the air, and behind Sebastian's eyes there was a flood of thoughts flickering by as he fought to answer her. "Why… would you even ask such a thing?"

"Never mind then," she dismissed. "We should get some rest anyways."

After a moment of consideration Sebastian gave her little more than a nod and laid himself across the bed he was sitting on. The old springs in the mattress gave a whiny creak that had the prince wincing in anticipation before the baby even began to cry again.

The mother stirred and Sebastian went to apologize, but something the apostate woman did stopped them both. She placed her hand on the baby's chest and rubbed soothing circles as she began to hum him a song.

The woman's voice, even as just a hum, was still light and reassuring, enough so that for the first time she seemed feminine to Sebastian; her blonde hair tied back at the base of her neck, forest green skirt laid out for the baby to rest on and the hint of a genuine smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.

At first he thought it was the Chant of Light, which had enough parts to last for days, many of which he didn't know by heart yet. Regardless of the piece's title, the hummed lullaby began to work as much on him as it did on the child. He barely registered when the song began to have words.

"Is that," he tried to ask as he drifted off. "Is that Tev… Tevin…" But he was out before he could finish his question, and in the morning he found he couldn't remember a word of it.

Chapter Text

Music is very very hard to write about, so I figured that I'd tell you that I based the Tevinter hymn on Ebla by E S Posthumus. Wonderful song. I suggest you check it out.

And please, if I'm not adequately proofreading feel free to tell me so in a review. Or tell me anything in a review. I don't know how many people, if any, are reading this.

***The Planasene Forest***

Hawke oftentimes worried that his more practical instincts had faltered during his time as a nobleman of Hightown. He was still a skilled rogue when fighting, his steps silent and his movements unpredictable, but he hadn't stolen anything since his time living with Gamlen, and Varric had so much fun lock-picking that no one would dare take the task away from him. Anders had pressured Hawke to target pretty much every campsite they passed that night, but Hawke waited until they came across one with obvious signs of wealth. When they approached their eighth clearing, they found a horse tied to a nearby tree and a small coach wagon stopped alongside a spacious tent.

"How about them?" Anders whispered. "Think maybe they can spare some cloaks?"

Hawke pushed his lover lightly and began his approach. The sky was clear and the moon was almost full, granting him plenty of light. When he got closer to the tent he was almost disappointed to find a pair of cloaks hanging on the post right outside the opening. He'd been looking forward to showing off a bit for Anders, but he'd have to settle for an easy lift.

As he approached the tent, however, his illusion of simplicity was shattered by the sound of tell-tale giggling.

"Oh, Edouard," a voice moaned, accompanied by the sound of sheets rustling. Hawke stopped in his tracks and spun back around to face Anders, who already had a hand clamped over his mouth to stifle his laughter. He risked taking his hand away to clearly mouth the word "Orlesians."

Hawke reached for the cloaks but jumped back when the woman shrieked and a foot kicked out from the opening, not two feet away from his ankles. He took a deep breath and snatched both articles in one smooth swipe, and Anders seemed genuinely impressed when the cloth slid off the post without making a sound or moving the tent an inch.

As the two of them ran back into the safety of the forest, they stumbled over their own laughter as much as they did over the chunky roots jutting out of the ground. They finally let themselves collapse against a wide tree, with Anders' back against the bark and Hawke's hand bracing himself above his lover's shoulder.

It felt so good to laugh for the first time in so long that the sensation left them both dizzy, if not a little exhausted. As they came down from their high, Hawke began to notice the way the moonlight filtered through the canopy and peppered light across Anders' face.

"You think maybe those two were living their own personal romance novel? Fleeing danger, sleeping outside, rekindling their marriage?" Anders asked.

"See, why do you write manifestos when you could write such delicious smut?"

"I believe Varric and Isabela have that market cornered, love."

Hawke looked down at the cloaks in his hand and was glad to find they were both black and about the same size. He stepped back and hastily threw one over his shoulder before taking Anders' hands and pulling him away from the tree.

"Hawke I can put on my own-"

"Oh come now, let me be a gentleman for once."

"You? A gentleman?" Anders laughed. His body language made it obvious that he felt incredibly awkward, just standing there waiting to be dressed with his arms swaying idly because they lacked anything better to do.

Hawke slid the fabric behind Anders' shoulders and shook it straight before feeling around for the silver clasps and pulling them forward. Anders rolled his eyes and lifted his chin so the cloak could be closed properly. Without asking, he reached forward and grabbed the garment hanging over Hawke's shoulder and started doing the same.

As Hawke pulled the hood of Anders' cloak up, the mage pushed the hood of the Champion armor down. The rogue had had his hood up the entire journey, and Anders smiled at the sight of that shaggy dark hair like it was a once-lost memento.

Hawke was thinking something similar as he noticed, and not for the first time, that Anders had lost weight. The new black robes that Anders acquired before the attack slimmed him even further, contrasting his pale complexion and highlighting the severity of the shadows in every sunken part of his face. Anders was never one to be on top of shaving, but the two of them were now almost even in facial hair length and after the messy hack job early on in their escape, his hair was shorter than Hawke's. Which was good, because it hadn't been washed in quite a while.

Hawke didn't know how much longer he could handle watching Anders wither away, let alone how long Anders could handle being a fugitive. They were going to Orlais and they barely knew why. There'd have to be something miraculous waiting for them there if anything was going to truly change for the better.

For that moment, however, Hawke was willing to settle for the miracle that was Anders being with him at all, or even alive for that matter. Sometimes he thought their situation couldn't possibly be reality. It bordered on ridiculous, how they could go from a poor healer and a Ferelden refugee to the two most wanted men in Thedas.

"I think this is what the moon was like that night you first came to the estate," Hawke remarked.

"I take it you meant the first night I slept there."

Hawke pulled up Anders' hood and laughed. "I don't recall much sleeping."

"Neither do I, though not entirely for the reasons you're implying."

"You know, you look very dangerous and mysterious in this cloak," Hawke commented, his hands still on the sides of the hood, pulling Anders forward. "It makes me want to… imply all sorts of reasons."

"Does it now?" Anders asked. With the moon behind his head, all he was to Hawke was a shadow and a pair of eyes. There was always an instant, before their lips met, when Hawke felt the crackle of static in the air between them. He'd been with Anders for years, but touching the mage still made his pulse race, a result of the way Anders' skin hummed with latent magic. It was exotic — something Hawke's senses would never be able to fully understand and would always crave.

One of Hawke's hands slid behind Anders' neck and pulled him forward until they closed the remaining gap between their lips. The warmth inside Anders' mouth was the first real and visceral proof Hawke had that the mage was still alive somewhere deep inside himself.

The deep and rough intensity of the kiss caused Anders to break off and gasp in a quick breath, but all Hawke heard was life and presence, the likes of which he hadn't experienced in far too long.

Anders let out a grunt when his back hit the tree, but he ignored it in favor of wrapping his arms around Hawke's ribcage and reaching up to splay fingers across his shoulder blades. He arched his back off the tree and pressed himself against the leather and the belts of the Champion's armor, obviously just as desperate as Hawke for any degree of closeness he could steal from their wretched situation.

Hawke pulled one hand out of the cloak fabric and moved it to Anders' hip before working it up his body with erratic, desperate grasps. As he felt around, Hawke came across something large, hard, and… lumpy?

Sensing Hawke's confusion, Anders stopped and craned his neck back. A metallic jingling sound filled the air before Hawke finally stepped back, coin purse in hand.

"Is that…?" Anders began.

"Filled with sovereigns? Yes. Maker, there's a small fortune in here!"

"I know you don't want to hear this, but this is enough to pay our way onto a ship in Cumberland."

"That again? Anders, are you sure you want to do that?" Hawke asked.

"We don't have a choice. We can't take the Imperial Highway to Orlais. It's too open, too long, and too dangerous. We need to go by ship."

"And that's not too dangerous?"

"Not if we're willing to look the other way—find a ship doing something as illegal as we are."

Hawke didn't notice that he'd grabbed fistfuls of Anders' cloak, right under the clasps. "You're really willing to spend almost three weeks on a slaver ship?"

"You forget how much time I've spent in the Circle. Shutting yourself down becomes second nature eventually. And we have to, Hawke. It's the only way to get to Orlais. I have to meet this person. If, by some slim chance, they're actually not trying to kill me, I'd like to hear what they have to say. They're going through a lot of trouble and using some powerful spells to get me there."

"And what if when we get there, it's just some trap?"

"What other options do we have? I've begun a rebellion, Hawke. Word is being sent to Circles across Thedas. Mages are ready to wage war for their freedom. I can't just-" He stopped yelling when he noticed Hawke had begun to withdraw, and started again in a much safer whisper. "I can't just run away and hide somewhere with you until this 'blows over.' Maker knows I wish that we didn't live in this world, but we do, and I can't ignore it."

"I just wish you didn't think this was all your personal burden."

"I volunteered for this when I let one of the Maker's first children into my soul. You volunteered when you ran away with me instead of killing me while the rubble of the Chantry was still smoldering. But you can still leave. You don't… have to do this."

"In case you haven't noticed, I've never had a problem throwing myself to the wolves," Hawke pointed out, smiling to hide how hurt he was that Anders had offered to let him leave, again.

"Then we get on a ship in Cumberland," Anders spoke with a great deal of finality. The cloak slid out of Hawke's hands as the mage turned and continued their trek west.

***The Vimmark Mountains***

After the run-in with Ser Wren, Carver was finally forced to acknowledge the reality of their situation. They were broke and traveling on foot with very little food remaining, and that was the least of their concerns. The closest Templar outposts were in Cumberland and Starkhaven, which meant half the still-loyal knights would be heading through the same mountain pass as them. Carver's armor made it impossible for him to blend in with fleeing refugees, and Merrill was obviously no Templar.

"Merrill wait," he finally called out. "I need to… we need to talk about something."

"Oh," Merrill chimed with forced enthusiasm, "That always means good news."

Carver crossed his arms in front of his chest. "I see you picked up some of my brother's sarcasm."

"It took a while, but eventually I got the hang of it."

Carver's resolve began to waver as he found himself boyishly enamored by Merrill's prideful smile, stemming from something as simple as having finally figured out sarcasm. He would have given anything to just be sitting with her at the Hanged Man, like they did that one time before his brother's famed Deep Roads expedition. He barely had the nerve to say two words to her back then, but the way Merrill laughed at Isabela and Varric's antics always sounded so sweet and genuine to him. It was enough like Bethany's to bring him back to a happier time, and yet different enough to be uniquely hers.

"You're… not saying anything," Merrill remarked. "Did I… do you want to stop traveling together?"

"No!" Carver answered, a little too quickly and a lot too loudly. "I mean, I don't want to, but traveling together, a Dalish apostate and a Templar. I mean, a lot of Templars refused to fight alongside Meredith, so as far as they know I'm game for hunting Anders and my brother. And I need it to stay that way, at least for a little while longer. Helping you, that proves I'm not with them any longer, and I can't look out for any of you from a jail cell."

"Right, no, I understand."

Merrill began to nod her head repeatedly, as if the motion was going to make her statement a reality.

"There is one way we could travel together, but it's-"

Carver had to jump back a bit when Merrill was suddenly right under his nose. "What is it?" she asked, mirroring Carver's same quick and awkward enthusiasm.

"You have to let me… catch you."

"Catch me?" Merrill went silent for a moment and Carver assumed she was weighing the pros and cons of his proposal. He was wrong. "Is that something dirty?"

"What? No, Merrill. Why do you always think I'm trying to tell you something perverted?"

"Well, why aren't you?" she asked. "I mean, no one ever has dirty, flirty things to say to me. I guess it's just me being hopeful. Is that weird? It's weird, isn't it? It's just, people say dirty things to girls like Isabela all the time, but never to me. I feel like it's getting warmer out. Do you feel that?"

"No, it's not that-" Carver went over a myriad of statements that proved Merrill wrong, but it was a bad time for all of them. "What I mean is, you should let me pretend I'm turning you in to the Templars."

"Creators, that sounds terrifying!"

"I know, but listen," he said as he put his hands on her shoulders. "If we can find someone who is traveling west, I can say that I've captured you and I need their help escorting you to the Circle in Orlais, or something. You're kind of a high-profile criminal right now — I'm sure you warrant only the finest of mage prisons."

"Me? A high-profile criminal? Oh Carver, no one's ever said anything so nice to me before."

Carver raised an eyebrow. "You really aren't like other girls, are you?"

"You've said that before. What exactly does that mean?"

"Nothing, Merrill. Just… what do you want to do?"

"About the Templars?"

"Yes, about the Templars."

Merrill bit her bottom lip and toed the dirt in front of her. "If I agree to this, we can still travel together?"

"Yes, but we can't act like we're friends. You have to be afraid of me, or hate me. Maybe even try to get away, or pretend that I've hurt you."

"Oh, I know that you'd never hurt-"

"Well you have to pretend I would," Carver interrupted with a slight shake of her shoulders. "This is extremely dangerous. I don't want you doing it just because you want me around to yammer at the whole trip."

"I-I'm sorry," she apologized. Carver watched as she frowned deeply and reached down to wipe absolutely nothing off her thigh—anything to avoid the Templar staring down into her. "I… I understand. I'll do my best to act the part, I promise."

Realizing how much of an ass he was making himself out to be, Carver sighed then gritted his teeth in frustration. Without noticing he began to rub his thumbs up and down along Merrill's pronounced collarbones, subconsciously trying to communicate that he wasn't mad at her and didn't want to upset her. The sudden, gentle caress was almost shocking enough to make her jump. But when she gave it a moment, Merrill found her eyes sliding shut and a small sigh escaping her lips.

Had this happened six years ago, Carver would have realized what he was doing and jerked away from Merrill like she was on fire. Now, however, he believed they deserved this short moment of peace and intimacy. They didn't look at each other or say anything, but neither of them wanted to separate and actually put their dangerous plan into action.

Carver finally began to lift his hands away, but before he could step back Merrill wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek to the cold metal of his armor. "Promise me you won't actually let the Templars lock me up."

He wanted to tell her that he'd never let that happen, that he'd die first or that he'd always protect her; but he knew that the more she trusted him, the less she'd be able to pretend she didn't. It took all his resolve to push her away and turn his back on her. "I'll try," he offered coldly as he set off to turn her in.

***Cumberland***

By the time Sebastian woke up, the mother had already left and the mage woman had moved from the floor to the empty bed. He didn't usually wake up before she did, but he figured she stayed up to watch the baby.

For a brief moment, Sebastian was impressed with her gentleness and generosity, so much so that he found it difficult to crawl back to the contempt he was supposed to be feeling. Her quiet during the trip and their conversation the night before was misleading him, he realized. Elthina was still dead, heinously murdered along with everyone else in the Chantry that day, and at the hands of an abomination that this woman admitted to protecting. He'd seen her consumed by some unknown power, raining down a fire so bright and hot that it had blinded him. These facts he had to remember.

She must have heard him moving above her, or maybe she sensed his eyes boring into her. Either way, her muscles were tensed like she expected to be hit the moment she opened her eyes.

"Get up," he ordered. "We have somewhere to be."

"I can't keep walking around," she said, staring up at him from the bed.

"Once we get there, we're going to stay for quite a while." He drew his dagger and held up a small, empty glass vial. "And you won't have to worry about getting lost. Now give me your hand."

"No, allow me," she insisted with saccharinely polite sarcasm. She took the blade without it being offered and traced the sharp tip along the center of her palm. With her fist balled, she held out her hand to Sebastian and let him trickle the blood into the phylactery, which he tied around his neck before tucking it under his ivory breastplate.

True to her word, the apostate had even more trouble walking that day than she had before. Their destination wasn't far from the inn, but Sebastian had to stop and let her rest four times in that short duration.

When they arrived at the Cumberland Chantry, there was an army of Templars surrounding the building like a living wall. It wasn't as large as Kirkwall's Chantry, since the port city had very few regular patrons. The purpose of this Chantry was to give travelers a beacon of faith while they were abroad, so they did not feel abandoned by or distanced from their faith. After the incident in Kirkwall, however, the Templars were afraid to let people in, and the faithful were afraid to be there. When Sebastian arrived, he found himself being blocked from entering the almost-empty Chantry.

"What is your business here?" an older, male Templar asked as he placed himself in front of the door.

"Prayer for the fallen," Sebastian answered. "I am a brother from the Kirkwall Chantry who happened to not be at service during the attack. I would like time to reflect on why I was spared when so many of the devout fell that day. Please, grant us entry."

"And what of her?" the guard asked, jerking his head in the direction of the hunched, tired apostate.

Sebastian turned back to her and she met his gaze with a cocky expression that challenged him to answer. Explaining that he'd brought one of Anders' cohorts there for interrogation would, at the very least, get them kicked out and could quite possibly get them killed. Lying to the Templars to gain access to the Chantry, however, was a ridiculously hypocritical and blasphemous option.

Sebastian settled for a lie of omission. "She is my traveling companion, and she is ill. I do not think it wise to leave her unattended in the city, especially with the current state of affairs." He was a bit worried that the woman wouldn't play along, but when the Templar looked her over she thankfully did her best to look tired, pained, and harmless.

"Alright then," he relented. "Just make sure not to worry the Mothers and Sisters. They honor us by continuing their work in these troubling times, but they are indeed frightened."

"I will, and thank you. May the Maker watch over you."

"May he watch over us all," the Templar answered, nodding his head as Sebastian and the woman passed him and entered the Chantry.

The inside was a small, austere place lacking in the decoration Kirkwall's Chantry once had. Instead of stairs leading to a second level, there was only a small wooden stage for Chanters to recite from. The ceilings weren't all that high either, and there were a total of two statues of Andraste in the entire place, both only about life size. They stood on either end of the stage, placed with their backs against the opposing wall so that the prophetess was facing in the same direction as the Chanter. Between them was the large, iconic red banner that was in every Chantry, with the familiar golden sun painted across it.

Sebastian led his captive past the messily-fbarranged and empty benches to the area in front of the stage. The Chanter seemed to be out at that moment, but there were still candles burning. The archer let go of her and knelt down to pray.

When he closed his eyes, Sebastian allowed himself to, for a moment, relax and surrender to the familiarity that lived in the scent of incense and the echo of murmured prayers. When everything else in his life was confusing or chaotic, the Chantry was always so sure and so faithful. It was the only place that ever truly forgave him for his flaws or gave him a chance to earn their respect. No one in the Chantry cared that he was born third in a line of brothers, or that he was once a rebellious drunkard who was better at counting cards than keeping track of how many women he'd slept with.

He took a deep breath and implored the Maker for guidance, asking for help in getting his captive to see the error in protecting Anders. If He wanted the maleficar dead, then Sebastian would gladly act as His proverbial sword-arm. This, however, would have to be decided by Her Grace, and nothing would be decided if Sebastian couldn't catch Anders first.

Sebastian's eyes snapped open when someone suddenly clasped their hand on his shoulder and forced down a considerable amount of weight. It took him a moment to realize that the apostate was trying to kneel next to him and failing clumsily. One of her legs slid out to the side, but before Sebastian could see what was wrong she gasped and pulled it back under her robe. A nearby lay sister rushed over to help the woman get into position.

"Is everything alright? Is there anything you need? The Maker would surely not want you so seized with pain while you try to find guidance in His light."

The apostate smiled at the young girl, whose light and earnest voice made her seem even younger than her rounded face suggested. "No but thank you, Sister; you have been too kind. May the Maker guide your path."

The girl closed her eyes for a moment and Sebastian could have sworn she shivered. "What was… have we met?"

"No Sister, I do not believe we have. Now if you could leave me to my prayers."

"Right, of course," the girl agreed, though she remained still for almost a full minute before finally turning to leave, the look on her face not scared, just very confused.

"You would like to pray with me?" Sebastian asked once the girl was out of earshot.

"I would like to pray, yes, though I might venture to guess that you and I are not praying for the same things."

"What is it that you pray for, then? I will not condone you coming into this place and praying for the safety of that treacherous maleficar."

"Maleficar. There iss that word again. I do not think it means what you think it means."

"How do you believe I define it?"

"Mages," she answered plainly.

"And how do you define it?"

"Mages who believe themselves above their own Maker. The blasphemers who are blessed with magic by Him and then defy His holy law by using it to enslave and torture and kill."

"Is that not what Anders is? A murderer who thinks it is right to sacrifice the just and the faithful for his cause?"

"Did you not call him 'maleficar' even before that event?" she asked. She kept her hands tucked under her chin and her eyes forward, toward the golden sun, as if she were still praying. "Did you not call him 'abomination' even as he spent every waking hour healing the sick and wounded all without want for their coin? Did you not condemn his attempts to free mages from the Circle, some of whom you know for a fact were victims of rape and abuse at the hands of their Templar jailors? Anders has fought alongside you, healed you in battle; but from the moment you learned that magic courses through his veins, you passed your judgment and let it fester in your soul, for you have never been like him. You have never felt cause enough to throw your life away in earnest belief. I would venture to say you have never truly made a decision for yourself in your entire life."

Sebastian also remained facing forward, his expression placid despite his growing frustration. "You do not get to pluck anecdotes out of context and use them to justify your protection of a criminal, and you do not get to claim you know of and can judge every moment of my existence until now."

"Why travel with me if you find my observations so infuriating? Why not just kill me or hand me over to the Templars outside?"

"Because you will answer me, and after that you will answer to only the highest of courts."

"Answer what for you? I do not know where Anders is located, and even if I did, I would not tell you."

"You will tell me what he is planning, then."

"Honestly, he does not even know himself."

"So what, then? Are you the mastermind behind his sudden desire to go to Val Royeaux?" he asked sarcastically. He almost wanted to laugh; but when he snuck a look at the Tevinter woman, Sebastian was surprised to find her looking guilty. "Maker save us. You are, aren't you?"

The woman stopped pretending to pray and looked him in the eye. "I am but a messenger sent by another. But yes, that is the message I was told to deliver. And not just to Anders. You, your highness, are getting yourself tangled in something much bigger than you imagine. I suggest you untangle yourself while that is still a possibility."

There was something extremely unsettling about a woman who was willing to admit, in a Chantry, surrounded by Templars, that she was a part of some complex plan to attack the Grand Cathedral — and her tone of voice didn't abate the eeriness, either. She sounded so calm, as if she truly believed she was doing what had to be done. Her warning felt genuine as well, and for a moment Sebastian considered it.

"Then I will bring you to the Divine herself and she will decide your fate," Sebastian declared as he returned to his prayer. "I won't kill you and risk the potential information you could provide. Or perhaps you would make good bait for when your comrades arrive in Orlais. Either way, I suggest you take this opportunity to beg the Maker's forgiveness. I will pray for your soul as well."

The woman almost seemed relieved to hear that Sebastian would not give up his crusade against her and her cause. "And I for yours," she promised.

Chapter Text

***Waking Sea***

Every day on the ship was terrible. Getting on was nerve-wracking enough and almost didn't happen. Hawke told Anders to throw his staff into the ocean before they approached Cumberland, but the mage didn't want to risk being helpless while trapped on ship for weeks. He could cast without a staff, but there was no denying that the expensive, well-crafted weapon amplified his magic considerably. Neither wanted to bring up how it had belonged to his Malcolm Hawke himself, which oddly seemed to mean more to Anders than it did to Hawke.

Instead of entering the city via the main road, the two fugitives headed toward the shore during low tide and climbed over the rocks to get to the docking bay. It was easy to tell which ships they needed to avoid and which were potential marks. There were a lot of unenthusiastic, malnourished and terrified "crew members" on the boats they were looking for.

The boat captain had grungy ginger hair and was built with a perfectly triangular torso- all shoulders and arms with no waist- and he spoke with a thick, drunken accent that drowned his consonants in the long slur of his vowels.

"You ain't a member a my crew," he stated. He straightened his spine and folded his arms, mimicking professionalism as a means of warning them off.

"No, not crew. Patrons, possibly," Hawke suggested. He'd learned long ago, while protecting his father and sister in Lothering, that people would do anything to shut up someone who was chipper and overly enthusiastic. Humor also helped make him seem too happy and stupid to be of any real danger. "You have a ship, going to Orlais according to your manifest, and we were actually heading to Orlais ourselves. Lovely coincidence," he explained with a smile as he jingled the coins under his cloak, "don't you think?"

"And how exactly didja get to seein' my manifest?"

"Because I, like you, am in the business of… we'll say 'unappreciated talents.' My companion and I don't care what's on your ship so long as what's on your ship includes us."

The captain appeared to be considering the proposal, but one look at Anders undid most of Hawke's smooth talking. For all his insistence, Anders was still having trouble keeping the scowl off his face as he stared past the captain and took in the sight of all the tired, hungry captives on board. He could tell some of them were mages, either life-long apostates or recent escapees from one Circle or another. Mages and Elves were always the easiest to prey upon.

"You gotta problem, apostate?" the captain asked.

"No problem," Anders answered, finally looking away from the human cargo, "but plenty of coin."

"Yeah well, no amount a coin is gonna convince me to let ya take y'weapons witcha."

Anders leaned into the man's personal space. "Then I'll have to see if it's enough coin to convince someone else, now won't I?"

"A'ight, magey, bluff called," the captain relented. "Get on the ship before I change my mind, and keep ya mouths shut until we get to Val Royeaux. If I'ave one reason to remember yer on my ship, ya'off it."

During their two-week trip, which was interrupted occasionally by short pick-ups along the shore and one overnight stop in Val Chevin, Hawke and Anders spent most of the time with their backs against the wall and Hawke's arm around Anders' shoulders. They stayed like that for many reasons; the cold, the choppy waters, Hawke's overprotective tendencies, but most of all they did it to keep Anders from talking to the slaves or hurling ice spears through the crew.

"This better be worth it," Anders said once.

"Took the words right out of my mouth, love."

When a young girl was found dead after passing from some untreated disease, one that Anders might have been able to cure, Hawke could sense the nearly electric internal battle between Anders' consciousness and Justice's will. When the heavy breathing started Hawke pushed his way past Anders' protesting flails and grabbed both sides of the mage's face.

"Anders," he called out in a harsh whisper. He could see the red veins in his lover's eyes begin to flood with blue light. "Anders control yourself."

"I could have saved her," Anders rattled out, his voice shaking like he was freezing to death despite the warm sweat trickling down his temples.

Hawke had no idea what he was supposed to say. He knew generic go-to lines weren't going to be enough. No "you can't save everyone" or "you can't help everyone if you're dead" platitudes were enough of a salve for a wound that raw and that old. Lacking any better options, Hawke just held on to Anders tightly and hoped his leather-clad chest could muffle the mage's screams of physical and spiritual agony.

A few days later one of the young men, a fiery-tempered Alienage elf from what Hawke could see, tried to lash out against his captors. After he was easily beat down by the slavers he was taken to the deck to be thrown overboard, still chained to four other people who had nothing to do with his inconsequential revolt.

The dragging of chains could be heard clearly in the hold, clattering against the metal grating like some macabre instrument. Most of the slaves looked down and pressed their palms against their ears, but the horror was difficult to escape as sunlight threw the shadows of thrashing victims against the floor and walls all around them.

Hawke was so distracted that he didn't notice Anders had moved until the mage was standing up and fully in the throes of a battle against the Vengeance tearing its way through his veins.

"Go see what's goin' on in the hold. Make sure no one wants to join our friends up here," someone on the deck said before a chorus of screams and a series of splashes made Hawke's blood run cold.

Anders' illuminated hands stretched out and his back arched as if he'd just woken up from a sleep so long he'd forgotten how his body worked. The other captives gasped and scurried away in one clumsy, frantic, undulating heap.

Spirit energy crackled across Anders' skin, so bright it bathed the grungy, splintered wood in a blue light that wiped the shadowplay of tragedy off the walls. Hawke could hear the countdown of heavy footsteps above his head, and he didn't feel confident about any of his options. He'd calmed Anders down in this kind of situation before, but it took too much time and there was an entire crew of slavers who would descend on them if they saw what was going on. If swords started swinging and arrows started flying, Hawke was sure that many if not all of the slaves would get caught in Anders' path of vengeful fury. Hawke wondered, for a brief moment, if even he would escape that confrontation alive, or if Justice would seize the opportunity to get rid of his host's one last "distraction."

When Anders finally opened his mouth the sound that escaped could be felt as much as it could be heard. It was so guttural and hostile that Hawke didn't see Anders standing there anymore. He reached back and pulled off one of his daggers, spinning it around his index finger until the blade pointed behind him. With the grip securely in his hand he swung his arm forward and connected with the abomination's temple.

Anders crumpled to the floor immediately, but Hawke didn't get a chance to process the situation before at least three men were grabbing at his arms and shoulders, pushing him down to the ground. He didn't have time to regret his actions, or to curse how they were only half a day away from Val Royeaux. Everything blurred as some sort of vapor stung at the back of his throat, originating from a cloth held against his mouth and nose. He tried to call out to Anders, and when that failed he felt his knees finally buckle.

After his chest collided with the wooden floor his consciousness groped around in the dark for anything that could anchor him to reality. When he began to feel again the world was hard and cold, and for a hazy moment Hawke thought maybe he was on some giant block of ice. He reached out one last time and was relieved when his fingertips found dirty-yet-soft feathers to sink into.

"Don't move, love," Anders told him. "I don't know what they gave you, but it seems to be working itself out of your system over time. Just rest."

Hawke cracked his eyes open, but his surroundings were poorly lit and everything was still spinning. "Where?" was all he was able to breathe out.

Anders lifted Hawke's head onto his lap. "The Grand Cathedral," he answered, his tone poisoned with bitterness and regret. "We finally made it."

***Arlesans Border***

Normally Carver wouldn't have considered it lucky that he'd found a rich, religious, mage-hating husband and wife to travel with, but the couple had horses and a coach and were heading to Arlesans. More importantly, they were proud to help a Templar transport a dangerous criminal so she could face justice at the hands of the Divine. It felt like they were destined to meet, the wife said.

The trip was awkward but uneventful, a welcome side effect of the coach only being able to hold two people and a few pieces of luggage. Merrill and Carver rode on the horses and whispered to each other while facing forward, their stoic posture disguising the warm expressions on Carver' face every time Merrill smiled at him.

After they arrived in the small Orlesian city of Arlesans, however, Carver felt like it was impossible to stop sneering. Even if the war ended before he was born, Carver still felt like everyone in the Empire was obsessed with consuming and owning every thing they possibly could. He was sure the only reason why Orlesians concocted such ridiculous and expensive fashion trends was so they could be the first to have them. It was how they treated everything, conquering other people's lands for no good reason and declaring themselves the one, true religious epicenter of Thedas. Holding back the disgust that he felt in his gut was like trying not to scratch at some terrible rash.

"What do we do now?" Merrill asked as she was lead around the city by Carver, who maintained a firm grip on her wrist bindings.

"We should be able to get through the city unnoticed if people just think you're my prisoner. Do you know where in Orlais Flemeth wanted you to-" he began to ask before a small group of soldiers caught his attention; clad in black armor with a white Chantry sun across each of their chests.

There were three of them, two men and one woman, each with the olive skin tone and flushed complexion common in Nevarrans. There was something else though, something in the way their stark black hair framed and highlighted the bright amber color of their eyes.

"Pentaghasts," Carver realized. "And they're heading right toward us."

"Does that mean something important?" Merrill asked. "Of course it does, or you probably wouldn't have said anything. Stupid question."

"They're a royal Nevarran clan. Expert hunters too, though mostly with dragons. The older Templars talked about them all the time. Rumor has it one of them was meeting with Meredith constantly, but in secret. Let me do the talking and just… keep acting scared."

"Oh, don't worry about that," Merrill joked even as her entire body trembled with genuine fear.

"Are you Carver Hawke?" the woman asked. She was noticeably shorter than the other two, but her high ponytail left the entirety of her angular face open while her gaze demanded attention.

"Please, just Ser Carver," he requested, trying to sound disgusted. "You'll excuse me if I'm not fond of what my brother has done to the name Hawke."

"No issue, Ser Carver," she corrected. "I am Helena Pentaghast, and these are my brothers, Quentin and Frederick. I'm glad to hear your brother and his cohorts could not corrupt the morals of a good Templar such as yourself." She turned to take stock of Merrill. "And this is one of those cohorts, I see. The elven blood mage."

"That's right," Carver answered.

Helena stared directly into Merrill's eyes for a moment before spitting on the mage's face. Merrill was so shocked and disgusted that she didn't move or even breathe until one of the two Pentaghast men grabbed her bindings and pulled her toward them.

"Wait, what are you doing?" Carver asked.

"Your work here is done, Templar," one of the brothers told him. "Your service to the Maker is appreciated, but we will take the prisoner from here."

"Wait, no, I was…" Carver tried to think of where the Pentaghast clan would want to take an elven bloodmage. "...going to take her to the Grand Cathedral."

"If she survives interrogation then she will be put on trial there."

Carver felt so panicked he could have thrown up. This wasn't in his plan. "No," he argued, "I'm… I'm bringing her straight to the Divine myself."

"The Divine is trying to stop a war, Templar," Helena explained in a harsh whisper. "We need information on what your brother and that abomination are planning and we needed it yesterday. I will not have you impeding my investigation because you want the glory and recognition of turning her in yourself."

"Well too bad," Carver replied, grabbing hold of Merrill's shoulder and pulling until her back was against his chest. Before even he knew what he was doing, the Templar drew a small dagger from his hip and held it up against her throat. "You will do this my way or you won't have anyone to interrogate." He tried to make it obvious to Merrill that he wasn't trying to hurt her, but there was little he could do to alleviate her fears with cold steel pressed against her skin.

"Are you really going to fight me on this?" Helena asked. "Are you that greedy?"

"This isn't about money!" he shouted. He was attracting the attention of far too many people for Helena's liking, which provided a necessary distraction and bought him time to think up a motive for his faked irrationality; something to tie all his demands together in a way that wouldn't get either of them killed. It dawned on him suddenly, albeit also a tad bitterly.

Everything was always about his brother.

"If she's dead, or hidden in some secret dungeon somewhere, then my brother is never going to come after her," he argued. "You have to keep her out in the open, where she can be seen, or you'll never catch him, and I'll never get to make him pay for what he's done."

Merrill's soft, terrified sobs were the only sound that could be heard for almost a full minute. "Fine," Helena finally agreed, her voice quiet and even as she looked out at the crowd, "we will transport her to Val Royeaux while we interrogate-"

"No. I don't know what kind of allies my brother has, but hurting her will only force him to retaliate," Carver warned, knowing full well that his brother was down to about five allies, if even that. "I have thought this through. You will need my help if you intend on capturing him."

The murmurs coming from the flowing bustle of city traffic continued to work in Carver's favor, hurrying Helena through her decisions and making her desperate for the conversation to be over. "You better be right Templar. I better not get to Val Royeaux only to find the Grand Cathedral in pieces too."

"She'll make perfect bait," Carver explained. "I knew Anders. He is entirely stupid enough to think he can just waltz up to the Divine and start making demands. Grand Cleric Elthina humored him too much, but her downfall can become our advantage." Weaving in bits of truth helped Carver relax, and he was becoming convinced that if he had actually wanted to trap his brother this panicked, thrown together farce of a plan might have actually worked.

Helena looked back at her brothers, who were outwardly upset with Carver's erratic behavior. "What do you think?"

"I think this young man needs to learn some discipline and tact," one of them responded.

"Cassandra already sent word that the blabbermouth dwarf doesn't know where the Champion is," the other brother said. "Not that our dear cousin would be of much help anyways. She still insists Hawke and the Hero of Ferelden could stop this war better as leaders than as prisoners. This maleficar is our best lead."

Carver pushed aside any worries that bubbled up when he heard the mention of Varric. He knew he was almost through this, but he couldn't think of how to give the Pentaghasts that one last push they needed.

"Take me to your Divine," a shaky voice demanded.

"Speak again, prisoner?" Helena challenged.

Merrill turned and pressed her wet cheek against her shoulder and used the feathers there to wipe her tears and the Neverran woman's saliva off her face. "I don't know where Hawke and Anders are, and even if I did I wouldn't tell you. But if you take me to your Divine I will gladly tell her that I am proud to stand by the decisions they have made. They are my friends and my allies. I will not turn my back on them."

At first Carver was impressed with Merrill's awareness of what the situation needed. Challenging the Pentaghasts while also negating the need for a torturous interrogation was exactly the kind of posturing needed to keep her alive, at least until Carver could think of a plan to help her escape.

He almost slipped up and smiled, but something in the heavy silence that suddenly blanketed the air made his spine tighten with apprehension. Helena stared at Merrill with all the intent and intensity of a murderer, glaring so aggressively it made Carver look away when he wasn't even the target. The way Merrill stared back, eyes unwavering and indomitable, communicated to the Templar that she was in no way playing an angle. Not in that moment.

"Get this abomination out of my sight," Helena commanded without breaking eye contact. "And none of this flimsy rope business. I want her in irons, wrists and ankles. She'll ride with me."

Merrill continued to stare as well, even as the two men began to haul her off.

"We're leaving in an hour," Helena explained to Carver as she followed her brothers. "Meet us at the stables."

When they were out of sight and the people of Arlesans returned to their business, Carver finally had the opportunity to realize what had just happened. He had just threatened and lied to three members of a clan whose military heritage, religious ties, and political influence were legendary. Now he was going to travel with them while secretly aiding an apostate who admitted to supporting the mass murder of Chantry officials.

And yet as he reeled from the anxiety of his predicament, Merrill was fearlessly throwing herself on the sword for the sake of a vague mission given to her by some ancient dragon witch. Or was it her loyalty to his brother? Both? Carver had no idea, and that uncertainty was morphing his self-consciousness into guilt.

He'd never asked Merill anything about what happened during the six years he spent as a Templar. He still thought she was an oblivious, flighty little thing who used words like "swording" and wholly believed every word out of Varric's mouth. He was fully aware of how he had changed, yet he never considered that perhaps Merrill had done the same. Now she was willing to be clapped in irons and dragged to the Val Royeaux, and Carver had no idea why.

Their second trip was nothing like the trip with the noble couple. Helena kept Merrill under constant supervision and only one of the three Pentaghasts slept at any given time, leaving Carver absolutely no opportunities to speak with "the prisoner." They all noticed the longing stares the elf gave him, and they tested the Templar's devotion to their cause daily, watching his reactions when they made her sleep outside or denied her food.

In the beginning, Carver was impressed with Merrill's fortitude. She was obviously tired, hungry and sore, but she never responded to their insults or their accusations, nor did she do or say anything that would put Carver in danger. It was frightening, though, living their lie every hour of every day without a single moment to remind themselves that it wasn't true.

The night before the last leg of their journey Merrill's lethargy made it clear that her morale was waning. She either fainted or fell asleep while on the back of the horse, and when she fell off Helena drew a sword and leapt to the ground. Without thinking, Carver swung his legs over and dropped off his horse as well, but he stopped himself when he realized what it would look like if he rushed to help an apostate. He didn't breathe as Helena stood over a bound and helpless Merrill, but he didn't know what else to do.

When Merrill didn't flee and Carver didn't attack, Helena stopped and waited as well. She turned back and noted how he was apprehensive, but unmoving. "Good," she said, dropping her stance. "I was worried you'd try to protect her."

Merrill groaned on the ground and let her head loll to the side. Her eyes fell half open, more out of reflex than any real effort to stay awake or alert.

Carver didn't sleep that night. There was only one possible plan left, and he wavered back and forth between refusing to acknowledge it and steeling his resolve so he could get it done. When everyone prepared to head out the next morning, Merrill, in a risky move, tried to mouth him a question, but he ignored her and rode in the front of their party so he wouldn't have to look her in the eye.

He'd never even been to Orlais before this journey, let alone the Grand Cathedral. It was appropriately named, he thought to himself when they arrived- so white and so tall he felt it looked fake, like his view of it could have been framed and carried off with him. The Chanters inside could be heard for miles, and when they got close it felt as if the words were pouring out of every window and off every balcony of the massive structure.

His mind was babbling in a desperate attempt to distract itself; just like Merrill.

Carver's horse dropped behind Helena's again, and he noticed the way in which Merrill was frantically looking side-to-side, ready and waiting for some kind of escape or rescue to start happening. He didn't know if she was waiting for him or his brother, but her shaking intensified as they drew closer, and still no one came for her.

The small army of Templars guarding the outside of the Cathedral surprised no one. There were desperate pleas for answers from the Divine pouring in from all across Thedas. Would there be a war? Where should Templars report? Were the faithful safe in houses of worship anymore? Which cities were allies? Carver could hear the din of chaotic conversation even over the Chant.

Being a member of the Pentaghast clan created its own roads, Carver came to realize. Orlesian nobles waved money and paperwork in the faces of overwhelmed Templars, but the sight of iconic black armor adorned with a white sun denoted an importance that every knight in the Order recognized.

Their small party stopped at the main doors of the Cathedral before they dismounted. Merrill had given up all pretenses of being Carver's prisoner and was pleading to him with her eyes to do something.

It was too late, however, and Carver had messed up too much. He should have just run away with her- sold the amulet or his armor or robbed someone even; anything that wasn't marching her into an Orlesian mage prison to await torture and execution.

Turning her in would gain him a lot of prestige, however, and with prestige came authority and with authority came access. If he was going to get ahold of information on his brother while still being able to watch over Merrill, this was his only option. He had to make them believe it, though. He had to make Merrill believe it.

Helena pulled Merrill toward her, sneering when the elf began to struggle. "I thought you wanted this, apostate?"

"Please, don't do this," Merrill begged. Helena probably thought it was directed at her.

"This her?" one of the Templars asked. Carver noted that the man appeared to be the oldest knight there.

"Yes, Knight-Commander Evansten," Helena answered. "Ser Carver here has some things he would like to discuss with you regarding her care and her usefulness."

When Helena pushed Merrill toward the severe, grey-haired Templar, the elf finally snapped. She flung her head back and bashed it into the Pentaghast woman's nose before she began to weave her way into the crowd. She tried desperately to crane her neck far back enough to see her own hands behind her back, but she didn't have the chance to free herself with a spell before she was swarmed by Templars and dragged back with a knight holding each arm.

"You said you wouldn't let them take me!" she shouted, her voice breaking so much on the last word Carver almost didn't catch it.

"I never said that," he replied calmly. It hurt so much to say it because it was the truth and she knew it. She had asked for the promise, yes, but she never got it.

"Please," she whispered. "Ma vhenan'ara, don't do this."

Carver didn't know what the words meant, but he spit out a response before he could let the desperation in her voice break his resolve. "Lock the bitch up."

"No," Merrill stated as if she had a say in the matter. "No. Carver! Carver don't do this!"

And as the Templars began to move her toward the door Carver allowed himself to be a coward and chose to stare at the ground.

***Imperial Highway***

Sebastian went back to the Chantry the next day and asked the Cumberland Knight Commander if she could spare any Templars to watch out for Anders. She could only spare two, so Sebastian decided to have them do rounds while he stood guard outside the city gates himself. He asked incoming Kirkwall refugees if they'd seen any sign of Anders, but as the days passed he found himself acting as a Chantry liaison instead. As more and more former residents of Kirkwall poured in, Sebastian began judging their need and sending them to the inns if they had the money and the Chantry if they didn't. Some people were so afraid of another attack that they preferred sleeping in the street to sleeping in the Chantry, but those who were willing were sent to speak with the tall blonde woman in the forest green robes.

They both stopped taking up room at the inn and spent their nights sleeping on the Chantry's benches instead, lulled to sleep by softly-spoken excepts from the Chant of Light. Every morning Sebastian left the Tevinter woman in the Chantry, and every morning she was more than happy to be there. The Sisters adored her, and they told Sebastian that she hummed to calm scared children and offered sincere, wise advice to anyone who needed it. A few even teased him and asked when he was going to "say something to her," to which he explained that he was an avowed Brother.

About two weeks into their routine, a Templar came to relieve Sebastian of his post and told him he was needed at the Chantry. When he arrived he found his mage companion sitting at a bench with her head bowed, whispering prayers to herself.

"Have you changed your mind yet?" she asked him.

"I should be asking you that," he replied. "Has your time here not made you see the good and the necessity of the Chantry?"

"That is not what I called you here to discuss," she said dismissively. "I believe it is time for us to leave Cumberland."

"Excuse me? That is not your decision to make," he reminded her.

"Anders will reach the Grand Cathedral soon, we need to leave now if you plan to intercept him."

Sebastian's neck craned back in disbelief. "So you have changed your mind then?"

"You asked me to help you catch Anders and turn him in to the Divine. You asked me to condemn his actions and treat him like a criminal. I will do none of those things, but you and I have more similar goals than you might think."

"You do understand that when we get to the Grand Cathedral, you will be imprisoned and tried for conspiring against the Divine, correct?"

The woman shifted her weight and turned so her knees were pointed toward Sebastian. "Are you going to turn me in?"

Sebastian felt the answer was obvious, but for some reason it was difficult to admit out loud. The woman always had a veneer of calm resolve, and she'd never once tried to attack him or anyone in the Chantry. She could have, too. She could have lit the building on fire or thrown Sebastian through a wall. He'd seen what magic had done to Hawke's enemies; he knew what she was capable of.

"You have told me too much," he offered as a replacement for a simple 'yes.'

"I just want to know if you are sure of your convictions before we depart."

"Why the sudden concern about my convictions?"

The woman rested her body against the back of the bench and took one last, longing look at the Chantry. She seemed fond of the place and sad to leave it. "Brother of the Chantry, may I confess something to you?"

"Haven't you confessed enough?"

"Do you not wish to hear more?"

Sebastian crossed his arms and sighed. Everything with her was too easy, to the point where he suspected that cryptic undertones were hiding in everything she said. He felt like he was being asked to solve a riddle every time they spoke. "What is it you wish to confess?"

"I believe you are a better man than you give yourself credit for," she admitted, gazing forward at the Andrastian sun. "At the very least, I believe you have the potential to be that man, and it upsets me when you do not listen."

"When, may I ask, have I ever refused to listen to you?"

"Not to me," she corrected. "To yourself." She leaned in close and checked to make sure no one else was close enough to hear her. "I found it odd when I felt the presence of other mages in the Chantry, and even odder still when I learned that you had sent them here. With no Templars or Mothers to guide you, you never once thought of how your post at the city gates granted you a stellar opportunity to filter out apostates, did you?"

Luckily a Sister came by to check on the pair, because Sebastian didn't have a response.

They never continued that conversation. Sebastian left soon after and packed up the horse so they could set off for Orlais again. The Sisters hugged the Tevinter woman before she left, and the young lay Sister from the first day began crying, though she couldn't explain why.

The section of the Imperial Highway that led to Orlais was less cluttered than the road to Cumberland, allowing Sebastian to move much faster than before.

"Where exactly do you intend to meet up with Anders?" Sebastian asked the first night as they were making camp.

"Where the Maker wills me to, I am sure," she answered, and Sebastian was surprised by the resentment in her reply.

Though their conversations throughout the journey were often brief, they always ended with the woman saying or asking something Sebastian couldn't think of a reply to. "Were you upset that no one ever tried to kill you?" she asked once of his family's assassination. "Did you worry that you were not worthy of being targeted?"

The second to last day saw the mage overflowing with questions and arguments.

"Do you think the Chantry benefits from the people's fear of mages?"

"I don't see how," Sebastian said, confused. "I think the public benefits far more from the training and safety offered by the Circle."

"Safety for non-mages, you mean."

"Mages need to be protected from themselves just as much as others need to be protected from them."

"And who protects mages from the Templars who watch them bathe in the name of Chantry law?" She was behind him on horseback, but Sebastian could hear the scowl on her face. "Who force themselves on mages as punishment for made-up crimes? Who drown themselves in lyrium until they cannot live without it? Who-"

"Anecdotes again," Sebastian interrupted. "For all your stories, which I do admit are horrific and unfortunate, there have been plenty of Templars who serve the Maker dutifully and without incident."

"Serve the Maker by keeping the mages in Circles, yes?"

"Yes."

"Because?"

Sebastian knew he was being baited, but it was nigh impossible to ignore a woman whose knees were flanking his thighs. "Because Andraste said magic should serve man."

"Does any mage serve man enough to earn your blessing?" she wondered. "Can a mage ever serve man enough and thereby earn his or her freedom for having done so?"

"Not when so many turn to blood magic and lack the mental fortitude to resist the lure of a demon's promises, no."

"So Andraste said that magic should serve man, but even after serving man literally no mage is allowed to be free, no matter what?"

Sebastian gritted his teeth and tried to calm himself with a deep breath. "You are trying to sum up a very difficult situation in one sentence. It is not so simple as that."

At camp that night, the woman stared at him from the other side of the fire like a human staring at the flailing of a trapped animal- unable to help but too concerned to just abandon the poor thing. It made Sebastian feel extremely patronized.

"Would you ever forgive the Chantry if you found out they lied to you?" she finally asked. "Would you be able to handle learning such a thing?"

"Do you wish to add slander to your list of charges?" he wondered.

"Let us pretend I am asking this hypothetically."

"I do not believe the Chantry is lying to me about anything," he offered as a non-answer.

"Do you choose not to answer because you are unsure as to what you would do? Have you never, in your entire life, considered such a possibility?"

"When I was young and an embarrassment to my family, maybe," Sebastian offered, "but the Chantry has been a haven for me and I have vowed to respect and spread their teachings. That is a vow I do not intend to break."

"And that is honorable," the woman admitted. "But do you not believe the Chantry would be undeserving of your devotion if they lied to you? I am not suggesting a small lie, I am inquiring about a foundation built upon deception and manipulation."

"Do you ever intend to tell me what it is you're accusing the Chantry of lying about?"

"I would prefer you ask the Divine herself. Capturing me should grant you an audience with her."

Sebastian leaned back and rested his weight on his outstretched arms. "You accuse the Divine of being manipulative and a liar, and yet you believe she would admit everything to me if I just simply asked?"

"My intention is not to paint Justinia as a tyrant, or as the only one at fault. What I mean to suggest is that she is one in a long line of Chantry leaders who have morphed Andrasteism into something it was never meant to be; each set of leaders making small changes that no one generation was able to recognize until it was too late."

"You have interesting theories," Sebastian said, putting a condescending emphasis on his words.

The woman pulled her legs up and rested her chin on her knees. "Promise me you will ask her."

"You are not in a position to demand I promise you anything."

"Please?" she tried, but it sounded awkward in its insincerity. She wasn't a woman who begged, Sebastian could tell that much.

"So you believe this theory of yours justifies what Anders has done? What you and Anders still plan to do?"

"Yes, and you do not," she noted, recognizing that anything she said would fail to satisfy Sebastian.

"The sheer number of dead alone makes what he did atrocious, but I knew many of those people. They were devout, and kind. Grand Cleric Elthina was an apotheosis of dedication to the Maker, and she was wise in her fairness to both sides of the controversy. Maybe you've only heard Anders' version of things, but you should know that his accusations about her character were not true. She was not, as he so disrespectfully called her, a 'spineless old biddy.' She did not deserve to die."

"In times of war, and this is a war," she explained with no room for argument, "not everyone who needs to die deserves to die."

"How can you say that?" he asked as he rose to his feet.

Too tired to stand, the woman sat up on her heels. "How can you say otherwise? No battle has ever been a stand off between the perfectly innocent and the undeniably evil, and no battle ever will be. Acknowledging and accepting that, making the decisions no one wants to make- that is what being a leader is about, Sebastian."

At the sound of his name, Sebastian took an unintentional step backward. He'd been traveling with this woman for a month and they'd never once used names when addressing each other. It kept them emotionally separated, and he was glad for that.

"I meant what I said in the Chantry," she continued, her voice having softened a bit. "Though we disagree and I find your blind devotion misguided, I know it comes from a place inside you which aspires to be a noble person. But you cannot continue to let someone else define that for you. Not your family, not the Chantry. No one but you."

They didn't speak again for the rest of the night, and when they awoke the next morning the woman was back to her usual taciturn self. Sebastian, on the other hand, finally voiced the question that had been ruminating in his mind for weeks.

"What is your name?"

Usually, when she didn't want to answer, the Tevinter woman had some sort of stonewalling response that stopped the conversation dead. This time there was only silence, and for Sebastian it was extremely telling.

"Oh, a famous name then?" he asked. "Are you someone of power in Tevinter? Do you come from a well-known line? Or perhaps you're a magister."

"I was, once. A magister," she whispered. Her voice sounded so far away Sebastian found himself looking back to make sure she was still there.

"Is that why you support Anders, then? Do you believe it will help you regain some sort of status in the Imperium?"

"I guess you could call it a status of sorts. But what of your intentions with this manhunt? I am sure Starkhaven would gladly welcome a prince who defended the Chantry by capturing its greatest public enemy."

"You are an expert at deflection, I will give you that," Sebastian admitted, "but what shall I call you when I approach the Divine with news of your capture?"

"Call me 'apostate' if you need to address me as something. I do not see why you are just now curious as to what my name is."

The horse reached the crest of the hill before Sebastian could reply, and the grandiose view that awaited him wiped his mind of any retort he could have come up with. He'd never been to the Grand Cathedral before, and even though his parents' castle housed many tapestries and paintings of the structure, it was nothing compared to being there. The wind that blew by carried with it a chorus of voices singing the Chant of Light, calling him to a place that felt like home despite its unfamiliarity.

As Sebastian approached he was surprised when he recognized Hawke's brother, Ser Carver, standing beside a stern-looking woman with dark features and even darker armor. She had her hand up to her nose, which seemed to be bleeding a little. They were discussing something with one of the other Templars, but the older knight held up a hand and silenced them when he noticed Sebastian.

"Serah Vael, yes?" the Templar asked. "I am Knight Commander Evansten. Divine Justinia received your letter but," he leaned to the side and peered at the Tevinter woman, "this woman is not the fugitive Anders or the Champion of Kirkwall. What is the meaning of this?"

"I believe that she is working with And-"

Sebastian had barely even begun his explanation when the pounding of horse hooves and the aggressive yell of riding commands came pouring over from the same path Sebastian had taken from the outskirts of the city. Concerned nobles scattered in various directions, none of them knowing where the riders were going or what their intent was. There were five of them in total, all male and all dressed in the leather and rags typical of the sea's less lawful travelers.

It felt like an attack, but if that were true it was a complete suicide mission for the pirates. Every person, Templar or not, who had a weapon on them drew it. Sebastian readied his bow and drew back the string, staring down the arrow at the man leading the charge. As he continued to focus on the captain, however, the archer soon realized the real reason why the men were so confident and in such a hurry. Without thinking he simply blurted out "Maker, they have Hawke and Anders!"

"What?" Carver shouted, his voice overlapping with so many conflicting emotions that Sebastian still had no idea where the young man stood on the matter.

"You must be joking," the woman in the dark armor declared. She raised a hand to shield her eyes against the setting sun and watched the pirates continue to approach. "Blasted! All that work and the bastards just show up on the back of some bloody pirates' horses."

"Oi," the leader called from a safe distance away. "I gotta feelin' you'll pay good money for my friends here." The man was so filthy that his skin looked grey and his hair was a dusty, disheveled mess. He jumped off his horse and pulled a bound, struggling Anders with him before kicking the mage in the back of the legs. When Anders was finally on his knees the man grabbed a fist full of blond hair and held the apostate still. He turned back and motioned for someone else to come forward as well, this man carrying an unconscious Hawke thrown over one shoulder.

Sebastian was so baffled by the turn of events that it ruined his ability to focus. At some point someone… paid the pirates, maybe? But he didn't know who or how much or how long it all took to happen. He too was crushed by disappointment and almost confused by the anticlimactic nature of it all. He knew that capturing two dangerous fugitives was the top priority, not his ego, but he'd always believed that having him, or at least some other Andrastian, bring in Anders would have been the Maker's plan.

"-ast Circle left," someone said.

Sebastian blinked hard and pulled himself back to reality. "Excuse me?"

"We have very little room for prisoners here," Evansten explained. "The tower in Montsimmard is the last Circle of Magi remaining which hasn't fallen to rebellion, and due to recent events it is basically a prison, with the worst offenders being sent here. Considering many of our Templars have rebelled as well, I'm not sure we can take this woman, especially now when we are sure to be busy with our three newest arrivals."

"Three?" Sebastian echoed.

"Yes, Ser Carver over there brought us the elven blood mage as well," the Commander explained. At some point during Sebastian's reverie Carver had left to oversee the capture of his older brother. "We're hoping we can break at least one of them, learn what they had planned before this catastrophe becomes all-out war."

"It already has," someone announced. Sebastian turned and found that his mage companion had dismounted and was limping toward them. "You cannot escape the inevitability of war with your deception and your politics anymore."

"Do you want me to change my mind about locking you up?" the Commander asked.

Carver began shouting over the loud and curious crowd, asking where his brother was going and what was going to be done with him. He tried to ask Anders what had happened, but the mage only glowered at Carver in a way that clearly communicated a great deal of blame and distrust.

Sebastian caught Anders' attention for a moment as well, and he couldn't help but smile as the mage's fury quickly melted away. He thought, at first, that it was due to the realization that Sebastian had indeed been right when he said that the Chantry would not let the maleficar get away with his crimes. After following Anders' gaze, however, Sebastian discovered the target wasn't him, it was his companion.

"It's you," Anders said, fighting back against the Templars with renewed vigor. "It's you isn't it?"

Sebastian turned in time to see the Tevinter woman nod, and it reconstructed his assumptions about her and Anders' relationship. Had they really never met before? If so how did Anders know how to recognize her in the first place?

"Throw them in with the blood mage," the woman in the dark armor demanded. "And make sure they're guarded at all hours."

"No, wait," Anders called out, "I need to-"

The mage woman lifted her arm and with one strong push forward used force magic to knock back the Templars who were dragging Anders away. She tried to limp toward her fellow mage, but Sebastian grabbed her arm before she could get very far.

"Don't tell anyone anything," she shouted. "Not even Hawke."

"I haven't," he promised. He tried to move closer to her, but his bindings tripped him and sent him crashing to the dusty Orlesian earth.

"That's it, you're getting your wish," the Knight Commander said as he grabbed hold of the mage woman's free arm. "Cram all four of them in a cell and report anything you hear them say. We'll worry about interrogations after we speak with Her Grace."

Already spent, the Tevinter mage's legs gave out from under her and a second Templar came to help drag her away with Anders and the still-unconscious Hawke. Sebastian watched her until the doors of the Circle tower slammed shut between them.

"Come," the Knight Commander ordered as he motioned for Sebastian and Carver to follow him. "We must meet with Her Grace at once."

Eight words Sebastian had been fantasizing about for a month, and suddenly they meant nothing.

Chapter Text

***Underground Prison***

Throughout the day (or evening maybe, there was no way to tell) Hawke had vague moments of awareness in which he heard people speaking or felt himself being moved. He swore he heard his name too; something along the lines of “Did you tell Hawke?” or “Does Hawke know?” And while he recognized that it was Anders who responded, he had no idea what was being said.

Over time, Hawke realized there were three voices speaking. The first was Anders, and the second was soft, feminine and probably Dalish considering how much it sounded like Merrill's. The last voice, however, had an androgynous pitch that made Hawke flip-flop between insisting it was a woman and positive it was a man.

Hearing someone say “Carver,” however, sobered him with a jolt. With his parents and his sister gone, Carver was all he had left, and Hawke was too sick, scared and worried to be embarrassed by his over-sentimentality. He tried to slur out a messy “What about Carver?” but when the words didn't come out as anything remotely intelligible he tried to get up, worried that his brother was there or maybe in trouble. The movement undid what little his body had done to recover, and quickly curled on his side to prepare to throw up. When all that came out was a dry heave, Hawke became aware of how long it had been since he last ate or drank anything.

“Hawke, deep breaths, okay,” Anders instructed before Hawke found himself being rolled onto his back by more than two hands. “In through your nose, out through your mouth.”

It took a few attempts for Hawke to even get the steps right, and a few more cycles before it began to slow down the spinning in the room.

“Tell me if you feel nauseous again,” Anders said. “The last thing we need right now is you choking to death on your own vomit.”

“It feels like I drank a warehouse of Antivan brandy,” Hawke was hoping he said. “And what's the point of seducing a healer if he can't even cure a bad hangover?” Hawke didn't realize there was a hand stroking his hair back until it stopped and Anders sighed. “Anders? What's going on?”

“This prison we're in, it's built to hold mages. I'm not entirely sure how it works but it negates our magic. I imagine this must be what Tranquil mages feel. Just... empty, and useless.”

“Sit him up,” the unfamiliar voice commanded. “We need him alert.”

“He needs to rest,” the Dalish woman in the room argued, and now that he was more awake Hawke realized the voice wasn't just similar to his former companion's.

“Merrill?”

Before anyone could answer a pair of strong arms hooked under Hawke's armpits and began to pull him into a sitting position. He opened his eyes and pressed his palms flat on the floor to help brace himself while everyone shifted him toward a very close wall. Someone grabbed both sides of his face, and his eyes wandered as they tried to find the other person in the swirling, dark room.

“Oh you're a woman,” he blurted without thinking. He squinted and widened his eyes to varying degrees, trying to find the setting that best focused his vision so he could piece together her features. She had very messy, sandy blond hair and prominent widow's peak. Though her eyes had a unique curve and her lips had an earthy redness to them, the lines of her upper body were strong and squared. “A handsome woman,” he added.

“Hawke!” Anders shouted. “You can't just-”

“It's fine,” she excused.

“I wish I could say he isn't usually like this," Anders apologized, "but I can't. That drugs are just slowing his natural smartassness down a bit.”

“How did we even get here?” Hawke asked. He raised one arm and motioned clumsily toward where Merrill's voice had come from. “How'd she get here?”

“Carver,” was all Merrill could answer. Her voice broke like she was going to start crying, but she sounded too tired for even that.

“What about Carver?” Hawke asked, trying to move toward the sound of Merrill's voice. When he was pushed back against the wall without an answer, his anxiety grew exponentially. “Where is he? Is he hurt?”

“Hawke... “ Anders began delicately, “she means Carver is how she got here. Carver turned her in to the Templars.”

“But, that doesn't even, I mean-” Hawke could do little more than squnit disbelievingly at Merrill, who was sitting behind Anders and the blond woman on the opposite side of their cramped cell. She was using one arm to hug her knees to her chest, seemingly unable to make eye contact without feeling ashamed of herself. Hawke desperately wanted to know what the whole story was, but even he knew better than to ask right then, and there were plenty of other questions going through his mind. He looked up at the blonde woman once again and studied her features until he was sure he'd never seen before in his life. “Well then, who are you?”

“This is the woman who brought me here,” Anders explained. “I'm sorry, but I can't tell you much more.”

“And why not?" Hawke asked. "And why aren't you scared or worried or righteously furious? This isn't like you at all. What in the Maker's name is going on here?”

Anders turned and looked through the wooden planks running vertically and horizontally across the cell entrance. Hawke followed the mage's eyes and saw the backs of two fully-armored Templars and, across from them, two more.

“Well, what are we supposed to do then?” Hawke whispered.

“We wait,” the woman answered.

“We obviously haven't met,” Hawke stated with a forced and tired laugh. “I'm terrible at waiting. I've built my name on impatience and failing to keep my nose out other people's business.”

“I agree with Hawke,” Merrill added. “I mean, not about how he's terrible about minding his own business. Well, okay, yes that's true too, but I mean-” She stopped and took a deep breath. “I'm being punished for helping Anders and Hawke, even though I was never really much help. I want to change that. I will do whatever you need me to.”

“She's right,” Anders added. “There has to be something we can do.”

“Sweet Andraste, what did those slavers give me?” Hawke asked. “I almost thought I heard you agree with Merrill. You, who bet me fifty silvers you'd never agree with her for as long as you lived.”

“Well 'as long as I live' isn't going to be much longer if we don't do something,” Anders retorted before turning back to the... rather large woman now that Hawke could see her better. “We're already here, and Maker only know how long it'll be until they come to torture or execute us. We can't just sit here. You of all people have to know some way to get us out of this. Tell us what you need, we'll do-”

“What I need is for all of you to be patient,” the woman snapped. As everyone's strong wills deflated, Hawke saw her stern, aggravated demeanor melt away to reveal genuine care, and he was brought back to a time in his childhood when he and Carver would sneak Bethany into town and insist she'd be fine. Their mother would always shout at them when they got back, but in the end she could never stay mad at them. Not when she felt so much guilt and pity for her poor daughter, who never asked to be a mage in the first place. “I'm sorry,” she apologized. “I know you three have been through a terrible ordeal, and what I will eventually need from you pales in comparison. It may offer little comfort when I tell you this is out of our hands, but for now you must surrender to your helplessness and be at peace with the will of the Maker.”

***Grand Cathedral***

After Merrill was dragged away, everything progressed in a series of hurried starts and agonizing stops. As soon as Carver stepped inside the Grand Cathedral he was sat down in an empty, dusty room and told to write down everything that had happened. Then he was questioned by a woman he'd never met before, who simply nodded and wrote down notes as he spoke. When that was over two Templars escorted him to a waiting room where he sat for what felt like an hour before Sebastian was escorted into the room as well, the two of them too nervous to even greet each other.

The more time Carver spent waiting in silence for information or an order, the more everything in the Grand Cathedral felt like a carefully hidden secret. He paced across the waiting room, noting how the walls were bright, white and impossibly clean. He was surprised, however, to find his armored fingertips scraping against the texture of rough stone underneath the paint. The doors on the opposite side of the room combined to make a sturdy wooden semi-circle, painted with such a brilliant gold that it looked like a sun rising from the plush red carpet. The entire building seemed to be designed to inspire an assumption of frivolity, but upon closer inspection not a thing there suffered from weakness as a consequence of beauty.

Carver killed time by taking a useless and thorough inventory of the room, ultimately forgetting that Sebastian was even there.

“You are the last person I would expect to see here, Ser Carver” the prince said. Or was he a Chantry Brother? Carver never felt like he had a clear answer. At least Fenris' ire was predictable and his debt to the elder Hawke constant, but with Sebastian one could never tell whether the man's pious “choir boy” routine was authentic or not, Sebastian seemingly included.

“You didn't expect to find a Templar in the Grand Cathedral?” Carver asked.

“I guess that is fair,” Sebastian noted. “I hear you brought Merrill in. It must have been easy, I imagine, to get her to trust you. I remember hearing that the two of you were rather... enamored with each other in your youth.”

Carver craned his neck back and stared at the other man, trying to gauge whether Sebastian was suspicious or nervous. “Yes, well, it would appear that you brought in someone who was working with Anders. Funny, though, how I've never met her or heard of her before. What even is her name?”

“I... don't know,” Sebastian answered quietly.

“You don't know? How long ago did you capture her?”

Sebastian took a deep breath and looked Carver in the eye. “A month ago.”

Carver wanted to look away, but there was the beginning of a conversation in those tired, confused eyes across from him. They stood there in silence, with Sebastian's stance open and vulnerable, even as Carver eyed him with the cocky incredulity taught to him in his Templar training. “I ran into that woman, Helena Pentaghast, in Arlesans,” he explained, keeping his tone matter-of-fact as to not betray anything more than was necessary. “She... helped me bring Merrill here.”

Sebastian nodded his understanding slowly. “I see.”

The announcing creak of the heavy wooden doors made the two of them incredibly aware of how tense the moment had gotten. They snapped their eyes toward the trio entering the room and jumped back, fumbling to mimic natural and unassuming postures.

Evansten and Helena exited first, but after a few steps they turned and bowed until Divine Justinia passed them. Sebastian and Carver bowed as well.

For the most part, Carver felt underwhelmed by Justinia's presence. He was aware of her importance, but he found himself incapable of mustering the reverence he should have been feeling in that moment. Her features were just so muted, as her faded grey-gold eyebrows and pale skin did nothing to highlight her features. She was of short stature, and while the structure of her white veil did add at bit more statement to her appearance, her red and gold robes made her look like an ornament decorated to match the room.

This was the kind of opportunity which countless other Templars would have felt unworthy of, and yet Carver wanted nothing more than an excuse to leave.

Her Grace bowed slightly, though not nearly as low as everyone else had, and smiled in a way Carver found disingenuous. He stole an inappropriately direct look at her face and found there were age lines around her mouth, while the skin by her eyes was still taut and young. It was the face of a woman who communicated much and expressed little.

“Thank you,” she said. The words were simple but they felt calculated and deliberate, like she'd been planning them for the past hour. “Your service to Thedas is greatly appreciated. You especially, Brother Sebastian. Your warnings allowed me the time I needed to prepare for this.”

The amount of time it took for Sebastian to answer was a bit awkward, and when he did it was vague and cryptic. “It was my duty.”

The urge to look over at Sebastian itched under Carver's skin, but he kept his eyes forward, even as questions scrolled through his mind. They had just, not a minutes before, been having what the Templar thought was a cautious conversation about how they weren't entirely on board with the current state of affairs, and yet it was Sebastian who helped make it all possible.

“And you, Ser Carver,” the Divine continued. “I am grateful for your assistance, but I must admit that I am surprised by your willingness to aid in the apprehension and prosecution of your own brother and his friends.”

“My brother made his decisions,” Carver explained. “Being family does not excuse what he and his allies have done.”

“Was Brother Sebastian here not one of those allies?” Both men were unable to resist exchanging nervous looks. Carver didn't know how to begin answering her, and the look on Justinia's face suggested she knew that. “You look torn, that is good. This is no easy time for Thedas, Ser Carver. We do not need radicals and absolutes right now. Those things have never and will never get us anywhere. For now, I ask that you please reflect on that.”

Evansten stepped forward and Carver, as a reflex, assumed proper parade stance. “We appreciate that you wanted to have the elven maleficar brought to justice here, at the heart of the Chantry she wronged so deeply. Serrah Pentaghast tells me you were adamant on this. You made the wise choice, Ser Carver.” On the opposite side of Her Grace, Helena was eying Carver and grinding her teeth. “Divine Justinia has graciously agreed to let you serve as a Knight in the Val Royeaux Order. You should report to the barracks and await further instruction.”

Looking past the inferred graciousness of his “reward,” Carver knew when he was being placated as a means of keeping him out of the way. He nodded to his superior and bowed once again as he thanked Her Grace and excused himself.

Carver was sure that no one was timing his trip to the barracks, and the entire ordeal was pretty much a result of his inability to take his time, ask the right questions and create a plan. As he slowly began his walk, he could hear his heart quickening, imagining how much Merrill was suffering. Trying to be her strong, quick-thinking hero, however, obviously wasn't working. Now she thought he'd betrayed her, and if they got out of their predicament alive he owed her more than he could ever offer.

It was difficult for him to admit, but Carver hadn't done a single heroic thing since he left Kirkwall. It was Merrill who had pressed on despite fear and uncertainty, who had withstood abuses meant to break her morale just to uphold their cover. She had looked into the eyes of a warrior from a world-renowned military family and admitted to supporting Anders' cause. Feeling useless, however, was not going to help either of them. It was time for him to let go of his ego and push his insecurities aside to serve the betterment of someone he truly cared about.

“Ser Carver” was the last thing he expected to hear someone call out. It was hard to believe that anyone recognized him, and it was obvious Evansten had no desire to put him to work. He thought about ignoring whoever was trying to speak to him, but that opportunity was lost when he froze in response to hearing his own name.

“Ser Carver, over here,” the voice repeated with a strange echo. When Carver turned he saw that the rather thin Templar was wearing a helmet.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

“Follow me,” was all the other Knight replied, already moving down the hall.

“Wait, who are you?” Before Carver could even finish the question his mysterious friend was almost out of earshot. He started following, remaining cautious as he tried to politely avoid the busy Revered Mothers trying to pass him in the halls.

There was something off about his leader, notably the ill fit of the armor. It was shifting as the person walked, with pieces that were miss-matched sizes and weights. As the journey continued, the red carpets gave way to bare stone floors and the ornate doors became plain and weathered. The ranking of the Chantry officials lowered with every new turn as well, until Lay Sisters were hurrying by with arms full of clean linens.

Carver almost walked into the back of the other “Templar” when the person stopped short in front a seemingly random door. A deliberate rhythm was knocked out on the wood, and in response the door opened slowly, though from Carver's point of view it looked like no one was inside. The imposter walked straight into the room, however, and took off his helmet.

The first thing Carver noticed were the ears. After that the thin blonde hair, elongated face, intricate tattoos and wide eyes all came together into a startling realization that quickly became confusing.

“Since when are there Dalish Temp-”

The lean elf was stronger than he looked, and before Carver had time to think he found himself inside the large storage room with the door slammed behind him.

***Divine Rectory, Grand Cathedral***

As Carver turned to leave, Sebastian would have given anything for them to have one more minute alone. Not since he was a young man had the Chantry felt like a prison to him, but in that moment he had no idea what he was doing, or worse, what he had done.

The road to the Grand Cathedral felt longer to Sebastian now that he was looking back at it. His drive to capture Anders was what fueled him, and for the first time in a long while he felt as if the Maker's will was clear. He set off to find Anders and found a woman who knew where the apostate was heading. Despite being on opposing sides, she inspired him to go forward with his mission to Val Royeaux. Throughout his journey he asked himself how anything could have felt more destined and deliberate, yet in the end it was a band of iniquitous heathens who had turned Anders in.

And there he was, standing in the epicenter of his faith, about to speak directly to the woman who, according to the tenets of his beliefs, was the mortal voice of Andraste. He should have felt honored, but the deep-seeded suspicion that he'd been wronged wouldn't let go.

“I would like to speak privately with Brother Sebastian,” Justinia announced. “Serrah Pentaghast, you know where to report. I'm sure the other agents would benefit from your findings.”

“At once, Your Grace,” Helena said as she bowed, leaving with Evansten in tow.

When they were finally alone, Justinia motioned for Sebastian to join her in her rectory. He had to take a few deep breaths before he could begin to move himself forward, and even then his legs still felt numb.

Justinia sat herself behind a plain desk and shuffled aside some papers, pulling out a few specific sheets as she waited for Sebastian to shut the door behind him. “When I look at the language of your letters, Brother Sebastian, I hear a passionate, driven man dedicated to a vengeance he masks as justice. That man is not standing before me today. This month seems to have changed you deeply.”

“It has, Your Grace,” he admitted. “I honestly do not know what I am here for anymore. I was hoping for your guidance.”

“Well, do you still have any interest in reclaiming your title as the Prince of Starkhaven? I will be frank with you, Sebastian. I am losing the support of the Templars more and more with each passing day and Empress Celene does not wish to involve her armies in a holy war. She still believes the Chantry can and should put a stop to all this diplomatically. I, however, do not agree. I have had agents out across Thedas for quite some time now. They have chronicled the growing number of terrorist apostate organizations and seen first-hand the corruption within the Circles. My attempts to solve these matters quietly have yielded too few victories for me to continue my silence.”

This was it, the moment Sebastian had prayed for. No more uncertainty, just a clear and definite statement that the Chantry needed him and detailed instructions as to how best he could serve the Divine. The thrill of honor and duty thrummed in his veins for a wonderful, albeit fleeting moment. In the back of his mind he found himself forcing the feeling to remain, pulling it back as it rolled out slowly out like a lowering tide.

“This is not the response I expected,” Justinia admitted. “I am both relieved that time has tempered your rage and disappointed that it has left you so lost. If you are troubled, my child, speak now and unburden your soul. It is not my intention to force you to aid in our cause. An unfocused ally whose resolve is waning is no ally at all.”

Even then, when Sebastian should have been jumping to correct Her Grace, he found himself rehearsing a plethora of existential questions, and none of them sounded right. “I do not even know where to begin.”

“Perhaps you should start by telling me about this prisoner you brought in,” Justinia suggested. “Who is she?”

“I do not know her name. Only that she is a Tevinter mage working with Anders toward a common goal.”

“You spent a month with her, knowing full-well she was the ally of a dangerous apostate, and you learned nothing about her? How did you even keep her detained for that long, and by yourself no less?”

Hearing it out loud, Sebastian was forced to fully acknowledge how bizarre his entire journey had been. “She did not try to run, Your Grace. I suspect she wanted to be captured, and that she always meant to come here and meet up with Anders. She mocks those who believe in the Chantry's teachings and equates faith to blindness. She even mentioned you by name.”

“That is... unsurprising. Many dissenters, apostates especially, cite me as the epitome of corruption within the Chantry. Few understand how delicately I have tried to balance the needs of both sides.”

“Do you truly believe the maleficarum are still worth your efforts?”

“Maleficarum is a bold word, Sebastian. It is the term reserved for those whose hubris rivals that of the magisters who marched into the Maker's Golden City. What we have, in Thedas today, are mostly scared and vulnerable mages falling pray to demons who promise to protect them, and Templars who increase their vigilance in response to this threat. The entire situation has become a vicious cycle, with radicals on both sides who swear by absolutes and condemn compromise. Many people assume I will support, or have already sided with, the Templars, but this is not the case. Zealots on both sides are destroying our society, and they must be stopped if we are ever to resume peaceful negotiations. That is why I need military aid.” Justinia put Sebastian's letters aside and folder her hands over her desk. “Tell me, what did this woman say of her and Anders' plans? What are they even fighting for? What would it take to make them feel like this war is over?”

Sebastian thought back to the conversations he'd had with the Tevinter woman, recalling the uncharacteristically pleading tone she'd used only once. “She claims that you lied to the people about something important. That the Chantry is hiding something and manipulating its followers by doing so. She would not tell me anything else about her accusation, and she instructed me to ask you about it.”

Justinia's eyes scanned the room for a moment, mirroring her ruminations. She was contemplating something, her face tense like it was constantly on the verge of speaking. “I believe I know what she is referring to.”

Sebastian balked in response to her admonition. “You what? Your Grace, I am sure that whatever secrets the Chantry guards are-”

“I am asking much of you, Sebastian,” Justinia interrupted. “And if I am going to request you do something as great as reclaim your title and lead your armies in my name then you must know you can trust me.”

“Yes, your Grace,” Sebastian said with a nod. “I am listening.”

The setting sun hit the stained glass of the window in Justinia's small rectory, spotting the room with the reds and golds present in the translucent glass. “The Grey Wardens who defeated the Blight could not have done so without the aid of Arl Eamon. You are aware of this, correct?”

“Yes, and he overcame a great illness to do so. Many called it a miracle.”

“He was poisoned by a blood mage and that left him comatose. It did not appear he would recover. The Wardens and their companions did indeed set off on the seemingly impossible quest to find the Urn of Sacred Ashes, and those who heard of this attempted to retrace the Wardens' journey, but found nothing.”

“I am aware of all this,” Sebastian stated, trying not to sound rude.

“They found nothing because the Urn is here.”

The glowing splotches of color shimmered slightly, and for a moment that was the only movement in the room. “You... hid Andraste's ashes from the people of Thedas?” Sebastian finally asked.

“I invite you to give me a better option,” Justinia offered, obviously having had this argument many times before. “Do you believe it would be better to allow the Urn to be picked at by every person with a sick loved one until there is nothing left? Or worse, be stolen and its properties exploited for power and monetary gain?”

“So they really do have healing properties?” Sebastian didn't know if he was more curious, elated or disappointed in that moment. It was, indeed, an extremely complicated situation.

“Yes, though the few of us in the Chantry who know of its existence have vowed not to disturb its contents until the coming war is settled and rules are in place to govern its use. Until then it remains in the Grand Cathedral under constant guard.” Justinia rose from her chair and tucked her hands behind her back. “I would like for you to go pray there, Sebastian.”

“Me?” As soon as the question came out Sebastian felt silly, but it was impossible to mask his surprise. “I am honored, Your Grace, but why?”

“I believe it will help you make your decision. Stand before the remains of the Prophetess and tell her your intention. If you find you cannot tell her that you truly wish to be prince and lead your armies to stop this war, then that must be your answer. If you do decide to take on the burden of leadership I will send word to Starkhaven at once explaining your intent and detailing the Chantry's support. If you find that you cannot face Her, you are more than welcome to continue your charity and your studies here, in Val Royeaux.”

“I understand,” Sebastian spoke as he too rose to his feet. “I will do as you ask.”

Justinia silently motioned for Sebastian to follow her out of the rectory, and soon the two found themselves in the halls of the Grand Cathedral. Templars and Revered Mothers froze and bowed as Justinia passed and remained in that position for Sebastian as well. Despite the fact that he'd had people bowing to him since as far back as he could remember, something about that moment seemed unnecessary and overwhelming. He almost wanted to ask them if they knew who he was or why they were bowing to him.

Justinia stopped in front of a door that would have been entirely inconspicuous if it weren't for the armed Templars on either side of it. She nodded to the men and they stepped aside, waiting for Sebastian to enter.

“I must address the other Chantry officials regarding what has happened and how we plan to move forward,” she explained. “Stay as long as you need, but please, join me in the Audience Chamber when you are finished.”

“I will, Your Grace,” Sebastian promised with a bow. “And thank you for this opportunity. I shall not take it for granted.”

Sebastian stalled for as much time as he possibly could watching Justinia leave. He felt as if the grand and rare opportunity to be in the presence of Andraste's remains was wasted on him. He was no prince, no leader of armies. Even if he wanted to, he'd be no good at it.

“You may enter, serrah,” one of the Templars reminded him. Knowing full well that he couldn't stand in the hallway forever, Sebastian finally went inside.

It looked as if, originally, the room could have been anything. The walls and carpet were the exact same as those in the hallway and there were no windows. It could have been any office or storage room the Chantry needed, and that was probably why they chose it to secretly house something of such incredible importance.

The only source of light in the room was a fire that sat in the palm of a stone statue, which appeared to burn from nothing. Sebastian stared up at the woman and almost unconsciously mimicked her posture by placing his hand over his heart. The room felt like another world. There was a presence that permeated the air around him, and Sebastian wondered if it wasn't akin to what the mages described as The Fade.

At the base of the statue was a platform made from the same cold, ancient white stone as the statue, and it was adorned with a top section of some kind of gold design, making it obvious that the entire monument had been crudely chiseled out of something much larger.

Directly at the foot of the statue, however, was a pedestal holding a bright gold urn that looked so new it seemed out of place. Sebastian had no idea what he was supposed to do, so he walked up to the edge of the stone and got down on one knee as if he were about to recite the Chant. He laced his fingers together and pressed his thumbs against his forehead.

It was hard for Sebastian to focus on anything but his prisoner, left to rot somewhere in the gargantuan Cathedral. He wanted to believe that she would give up whatever she had planned and repent, to the point where he was almost relieved to hear that Evansten didn't want to lock her up. She was obviously an intelligent woman with an extraordinary capacity for charity and self-sacrifice. She could do well in the Circle, if she could just let go of her wild conspiracy theories and trust the servants of the Maker to guide her path.

As he prayed Sebastian felt a tugging in his chest, and his eyes snapped open in response. He didn't expect to have such a visceral, tangible reaction to seeking guidance, and after waiting for a brief moment he realized what was actually going on. He gripped the top of his breast plate and pulled it away from his body, revealing the phylactery he kept tucked there.

Sebastian grabbed the leather strips tied to the top of the vial and pulled it up until it was dangling in front of his face, staring at it was such a confused disbelief that he became dizzy from it. His eyebrows knotted together as he tilted his head to the side, hoping he'd begun to hallucinate the bright glow and the way the item swung toward the Urn.

As if responding to his denial, the flame in the statue's hand burned white and roared with a sudden vitality that allowed it to touch the ceiling, bringing Sebastian back to the night he hid from the Tevinter mage's firestorm. The sound and the bright light caught him so off guard that he fell backward and dropped the phylactery, which shattered when it hit the ground like a small grenade. The blood inside spilled out like oil and burst into the same white flames.

As the fire began to spread quickly from the ceiling and the floor, Sebastian fled the room, knowing full well that the Templars would think him a terrorist for torching such an important relic. He pushed past the two stationed outside the door and made wild guesses as to which halls could possibly lead to the Divine Audience Chamber.

The phylactery, her phylactery, reacted in that room. Sebastian had to say something, had to do something before it was too late. He raced down the halls and threw open any doors that weren't locked. At the end of one hall he found a set of extremely heavy, dark wooden doors, guarded on both sides by more Templars. Before the Knights could react Sebastian opened those as well, and was relieved to find Justinia sitting on her throne at the opposite end of the room.

The relief was short-lived, however. Before Sebastian had an opportunity to speak up someone rushed in from another doorway and shouted, for all to hear “The prisoners have escaped!”

Chapter Text

***Underground Prison, Grand Cathedral***

When the woman said they'd have to wait, Hawke assumed it'd be days before something happened, and once things started descending into chaos, he realized she believed that as well. When the first Templar simply dropped during his watch, Hawke, Anders and Merrill all looked to their nameless leader for a plan or an order, and found instead that she was dumbfounded by what was going on. She crawled to the wooden gate for a better look, but the enchantment on the cell repelled her with some kind of shocking light that caused her to scream out in agony.

“Hey, away from the gate,” one of the Templars called as he knelt beside his fallen comrade.

“What's going on?” Anders asked.

“I... I don't know,” the woman answered, gritting her teeth against the pain in her hands.

“What do you mean you don't know?”

She eyed Anders in a way that expressed her dwindling patience. “I don't have all the answers. Just listen and be ready for whatever happens.”

Hawke hadn't tried to stand the entire time they'd been locked up, and he didn't want to be stuck re-learning how his legs worked in the middle of a fight. Using the wall as leverage he stood himself up and tried to remember the breathing exercises Anders had taught him, noting that the ceiling of the cell was barely an inch or two above his head. Merrill shakily followed suit, but Anders crawled his way to the wooden gate instead.

“How are we going to get you out?” Anders asked the woman.

“Do not worry about me,” she dismissed, “I will think of something.”

“I'm not leaving you here.”

“I'm not a big fan of that plan either,” Hawke agreed. “Abandoning people doesn't fit in well with all the epic, heroic tales Varric tells about me.”

“Can't she just run out w-” Merrill began to ask before her own realization interrupted her. “Oh, right, your legs. I'm sorry. I forgot. How rude of me.”

Outside the cell the Templars were still baffled. “What did the apostates do?” one of them asked.

“They can't do anything from inside that cell,” another answered. “Their magic doesn't work in there. Evansten's used it plenty of times.”

Hawke looked back and forth between the commotion in the hall and the brainstorming session going on between Anders and Merrill, trying desperately to listen to both conversations at once. “What's wrong with her legs?”

The woman grabbed a fistful of her robes and looked away and she revealed a pair of black shoes and, inch by inch, knots of flesh heavy with purple, yellow and red discoloration. She only went as far up as her knees, but judging by the extent of the damage it was obvious that the deep, heavy burn scars didn't stop there, leaving Hawke to wonder how she even survived whatever had happened to her.

Before he could react, however, another Templar lost consciousness and crumpled to the floor. One of the two remaining Knights ran for help while the other tried her best to wake her companions.

“I can use a spell when we get out of here,” Anders suggested. “Something like armor to support your legs while we move.”

“I am willing to try it if you are,” she relented. “But first we have to figure out what is even happening out there.”

“Look out!” Merrill shouted. At first Hawke looked around the cell, but he followed Merrill's line of sight just in time to see one of the unconscious Templars rise from the floor and grab the woman checking on him. She struggled as ice crept its way across her skin, originating from the area where his hand gripped her neck.

Hawke couldn't get too close to the gate without risking serious negative reinforcement, which meant he had no idea who was coming down the hall, only that the sound of the footsteps suggested a large number of hurried, untrained people. He shielded his eyes from the blood splatter that flew through the openings in the cell gate, watching from behind his forearm as the every Templar in the hall was slaughtered by swords and spells.

“The Resolutionists,” Anders realized. “I can't believe they're here, in Orlais.”

“The group that attacked me when Leliana visited?” Hawke asked. “You know them?”

“Did you really think I didn't?”

“Well, what's love without a healthy does of denial?” Hawke joked. When he and Anders made awkward eye contact though, his smile quickly faded.

Someone, a human woman about Hawke's age from what he could tell, knelt next to the cell entrance and began inspecting the walls. “They're... spell resistance runes of some kind. Powerful ones. I've never seen anything like them, and there's bloody eight of them around this thing. They must have some kind of enchantment genius working for them.”

An older gentlemen walked up and stood behind her. “There has to be something in the stone amplifying the effect of the runes. I have never seen or felt anything like this place.” He looked into the cell and immediately knotted his brow in confusion. “How many of you are in there?”

“Four,” Hawke answered. “Myself and three mages. At least, I assume you're a mage,” he told the woman. “What with the sing-a-long dream projection and all.”

“Ah, well then, I suggest you all stand back.”

“We are 'standing back.' This cell isn't meant to fit one person comfortably, let alone four.”

“Then brace yourselves, I suppose.” The man motioned for someone out of Hawke's range of vision to come forward, and at first Hawke didn't even notice that it was an elf in Templar's armor. The boy looked awkward in the bulky uniform, but if he was strong enough to handle the giant axe he was carrying then he couldn't have been all that weak.

Hawke helped Anders move their injured companion back until all four of them were crammed as tightly as they could be against the back wall. There wasn't a countdown or even a warning before the first swing buried the axe into the wall. Everyone froze for a moment, wondering if disturbing the enchanted elements in the stone was going to cause some sort of massive explosion. After a full second of safety everyone exhaled in unison and the young man continued to carve his way around the runes.

The dust hovered in the area of the confined cell, and Hawke thought he was going to pass out from the lack of breathable air. Every swing let loose more debris, but Hawke had no way of knowing if the elf was making any progress. For all he knew, the cloud was going to just hang there forever, and with every second that passed it began to feel like it already had been.

As soon as the pounding of steel into stone stopped, hands grabbed onto his clothing and pulled him through the dust. Hawke and his companions collapsed in the hallway and alternated between violently coughing out debris and taking in long breaths of clear air.

Anders tried his best to calm his coughing as he got on his knees and gripped the woman's legs through her skirt. “If I only-” he tried to get out before he choked on more grit. “If I only support your legs from the knee down will that be enough?”

“I can make do, yes,” she agreed, leaning back on her outstretched arms to watch him.

Hawke trusted Anders to have that under control, so he turned to the older gentleman leading the attack. “So to what do I owe the pleasure of this prison break? And to whom?”

“My name is Reginald, of the Resolutionists. And, while we do appreciate your support, being the Champion of Kirkwall carries little weight here,” the man explained. “We began working undercover here long ago to shut down this prison, but chose to act now, ahead of schedule, to free Anders.”

“I'll try to pretend I'm not offended,” Hawke offered. “So what's the plan? Kidnap the Divine? Knock some Templar skulls? Muss up the drapes?”

“We leave,” the man answered.

“What?” all three of Hawke's mage companions asked in unison.

“No,” Merrill refused. “I have a purpose here, I can feel it. Humans, the Chantry, they have ruined my people's history and culture time and time again. I will not run from them anymore. I will not act like what little magic my people still cling to is anything less than a gift from the Creators. I will not allow them to use it to mark me as a villain. Someone will hear me, I will make sure of it.”

Reginald swept his eyes down her form. “Do you intend to stop shaking before you make that speech to Her Grace?”

Before Merrill could respond or Hawke could punch the man in the jaw, another voice joined the conversation. “Well it would seem you shall never know.” Hawke turned to see that the woman from his cell, who was stood a good inch or two over him when standing, was responding well to Anders' treatment. “Because you intend to run whereas we do not.”

“We do not have the numbers right now to-”

The woman raised a gentle hand to quiet Reginald's argument. “I do not blame you, mage,” she relented, “and I do advise you to take your people and flee. But know that today marks the true beginning of this war. The war for your freedom and the war for the future of Thedas.” She lowered her hand and turned to address the rest of the mages and their sympathizers. “Go forth and spread the word that those blessed by the Maker with the gift of magic need no longer hide or submit themselves to the Chantry's prisons. Tell your brothers and sisters to rise up and march against their oppressors. Tell them we deserve better than Divine Justinia's malignant neutrality. And if their resolve be true enough, tell them to join the armies of Starkhaven in one month's time to defend those freedoms which should be inalienable.”

Even Hawke, who wasn't invested in the politics of the war what-so-ever, felt moved to act. As the mages nodded wordlessly in response to the decree, the woman walked through the crowd and motioned for Hawke and his companions to follow. Some of those who had planned to flee followed as well.

Anders quickened his strides until he was walking next to her. “As on-board as I am with speaking directly to Her Grace, I can't even begin to guess where she is or how we're going to fight our way past the Templars with no weapons.”

The woman didn't slow her pace as she passed row after row of emptied prison cells. “Hawke, you seem like a quick, fit man. Do you think you could run ahead and find us some weaponry?”

“And where exactly do you expect me to deliver said weaponry?” Hawke asked.

“Considering the importance of today's events, it is likely that Her Grace is in her Audience Chamber informing Chantry officials as to what she intends on doing with us. Meet us there. It will take us a while to arrive ourselves. Once we begin to fight the Templars with magic we will become the more noticeable targets, leaving you an opportunity to seek out staves for us.”

“How will we even know where to go?” Merrill asked.

“The Templars will either be running toward us to stop us or toward Justinia to protect her. If someone is not running at you, follow them.”

“Oh. Oh, that's a very good idea.”

The empty halls they walked through were too soon littered with the bodies of mages, Templars, priests and holy women, with the sound of fighting dangerously close ahead. Hawke was almost bouncing on his toes from the adrenaline, waiting for his opportunity to break away and start his part of the mission. He was unarmed as well, but that wasn't what had him on edge. This was going to be the first time Anders was out of his sight since the Chantry attack in Kirkwall. Right then, in the middle of a mage rebellion in the Grand Cathedral, a place neither of them had ever been before. And while it felt good to have Merrill back with them as well, there was still the issue of Carver being out there somewhere; an issue Hawke would have given anything not to face.

Someone grabbed his right hand and Hawke turned to see Anders right beside him. The mage leaned in and brushed his lips against Hawke's. “I'll promise to stay alive if you do.”

Hawke grinned against Anders' lips. “Deal.”

“See you in the Audience Chamber?”

Hawke simply nodded and waited for his signal to run.

***Confiscated Weapons Room, Grand Cathedral***

Mages were capable of casting without staffs, but the high-quality ones confiscated by the Order were powerful amplifiers as well as physical weapons. The room they were kept in was at the end of a small corridor, so while Carver was plainly visible, the Templars assumed he was guarding the room and the mages either knew he was on their side or didn't want to bother with a Templar who wasn't actively fighting them. Some of the Knights were even surrendering, this attack being the last straw in their already dwindling faith in Chantry justice.

Carver stood there with an awkward, idle stance and began to grow weary of the way his adrenaline spiked every time a new person came into his view. He didn't even know what he was going to say to Merrill, not when just hours before he'd had her thrown in prison. And what would he have done if Neilyr and the others hadn't pulled him aside and conscripted him for their cause?

The sound of not-so-distant fighting died out in Carver's ears as the Dalish spy's question echoed over and over. He had no idea what “ma vhenan'ara” meant, and the elf wouldn't tell him.

“If you don't know then it's not my business to tell you,” Neilyr had said. “But let me ask, do you love her?”

Unsure of how to answer, Carver settled for responding with, “I want to get her out of here” and the Resolutionists left it at that.

The replay of events was interrupted when another new figure crossed Carver's line of sight. The first thing his mind alerted him to was the familiarly of the person, and a moment later his entire body tensed when the other man's eyes met his.

“Carver?” his brother asked. It wasn't the first time they'd found themselves in the middle of an impromptu war. It seemed to be the only place they could reliably find each other anymore.

“Garrett!” Carver shouted back. It was an odd moment for both of them, hearing that name for the first time in a long while. It communicated a lot, however. Carver knew it would. None of his brother's companions used it, and after their mother died he imagined the man never heard it again until that moment.

Carver knew he hadn't been a fantastic brother, or even polite enough to be a predictably terrible one. He'd joined the Templars just as his brother began opposing the Kirkwall Circle, and yet defied his superior at the last second to fight alongside the mages. He imagined that the man before him had no idea if he was looking at an ally or an enemy, whether he knew about the fiasco with Merrill or not.

Carver watched as his brother ducked through the fray before he stopped with a few safe feet between them. They stood there for a moment before Carver finally broke the silence. “I got caught,” he offered humbly. “I was supposed to look after her and I got us caught. Is... is she alright?”

His brother let out a long, relieved exhale. “She was alive last I saw her. Carver, what are you doing here?”

“One of the Chantry Seekers found us in Arlesans, and if they thought I was helping her they would have killed me and tortured her for information. And I couldn't tell Merrill I was only pretending. She never would have been convincing enough otherwise. Not trusting me saved her life.”

“Well, while that information is also relevant, I mean what are you doing here. Right here. In this hall.”

“Oh,” Carver realized. “The Resolutionists sent me to stop Anders, actually.”

“Stop Anders? But they let him out.”

“Right, so he could flee with them. They knew he'd want to go after Justinia, so they had me station myself here, where the Templars keep the staffs they confiscate.”

“Wonderful,” his brother announced. “Just what I was looking for.”

“You're really not going to flee, are you?”

“No, Carver, I'm not. What were they thinking anyways? That Anders would get this close and then just give up?”

Carver laughed and nodded as he unlocked the room. “That's what I said. When they told me my assignment was 'talk sense into Anders' I offered to take on the entire Val Royeaux Order instead. Figured that'd be easier.”

“Probably will be,” the other man agreed as he walked into the room. “I need Anders' staff, Merrill's staff and... something for that other woman. Do you have any idea who she is?”

“No,” Carver answered as he watched the door. “I assumed her and Anders already knew each other. And do you really have to find their exact staffs? There's kind of a rebellion going on out there.”

“Merrill's staff belonged to Keeper Marathari. Imagine how much she'd pout if I didn't come back with it. And Anders is more sentimental about dad's staff than we are." The rogue pushed aside a pile of weapons and cringed when they continued to roll and fall over all across the small storage room.

“Make a little more noise why don't you.”

“Carver, shut up.”

Despite the intensity and the confusion of the situation, Carver couldn't help but smile at the familiar feeling that came with good, old fashioned bickering. They'd each become many things: mercenary, explorer, Templar, Champion, fugitive- but they would always be brothers.

“Got them. Let's go.”

“Go where?” Carver asked as his brother passed him.

“Just follow anyone who isn't running toward you.”

“What?” Carver asked, though his brother was already heading down the halls, chasing down Templars who were running elsewhere. He pulled his sword off his back and followed, trying to decipher which Templars were fleeing, which were Resolutionists in disguise and which were actually his adversaries. As they maneuvered, a familiar figure in white armor darted past their field of view, seemingly unaware of the chaos going on around him as he frantically chased after something.

“Right, Sebastian,” Hawke muttered. “I forgot he was here. Watch out for him.”

“I don't think he's as out to get you as you think he is.” Carver read the other man's raised eyebrow and elaborated. “I didn't know him that well, but maybe you should ask questions now and stab him later.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“I don't know, brother. I guess whatever happens will happen.” Carver wished he believed that, but despite hours upon hours of listening to the Chant of Light during his time as a Templar, he could never seem to muster the faith required to surrender himself like other Andrastians did. His father had also been devout, preaching to Bethany about her responsibility to serve mankind with her abilities, but Carver never quite bought it. They'd been good people. They never hurt anyone. Where was the Maker when Templars were hunting them for no reason, uprooting them from their homes and forcing them to live like fugitives?

That bitterness was a terrible thought to leave on, so he tried to shove it aside before they turned and followed the direction they'd seen Sebastian run in. There were two Templars trying to pull the prince back, but both were stopped dead when the announcement sounded that the prisoners were out.

“In or out, boys,” someone said from behind them. Two other Resolutionists disguised as Templars were standing in the hall with a large wooden bar in their hands.

Without speaking, both men stepped into the Audience Chamber and listened as the doors all around the room were slammed shut and barred off. Various Templars and Chantry officials tried to get out, but the Resolutionists had covered every exit. No one was getting out until something drastic happened.

Carver found Justinia at the end of a long, red carpet; a still monolith in a storm of chaos. From the other side of the crowd, Anders, Merrill and Sebastian's prisoner fought their way through the swarm of people trying to flee.

As his brother tossed the three mages their staffs and slid a pair of daggers off a man trying to flee, Carver integrated himself into the line of readied Templars trying to form a barricade between themselves and Her Grace. Merrill's blood magic was able to freeze a small handful of them, but using her own blood to fuel her spells left her very tired very quickly. When another Templar stepped forward and lunged for Merrill, Carver turned his sword around and bashed the man in the nose with the pommel.

Their eyes met for a moment, and Carver tried to look as sorry as possible. He knew that moment was not the time to apologize, and he knew that the other Templars would be quick to notice his allegiance, but he wanted to communicate something to her as soon as he possibly could.

Upon his brother's advice, he did watch out for Sebastian. The man was standing by Her Grace with his bow drawn, but he looked lost and hardly present. Despite the cacophony of angry, terrified shouting, which should have been incredibly distracting, Sebastian's focus could have convinced anyone that the tall mage woman was the only person in the room.

Carver followed his brother and the mages up the stairs and toward the Divine's throne, standing between Merrill and the Templars while she recovered from her rapid spellcasting.

“I will give you one last chance,” the unknown woman began to say behind him. “You will tell these people the truth.” When continued chaos was her only response she yelled above it. “Tell them! Tell them about your lies, about how you and those before you have perverted this faith into a tool for your own fear and bigotry. Tell them, or I will, how did you phrase it? Ah, yes, open you up and let the people read it etched on your bones.”

Carver tried to turn back but the few Knights who remained standing still held a posture that threatened sudden action. He was beginning to realize what a dire situation he'd gotten himself into. He had no idea what he'd signed on for, but it was too late to back out. If it was important to Merrill and his brother, it was important to him.

“What manner of heresy is this?” the Divine demanded.

“Heresy?” the mage practically spat out. "This is all you do now? This is what your Chantry is for? You do not like the gifts the Maker bestows upon us; maybe it is fear, or envy, or both, I do not know, but you take your own insecurities and turn them on the blessed and called their practice of this divine ability heresy?"

Carver made the mistake of checking on Merrill again, completely missing the Templar moving up the side of the staircase. Sebatian's prisoner didn't, however, and turned to thrust the blade-end of her staff forward until the metal was buried in the abdomen of the young recruit. He knew Merrill would react, and he held his arm out to keep her where she was. They both had to watch as Divine Justinia drew a dagger and lunged toward the mage woman, whose staff was still lodged in her first victim.

Carver heard everyone in the room gasp, but his mind still processed it all with a severe delay. He noticed Justinia's face first, contorted with pain, fear and shock as she turned to her right. She was on her knees by the time he realized there was an arrow buried deep in her chest.

No one spoke, the room so quiet Carver swore he could hear the fibers of the carpet absorbing Her Grace's blood. And for the first time in his life, Carver closed his eyes and prayed.

***Divine Audience Chamber***

Sebastian's hands shook as he lowered his bow to his side.

It was over. Justinia was dead before her throne. He had killed her. And for what?

Everyone in the room was looking at Justinia's body, but Sebastian couldn't stop staring at the woman he'd killed the Divine in order to protect. The Tevinter woman stared down at Her Grace in shock, but eventually she turned to meet Sebastian's eyes. He didn't know why, but he wasn't expecting her to be surprised enough as to turn a bit pale. After a few heartbeats passed, something in Sebastian's face changed her expression. “You know,” she realized in a low whisper.

Sebastian nodded, though he still didn't know if he believed any of it. He should have felt horrified by his own actions, but a numbing chill was creeping up his consciousness. He felt swept away in the tide of events beyond his control, and for the first time in his life it didn't scare him at all. He had no real proof that what he had done was right, and yet his body reacted without hesitation.

No one expected Merrill to be the first person to speak up, but she maneuvered herself out from behind Carver and faced the crowd. “This is what your fear and your ignorance have earned you.” She was shaking, but when she turned to her companion the Tevinter woman nodded down at her, and her nerves calmed somewhat. “Unquestioned history is like a poison, and this is what happens when you do not seek out your own answers. People go to war over lies and die to keep them. ”

Anders took advantage of the shock that had frozen the Templars and the Chantry officials in place. He walked down the last few steps and joined them on the white tile floor. “You have been lied to for generations because fear keeps you complacent and easy to control. Turning mages into your common enemy has united you under a banner of bigotry that fills you with false righteousness.” Sebastian took a step back and waited for Anders to lose control, but the moment never came. There was no blue glow, nor was there the crackle of energy that accompanied the presence of a Fade creature in a mortal realm. “What would you do without their fallacious guidance? What would you, as a person, believe to be true if you learned today that this isn't at all what the Prophetess wanted? That she didn't want sadistic Templars lording power over the young and the innocent in her name? That she didn't want society to turn mages into prisoners and servants? And why would she have?” he asked as he lifted his arm and motioned to the woman atop the stairs. “She was one.”

“What?” Hawke asked, stepping off the stairs as well. “Anders, you don't mean-”

A sudden roar cut Hawke short as the red banners hanging from the ceiling erupted in bright, white flames. The crowd huddled toward the center of the room and turned their attention to the mage who'd cast the spell.

“Your kind now lies at the precipice of eternal abandonment by your Maker,” the woman announced “You are cruel and proud and do not learn. You ignore your poor and covet the power and possessions held by others. This is not what I fought for.” She turned to the statues that flanked the stairs and pushed her arms apart, watching as the white stone toppled and crumbled. “You will no longer commit these injustices in my name. This ends here, today. If you truly wish to persecute those blessed with magic by the Maker then you will stand against me. There is no room in His kingdom for cowards and sadists.”

“You dare spout this blasphemy in the name of the Maker's Bride?” an older woman in the crowd shouted. “In the Grand Cathedral, no less.”

“You do not have to believe me,” the woman dismissed. “I care not for your worship, and I will not plead my case. Follow your lies and your apocrypha for all I care. But you will not do so in this house. There is no Maker here.”

Giant fissures traveled down the walls like water dripping down. The ground began to shake and the doors cracked open, giving the crowd the chance they needed, and promptly took, to flee.

Sebastian looked down at Justinia, whose wide, blank eyes were staring at the crumbling ceiling. He felt more awful about having to leave her body there than he did about killing her, but he didn't have time to question it before the Tevinter woman grabbed his arm and dragged him with her. She'd been so injured during their travels that he was completely unprepared for how strong she was. They followed Hawke, Anders, Carver and Merrill out through the labyrinth of crumbling passages until they finally came to the set of double doors that everyone in the Cathedral was using to evacuate. They blended into the chaos easily, and when they finally got out of there they ran.

Most of the people there fled to the city, but the Tevinter woman insisted they head directly to the coastline. They all doubled up on three stolen horses and rode blindly in the direction of the sea. Sebastian kept himself too focused to feel tired, willing himself to keep up in the hope that, at the end of it all, there were answers to his questions.

The ship anchored just off the coast didn't surprise anyone, but the small boat waiting at the shore did. Still, after what seemed like an eternity of running, no one questioned anything as a cloaked figure motioned for them to get on. They didn't care as they waded through the water and collapsed into the vessel with enough exhaustion to make them nauseous, the adrenaline having run out long, long ago.

Despite his dry, heaving breaths there was one thing Sebastian had to say. He had to hear it said out loud and see her face so he could begin to process what was going on; what had been going on all along.

“Andraste?”

The woman clutched her chest and weakly turned to face him. “Yes, Sebastian?”

Chapter Text

***???***

Hawke didn't know whose ship he was on, why he was on it, where it was going, or even what the date was. As soon as the six of them had escaped the Grand Cathedral, they rode for what felt like hours until someone brought them on board a ship and dumped them off in tiny rooms with rickety cots. Hawke was placed in a room with Anders, though he spent the vast majority of the time unconscious. He awoke occasionally to shift his position, go to the bathroom or check on his companion, but all-in-all he was barely aware of the hours that passed except for the sunlight that filtered in through the gaps in the wood.

Eventually Hawke's body couldn't sleep anymore. He spent a good ten or so minutes staring at the ceiling, stretching his legs, scratching his beard and trying to piece together everything that had happened.

“How are you feeling?”

Hawke turned on his cot and found that Anders was awake as well, though the mage's voice was still low and groggy.

“Terrible,” Hawke admitted, “though I guess it's better than lying poisoned in a secret Chantry mage prison, so maybe I shouldn't complain.” He lifted his dirty sheet up and inspected his body. “Please tell me it was you who stripped off my armor.”

Anders grunted as he took stock of his apparel as well. “Ugh, where're my clothes?” he asked, though he didn't put forth any effort toward finding them.

Hawke rolled onto his side and threw half his blanket over Anders.

“What are you doing?” Anders asked.

“Pretending we're back in Kirkwall, waking up in bed together. Come on, help with my fantasy. Start complaining that you have to get to the clinic so I can convince you to stay and have sex with me instead.”

Anders tried and failed to look unamused, opting instead to roll onto his back and rub his eyes as he laughed. While Hawke would have given anything not to have to ruin the moment, there were a lot of questions that needed answering.

“Anders, is that woman really-” He felt silly even finishing the question.

Luckily Anders did it for him. “Andraste? Maker, I hope so. Otherwise I truly have gone mad, which still isn't out of the running yet.”

“Why didn't you tell me?”

Anders continued to stare at the ceiling. “Tell you what? That in my dreams I'd hear Andraste herself calling me to Orlais? Would you have even believed me? I didn't even believe me.”

“Well, I believe you now,” Hawke stated. “If we're both not crazy and this woman really is Andraste... I mean, doesn't that mean good things for your cause?”

“I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself. I still don't even know what she wants from me.”

“Well, if you'd like a reminder of the simpler things in life, I can tell you what I want from you,” Hawke offered.

That comment earned him some eye contact. “Really? Now?”

With a surprisingly deft quickness after having just awakened from a borderline coma, Hawke maneuvered himself under the sheets until he was on Anders' cot, straddling the other man's waist. “Really,” he replied before resting his hands on the wooden brace above the mage's head. “Now.”

“We don't even know where we are.”

“Hm,” Hawke hummed as he leaned in to press his lips against Anders' neck. “Sounds dangerous.”

“Someone might walk in on us.”

Hawke moved his hips down and grinned as he bit down on the flesh under his lips, suddenly very thankful for whoever did the work of stripping Anders shirtless for him. He pulled back and ran his fingertips down the curve of Anders' jawline. “Lucky them.” He tried to lower himself once again, but hands on his chest stopped him.

“Everything is about to change,” Anders told him, though it came out sounding strangely like a warning. “I don't know what's outside that door. I don't know where we're going or what I'll have to do to get there, but whatever it is I want you to know that I won't take a moment you spend by my side for granted.”

Hawke took hold of one of the hands pressed against his rumpled crimson shirt. “It sounds like you've finally realized that I'm not going anywhere. Good.”

An affectionate, longing sigh escaped Anders' lips. He slid his free hand behind Hawke's neck and coaxed him down. When their lips finally met it was an open, giving kiss that reminded Hawke of a gesture of surrender. Fingertips found their way under Hawke's half-untucked shirt and trailed their way across a topography of skin and muscle that they would never be too familiar with.

As stunningly handsome as he found his lover, Hawke had a habit of keeping his eyes shut during these moments. It was easy enough to see fear or anger on Anders' face, but love; that was an intense expression to take in. Anders' entire breath and heartbeat changed, laced with a clearly audible longing that transformed every sound into an inarticulate plea or, if Hawke teased him enough, an absolute demand.

Weeks had passed since they could truly be together, and for a moment Hawke broke away to stare at the door of their small room as if the fixture was threatening to open at any moment. He tried to ignore it, but his inability to do so only fueled his eagerness to steal this one last moment for both of them.

Anders pushed Hawke's body away long enough to pull off the red shirt before urgently demanding the return of close contact. His bottom lip dragged across Hawke's chin and jaw before his tongue came to press against the corner of the other man's mouth. Their faces had to slant at completely different angles in order for them to meet in a kiss, but it was worth it for every fraction of closeness that impatience could buy them.

Hawke's hips continued to meet Anders' desperate, wanton grinding with calculatingly deliberate positioning and pressure. He could have remained there for hours, losing track of where Anders' hands were and had been, but the poor construction of the cot gave a loud and interrupting crack that stilled both men in an instant.

“I'm pretty sure these cots aren't meant to sleep two,” Anders observed.

“And I'm pretty sure I can get creative in a pinch,” Hawke said as he took stock of the rest of the room. Their discarded clothes and armor were all over the floor, and something was sitting atop a small table on the opposite side of the room. Hawke shrugged the blankets away as he climbed off the cot and, upon closer inspection, realized that it was a glass vial and a scrap of paper.

'Take your time boys' was all the note said, but it was enough to tell Hawke exactly whose ship he was on even before he pulled the cork out and discovered what was in the vial.

“What is it?” Anders asked from behind him.

Before the rogue could answer, a pair of warm arms wrapped themselves around his waist and pulled him back against his lover's body. Hawke reached back and threaded his fingers in short, dirty, blond locks, trying not get caught up in how much he missed the feel and the leverage of longer hair.

Coarse stubble scratched its way across Hawke's shoulder as hands moved down to his thighs, thumbs massaging their way down the creases in the leather. As good as that felt, however, it was the way that Anders exhaled against the nape of his neck that drove Hawke to spin them around and lift the mage onto the table.

It took no time at all for Anders to wrap his legs around Hawke and crash their bodies together with an ardent fervor not felt by either of them in a long while. Hawke made quick work of the lacing on Anders' pants before taking care of his own, all the while kissing the other man under the strong, aggressive guidance of the mage's hands. Blunt nails scraped behind his ears and down his neck. Hawke groaned from somewhere deep and low in the back of his throat, so impatient to touch Anders and feel Anders that undressing kept getting interrupted by a desperate need for contact.

As frustrating as it was to separate, Hawke knew everything was going to have horrible consequences if he didn't. He pulled Anders off the table and left the poor man standing there while he slid his own pants down his legs so he could step out of them and then grabbed a sheet off the cots. Thankfully Anders got the hint and stripped himself down as well, watching impatiently as Hawke threw the sheet over the small, splintery table.

“Are you... alright with...?” Hawke began to ask, knowing full well Anders understood him without needing to hear the rest.

“Maker, yes,” Anders answered, grabbing Hawke's hips and moving them both to the shorter end of the table. Hawke grinned and took a knee, biting at the skin by Anders' hip bone as he uncorked the glass bottle once again, pouring a good majority of the oil inside onto his hand.

Slick fingers groped a trail up the back of Anders' thigh as Hawke moved his lips to the skin under his lover's naval, the sudden pull of fingers in his hair encouraging him along. Hawke took Anders into his mouth and pressed his fingers into the other man's body as part of one fluid, synchronized motion that tore from Anders a dichotomous groan of pleasure in pain.

The way Anders tugged at his hair and thrust into his mouth was a fair enough trade as Hawke's fingers inched further in. When Hawke pulled his mouth back, his cheeks tight around the length of his Anders' cock, he looked up and watched as Anders faltered and had to use the table to catch himself. It reminded him of all the spontaneous "activities" they'd gotten up to on his desk back in Kirkwall; Anders' knees shaking as his breaths hissed out from between clenched teeth.

The hand in Hawke's hair loosened and traveled under his chin, applying enough pressure for the rogue to realize he should stand. He checked the floor and the table for the vial before Anders waved the item in his hand with a grin.

“My my, dear Anders,” Hawke pretended to chastise. He leaned in to wipe his hands off on the sheet, pinning Anders between him and the table. “Wherever did you learn a skill as despicable as stealing?”

Anders smirked and poured the rest of the oil into the palm of his hand. “Before you get all presumptuous on me, it wasn't you, though you're a terrible influence in plenty of other ways.”

Hawke, as always, had a playful retort waiting, but it was abandoned as soon as a lubricious hand wound its way around his cock and stroked him into being fully hard. Anders feigned a few confused, innocent blinks as he turned his ear toward Hawke. “What was that? Were you going to say something?”

Hawke delighted in the yelp that resulted when he lifted Anders up and laid the man out on the table.

Despite being shocked, Anders laughed and propped himself up on his elbows. “You ass,” he derided, grinning as Hawke leaned forward to loom over him. As further proof that he favored being honest and insistent about what he wanted, Anders' legs returned to Hawke's waist once more.

Even on the first, slow thrust the table wobbled in a way that promised terrible structural integrity. Hawke, however, rather enjoyed making a hobby out of doing what seemed impossible. Anders could hear the creaking as well, and he laughed at the frustrated concentration on his Hawke's face. That laugh quickly became a moan, however, as Hawke finally began to find a balance.

The key was for Hawke to hold Anders steady as he rocked into him, which was a fine stipulation in his opinion. He wasn't one to lament the quirks that made eager, spontaneous trysts what they were. He tucked his palms under Anders' knees and set a steady pace, trying to ignore the creaking from the table in favor of admiring the view, watching as Anders threw his head back and stroked himself at a much faster pace than Hawke's thrusting.

They'd been together non-stop for months, and barring a quick, hands-only tumble at the beginning of their journey, neither of them had enjoyed any sort of physical release, be it with each other or by themselves. It didn't really matter that their illicit little rendezvous didn't last very long. What mattered was the stupid grin on Hawke's face as he recognized all the details that made sex with Anders what it could never be with anyone else. The way Anders never closed his eyes but never looked at Hawke either, only stealing glances when he thought the other wasn't paying attention. The way those powerful, magical hands could never seem to find purchase.

When Hawke's muscles began to tighten from his thighs to the pit of his stomach he clamped his hands onto Anders' hips and ignored the threat of destroying the table in favor of snapping his hips forward in sharp jerks. He thought about slowing down, to make it last longer or to be more attentive to Anders' needs, but the heels digging into his back wouldn't allow that.

As soon as Hawke finished he grabbed Anders' arms and dragged him off the table before pressing the mage against the nearest wall. They met in quick kisses between pants and groans as Hawke pumped his hand in his a desperate attempt to bring Anders to completion.

After they were both spent and exhausted, the two men knelt on the floor, laughing at the absurd look of dirt, dust and flaked-off pieces of wood clinging to their skin. It felt good to know that at the end of it all, no one could take those moments away from them. Andraste herself had appeared before them, and while it was probably going to change all of Thedas, Hawke hoped it wouldn't change what they had, even as he found himself staring at the door once again.

***Waking Sea***

When he woke up, Carver was actually relieved to find he'd been stripped out of his armor before being put to bed. The crest of the Order hadn't been something he wore with pride since the moment he killed Wren. It felt like a brand, the kind burned into the flesh of traitors or slaves. It felt like a punishment.

Merrill was on the other cot in their small room, sleeping so deeply that Carver held his hand above her mouth for a moment to make sure she wasn't dead. She'd been through enough, and while he desperately wanted to talk to her, he knew it was better to let her rest.

He left the room and headed for the ship's deck in nothing but the red, blue and gold robes he wore under his armor, swearing at the bright sun that not only beat down on him from the sky, but reflected off the calm ocean waters as well. He brought his arm up to shield his eyes as he left to figure out where in Thedas he even was.

“Still filling out a skirt like a champ, I see,” someone said from behind him. He turned to face the person, but his unwillingness to look anywhere near the sun left him staring down at pair of tall brown boots. “Excuse me, Ser, but my breasts are up here ya know.”

“Isabela?” Carver guessed.

“Who else could have followed you and your crazy-ass brother all the way to Orlais? I was actually in the middle of gathering a small group to come crash your Chantry party when I saw you all just running toward me and panting like Mabari in heat.”

“Ever the poet, huh Isabela?”

Carver was finally able to lift his eyes in time to watch her shrug. “What can I say, it's a gift.”

“Speaking of gifts, think you'd be kind enough to get me some distinctively not-Templar clothes?”

“I can see what's around,” she offered as she turned and motioned for Carver to follow her.

As they traveled below deck Carver finally began to remember bits and pieces of the night before. “Is everyone alright? Where are they?”

“Everyone was alive last I checked, though the way you all passed out as soon as you got on board made my crew think otherwise. I am dying to hear just what in the name of Andraste's granny panties is going on, but I know I should be a good girl and wait until everyone wakes before I start with the inquisition.”

Carver winced in response to Isabela's special brand of expletives. “You might want to calm down the blasphemous idioms for the time being.”

“Why, because some woman claims to be Blessed Andraste herself?” Isabela laughed. “I'll believe it when I see her turn water into wine. And it better be good wine, too.” She stopped in front of a rickety door that was broken off its hinges to the point where it couldn't even shut properly. The door handle had to be used to lift the wood up so it could be swung back. “Maker, Castion took terrible care of this ship.” The storage room was so cluttered that Isabela was practically wading through the junk to find extra clothes. When she resurfaced, she was holding what looked like piles of scrap. “White shirt, brown pants. Sound good?”

“Are they even remotely clean?” Carver asked, even as he took them from her hands.

“Keep wearing the dress for all I care,” she dismissed. “But that's what I have to offer you; take it or leave it.”

“No, this is fine. Thank you, Isabela,” he said as he turned to leave.

“Where are you going?”

“To change? In my cabin?”

Isabela crossed her arms and pouted. “Well you're no fun.”

Refusing to give in to her baiting, Carver held the clothing up as gesture of gratitude and headed back to his room.

There was an attempt at delicateness as Carver re-entered the room. He tried to stay as far away from Merrill's cot as he could, shedding his robes before immediately slipping on the leather pants, all the while trying to push aside disturbing guesses as to where the clothing had been. He had just gotten them up to his hips when the old wood of the cot behind him creaked as Merrill sat up, and before he could even get the laces done up she was already yelping with embarrassment.

“Creators! Ma abelas, Carver, I didn't know-”

“No, no,” Carver shouted, “I shouldn't have-”

“-that you were here and I could just leave if you need to-”

“-just barged in here and started changing-”

Both of them stopped short in the middle of their mutual rambling and just stared at each other in stunned silence. The rigid set of Merrill's jaw made it obvious that she was trying to maintain eye contact, but her eyes repeatedly drifted down to Carver's bare chest and the flush in her cheeks grew redder every time.

With fumbling fingers Carver rushed to throw the shirt over his head. “I'm glad you're awake,” he said as he navigated his arms through the long, weathered white sleeves, “I wanted to talk to you. Are you... alright?”

Merrill gawked at him for a full and silent minute. “What are you even doing here?”

“Merrill,” Carver started, stepping forward and immediately regretting it when the elf flinched like she was about to be attacked. He sighed heavily and let his head just hang for a moment before he picked himself up and began speaking again. “I don't have anything to say that will excuse what I did. Just know that I'd never do anything to hurt you. I put us in that situation and I didn't even get us out. If you hadn't used that secret Dalish phrase they never would have known that I was on your side and I'd probably still be sweating in the Templar barracks, cursing myself for failing you.”

“Secret phrase?” Merrill asked. “I didn't tell anyone anything.”

“Didn't you say something in Dalish before they took you inside?”

“No, I didn- Oh!” she realized. “Oh, no, that was nothing. It was just- I was upset. I wasn't thinking. It was stupid. Really, it's nothing.”

Carver took a hesitant step toward her cot. “It's what let the Resolutionists know they could trust me. I couldn't have been 'nothing.' What did you say?”

"It's not a ...code word if that's what you're- why did you even tell them I said that?"

"He was Dalish and I wanted to ask someone while I had the chance. It changed their entire behavior toward me."

The way Merrill hid behind her sheet, the fabric pulled taught and resting just under her chin, someone could have easily thought she was naked behind it. She looked as if she'd rejoice if the cot could just swallow her whole and take her away from their conversation. “Elgar'nan, it's really- it's warm in here, huh?” It was then that Carver noticed there was a genuine sway to Merrill's posture, and he watched as she cradled her head in her hands. “I don't feel... are we on a ship?”

“Merrill, what did you say?” Carver pressed.

“I need to get on deck,” she stated, tearing the sheets off her body and swinging her legs over the side of her cot. Carver noticed that she was missing her armor pieces, but other than that she was fully clothed.

Merrill tried to stand, but she couldn't even take one step forward before her entire body swayed in an uneven circle. Carver lunged forward and caught her, using one hand to press into her back and hold her against his chest.

Merrill inhaled a shaky breath and refused to even look at him. “Oh, my, aren't you- you're very strong.” She swallowed and nodded as she pulled her arms up to provide space in between their bodies.

“He asked me if I loved you,” Carver found himself saying before he even thought of the words. He was just as shocked as Merrill was that he'd even said them.

The two of them finally made eye contact and waited for the other to address all their unanswered questions.

“I'll leave, if you want,” he offered one last time, even as he moved his free hand up to Merrill's cheek.

“No, no, it's not that. I never wanted you to go anywhere,” she admitted. “I just- I just-”

Knowing full well that Merrill would talk for an eternity if not interrupted, Carver tilted her head back and moved his face closer until she was talking against his lips. In a rapid sequence of events Merrill threw her arms around Carver's neck and pulled him down, making him gasp at her sudden forwardness. After finding he liked bold, aggressive Merrill, Carver guided her gently by sliding his hand behind her head. As soon as the moment had begun, however, Merrill was pounding her small fists against his chest, wrenching her face away from his.

An intense fear of pressuring the elf into something she didn't want made Carver let go immediately, but when she bent over and threw up on the floor, he still found himself smiling, his palms rubbing comforting circles on her back.

***The Void's Deceit, Waking Sea***

Sebastian had probably been done sleeping for hours before he finally opened his eyes. He kept trying to will away the reality of his situation, blurring the rickety wooden ceiling into the cold stone of his old Chantry quarters. Both rooms were austere enough, and the beds equally uncomfortable.

When he did finally stand up, he realized his scale mail and his armor were on the floor, leaving him in just his black tunic and pants. He knelt down and set about gathering his things, pulling on his armored jacket before hesitating as he held his leather belt in his hands. When he first received his armor he had hated it, knowing full well that it was meant to disguise his parents' exiling of him as some gift-worthy occasion.

As the years and the anger passed, he'd begun to hate it for entirely different reasons. Many of the other Sisters and Brothers were as poor as they were devout, forgoing worldly possessions for the standard issue robes of the Chantry. Sebastian's expensive armor made it impossible for him to look or feel as if he belonged there.

Sebastian looked into the carved white face on the front his belt and almost laughed at the state of his life at that moment. Had it actually been real?

She had to be somewhere on the ship, and while Sebastian didn't feel remotely ready to face her, he knew he didn't have much of a choice in the matter. Deciding his coat and boots were enough, he stepped out into the hall and headed in the direction of conversation.

The crewmen were all terse and busy, only giving Sebastian answers in the form of vague points and head tilts. It made finding the captain's quarters difficult, but he eventually came to a door marked with bronze detailing. He knocked and Isabela called for him to left himself in.

When he stepped inside he hardly recognized his companion. Her hair was now pulled back in a tight braid, leaving nothing to hide the various scars on her face and neck. She'd been given new clothes too; a pair of beige pants and a brown leather vest laced up over a red blouse.

She was sitting in a chair with Isabela kneeling in front of her. The captain was making adjustments to a metal contraption that resembled a cross between a cage and armor, with steel strips that ran vertically and horizontally around the mage's feet, ankles and shins. It had a tight fit to it, however; far tighter than any usual armor.

“There, better?” Isabela asked as she stood up and offered a hand to the other woman, who took it.

“Better,” she agreed. “Do you mind gathering the others? I would like to speak with everyone now.”

“Oh, goodie, story time. I'll be right back.” On her way out the door Isabela leaned in toward Sebastian's ear. “Feel free to make the most of your alone time.”

“That won't-” he tried to argue, but she obviously wasn't listening.

“You are not a prisoner here," the supposed prophetess stated, "I would like for you to understand that." She shifted back and forth, testing the feel of what Sebastian realized then were braces. “The Maker chooses, but a Chosen with no drive or ambition is more a hindrance than a hero.”

“Chosen?” Sebastian echoed. “For what?”

“I am not the Maker, Sebastian. I do not make these decisions, nor do I understand them. I can only try to interpret to my own calling and recognize in others when they are trying to do the same. But that is something to discuss when everyone is present. Now that I have you here, alone, I would like to apologize for misleading you.”

Sebastian was at a loss for words. He still couldn't think of her as being who she claimed to be, even if his instincts in the Grand Cathedral demonstrated that some part of him absolutely did. “Why didn't you tell me?” he asked. He knew the answer, but it was the only way he could think to begin the conversation.

“Would you have believed me? Do you even believe me now?” She paused for a beat to let him reply, his silence answering for him. “And even if you did, I have no interest in exercising an authority earned through generations of lies on my behalf.”

Footsteps approached, accompanied by voices moving closer as well. “You look like a beggar,” they could hear Hawke saying.

“It was all Isabela had,” Carver shot back. “I can't keep running around in the uniform of the Order. Not after I betrayed them to defend you and your ragtag band of misfits.”

“Ugh,” Merrill groaned. “Please don't fight.”

“Just keep chewing on that ginger root, kitten,” Isabela told her. “It'll do wonders. And next time-” As soon as the group got to the doorway it was as if they were weighed down by the atmosphere. Everyone entered and stood arm's length apart, staring at various corners and spots on the floor. Much like Sebastian, no one knew how to even start the conversation.

“So, you're Andraste,” Hawke stated outright. He shrugged and looked around the room. “What? Someone had to say it.”

Andraste nodded and motioned for everyone to step further into the room. Though she needed the support of the walls in order to walk, she was able to maneuver herself over to the door and shut it. The fact that she did not ask someone closer to the door to shut it for her did not evade Sebastian's notice. “I am,” she said as she returned to her chair. Instead of sitting, however, she stood behind it and used the back to keep herself balanced. “I would like to tell you all the truth about where I come from and what I have done, if that is all right with you.”

Anders stepped forward with an imploring look in his eyes. “If you are willing to tell us, I would be honored to hear it. I... I cannot believe you're a mage. Or maybe I always could and I just never allowed myself to.”

Andraste stared at the floor and gathered her thoughts before beginning. “Some truth still remains in the Chantry's lore. I was indeed born in Denerim,” she stated, turning a bit to acknowledge Sebastian, “and my mother was named Brona. She and my father, Aloso, were the children of powerful Tevinter mages, but they were both born without magic. It made them pariahs in the Imperium. Their parents turned them into indentured servants and forced them to serve their own families as lesser citizens. After they met and found they had much in common, my parents would meet up every day after their families retired for the evening. Then, one night, they agreed to take all the coin they could steal and run south until the Imperium was wholly and truly behind them.”

“Oh,” Merrill sighed before clamping her hands over her mouth. “Sorry, it's just such a sweet story.”

“Do not worry yourself, it is a story I am proud to tell,” Andraste admitted. “My parents were not mages, and yet they were the strongest people I ever had the privilege of knowing. They felt blessed by every year that passed without me showing signs of magic, but they knew their bloodlines, and they understood that my being a mage was essentially inevitable. Their attempts at denial were shattered around the time I turned seven, and they both understood that the only place for me to receive proper training was in the Imperium. I did not want to leave, so I taught myself to control my magic enough to pretend it simply did not exist.”

“What a... bizarre situation,” Anders observed. “I can't decide if it sounds nothing like the plight of mages today or exactly the same.”

Sebastian was loath to admit he'd thought the same thing.

“My parents had been honest with me about their experiences in Tevinter, so why would I want to go there myself? There was no hierarchy in our little fishing village. We were a community, and everyone pulled their own weight. I spent my days plowing my family's farmland on the outskirts of town, and at night my parents taught me old folk songs in their native tongue. My father spoke of my voice to the others in town, bragging about how he had a son to plow his fields and a daughter to sing him to sleep, all wrapped up in one child. I was able to live that lie until I was eighteen. Over the years my magic had grown as I did, and yet no one had been available to teach me how to control it. I did not want to break my parents' hearts, but I did not want to hurt them either. One night I climbed a nearby hill to contemplate my future, and I felt compelled to sing; as if my song were somehow an offer to the world in exchange for guidance. The response was subtle at first, but it eventually burned though me and ignited a sense of purpose the likes of which I had never experienced before. That night I left to seek training in the Imperium.”

“The Maker called you to Tevinter?” Sebastian asked. “You went willingly?”

“I did not know at the time that it was the Maker who was the source, or better yet, I did not give a name to the divinity. Still, I arrived in the city to claim my birthright, and I was offered tutelage by my mother's parents. They were incredibly happy to have me there; to know that their daughter was a fluke and their line was still strong with magic. I excelled in my studies, and they did everything they could to train the young Denerim farmhand out of me. They stuffed me in gowns and painted my face and paraded me in front of their friends, having me perform magic to impress them. I would love nothing more than to tell you that I only tolerated that lifestyle for a few short years, but that is not the case. Instead I stayed for more than a decade, became a magister and even owned slaves, some of whom were from the Alamar region, same as me.”

“Boring,” Isabela complained. “This story is in desperate need of a racy, torrid affair.”

Andraste only smiled. “Patience, my dear Isabela.”

“You're joking,” the pirate accused.

“I was thirty-two when Ealisay showed up on the slave market in Minrathous. No matter where my travels took me, I never met a woman whose beauty compared to hers. She had been my best friend since childhood. We grew up singing together, and we had made-” she paused and grinned for a moment, her mind very obviously in the past, “-beautiful music together.”

Isabela stepped forward and, in one smooth glide, slid her legs along either side of the chair's back, seating herself with rapt attention. “Go on...”

“Isabela!” Sebastian snapped with far more intensity than he meant. He had no idea what his emotions were doing anymore. There was no precedent in his life to dictate how he should feel listening to the woman who was supposedly Andraste detailing her life as a Tevinter magister. He wasn't sure if he was more upset about having been lied to by the leaders of his faith, or the disappointment that was learning the truth.

“Unbunch your panties, Choir Boy," Isabella laughed. "Shouldn't you be happy that I'm taking an interest in your faith and your... lovely prophetess?”

“This is not my faith!” he yelled. When everyone turned to stare at him he sighed and rubbed at his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “You will have to forgive me. This is, admittedly, a lot to take in.”

The gentle nod Andraste gave made Sebastian feel immediately forgiven, albeit still foolish. “I am telling you of my time as a magister not so you may know about me, but so you may learn from me,” she explained. “I bought Ealisay and took her back to my estate, but she did not work for me. Instead she shared my bed and my wealth, though she begged me every night to run away with her back to Denerim, or to at least release my slaves. I explained to her that without servants I would lose my social standing, and without the Imperium I would not have proper magic training; which was a lie considering I had finished my studies year before. Then one night I hosted a party, for no other reason beside social custom, and it somehow descended into a jealous, backbiting argument between many of us over bloodlines and abilities. One of the magisters, a petty little man, decided to demonstrate his prowess by slitting Ealisay's throat and using her blood to summon enough Shades to kill most of my guests and destroy my home. When it was over I dug through the rubble looking for Ealisay's body, but there had been too much carnage for me to tell what was even left of her.”

The ensuing silence left Sebastian to try to imagine even a sliver of that kind of pain. He had learned of his family's assassination in a letter, and that had crushed his spirit like nothing he'd ever felt before. He couldn't begin to imagine trying to find their faces in a pile of carnage he'd watched happen.

Andraste swept her eyes across the room, staring into each of them for a moment before moving on. “I did not know what to do. I was so sure that I had been on my destined path, and yet being a magister had left me ashamed, alone and homeless. I packed a small bag and ventured back to that hill in Denerim, the last place I had felt any real purpose, and found my parents had both died in my absence. I prayed for guidance, any kind of guidance. I promised the world that I would be anything it needed me to be if it would only tell me what that need was. I vowed that I would use my abilities with confidence and yet with great humility, for I had already allowed it to consume my dignity and my compassion once before. To validate my promise I stood on that hill and I sang the first song my mother ever taught me, and I-” She paused and shook her head. “I cannot describe it. I felt... heard. I felt a grand sort of approval, suddenly justified in my desire to eradicate the oppression and the subjugation that I myself had once perpetuated. I intended on returning to Minrathous to convert other magisters, but half-way through my journey I received word that the Blight had begun again and was wreaking havoc across all of Tevinter.”

“Wait a second,” Hawke interrupted. “Did you say the Blight began again?”

“Ah, yes, your lore states that it was the first of the Blights,” Andraste remembered. “That is not true. I cannot tell you when the first Bight was, or if the Imperium did indeed cause it, but I knew there had been one before, and another before that. Only one during my lifetime, however. With Tevinter no longer an option, I turned back to Denerim, knowing full-well that I was receiving a sign from the divine being to whom I had been praying. I sent word out that I was gathering an army, and I asked for an audience with the leader of the Alamarri militia. That is how I met Maferath.”

Sebastian closed his eyes but dared not make a sound in reaction to that development. A naïve part of him was hoping Maferath was another falsehood of the Chantry's lore; that no such coward had ever actually existed.

“My, he was so strong,” Andraste recalled. “No magic, just whatever strength he had earned for himself. I respected him immensely, and I did not want to mislead him, so I told him everything. I told him about my abilities, my past, my destiny and my intentions. I told him I wanted to bring about the fall of the Imperium, and he tried to tell me it was impossible.”

“That's rather genius though,” Carver commented. “I mean, you gather and train an army while they're fighting a Blight, and once it's over you're primed and ready to strike.”

“That was the plan I presented to him, and he accepted it. I sent one small, brave company of messengers to the outskirts of the Imperium to track down escaped slaves and tell them to join our cause. There was one in particular I was hoping to get in contact with; the elf who had been my bodyguard while I was a magister. A man by the name of Shartan.”

“Shartan was- he was your slave?” Merrill asked.

“Yes, and luckily he had survived long enough to flee the Blight. One messenger tracked him to an elvhen settlement in the Arlathan Forrest where he too was gathering an army. Shartan almost had the man killed, which is not surprising considering he was carrying a letter from me of all people. When Shartan arrived with his army at our training camp in Denerim, he simply threw the letter at my feet and said 'the enemy of my enemy.' I promised his people their own land, and in return he taught me how to use a sword. While he did not have magic himself, he was aware of the ancient elvhen training given to those who wished to marry their magic and their strength into one cohesive combat style.”

“The Mihim'elgar?” Merrill asked. “You were one of the Arcane Warriors? There... there aren't even any left among the Dalish, and there hasn't been one for over a century. If you knew even a little of- Creators, the things we could do with that knowledge.”

“When we have the time I will teach you what I can, I promise,” Andraste told her. “Shartan's training prepared me well for the coming war, and between the Alamarri, the elves, and the former slaves, we had a powerful army. Maferath allowed me to lead alongside him in weapon training and militia tactics during the four years it took the Anderfells and the Imperium to stop the Blight. Eventually the soldiers came to regard us as their joint leaders, so it made sense for us to get married.”

"How romantic," Hawke joked.

She stopped for a moment then, and Sebastian thought he saw her grind her teeth in frustration. “No,” she snapped as if she were arguing with herself, “I am trying to be honest with you, and while it is easier to believe Maferath and I never once loved each other, and were wed out of convenience, that is not the truth. I felt as if he was a part of my promise to the Maker, and we even had a son together. Eventually, however, we received word that the Archdemon was in Minrathous doing battle with the Grey Wardens, and that the Archon had been killed in the fight. When it was finally over and the last of the darkspawn had either retreated or been killed, we marched. Their armies were weak, they did not expect us, and they had just elected a new Archon, Hessarian, who had no idea what he was doing. We came up from the south and decimated their remaining armies, all the while torching their farmlands and tainting their fresh water. Every night we would celebrate our victories, and over time we began to develop a religious doctrine that expressed the ideals of our cause. Some of us were mages, and we recognized that the Imperium's hubris and sadism was not how we wished to be governed or represented. We formed a list of tenets, the foremost being 'Magic should serve man, not rule him.'”

At first Sebastian felt embarrassed by his grave misuse of the phrase throughout his life, but the more he thought about the circumstance of mages in Thedas today, the less it related to Andraste's situation. “But what of demons and abominations?” he asked. “Surely you understood the threat that mages were to themselves and others.”

“Really, this again?” Anders asked. “My, you really are an expert at being stubborn and redundant.”

“No,” Andraste interrupted. “He presents an important point.” She turned and faced the prince, giving him her full attention. “Though, as with many things I have said tonight, I do not believe the answer is what you would like it to be. Abominations are the result of inadequate training. In the Imperium, all mages must pass their Harrowing by the age of twelve, and they are trained from birth to do so. If your Templars and your Chantry allowed mages to received proper mentoring instead of shunning their gifts, then you would not have a problem with possession. Instead you have left them to try to pass their Harrowing, in what is basically a prison, based off a few vague book passages and rumors from older mages. Then you wonder why they choose instead to live on the run, unchecked, as fugitives.”

As much as he hated to admit it, Sebastian had to acknowledge the logic in her argument.

“Moving on,” she began, “Maferath did not seem as invested in forming a new faith as I was. The army was beginning to favor my leadership to his, especially those human soldiers who surrendered themselves to the Maker's guiding light. Every night they asked me to sing of His glory, and over time I saw bitterness and jealousy begin to grow within my husband. We were on a highly successful war path, however, and did not have the time to entertain petty squabbles.” A bitter laugh escaped before she whispered to herself. “So petty...”

Sebastian stepped forward, awkwardly unsure of what to do with his hands. He wanted to comfort her, but he had no idea what would be appropriate. “If you do not wish to drag these memories to the surface, you do not have to,” he offered. Whether he believe her or not; whether he liked what she had to say or not, he was not the kind of person who enjoyed watching others suffer, and Andraste did not seem ready to relive her betrayal.

“It is not so simple,” she told him. “I remember that day as if I am stuck reliving it constantly. Maferath had gone out on a scouting expedition that lasted days longer than it was intended to, and when he returned he suggested we split the army, with him taking most of the soldiers for a frontal assault and me leading a small band in a flanking maneuver. When I stopped to await the signal at the hold point, however, I was ambushed by the Archon's wife, Lady Vasilia, and her army of magisters. Two people survived the attacked. Two,” she repeated with a grave and angry emphasis. “That was only because they wanted Shartan and I alive for a public execution, though that did not happen until a good two months after our capture.”

There was no explanation needed for what happened in those two months. Andraste's face became empty, and Sebastian felt tortured just from watching her mind tried to distance itself from the painful memories.

“I rejoiced when they told me it was time,” she spoke in a monotone. “I was originally told I was set to be beheaded, as Shartan had been the week prior, but Vasilia would not have it. She wanted everyone to see what happened when the might of the Tevinter Imperium was questioned, both as a matter of pride and a matter of warning. In that moment I should have felt fear or, at the very least, a desire to escape,” she told them, her voice brightening a bit, “but I cannot remember a time when I had felt more calm. I... knew my death would have far more meaning than my life. As they tied me to the stake I noticed Archon Hessarian was conflicted and I told him, from the deepest part of my being, that I forgave him and that I hoped the Maker would heal his wounded soul. When the crowd threw their torches into the kindling at my feet I did not move or make a sound. Seconds felt like their own eternities as I stood there listening to them cheer on my torturous demise. I remember a brief glimpse of Hessarian running toward me with a sword in his hands and tears in his eyes before everything went black.”

“You... died?” Carver asked.

“Then have you been at the Maker's side this whole time?” Sebastian wondered.

“Alas, I cannot tell you what happens after death, as I am sure that what happened to me does not happen to others. I... awoke- though I do not know if that is even a proper word for it- some time later to a cacophony of voices and complete darkness. It was not even darkness, it was just nothingness. Over time I came to realize that these voices were the prayers of the living. I listened to your civilizations as they morphed into what they are today. I followed the evolution of my teachings and watched as generation by generation it became a perverse power struggle in my name. It was frustrating and infuriating much of the time, but there were still moments of light that insured I never lost faith in our world.”

When Andraste reached down and began to undo the lacing on her vest everyone else in the room traded confused looks, but she continued to tell her story as she did it. “Not long after the Chantry in Kirkwall was destroyed, I awoke somewhere in the area you refer to as 'The Wounded Coast,' still clad in the burnt remains of the prison garb I wore to my execution. My lower body was burned beyond recognition and my chest,” she said as she pulled her vest open and her shirt down, “had been impaled.”

The burns did not reach as high as the area Andraste had exposed, which was just above her left breast, but the scar there was far worse than the already-horrific wounds on her legs. This one looked to be from an impossibly deep wound, almost as if her skin had caved in. It was long, reaching all the way to her collar bone, but Sebastian could also see that it was mercifully clean and precise.

“I laid there for days,” she continued, letting go of her blouse so that only half the scar was visible, “hidden amongst the rocks, trying to relearn how a human body worked. I stumbled around, attempting to regain some mobility, but my legs were damaged to the point of being almost completely numb. I stole what I needed in order to survive, but when I overheard the mercenaries discussing the bounty on Anders' head, I channeled enough magic to get myself through warning them off before I was...” she turned and eyed Sebastian thoroughly, “...interrupted.”

“If you were reaching out Anders and Merrill why was I the one who found you?” Sebastian asked.

“I wondered that myself,” she answered honestly. “I knew of you. I had heard your prayers and the prayers of your family. To put it bluntly I did not feel confident relying on you. During our travels, however, I began to reflect on the matter and I believe I am beginning to understand more about my purpose here. I know you probably have more questions, but I am weary and in need of rest. May I ask that we retire for the evening, and continue these discussions tomorrow?”

As much as it pained Sebastian to return to his room with the answer to his entire life's purpose still lingering on the horizon, he knew they had asked enough of her for the evening. “I am sure no one here wishes for you to continue under duress,” he assured her.

“Well, The Void's Deceit isn't going to steer herself,” Isabela dismissed as she stood up and dusted herself off. “If you ever want to get drunk and discuss what sons-of-bitches our husbands were, you know where to find me,” she added with a wink before she disappeared toward the deck.

Sebastian followed everyone else out as well, watching as Hawke and Anders went in one direction, Hawke bringing his hand up to gently rub at the back of Anders' neck. In the other direction Carver was leading Merrill down the hall by the small of her back, smiling and nodding and perhaps even listening as the elf prattled on excitedly about what they'd just heard.

He returned to his room but made no attempt to go to sleep. Instead he paced about the place and tried to think of what Andraste herself could possibly want from him. Hearing that he had a role in the Maker's plan, and what that role was, was all Sebastian had ever prayed for, and now he was being denied an answer. He knew his annoyance and his impatience were selfish, but the more he let it fester, the more he needed to know who he was supposed to be. It felt so childish to still allow himself to be dragged through his own life, but autonomy was a luxury that felt too out-of-grasp. He'd happily settle for an assigned purpose if it just meant he no longer felt so empty.

Chapter Text

***The Void's Deceit, Crew Quarters***

Hawke and Carver had been very close when they were children. Before they understood how magic and lineage actually worked, they would pretend to knock each other back with spells. When they got older, they grabbed sticks off the ground and knocked them together in pretend swordfights, always one-upping each other with tales of imaginary heroics.

It was a far cry from the tense, trying relationship they'd had in Kirkwall. Hawke couldn't pinpoint when it all started to go south. Maybe it was when the Blight hit, though he remembered a great deal of bitterness in Carver's heart after their father passed. When he saw their brotherly bond begin tanking, however, he brushed off any serious attempts to discuss the matter while Carver was obviously in desperate need of validation and support. The more guilty Hawke felt, the less he acknowledged the problem, until finally he was stuck wearing a smartass grin at all times and Carver couldn't stop scowling, despite what either of them was actually feeling at the time. At some point they'd given in to these caricature versions of themselves, and that had become preferable to simply communicating.

Somehow he and Carver ended up alone and completely lacking any sort of topic for conversation. He retraced the events of his day, remembering the way Anders and Merrill awoke everyone at the crack of dawn in the hopes of hearing Andraste's grand plan for them. Their excitement came to a screeching halt when they found the prophetess kneeling on the rear deck of the ship with her forehead pressed to the wood, muttering something none of them could understand. There was also something about her body language that made Hawke take an involuntary step back, her posture a mix of exhaustion and complete surrender. Sebastian elected to stay with her and wait as long as was needed. "I think she has the right idea," he told them. Hawke did not agree.

The skies were clear and the waters were calm, meaning only a few crew members were needed to run the ship. When they found Hawke and his companions standing around idly, they invited them to the crew quarters for drinks; an invitation the remaining four of them happily accepted.

Drinking with the crew ended up being an unsurprisingly effective time killer. No one noticed that the sun had begun to set, too busy exchanging stories or asking Anders and Merrill what kind of tricks they could do with their magic. Hawke deemed their afternoon of drunken antics an absolute necessity for the upkeep of their sanity; proof that the world didn't always need to be ending and, even if it was, they didn't always have to act like it was.

The crew was in the middle of throwing silvers toward a betting pool in the hopes of convincing someone to take a shot of whiskey after Anders had lit it on fire, and Merrill was gripped with a terrified and yet wholly excited terror as she waited to see if anyone would actually do it.

That left Hawke and Carver alone on the opposite side of the room, both of them with their backs against the wall, sipping their drinks to give themselves an excuse not to be talking.

"How much you want to bet they end up lighting the ship on fire?" Carver asked, raising his mug of ale toward the chaos.

"I don't think it's a matter of 'if,' really," Hawke answered. "I think it's a matter of when."

And then there it was, the same agonizing, awkward emptiness that always filled the air when they were stuck at Gamlen's with no work for the day and not enough coin to go out. As the seconds ticked by Hawke felt as if everything that came too mind was too smalltalk-y for two men who grew up together, but the longer he went without saying something the more his anxiety compounded.

He looked over at Carver, praying that his brother had a topic in mind, but the young man seemed thankfully preoccupied at the moment. It was easy to follow the line of Carver's gaze straight to Merrill, and Hawke began to feel as if "older brother code" dictated that he congratulate Carver with some sort of "atta boy" remark that made Merrill sound like a hard-won prize, but all the platitudes people generally used in that situation were, in Hawke's opinion, asinine and disrespectful to both parties.

He took a deep breath and let out a long, place-holding "So..." in order to buy himself more time. He was so desperate for common ground that when something sprung to his mind he blurted it out without even thinking. "Mages."

Hawke watched as Carver stopped mid-way through taking another sip of his ale. "What about mages?"

"You know," Hawke said suggestively, though he had no idea what he was trying to imply. "They're... pretty great, huh?"

Carver shook his head and returned to his drink, but when his eyes caught sight of Merrill once again, Hawke could see how his brother used the mug to hide his embarrassed grin when he realized the implication being made.

The alcohol burned its way down, but it was pleasant and familiar, the warmth relaxing Hawke as it traveled through him. "I can tell she makes you happy," he said as he nodded toward her. "You've been acting much less you-ish."

"You really are an expert at ruining moments, you know that?"

"Carver, we don't do 'moments.' You should know this by now."

"You're right, I probably should." The bitterness in Carver's tone was somehow still light-hearted, and Hawke was just happy to have some bit of familiarity back, if even for a moment.

"Oh, I can't watch them do it," Merrill proclaimed as she retreated back toward the two brothers. She faltered a bit with her footing and watched her drink fearfully. When nothing spilled out, however, she stared into her mug before tipping it over and realizing it was empty. "Emma halam, there isn't even anything in it!"

"And there's the Dalish outburst," Hawke noted, recognizing the telltale marker that indicated when Merrill had had enough. "Carver, why don't you be a gentlemen and escort this young woman back to her room?"

"I don't need you to tell me wh-"

"Oh, I like that idea," Merrill interrupted. She stared up at Carver with a shy smile and a more than healthy flush to her cheeks.

"Right," Carver agreed in a bit of a dazed monotone. "Yeah, let's..." He looked over at Hawke, Merrill tugging a bit at his arm. "I'm just going to..."

"Bye Carver," Hawke said with a smile, watching as the two of them disappeared down the hall.

"Ah, young love," Anders sighed.

"Don't you have fireballs to juggle or something?"

Anders laughed and finished off his drink. "It's not every day I have people asking me to perform magic. Though who knows, maybe that'll all change soon."

"If Andraste ever gets around to telling us what in the Maker's name is going on." Hawke cringed at his word choice. "Pun not intended."

"You know," Anders began, "Things could have ended up completely different for you. You could have been born a mage."

"Aw, you're drunk too, aren't you?"

"You know your lineage. Magic on both sides. What if you had been a mage?"

Hawke raised an eyebrow. "At least half of Thedas would be on fire at all times."

Anders smiled as if he were about to laugh, but no sound came out. Instead he put his mug down on a nearby table and took Hawke's free hand in both of his. "Just... promise me you won't change."

"Alright, I promise not to grow up and take things seriously any time soon," Hawke said with confidence.

"I used to know someone like you. A well-meaning smartass who covered up his passion for his cause with sarcasm." Anders paused and stared down at where their hands met. "He's gone now, but being with you makes me feel like a part of him is still here."

"I'm beginning to feel jealous."

"Don't, just..." Anders let out a nostalgic and affectionate sigh. "Just know that I love you, alright?"

***The Void's Deceit, Cabins***

"My... heart's desire?" Carver repeated.

The two of them were on the floor of their room, Merrill lying on her back with her head resting on Carver's lap. They found she got less seasick in that position, and Carver was happy to oblige.

"That's the best translation I can think of," Merrill explained. "I mean, it's what the individual words mean, but it's...more than that. You- you go through life wanting and desiring all sorts of things, like money or power or skill, but your vhenan'ara, that's someone- the only person- who you... yearn for? Oh, forget I said that," she dismissed, waving her hands in the air above her as if she were brushing her explanation aside. "Yearn is such an embarrassing word. Too much time with Isabella and her friend fiction. It's so awkward and cheesy."

"Awkward and cheesy sounds fitting," Carver replied. He ran his fingertips gently along Merrill's hairline, brushing the dark strands back to reveal more of her forehead tattoos. It was a welcome distraction from the itch of the question lodged in the back of his throat, his anxiety tangible enough to make him cough. After rehearsing a few versions of it in his head, he ended up combining them all and asking "Can you tell me why?"

"Why what?" she asked. "Why you? Why that word? Why then?"

"Actually, the answer to all of those would be nice."

Carver immediately regretted asking when he watched as Merrill frowned and her energy seemed to deflate, but she began explaining before he could apologize and annul the entire conversation. "I thought that traveling with Helena and her brothers would be like traveling with the nobles. By the time we got to the Grand Cathedral I thought I had lost you. You didn't have to come with me to Orlais, after all. I mean, it wasn't your calling or your responsibility. I figured that by then you had thought, like everyone else usually does, that I was being stupid, and you weren't willing to risk everything for someone like me."

"I never thought you were stupid," Carver told her. "Not then and certainly not now."

"I suppose that is fair," she remarked before adding, "The part about not thinking I'm stupid now, after speaking with Andraste. Though I wish I knew what she wanted. Or maybe she doesn't want anything at all. Maybe she's upset with me- about the blood magic or the Eluvian or something."

"I doubt she'd call out to you like that just to yell at you. You're a powerful mage, Merrill," he reminded her, and partially himself as well.

"Yes, well, the Keeper acknowledged my abilities and my clan needed my magic, but in the end they both ended up plenty angry with me." Without warning she hoisted herself up and spun around to face Carver. "And what if you are right? What if she does need me for something? I'm no leader, I can't fight in a war." Her head dropped until her chin was pressing into her chest. "I'm not strong like you."

Carver bit his lip and raised his hands up toward her, but when he found he had no idea what to do with them he let them fall back to his sides. "You're a strong person, Merrill. I wish you saw that."

"You... give me too much credit," she insisted.

Carver sighed, feeling entirely incompetent as he stared down at the floor. "Yes, well, I could say the same to you."

***The Void's Deceit, Rear Deck***

"The Maker has ordained a place for each of us. We have only to serve."

It was advice that Sebastian had given hundreds of times before, and yet when he repeated it to himself he found it more difficult to follow than he could have ever imagined. Had it been Sebastian's celestial duty to murder Justinia in defense of Andraste? Was there to be no justice for Elthina? Was he truly willing to condemn the Chantry in its entirety to see Andraste's true message brought back to the people of Thedas? And what did she even want with him? She seemed content to let him go and never speak to him again, and with all the stress and self-doubt clawing at his mind, Sebastian was on the verge of being fine with that.

Having discovered that Andraste was deep in prayer and thoroughly blocking out anyone who tried to speak with her, Sebastian joined her for a while and then returned to his room and attempted to read. It proved to be impossible for him to focus, however, when all that came to mind was uncertainty and apprehension. After all, what else did he have for options? He had killed the Divine. It did not matter what he believed anymore. He'd already announced a clear stance on the matter with his actions.

He could hear Hawke and the rest of their companions drinking and conversing loudly with the crew members, but Sebastian didn't drink anymore and the idea that anyone could be laughing instead of agonizing over the future made him infuriatingly jealous, and he didn't want anyone to see him like that. He wasn't proud of how he'd been acting, but the shock of all this new information wasn't helped by being forced to work with Anders. And being on par with him for importance in the Maker's plan, no-less.

The hours crawled, but eventually the sun did set on Sebastian's day of self-reflection, forcing him to realize how little progress he'd made in his book. He finally gave up on that endeavor, his feet bringing him to the deck before he had even decided to go.

Andraste was no longer kneeling with her forehead to the ground. By then she was sitting cross-legged with her hands on her knees and her back to the sea, staring straight ahead as if she'd been waiting for Sebastian for hours and he was late.

"If you were done praying you could have found me," he told her. "I think I deserve answers if you have them. Have I not proven myself worthy of your trust? Have I not already killed for you?"

"He is gone," she spoke without looking at him.

"Excuse me?"

"He is gone," she repeated. "I have felt nothing since the moment I awoke on this ship. Running for the coast was the last instinct I felt guiding me. After that..."

Sebastian approached her slowly, feeling responsibility weigh on him with a crushing force. "The Maker has truly abandoned us then, if He will not even speak through you."

"No," she argued, finally looking up at him. "The Chantry was as much a deviation from His will as the Imperium was. He would not turn away after we had come so far." She nodded her head toward the space in front of her, inviting Sebastian to sit so they could face each other.

When they were on an equal level Sebastian felt a good deal of his stress retreat for the moment. "Then what has happened?" he asked her.

"I suspect magic, and I have my guesses as to the who, the where and the how. That cannot be fixed now, however, and until it is I must create a strategy using the guidance that had already been bestowed upon me. I know I must return you and your companions to Kirkwall. I believe we will discover our purpose there. After that I fully intend to finish what I started. Maker's will aside, it has been my will for centuries to see the Imperium fall, and I will see it happen."

"What of the Chantry then?"

"They shall be my Blight."

Sebastian eyed her with a sidelong glance. "Your... Blight?"

"They shall weaken each other," she clarified. "And after that I will strike them both down. There is no room in the Maker's kingdom for those who uplift themselves by climbing the bodies of their oppressed."

"And how do you intend to do that with just the six of us?" he asked. "Seven, if you include Isabela."

"I..." When Andraste looked away Sebastian felt a distinct shift in the conversation that caused him to lean in toward her unconsciously. "With your... cooperation, I would like to have an army to lead against them."

Sebastian was struck suddenly by the realization that they were alone. Everything became so apparent in that instant: why he was the one who found her, why she hadn't described her plans the night before, in front of everyone else. "You want to lead Starkhaven's armies," he finally said aloud. "You are asking to... rule alongside me? To marry me?" He couldn't bring himself to believe she was actually suggesting such a thing.

Andraste nodded. "And before you try lying to me like you did Hawke, know that I am already aware of your cousin's unwillingness to rule. I know about Goran's letters, and I listened for six years as he prayed every night for your return."

If Sebastian felt this woman still lacked the proof needed to back up her claim, then her knowledge of his cousin's predicament would have abolished it. He did indeed have a stack of letters from Goran in his Chantry quarters, all of them begging Sebastian to return and claim the throne. The Harimanns picked well when they chose the boy, taking into account his age and his temperament. Goran was only fourteen at the time of the Flint Company slaughter, and he wasn't known for being bright or bold. "Goran's rule may be ineffectual, but it has led the nobles to form a fair and democratic governing body that has served Starkhaven well in the absence of the royal family."

"And what will happen to Starkhaven in this war?" she asked. "Do you not come from a line of princes and princesses who were steadfast in their devotion to the Chantry? Would Goran and the nobles not want to fight the mages and avenge the Divine?"

Without even knowing he was engaged in a verbal battle, Sebastian suddenly found himself defeated.

"It was never my intention to trap you in some awkward political marriage to a woman you barely know," she said as if she were apologizing, "but when I regained my mortality it was not Anders or Merrill who found me, was it?"

Sebastian needed a moment to evaluate the situation, but it was hard to think clearly when his mind was reeling from the implications of Andraste's proposition. Considering he had taken vows of chastity, marriage could not have been further from his mind, though the way in which Andraste's discomfort mirrored his own did allay his uneasiness a bit.

And yet her questions, which weren't questions at all really, had already given him his answer. Without proper leadership the whole of Starkhaven's military would either fall in the rebellions or to Andraste herself; because while Sebastian believed the woman would have a difficult time rallying and training her own army, he did not doubt that she could.

"I do not see an alternative in this matter," he answered, "nor will I offer you any less than I offered Justinia. I was willing to go to war for her because I believed it would give me purpose. I have, since then, discovered that my calling may... lie elsewhere."

"This is not an easy thing for me to ask of you," she stressed, "but it is vital to my cause."

"Is it not Thedas' cause?" Sebastian argued. "Do you not wish to eradicate injustice and spread the word of the Maker so that he may look upon us as he once did? This is far larger than both of us, and I understand that sacrifices must be made to ensure the good of the whole in the end." The words sounded so dignified and so sure, and Sebastian would have given anything to have actually believed them.

"That is noble of you to say." It seemed like only the first half of her statement, but Andraste never finished it. Instead she stood herself up and turned toward the stairwell that led to the cabins. "It is late, and I need to rest. You should retire for the evening as well."

"I think I will stay a bit longer," he decided. Andraste nodded and wished him a pleasant evening before disappearing below deck, leaving Sebastian alone with his thoughts and prayers.

"The Maker has ordained a place for each of us," he recalled once again as he watched her slowly and awkwardly walk away. "We have only to serve."

***End Part 1***

Chapter Text

***The Void's Deceit, Sebastian's Room***

For the most part, the days spent on Isabela's ship had been some of the best times Hawke could remember having. Maybe it only seemed that way because the road there had been so arduous, but that didn't mean Hawke enjoyed it any less. After all, he got to spend that time with an optimistic and validated Anders who shaved and ate and slept. Isabela cheated them all at cards, and when the winds finally picked up she taught the Hawke boys how to be proper sailors; a job they both found a great deal of enjoyment in.

They also became aware of Andraste's plans to reattempt her march against the Tevinter Imperium, this time with those who claim to worship her as added adversaries. Despite their varying backgrounds, a mutual hatred of magisters did a fantastic job of uniting the seven of them under one banner.

Hawke played his part in "the war effort" by sparring against Andraste during the few calm moments they had between currents, helping her regain her balance and reassign the muscles needed to accommodate for her injuries. She was far stronger than Hawke expected, even after he took into consideration that she'd been trained for physical combat as well as magic. Merrill had said that Arcane Warriors had a physical strength equal to their magical abilities, and if that were true then Hawke never wanted to be on the wrong side of her fist or her fireball. And if ever he did piss her off, at least he was much faster.

No one spoke of the marriage arrangement. Sebastian and Andraste told the group of their decision the morning after they'd discussed it. Despite being an easy target for playful ridicule, the Hawke couldn't bring himself to comment. When he looked over at Sebastian in that moment, Hawke felt as if he was meeting a stranger for the first time, and it unnerved him greatly.

He never thought Sebastian to be the most interesting person in Thedas, but they'd never had any major issues. After all, Hawke wasn't some Chantry-hating, slave-owning sadist, and while he was often sarcastic and inappropriate, he still seemed to have earned Sebastian's respect over time. Helping to avenge the slaying of one's family did tend to speed along the process. True to his word, Sebastian honored his debt for six straight years, accompanying him without argument, even helping to put a stop to Ser Alrik and the “Tranquil Solution.” He never once felt that Sebastian came across as the snobby, entitled noble Aveline was always worried he'd become. Even when they didn't agree, Hawke could say, at the very least, that Sebastian always meant well.

They didn't really have any problems until Sebastian threatened Anders on the day of the Chantry attack, and even then Hawke knew the promise of revenge was empty. For all his posturing, Sebastian could never seem to pull the proverbial trigger when it came to doing what he once thought was “the Maker's work” and siding against the “maleficarum” of Thedas.

Sebastian was always good at hiding his emotions behind Chantry proverbs and hallow smiles, but the way in which he was handling the stress of the situation seemed eerily calm even for him. Hawke wasn't really in a place to judge, being an experienced practitioner of the deflective arts himself, but he knew he would crack under the pressure of all those expectations. And he wasn't a devout Andrastian to begin with. Sebastian's suddenly flawless composure in the face of a royal marriage, a holy war, and the resurrection of a prophetess had Hawke more than a little worried.

When he let himself into Sebastian's room, he found the man sitting on a rickety chair that was a bit too small for him, reading a dusty book with a degrading binding. Sebastian closed the book when he saw that it was Hawke, and stood to greet his friend properly. “Hawke. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Just bored,” Hawke lied. “What are you reading?”

Sebastian flipped the book around in his hands with a bit of an embarrassed laugh. “It is a fiction novel from Antiva. From what I have gathered so far it seems to be about political intrigue.”

“That doesn't sound like your kind of reading material.”

“It's not,” Sebastian admitted, “But it is the least-vulgar book on this ship.”

“Fiancée won't let you read the good stuff anymore?” Hawke asked. He knew it was too soon for a joke like that, but he wanted to see how Sebastian would react.

Nothing came of it. “It is my own preference,” Sebastian stated plainly. “Are you here to discuss something with me? Perhaps you are worried about my feelings toward Anders?”

Hawke's eyes narrowed in acknowledgment of Sebastian's clever change of topic. “I know Andraste wouldn't let you touch him even if you wanted to.”

“I will not apologize for what I felt or what I said, but know that I understand my place now.”

“Your place?" Hawke asked. "Sebastian, have you ever thought of doing what you want?”

Sebastian tossed the book onto his cot and folded his arms over his chest. “Are you trying to convince me that I do indeed want your beloved dead?”

“I just want to know where you actually stand on the matter.”

“Did I not just say that I have abandoned my selfish need for vengeance? What more do you wish to hear from me?”

“Do you even care about any of it anymore?” Hawke wondered. “About the Chantry or Elthina or the fact that you've agreed to get married? To Andraste. Maker, man, where's your shock and awe?”

“Elthina used to tell me 'never look in your neighbor's home except to see that he has enough.' Perhaps you should worry about your home instead,” Sebastian suggested. “You do understand that one of the Maker's first children dwells within his soul, yes? And that the Prophetess Andraste has been reborn to call upon him? I can offer little else besides my linage, and I am being tasked with ruling a principality alongside her. Imagine what she must want from Anders.”

Were Hawke not furious and worried, he would have been impressed by how deep Sebastian's denial ran and how talented the man was at shifting the focus onto someone else. “Touché, Sebastian,” Hawke conceded. “You win. I'll leave you alone.”

“I win, do I?” Sebastian asked with a bitter laugh. “Maybe... maybe this is not the best time to be having this discussion. Please, leave me in peace, Hawke.”

Doing as he was asked, Hawke let himself out of Sebastian's room without comment, grateful that Anders was already walking down the hallway toward him. Hawke put an arm around his lover's shoulders and guided the mage away from where Sebastian could hear them.

“Are you worried about him too?” Anders asked as they began walking up the stairs to the deck.

“In my own way, yes,” Hawke answered. “But you know I'd kill him if he ever actually tried to hurt you, right?”

“Does ordering someone to kill me not count then?”

“Not when the person he was ordering was me.”

Anders stopped. “And what does that mean?”

“Anders, if you wanted, say, Merrill dead- and I mean really wanted her dead- would you go about it by ordering Carver to kill her?”

“That... is a really good point,” Anders acknowledged. “And what's this about you needing to protect me? Are you honestly oblivious to what I'm capable of?”

“No, trust me,” Hawke assured. “I am very well aware.”

***The Void's Deceit, Carver and Merrill's room***

Everything in Carver's life seemed to have its plusses and minuses, but when he stacked one against the other, especially at night, he felt like he was finally coming out on top.

He was disappointed by the lack of an actual bed in their tiny room, the cots making most affectionate contact impossible while they were sleeping, but Carver was content to rest his hand on Merrill's arm and listen to her breathe before he fell asleep. Most of the time, however, as soon as he blew out the candle and situated himself in his cot, Merrill would think up some story she wanted to tell him or question she wanted to ask. There were some nights when Carver fell asleep while she was still talking, but she never got offended.

That night, however, it was Carver who decided to start an incredibly serious conversation in the dead of night.

“You... know I'm not Dalish, right?”

“Yeah,” she answered, “a lot of things did give that away.”

“No, I mean, that doesn't bother you?”

Merrill was so taken aback by his question that she sat up on her cot. “Did you, a human, just say that to me, an elf?”

“What's so weird about asking you that?”

“Oh, I don't know. Perhaps the fact that my people are looked down on as beggars or slaves. Or if we're really lucky, vagrants.”

“Right,” Carver agreed, “by humans, like me. Humans who enslaved your people and stuffed you in alienages and hunted your mages. I was a Templar for six years. That doesn't bother you?”

“You know, Anders thinks I don't notice things, but really I do,” Merrill explained. “I know that Templars usually drink lyrium to protect them from magic and help them fight mages. But you- there's no lyrium in your blood. Not a drop. If there was I'd be able to feel it.”

“I did drink it, in the beginning,” he admitted. “When you're in training they watch you drink. After you get your knighthood they trust that you're addicted enough, or at least interested enough in self-preservation, to keep poisoning yourself with the stuff. I personally wasn't interested in becoming some washed-out addict like Samson and many of the others, but I don't see what this has to do with what I asked you.”

“A powerful mage can be a deadly adversary. Blood mages even more so. If you wanted to be powerful- if you were only interested in policing mages and being like the other Templars, then you would have drowned yourself in lyrium to do it. But you didn't.”

“And what does this have to do with me being a human and you being an elf?”

“Nothing,” Merrill answered. “And that's exactly it. I mean- what I mean to say is that I understand what it’s like to want to be a part of something, but in your own way. Not everything has to be about us being elvhen or human. We are who we are.”

“I... think I followed that,” Carver said with a smile.

At some point he must have fallen asleep, because the next thing he knew he was being startled awake by the sound of Merrill ripping her sheets away and jumping out of bed.

“Merrill what's-”

“Do you feel that?” she asked. Carver couldn't see her in the darkness but he could hear her pacing erratically. “Of course not. You're not a mage. Someone- Creators, where could that be coming from?”

Carver sat up and dropped his bare feet down to the floor. He groped around for his shirt, but he couldn't find it. “Feel what? Merrill, what's going on?”

“I have to... get to...” He could hear her moving around and he recognized the sound of hands sliding against the wall.

“Come on, I'll go with you,” he offered as he made his way to the door. “This way.”

They made their way to the deck with a small amount of trial and error, the newly-rising sun offering enough illumination for them to realize they weren't alone.

“Anders,” Merrill called out as she ran up to the man. “Can you- Anders, what is that?”

“It feels like... like the Fade itself,” Anders guessed as he clutched at his chest, acting like whatever the force was it was suffocating him.

“I have never felt anything like it,” Andraste spoke, her voice in absolute awe of the sensation. “It feels like raw magic. Pure creative power. Maker, what have you put upon this earth?”

The sound of Merrill's deep and shaky inhalations worried Carver deeply. It sounded as if nothing she did could get her enough air. He put a hand on her back, unable to think of anything that would help her. “Are you going to be alright?”

“I feel like it's inside me, pulling me to it,” Merrill described. “I feel-I feel imprisoned on this boat. We need to get off- need to find what it is.”

“Well aren't you lot up early,” Isabela noticed from behind them. “Or did you just miss the feel of that familiar Kirkwall air?”

“Kirkwall?” Hawke asked. “Are we finally there?”

“I know, right? Took long enough. The first couple days the winds just would not pick up. But we're just about there. Should be another thirty min- are you okay?”

In the time it took for the ship to pull in to the docks, Carver had decided it would be best to put his Templar armor back on in case they ran into trouble. By the time he returned Sebastian had joined them, watching as all three mages practically bristled with anticipation.

They were the first six down the ramp, and Carver found himself fully aware of just how destroyed the city was within seconds. As they walked, Merrill searched the streets in a hurried half-jog, wandering in and out of alleys like she'd never been there before in her life. He, on the other hand, was so shocked by the state of the city that he was having great difficulty keeping track of her. As they rushed through Lowtown, they passed the area where Gamlen's apartment was. The section was still pretty much intact, but dead bodies and charred possessions littered the streets. Doors were off their hinges, most certainly the work of looters, and the windows were opaque with dust and smoke. Some refugees still slept in the street though, or peered at Carver through cracks in the wood of their homes.

“Merrill, what are we even looking for?” Carver finally asked. “Will it look arcane or is it the work of a mage?”

“I don't know, I just- I need to find it. It's just... power. I can't feel any intent behind it- any semblance of purpose or direction. It just seems so new and so... so...” She paused and narrowed her eyes at something in the distance. “Is that...?”

They had just entered the small part of Kirkwall the locals jokingly called “Midtown” when Carver saw her stop dead in her tracks. It was right along the border of Lowtown, with the same kind of small, austere homes stacked on top of each other, but it offered the cleanliness, quiet and safety of being near enough to the noble estates. It was for the very few residents of Kirkwall who had the fortune of a well-paying position without the privilege of old money.

“No, wait!” she called out to someone before bolting toward the stone courtyard up ahead of them. Carver caught up to her quickly and placed a hand on her shoulder to stop her from charging into something dangerous.

Andraste stood out strongly in the clearing, her tall, strong posture highlighted by the white fire in her hand that she was using to illuminate the area. The sun was still not done rising over the tall buildings, although the familiar glow of lyrium tattoos soon joined the light of her flame.

Merrill and Carver watched as Fenris approached her, his sword ready and his steps quiet. In response, Andraste's head snapped to attention as if she'd felt his presence run down her spine.

She turned to face the elf, fire still crackling in the palm of her hand. “What are you doing here, abomination?”

***Kirkwall “Midtown”***

The loud clash of fighting echoed off the buildings, making it hard for Sebastian to tell where it was coming from. The flashes of light, however, were glaringly easy to follow in the early light of dawn. When he finally arrived at the scene, he was baffled by what greeted him. He never expected he'd find Fenris there, let alone Fenris and Andraste angrily trading blows.

A blast of force magic sent Fenris careening toward the wall of a nearby building, but he recovered quickly and made a sweep at Andraste's legs as soon as she'd brought herself close enough for his sword to reach. She barely dodged the attack, and her injuries made her too off-balanced to correct her movements fast enough. When she landed on her back it knocked the wind out of her, and when she tried to roll onto her side a long steel blade dug into the stone and stopped her. Fenris was over her in a heartbeat, glowing with a fury Sebastian had unfortunately seen before.

“Fenris stop!” Sebastian yelled. He was relieved when Fenris yielded and turned to acknowledge, but the hand that clamped down on the elf's neck demonstrated that all Sebastian accomplished was distracting Fenris long enough to give Andraste the upper hand.

Hawke and Anders arrived just in time to watch in horror as Fenris' lyrium tattoos glowed brighter and began to pulsate in waves of light toward Andraste's hand. “You, Leto, are a twisted perversion. You affront the Maker by existing.”

Fenris stopped struggling within seconds, his legs giving out and buckling beneath him.

Sebastian moved to stop them, but he didn't see the two other mages move until they were right beside Andraste and Fenris. Anders hooked his arms under Fenris's and pulled the man out of Andraste's grasp. Merrill stepped in and situated herself over the prophetess, the tip of her staff pointed at Andraste's throat. “How dare you?”

“What is going on?” Sebastian demanded, looking back and forth between Anders healing Fenris and Merrill keeping Andraste pinned.

“Why do you think a magister would infuse lyrium into one of his slaves?” Anders asked. “It makes them living mana founts, which,” he explained as his voice grew loud enough for Andraste to hear, “is something only a sadist would actually inflict on another person.”

“You would have preferred I let him kill me?” Andraste asked.

“I would never have resorted to that!” Anders argued.

“He will be fine,” she dismissed before adding an unapologetic, “unfortunately.”

“What in the Maker's name is the meaning of all this?" Sebastian asked. "You have never even met this man.”

“You think I am unaware of the fact that a Tevinter magister and a covetous elf found a way to subvert the Maker's will and bestow magic upon a being not meant to be blessed with the gift?” She grabbed a hold of Merrill's staff and pushed back until the elf was forced to step backwards, buying Andraste enough time to stand. She went to move toward Fenris again but Sebastian stood in her way.

“You touch him again and our arrangement is through,” Sebastian promised. He was sure that Andraste regarded him as little more than a pawn, but even if he held but one bargaining chip, he was surely going to use it in a situation as dire as this.

“Yes, please don't kill him,” Isabela called from the sidelines. “He's really good in bed.”

“You think this abomination worth protecting?” she sneered. “He, who would label us as monsters in an attempt to amend his own self-loathing? He, who-” A strong convulsion worked its way through Andraste's body then, bringing her down on one knee as her right hand gripped Sebastian's arm and the left clawed at her heaving chest.

“Anders?” Sebastian could hear Hawke calling out behind him.

Sure enough Merrill was on the ground as well with Carver standing over her.

Before anything more could be said, however, one more familiar voice added itself to the fray. “What is going on here!”

Everyone turned to the eastern avenue that led to the courtyard, and Sebastian almost didn't recognize Aveline now that she was wearing a loose Orlesian dress made of green silk instead of the bulky raiments of the Guard. She looked almost regal as she gently brought her hands up, but it was when she rested them on her round, pronounced stomach that Sebastian was consumed by a feeling that everything about to change.

***Kirkwall Midtown, the Hendyr Household***

“Fenris's room is down the hall,” Aveline told Hawke and Carver as they helped the elf inside.

“No,” Fenris insisted. “I want to,” he lost the strength to even hold his head up for a moment, but he forced himself to face her once again, “hear what they have... to say.”

“Fine,” she relented, knowing all too well how fruitless it was to argue with him. “Sit him down then.”

“Fenris's... room?” Hawke asked. “He lives here? With you and Donnic?”

“Fenris has been a close friend of ours for years now,” Aveline explained. Of course Hawke didn't pay attention during two straight years of something happening to someone who wasn't him or Anders. “He hasn't lived in the mansion since Danarius was killed.”

“I did not fight for you or the mages when I took arms against Meredith,” Fenris slurred as he motioned to Hawke and Anders, the fatigue of his ordeal making him sound drunk. “When Aveline decided to aid you, she made the decision for me.”

“Really?” Hawke asked. “So you didn't help us because of, I don't know, that time I rescued you from slavers, or the other time I rescued you from slavers, or the time I helped you defeat the shades in Danarius's mansion-” He paused and took a dramatic breath in so he could continue his list, “or the time I helped you kill Hadriana, or the time I went with you to meet your sister and helped you kill Danarius? No? It was Donnic's weekly Diamondback games that earned your loyalty? Alright, glad that's clear now.”

Aveline simply gritted her teeth and let Hawke be the smartass he always had been and always would be. She motioned for everyone to situate themselves in her small kitchen, waiting as the two brothers slid Fenris into a seat. The strange woman with them was pressured into sitting across from him, probably so they could monitor her behavior better. That was why Aveline would have done it, at least.

“Except you Isabela,” she announced as she watched the pirate reach for a nice, clean chair. “You can stand.”

“Neat freak,” she heard Isabela mumble.

Out of the corner of her eye Aveline could see Donnic leaning against the doorway and scowling. She walked toward him and rested her hand on his forearm. “Donnic, they didn't know I-”

“I don't care,” he snapped. “What has Hawke ever done besides drag you into danger?”

“Excuse me,” Hawke started. “Since when am I the topic of your lovers' quarrels?”

“Since you started dragging my wife through your lover's political rebellion!”

Aveline maneuvered herself between Donnic and Hawke and pushed them both in opposite directions. “My decisions were my own, and the only person who knew I was pregnant during the rebellion was Fenris.”

“You knew you were pregnant when I acted against the Chantry?” Anders asked in disbelief. “And you fought anyways?” The realization seemed to humble him for a moment before he continued. “Did you... do you even feel the power that's coming from you?”

“You have to be able to feel that,” Merrill agreed. “Even if you don't have magic, it's like nothing I've ever felt before.”

“I honestly don't feel a thing,” Aveline admitted, dropping her hands with the understanding that Donnic was calm enough. “But many have come here saying they felt something similar to what you describe. Fenris and Donnic have been doing a good job of keeping them away.”

“You?” the mage woman asked, glaring at Fenris. “You have been charged with watching over her? You do not deserve the privilege.”

“I don't need 'watching over,' I assure you,” Aveline insisted. She didn't quite appreciate some stranger coming into her home and talking about her like she was some helpless waif.

“Maybe not, but your child is blessed with a unique and powerful brand of magic,” the woman stated plainly. “He must be protected.”

Fenris tried to leap toward the woman but Carver and Hawke kept him in his seat easily. “Do not make such vile accusations about a child who has not even been born.”

“And we've already discussed that,” Aveline added. “Neither I nor Donnic have magic in our lines. I don't know what is going on, but that's not it.” Aveline looked down at the woman and felt herself becoming transparent, the sensation making her feel incredibly vulnerable and exposed. It was as if this mage knew how desperately she had clung to that rationale when she tried, and failed, to sleep at night. “Who are you?” she asked sternly, refusing to betray that she was afraid of what the answer was.

“I am... a knowledgeable woman,” the stranger answered. “And if there is no chance your child is a mage, then that only leaves one option.”

“What are you talking about?” Aveline asked. She'd run out of patience long ago, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, Hawke just shows up with some mage woman who attacks Fenris and then sits there, in Aveline's home, acting like she has all the answers while also being too interested in spouting riddles to actually share those answers with the class.

The woman rose before Aveline and bowed her head. “Blessed are thou, for you carry within you a living spirit. Born of you and your beloved, but chosen by the Maker for a grand purpose. There is no magic in your line, in that regard you are correct, and once he is born that will no longer matter to him or any other child born after him.”

Aveline searched the eyes of her former companions, hoping someone would speak out against the woman's claims, but even they seemed to be displaying the same kind of disbelieving awe she was feeling. Fenris was reacting the same way, looking to Sebastian for a rebuttal. “You would let her spout this cryptic nonsense about your faith as if she speaks for your Maker?” he asked.

Sebastian averted his gaze and let his chin drop to his chest. “She... does speak for the Maker, Fenris.”

“You mean that she's... a Cleric or something, right?” Aveline denied as she stepped back.

“No, Sacred Mother,” the woman corrected as she stepped forward, “I am Andraste, and it is an honor to be by your side at the dawn of the Magic Age.”

Chapter Text

***Lowtown***

“Get out,” was all Aveline had to say on the matter.

Hawke knew that voice. The tone, the command; it wasn't something one could argue with, and even Andraste seemed to understand that. The prophetess turned without a word and shakily let herself out, inspiring everyone but Fenris and Donnic to follow suit. Hawke was the last to leave, and as he closed the door behind him he heard a wrenching, exasperated yell before glass shattered somewhere in the house.

Andraste continued down the walkway, slow and contemplative as if she were simply taking a morning stroll through Midtown. Hawke expected Sebastian to follow her, but the man headed further into Hightown instead. Judging by the direction, Hawke guessed he was heading toward what was once the site of the Chantry.

Hawke and Anders met eyes for a brief but understanding moment before they picked their direction and began wandering aimlessly. The silence was surprisingly pleasant, especially after the rapid succession of events that had just unfolded over the course of just one morning. Hawke took in the damage that the rebellion had caused, the still morning light giving it a surreal quality. If Hawke had a more macabre sense of humor, he'd have laughed at the mages and Templars left to rot in the streets next to one another; equals in the face of death, as all living things are. This was why he never saw the point in the Templars having so much power in the Free Marches, or the Magisters having all the power in Tevinter. Mortality had always and would always make power fleeting, and while he'd never truly understand what Anders was fighting for, the right to make one's own decisions and be judged as an individual was something that Hawke earnestly believed in. After all, that attitude was what earned him his unlikely allies in the first place.

The sound of Anders laughing, though faint, caught Hawke's attention. He looked up and realized that they'd wandered rather far, and straight to the Hanged Man.

“Old habits,” Anders sighed. “Think there's anything left in there?”

Hawke shook his head. “If I were pillaging a war-torn city, I'd grab the booze first.”

Anders pondered the idea for a moment before turning so his back was to the tavern, giving him a full view of the three roads that met in front of it. “I should be ashamed that I started this,” he observed, “but I'm not, and I don't know whether I'm afraid of that or proud of it.”

“You're... proud of starting a war?”

Anders didn't even hesitate. “Yes, especially when the alternative was complacency in a society that glorified slavery, imprisonment and abuse. Change is hard and complicated, but that's not an excuse for allowing these kind of injustices to continue. Yes, people have died, and even more people are going to die, but now it's for a truly righteous cause. And if we succeed, no mage will be locked up and dehumanized for simply existing ever again.”

Hawke understood that those concepts made sense on paper, but as the wind picked up and blew the smell of rotted flesh into his face it became harder and harder to support the actual practice. The more he thought about it, the more he became just as torn as Anders. Was Hawke proud that his lover had the mental fortitude to press on and do what was right despite the blood on his hands, or was he terrified?

Regardless, this wasn't a conversation Hawke was in any mood to be having. “So do you want to go in? Maybe we can get a diamondback game together with a corpse and some of the bandi-”

“Stop!”

Hawke stopped mid-gesture and turned in time to see Anders glaring into him.

“Can you be serious for one minute? Just one minute? That's all I ask.”

Hawke bit the inside of his cheek in an attempt to suppress the comebacks that popped up in his mind. The look on Anders' face was priceless as Hawke brought his hands up to rest in the feathers of the mage's pauldrons. He stared directly into Anders' eyes and said in an uncompromising voice, “One minute.”

“What?” Anders asked.

“Fifty-nine, fifty-eight,” Hawke began counting down.

“Oh you can't be ser-”

“Fifty-seven,” Hawke counted louder.

“Fine,” Anders relented, “I don't see how you can be glib after you lost your father, then your home, then your sister, then your mother and now Kirkwall. Maybe you're not nervous about going to war, I know you've been a soldier before, but on a personal level... I mean, you can't seriously be fine with the fact that every home you've ever had has been destroyed.”

“That's not true."

“Well, what is the truth then?”

Hawke knitted his eyebrows together and wondered how Anders could be so dense at times. He moved his hands out of the feathers and slid them up to Anders' neck, using his thumbs to demand and control his lover's attention. “I still have you. You're my home now.”

For a moment it looked as if Anders was, on reflex, beginning to react to the smartass comment he'd been expecting. When the reality of it sank in, he tilted his head and peered into Hawke's eyes, probably trying to find an incoming punch line. When one didn't come Anders struggled to find a reply, and was left to settle with, “What?”

“Time's up,” Hawke announced as he pulled his hands back.

“What? No!” Anders refused. “You can't just say that and then-”

“Don't worry Blondie, I'll get it in writing.”

Both men widened their eyes in recognition of the voice. Their heads snapped to the side and found a man standing in the doorway of the Hanged Man, twirling a silver bolt between his fingers.

“Varric?”

***Hightown Market***

Carver wasn't surprised that the crates in the marketplace had already been ransacked, but he still wanted to check anyways. On his way there he'd seen people peeking at him from behind the ripped, dusty curtains of what were once pristine Hightown estates, probably making assumptions about his intentions based on his armor.

“I didn't picture you as the pillaging type,” Isabela said from... somewhere. Carver checked behind himself, then to his left and his right, but it wasn't until the pirate tapped him on the shoulder that he actually saw her appear. “I hate it when you and my brother pull stuff like that. And I'm not 'pillaging.' I'm looking for armor that isn't this,” he explained as he laid his hand over the Templar Crest.

“Is it good armor?” Isabela asked.

“Some of the best.”

“Then wear it. Don't let some symbol define you.”

“Easy for you to say,” Carver sighed. “If it's not the Templar Crest it'll be being Hawke's brother or even...” He paused and felt like a jackass for what he was about to say, but that didn't make it any less true and if he was already venting he might as well just get it out. “It's probably not going to be any different with Merrill.” The palm of Isabela's hand connected with the side of Carver's head with enough well-placed forced to blind him for a moment. He stumbled back for a moment, blinking his eyes and holding his head as he felt his temple throb. “Maker, what was that for?”

“Oh grow up already!” Isabela snapped. “I'm sick of you playing the victim every time something doesn't go your way. Andraste's tits, Carver, you're a skilled swordsman with beefy muscles and a slender elven lover. You should be feeling like the King of damn Ferelden right now, not wallowing in some abandoned market frowning about how sometimes people talk about someone who isn't you.”

“I'm not-” Carver tried to argue. He stood up and blinked repeatedly, but there were still two Isabelas. “I'm not claiming to be a victim.”

“You don't have to, just keep whining about some symbol on your armor or being born after Hawke or... Maker, how does anyone complain about getting to be with Merrill? Especially you.”

“Well excuse me for venting a little. And where is Merrill? I thought she was with you.”

“She went to check on her mirror. I'm sure it's still there. After all, I don't see why anyone would pillage the Alienage. Elves don't tend to have many valuables. At least not valuables that an Orlesian merchant would be interested in.”

“Well, if you're done yelling at me I wouldn't mind making sure she's alright.”

“Well pick one,” Isabela demanded. “Are you some lesser being hiding in her shadow or her knight in shining armor who always has to rush to her side?”

“And why can't I be both?” Carver asked derisively.

"Try again."

"Neither?" Carver guessed.

“Atta boy,” she congratulated. "Stop being a trope and start being a person." She began to walk past him toward the steps to Lowtown, but she stopped for a moment to smack his ass before she winked and left.

There were still people in Kirkwall, some of them nobles barricaded in their estates, others poor and taking shelter in abandoned homes much better than anything they could ever afford. A young woman digging through a pile of rubble heard him approach and paled at the sight of him, a reaction that had often revealed apostates to him in the past. He looked away and continued on his walk as if he'd never seen her in the first place, something else he had a lot of previous experience with.

The Alienage, however, looked as though nothing had changed. There were noticeably less elves there, but it was far from deserted. In fact, it seemed less somber, to the point where there were children playing around the... Vindenhal, Carver thought it was called. He'd never seen anyone that young outside in the Alienage, day or night, and with good reason.

There were a few older elven gentlemen who were beginning to flank him before he even got to Merrill's door. It was a bit uplifting to see unarmored, unarmed elves seemingly ready to stand up for their own, but Carver didn't have the time for a lengthy explanation, or worse, a confrontation. All he had to do was reach back and grip the handle of his sword and the men backed away slowly. “I'm not a Templar,” he announced before he knocked on the door. “Merrill, it's me.”

The door opened, but by the time Carver got inside Merrill was already skidding around the corner and into another room. He followed, mindful of the low ceiling, and found her in front of a cracked mirror that was glowing blue in the places where it was broken.

“What... is this?”

“The Eluvhian,” Merrill answered.

“Why is it glowing?”

Merrill seemed to try to begin a myriad of sentences, but she was breathing too heavily from the excitement to get anything past the grin on her face. “It's... Carver, I think it's repairing itself.”

***Chantry Ruins***

Sebastian had been there in that large, empty lot for hours, searching his soul for guidance. The sun was already setting by the time someone came to interrupt him, and even then he wasn't sure if he cared who they were or what they wanted.

“We... should talk,” Fenris led in awkwardly.

“I have been doing much of that lately,” Sebastian replied with a sigh, “It's becoming quite exhausting.”

“I have a feeling that isn't true. If I were to guess, I'd say you've had a lot of people talking at you. People who aren't worth listening to.”

Maybe that was true, Sebastian considered internally, but finding the words to either agree or argue with Fenris felt daunting and impossible in that moment. “I... do not know what to do.”

“Have you at least considered the possibility that this woman is a fraud? I won't lie, Sebastian, I am disappointed that a man as smart and as devout as you wouldn't be more skeptical.”

“Devotion may in fact be the problem, Fenris. My proof lies in a story better saved for another time, but she is indeed the prophetess Andraste. That, however, is where all of my certainty ends.” Sebastian looked around at the leveled ground where there once stood a grandiose symbol of his faith and divinity. He tried to fathom how he could be allied with the man who had reduced it to nothing and set to marry a woman who commended the slaughter.

“How do she and Anders justify this then?” Fenris asked, motioning all around them. “Or allying themselves with the likes of Merrill?”

“Everything is more complicated than that, Fenris. More complicated than I could have ever imagined.”

“You prophetess is a magister,” Fenris stated plainly. “How is that complicated and not just abhorent?”

“A former magister,” Sebastian corrected, surprised by his reflexive urge to defend her; or maybe, he hoped, by his desire to see every angle of the matter at hand. “She too harbors a hatred of the Imperium. She intends to lead an army against them, with or without my aid.” He turned and stepped toward Fenris. “You know what the Imperium is like, Fenris. Would you fight alongside Anders once again for a chance at seeing them brought down?”

“I highly doubt Anders would raise a hand against a poor, oppressed magister, and Merrill would more than likely seek to learn the art of using sacrificed slaves to fuel blood magic.”

“You say this about the people who acted against Andraste to protect you. We fought her off when she used the techniques of your former master against you. They want to fight the Imperium. They are far more behind Andraste's mission than I am.”

“Tell me then why the Chantry had to be destroyed,” Fenris demanded, opening his arms to demonstrate his willingness to accept a reasonable explanation. “What did murdering the Andrastians of Kirkwall do to end the rule of the Tevinter magisters?”

As frustrating as it was to volley defenses back and forth like they were, Sebastian appreciated the way the dialog was forcing him to confront much of his own suppressed uncertainty. “According to Andraste, it is to be a two-pronged war. We have... already slain the Divine and destroyed the Grand Cathedral.”

“You what?” Fenris asked. “We? You were a part of it?”

“It was... my hand which slayed Justinia.” As much as he felt bile rise in his throat as he said those words, he had to get used to admitting it. It was true, and it was his burden to carry for the rest of this life.

Fenris backed away. Sebastian wasn't sure if Fenris realized he was doing it, but it made him feel like a pariah. “Why?" Inside his mind Sebastian acknowledged the validity of Fenris's confusion and anger, and in many ways it mirrored his own. The seconds passed without answer, and Fenris's ire melted away to pity. “You do not have to do this, Sebastian. You once offered me a place and a position in Starkhaven, allow me to offer something similar. Stay here, help me protect Aveline. Do some real good. Be your own man. I understand how terrifying freedom can be, but seeking a new master when the old one is gone is no way to live your life, trust me.”

Before Sebastian could respond to Fenris' touching yet semi-insulting offer, he heard someone approaching from behind. He didn't even need to turn around to know who it was; not with the way Fenris's markings pulsed in anticipation of another fight.

“Settle yourself, creature,” Andraste called out harshly. “Your position as guardian of the Sacred Mother protects you from my... displeasure, so save your baseless indignation for someone else.”

“Baseless?” Fenris repeated. “Cave quo dicis, quandos, a cas.”

“Tur fum servas, ego eris tardem,” Andraste replied. Though Sebastian didn't understand her, he heard a great deal of finality in her voice.

“I will never fight alongside you,” Fenris promised. “You, who speaks the language of the magisters while claiming to oppose them.”

“And how are you not the same?” Andraste asked. “Because, and correct me if this is no longer true, but in my time slaves were not taught the Arcanum tongue. They were left to the Common language of Thedas, a symbol of their unworthiness in the eyes of their magister lords and a security measure against spying. For you to know such a language means-”

“Enough!” Fenris shouted.

Sebastian almost jumped when Andraste turned to address him, having felt like a mere spectator in the conversation. “Did you tell him? About how I intend to procure an army?”

Sebastian turned to Fenris, but found himself unable to maintain proper eye contact. “Andraste suggested she and I get married so that she may lead Starkhaven's armies.”

“So that we may lead Starkhaven's armies,” she corrected, narrowing her eyes at Sebastian's wording. “You and Sebastian are friends, are you not? Would you follow him into battle against the Imperium? And what of the Sacred Mother? Do you not wish to help us protect her?”

“You will not involve Aveline, Donnic or their child in whatever scheme you are planning,” Fenris stated. “And I will not help you.” Sebastian watched with a tense readiness, worried that the two would begin fighting again, but Fenris seemed to resign himself as he turned to walk away.

“Si pecasse negamus,” Andraste called out, making Fenris halt his departure, “fallimur et nulla est in novis veritant.”

“Vishante kaffar,” Fenris dismissed before continuing to walk away.

“What was that all about?” Sebastian asked.

“He will come around,” Andraste sighed. “Maker willing. My hope is that he will not, but that is doubtful. He is being given a chance to redeem himself, and few men can think of a sweeter reward than either redemption or revenge.” She turned to Sebastian, then to the empty space around them. “I wonder, Sebastian, which do you prefer? You began your frantic egress from Kirkwall fuel by rage and the promise that you would see Anders hanged for his crimes. Perhaps, in your darkest moments, you thought of him being tortured. Does that darkness still live on inside you?”

Sebastian wasn't going to lie, not there; not on that grounds that were once the Chantry he had called his home. “Yes, it does.”

Surprisingly, however, Andraste barely reacted. “Thank you, for being honest with me.”

“You are not worried that I will exact my revenge on the man who did this? And could you blame me if I did, considering what happened here? You cannot actually condone this crime.”

“Injustice is a disease, and inaction allows it to fester.”

“That is what you would call this atrocity?” Sebastian asked. “Action?”

“In what feels like another lifetime, I told you my answer to that,” she explained. “In war, and this is a war, not everyone who needs to die deserves to die.”

Despite everything they had been through, Sebastian still felt no less nauseated by the sentiment behind her words. Maybe it was naive of him to be so unaccepting of the concept, but he would not stand by and pretend he agreed with her. He simply could not do it.

Sensing that the conversation was destined to go no further, Andraste placed a hand upon Sebastian's shoulder before she too left him to his empty courtyard.

***Midtown Courtyard***

Aveline wasn't proud of the fit she'd thrown, but there was no denying that screaming, crying, breaking a vase and wallowing in frustrated self-pity had been cathartic. It had also left her spent and exhausted by late morning, meaning that she didn't wake again until the sun was setting. Awaking to an empty house bathed in twilight did little to calm her already-shaken nerves, but she pulled herself out of bed, slipped on shoes and a coat and headed out to see where everyone had gone.

Aveline was well aware that she was resting her hands on her stomach as she walked, but it was an inclination she couldn't seem to shake. Had someone told her that she was chosen for some complicated and dangerous mission, she'd have accepted her role. But not this vague Maker bullshit. And not with him. Not her child. They would not have him.

“Guess it's just us,” she whispered to him. “Where is everyone?”

“At the Hanged Man,” someone answered, startling Aveline enough to make her reach for her sword and curse that she'd left home without it. When the mage who attacked Fenris stepped out from the shadows, it did little to allay her apprehension. It wasn't until the woman stumbled over her own two feet that Aveline felt a little less outmatched.

“Really?” Aveline wondered. “Donnic's out getting drunk after the day we've all had?”

“Alcohol is a great equalizer,” the woman declared. “And they knew I wished to speak with you privately.”

Aveline crossed her arms in response to that. “Did they now? And when do I get a say in all this?”

“You do not,” the woman stated, her bluntness suggesting something Aveline confirmed when she noticed the wine bottle as well.

“Are you... drunk?”

The mage heaved a long, drawn out sigh before answering. “A bit.”

“Maker, a drunk diety, just what I needed to make this day better.”

Andraste snorted at Aveline's word choice. “Please, I am no diety.”

“Says the reborn Bride of the Maker.”

“Nor am I that. Come, let us sit somewhere. The night is clear and we have much to discuss.”

With a resigned sigh Aveline motioned for Andraste to follow her to the stairs that lead down to Lowtown. There the two of them sat next to each other, staring out at the clear night sky in an obvious attempt to avoid conversation.

“I have not seen the stars in quite some time,”Andraste said longingly. “Now every day that goes by I gain a new appreciation for them.”

Aveline turned to give the prophetess her attention, but found the woman nodding, as if assuring herself of something going on within her mind. “If it's all the same to you,” Aveline began, “I'd like to skip past the philosophy and get to the part where you tell me what's going on.”

“I... am sorry,” Andraste apologized. “I have been you once. Frustrated and confused and, worst of all, pregnant. I had only just discovered my role as a soldier of the Divine when I had my son, and by then I had promised my men battle and victory. Being a warrior and a mother is, at times, my biggest regret, and yet also one of the proudest achievements of my life.”

“How did you even begin to deal with it?” Aveline asked, scarcely believing that she was having a casual conversation with the mortal, flesh-and-blood manifestation of Andraste. And yet, when it came to things related to Hawke, Aveline stopped disbelieving years ago.

“I loved my son,” Andraste stated. “His name was Perivan. He was two when I had to leave him behind, and while the Chantry has misled many people with lies about my life I-” She paused and took a long gulp straight out of the wine bottle before she whispered, shamefully, “It is true that I did not return from my war against the Imperium.”

Aveline leaned forward to further shield her body, though what she was trying to protect her baby from she did not know. “Is that what I have to look forward to?”

“Not if I still breathe,” Andraste promised. “You have been blessed beyond any measure I have ever seen. I will not see you or your child hurt.”

“Is this what blessed means?” Aveline asked sarcastically. “Being trapped in a deserted warzone? Being told my child is a living spirit? Being part of some divine destiny I never wanted any part in? One I still don't understand, I'll remind you, because you won't explain it to me.”

“Welcome to the anger stage of being one of the Maker's chosen,” Andraste said, the announcement sounding dangerously like a taunt, especially in the light of Aveline's growing impatience. When the prophetess went to take another sip of wine Aveline swatted the bottle out of the woman's hands and didn't even flinch at the sounds of the glass shattering on the steps.

“I don't care who you are, do not ridicule me while you deny me answers,” Aveline demanded. “Tell me what is going on with my child.”

Andraste seemed to completely disregard the bottle in an instant. “Your 'Hero of Ferelden' is no hero. She has been misled by others and convinced to unleash a great evil upon this world. Your son has been chosen by the Maker to usher in a new age meant to combat this evil.”

“You're already labeling him a soldier for your cause?”

“It is not my decision it is the Ma-”

“If you say it is the Maker's will so help me I will slap you!” Aveline shouted. “And what will you do if I refuse?”

“You cannot refuse the Maker,” Andraste laughed. “Your child will be born with a magic more powerful than even other mages can imagine. Do you think you and your husband, with no knowledge of magic, could raise him? Do you think you could understand his struggles or prevent him from hurting himself and others? The Maker's plan has already been set in motion, Aveline, and we are all powerless to stop it.”

Aveline raked her fingers across her scalp and grabbed fistfuls of her hair. “I didn't ask for this.”

“The Maker only chooses the worthy, or so I would like to believe.”

“If you expect me to believe this is some sort of honor, you are sadly mistaken.”

Andraste shook her head. “I have told you what you need to know; what you do with that information is in your hands. We set out tomorrow though, and regardless of your willingness to believe me or aid my cause, you will want to come with us. These people are your allies. At least let them protect you.”

“I don't much like the idea of needing to be protected,” Aveline protested.

“I can relate,” Andraste stated as she rose to her feet. “Shall we join the others?”

“In drinking?” the guardswoman asked as she motioned to her abdomen.

“The sober woman in the room is the one with all the power. And all the blackmail the morning after.”

Aveline laughed a bit at the truth behind that statement and looked up to see that Andraste had outstretched a hand to her. When she grabbed it, Aveline felt an odd rush of reality crash into her core. There was a strength in Andraste's hands that gave tangibility to the events of the day, and though she hid it well, Aveline worried the resulting fear would cripple her.

Chapter Text

***The Hanged Man***

Hawke and Anders had been with Varric most of the day, only leaving to grab Merrill who was, predictably, right in front of the Eluvian, as well as Carver who was, predictably, right next to her and Isabela who was, predictably, spying on them. Donnic had assigned himself a perimeter sweep of Lowtown, and the cheerful sounds from inside the now rather dilapidated tavern told him people were inside; people either brave enough or dumb enough to act like it was just another night in Kirkwall.

Andraste found them herself, having apparently just come from speaking with “the abomination” and Sebastian, but she only stayed long enough to grab a bottle of wine and tell them she was going to check on Aveline. When Varric asked who she was, Hawke lead in with “It's a long story”; Varric'c favorite words in the common tongue. He, Anders, Carver and Merrill began to recount the ordeal while Donnic listened and Isabela kept their cups full. They weren't five minutes in before Varric grabbed a pen and a stack of paper and declared “I gotta write this shit down.”

Varric was uncharacteristically silent for most of the story, only interrupting when someone needed to slow down or repeat something he didn't quite get. Other than that and a few mutterings of “This is gold” he just kept writing until Carver and Merrill brought up the Pentaghasts.

“Pentaghast?” Varric repeated, making sure he heard them correctly.

“Yeah,” Carver confirmed, “They're a Neva-”

“Oh trust me, Junior, I know who they are. Not long after you left, 'Sister Nightingale' returned with some new friends, one of whom didn't really believe in the concept of 'no means no.'”

“I'm sorry Fenris and I couldn't help you,” Donnic apologized, “but with Aveline- we couldn't risk it.”

“It's fine,” Varric dismissed. “I survived.”

“Wait, does that mean you're the dwarf?” Carver asked, probably a little too tipsy to realize he'd blurted the question out with little to no context.

“Yes, I am, in fact, a dwarf. Maybe we should cut you off, Junior.”

“No, what I mean is, Helena and her brothers, the three Pentaghasts that stopped us, they said 'our cousin isn't getting anything from the dwarf, and she wants to let Champion and the Hero of Ferelden live' or... something like that.”

“Someone who doesn't want me dead,” Hawke observed cheerfully, “I like her already.” He wished he was kidding, but finding someone who lacked a burning desire to see him dead was becoming harder and harder with each passing day.

“She wasn't all bad,” Varric relented, “but spending three days being interrogated by her was brutal. She wouldn't even buy me a drink.”

“Was she at least good looking?” Isabela asked.

“For a human. Kinda had that 'so scary you want to try it' look.”

“Oh, I like that look. You never know if they're going to screw your brains out or kill you. The suspense is insanely arousing.”

“Don't get your hopes up for a chance encounter, Rivaini. When I was done talking, they all left,” Varric explained. “I told them you all went your separate ways and would never been seen or heard from again. You all being back here, together, is making me look like a liar; and you know how I feel about looking like a liar.”

“Oh, is it proud?” Merrill guessed. “It's proud, isn't it?”

When the story resumed again Hawke found himself getting drunk faster than he'd intended to, mostly because he wanted to interrupt a great deal during Carver and Merrill's story and every time the urge hit he took a drink instead. Anders seemed to have picked up the habit as well, exchanging glances with Hawke over the rim of his mug.

Anders and Merrill had never been... close, that much Hawke was readily willing to admit. At first everyone thought Merrill didn't understand that Anders was trying to insult her, but over time it became apparent that she was just incredibly good at playing dumb. There were some things she did have trouble understanding, like human social customs and Hawke's cheerful version of sarcasm, but Merrill knew when someone was looking down on her for her decisions. People just got confused, Hawke believed, when she refused to let it bother her.

Merrill had already voiced her opinion on the matter of the Mage Rebellion, or so Hawke had thought. Every time Anders tried to gain her support she'd shot him down, and yet Carver was sitting there detailing how Merrill had been threatened and spit on and still claimed to be a part of the cause, ingeniously focusing the investigation on imprisonment and interrogation instead of execution.

Carver's actions didn't do much to calm Hawke's nerves either. Sure, Anders had become like family to him, but all that meant was that Hawke worried about losing both of them equally. So, as Carver detailed traveling pretty much undercover with Nevarran military legends, Hawke emptied his mug to keep from channeling their dead mother and screaming his ear off.

When the story reached the Grand Cathedral Audience Chamber, Varric made them stop again. “Choir Boy... shot the Divine... in the middle of the Grand Cathedral,” he repeated, halting his scribbling for a moment to search Hawke. “You have got to be telling the truth, because I don't believe you at all. Andraste's tits, how'd you even make it out alive? And with all your limbs?”

Hawke had to take a few deep breathes to keep from making a remark about Varric's ironic choice of expletive. “So the Divine falls, and Anders, Merrill and that woman begin getting,” Hawke gestured in the air, trying to make up a word to describe the ordeal, “speech-y. Then, Anders motions to her and tells everyone that she's-”

“Andraste,” Anders greeted when the woman came through the door with Aveline. Hawke tried to forgive the love of his life for ruining his grand reveal, but it was difficult. “You're back.”

Varric stopped writing but didn't look up from his parchment. “No,” he breathed, finally turning first to Hawke, then to Andraste.

“Ah, you are Varric, yes?” Andraste asked. She uncorked a new bottle of wine, took a drink and then leaned over the table to peer at him. “I know of dwarfs, but there are very few of your people who worship the Maker. Still, some do exist, and I have heard their prayers, but I have never met one of your kind in person before.”

“Yeah, well,” Varric laughed, “I've never met a dead woman before.”

Andraste raised a brow at Varric's statement before releasing a snorted, sardonic laugh from somewhere deep in the back of her throat. It felt odd to Hawke for some reason, and it took him a moment to realize he'd never once seen Andraste smile or heard her laugh the entire time he'd known her. “I like this one,” she said to Aveline, “he is funny.”

“Funny's one word for it,” Aveline replied playfully.

Donnic rose to his feet and placed a hand on his wife's hip, leaning in to whisper something in her ear.

“I'm fine,” she responded loud enough for Hawke to hear, “But I'd like to go home and talk to you about some things.”

“So, what are you working on, Ser Dwarf?” Andraste asked with a bit more volume than was needed. From the way she glanced back at the couple trying to whisper, it was probably a deliberate attempt to bring the attention back to her.

“I am writing the epic tale of your companions,” Varric explained as Aveline and Donnic took their leave. “I'd say I could scarcely believe it but, well, it's Hawke.”

“It's true,” Hawke admitted, “I don't think I've warranted incredulity in at least three years.” It may have sounded vain, but after everything he'd been through, Hawke was beginning to feel like the impossible had simply become his responsibility.

“I'll drink to that,” Isabela offered as a toast, follow soon after by the sound of clinking glass.

***The Hanged Man***

“Rivaini, I have watched you cheat for literally years now,” Varric admitted and he laid down his losing hand, “and yet somehow, every time you say you're not doing anything underhanded, I believe you.”

Before Isabela could answer, Andraste leaned to her right and slid and arm around the pirate's shoulders. “That is because Isabela here is such a... cunning linguist.”

Carver watched from across the room as Isabela's face seemed torn between grinning wildly and letting her jaw drop in complete shock. “That's it,” she declared, “I'm converting. Dress me in robes and call me a Sister.”

The sound of everyone laughing brought Carver back to a time when he felt like he understood where he was going and what he needed to do next. In the months after his time with Athenril, he and his brother were saving up for the Deep Roads expedition and taking on all sorts of work around the city. He was busy, needed, and probably happier than he could ever remember being.

Those months were punctuated with trips to the Hanged Man, and being back seemed to reset his life in a way he desperately needed. Maybe it was the whiskey, or maybe it was the blow to the head he'd taken earlier, but he was pretty sure he was actually, in that moment, happy.

As everyone continued to drink, play cards, and exchange stories of where they'd been for the month they spent apart, Carver felt like he was living in the setup to a bad joke. A pirate, a dwarf, a blood mage, a wanted apostate, a Templar, the Champion of Kirkwall, and Blessed Andraste Herself walk into a bar...

Was he still a Templar? Sure, he wore the crest, but that didn't mean much. Merrill had been right, he stopped augmenting his abilities with lyrium as soon as they stopped monitoring his intake, and he'd intentionally “failed” to capture many mages during his time in the Order. And yet, still, there was a part of him that believed in the general mission of the Templars; that magic was its own beast that needed its own system of regulation. Andraste's talk of the Tevinter Circle, of magic being accepted and trained properly from an early age, did sound like a better setup than the Ferelden or Kirkwall Circles, but the belief that every man should be judged as an individual should also have to take into account the potential within every living person for both good and evil, be they mage or not.

Carver poured a glass of wine, having noted that it seemed to be Andraste's drink of choice, and brought it over to her. “Care for another?”

“Ser Carver, you are too kind,” the prophetess thanked as she pushed aside the glass she'd just finished.

“Still... calling me by my Templar title?”

Andraste shuffled down the bench and motioned for Carver to sit with her. “An army of men and women trained and equipped to deal with magic is not, at its core, a flawed contrivance,” she explained. If it weren't for the sweeping hand gestures that accompanied her speech, Carver would have never known she'd downed two bottles of cheap red wine already. That and she seemed far more social and talkative than she'd ever been before. “It is fear and jealousy and pride that have mutated the Order into something it should have never been. You see that, do you not?”

“I do. At least, I think I do. I was named after the Templar who helped my father escape from the Circle, you know. I thought maybe I could live up to that; be that for someone else. But the pressure in the Order was... maddening. Everything was about being some all-powerful overseer. One time my Commander got drunk and said 'If we let the mages know they're stronger than us, they will crush everyone.' He told me that making mages feel like lesser beings was all the Templars could do to protect Thedas.”

“And all in my name,” Andraste sighed before downing half her glass. “Pathetic. But you, you are not like them. You do not allow them to poison you in the figurative or the literal sense. In fact, I would rather see you lead my Order.”

Carver almost missed the last line of what Andraste had said, but once it registered he choked on his drink. “You want me to be Knight Commander?” he asked between coughs. “Of your Templars?”

“Carver!” Merrill called from across the room. “Come look, I out-cheated Isabela!”

“Maker's breath, she actually did,” Varric shouted. “Ser Templar,” he called to Carver, “I believe we have some blood magic going on over here.”

“Only a little!” Merrill defended.

“Wait, you actually used blood magic to win at Wicked Grace? That is the most ironic thing I've ever heard.”

“Did you... did you just call me dumb?”

“Ironic, Daisy, not moronic.”

“Let us speak of this another time,” Andraste suggested, smiling at the playful ribbing going on across the room. “Tonight is yours to enjoy. Go... live in the moment.”

Carver nodded in understanding and went over to join everyone else, musing to himself that if he were to actually become the Knight Commander, the first thing he'd change would be the uniform.

“Are you coming to clap her in irons?” his brother asked suggestively.

Carver shook his head at what they were implying, even as he failed terribly at keeping his face stoic. He turned back to Andraste in the hopes of inviting her to join them, but found that the woman seemed miles away, her fingers spinning the glass in front of her by the stem. Something was weighing her down as she finished off her wine; something Carver would label, if he had to guess by her eyes, as guilt.

***Kirkwall Docks***

“How did you know I would be here?”

Sebastian continued to stare out at the ocean as the uneven beat of Andraste's heavy footsteps came closer. Her braces made her exceptionally easy to identify as they clacked against the weathered wood underneath them.

“This is where you used to come to pray when the Chantry's guidance did not grant you peace,” she answered as she maneuvered herself carefully and sat beside him, both their legs hanging off the end of the dock. “This ocean, it is much more grand than the Minanter River, is it not?”

Sebastian wanted to snap at her, to tell her that having his own prayers repeated back to him was unnerving and invasive, but he had been the one who asked, and he'd rather she share too much than go back to quietly withholding information.

The stinging scent of alcohol was impossible to ignore, and Sebastian couldn't help but ask, “Are you drunk?”

“Tomorrow we leave for Starkhaven, and there will no longer be time for playing cards or laughing at stories. I do not know what the future holds, but if I have to make a difficult decision and they question whether or not I have the good of everyone in mind, I want them to be able to look back at this night and remember that, had they never known my name or feared my influence, maybe they would still grant me their loyalty because they trusted and respected me.”

There was something very familiar in that logic, Sebastian observed. He had always felt as if having a name that entitled him also diminished his sense of accomplishment. “A man who owns and yet does not earn possesses nothing but a shallow soul,” Elthina used to tell him.

“I can see why the Maker chose you to lead his armies,” Sebastian observed. “In all honesty I do not see where in your Holy Crusade I would be needed.”

Andraste sighed and looked out at the water, her posture uncharacteristically slumped and tired. In the limited light of the half moon, with her hair still pulled back and braided tightly, it was difficult for Sebastian to even recognize her. “Yes, I noticed,” she admitted. “Allow me to be very honest with you. You are needed. Would you like to know how you can be sure? Because I also do not wish to trap myself in some political marriage to a near stranger, but I see all the reasons why it needs to be done and I refuse to be so selfish as to think that now is the time to relive the sweet nostalgia of marrying for love.”

“I do not think your plan ill-advised, nor am I lamenting the lack of romance,” Sebastian argued, “but somehow I find it equally as overwhelming as it is disappointing.”

“How do you mean?”

Sebastian turned and pulled one of his legs onto the dock so that he was facing his companion. “You told Fenris that if he allied himself with your cause then he could answer to me, and you did this because he is both Aveline's protector and my friend, but you would still mock him in the hope that he would break down and relinquish his place in the Maker's plan. I want to support your cause, but I... I will say it simply, I do not support you.”

“Has anyone ever told you it is impossible to judge you?” Andraste asked him. “Your loyalty is so commendable and yet your causes... I never know what to think of you, even after all this time, and I find myself alternating been frustration and reverence.”

“You do not think reverence to be a bit of a... hyperbolic word choice?”

“Not at all. From what I inferred, in regards to your prayers and how you were mentioned in the thoughts of others, I thought that when you discovered who I was you would heed my every order and treat me like some divine being. Thankfully, that has not been the case. As much as your constant challenging of my views and my intentions is frustrating, I would be lying if I said it was not also pleasantly surprising.”

Though Andraste had ended her explanation with a compliment, Sebastian still felt incredibly insulted by her assumptions. That he would kneel like a servant before anyone who had not earned his respect was preposterous, and that irritation was only exacerbated by the fact that he had, by murdering the Divine to protect her, given credence to her claim. He fought with himself over how to respond, and settled on changing the subject instead. “So tell me then, what is your plan for Fenris? Can I trust you to treat him fairly if he genuinely wishes to join us?”

“I could most certainly try,” she offered.

“I wish you would tell me what's going on between you two.”

“This time I shall leave it up to him to tell you, but he is aware of the extent of my knowledge regarding his background, and he cannot lie any longer.”

“Lie about what?” Sebastian asked.

“Many things,” Andraste answered cryptically. “Now, it is late. Would you please help me back to the tavern?”

Though frustrated, Sebastian wasn't going to leave Andraste to limp back to the Hanged Man alone in the middle of the night. He rose to his feet and held out his hands for her to grab. After he helped her up, he pulled one of her arms back behind his shoulders and they began their walk toward Lowtown. “We should get you a staff,” he said to fill the air. “It will help you walk as well as channel your magic.”

“I would rather a sword,” she remarked, “but your reasoning for a staff is valid. I will try to acquire one before we leave tomorrow.”

It was difficult for Sebastian to believe that they would soon be leaving for Starkhaven, a place he hadn't been to for over a decade. It should have felt like going home, but he could muster neither the comforting nostalgia nor the sense of righteous ownership needed to rejoice at the idea of returning.

“Can you at least translate what you said to Fenris for me?” he asked as the Hanged Man finally came into view.

“Some petty arguing and a very old Tevinter proverb. It basically means 'if we deny having erred, then we are deceived in knowing ourselves, and there can be no truth in us.' Basically, one cannot simply erase his past mistakes; he must acknowledge them and atone.”

“Like how you acknowledged and atoned for your wrongdoing as a magister?” Sebastian asked. Though he didn't understand what was going on between her and Fenris, he knew enough to see that much of Andraste's rage was stemming from something deeply personal.

In response, Andraste stopped just shy of the Hanged Man and looked over at him, shaking her head. “Frustration and reverence, Sebastian,” she sighed before they both stepped inside.

***Hendyr Household***

As the two headed home, Aveline recounted Andraste's words and Donnic, in turn, told her the abridged version of what he'd heard from the others.

“They what?” Aveline shouted when he told her about the Grand Cathedral. “First Anders disintegrates the Chantry, then... Maker, Sebastian, of all people... And the Grand Cathedral, it's just gone now?”

“I don't see how they had a choice,” Donnic replied calmly. “Not if it really is... her.”

“I can't believe I'm saying this, but I really do believe it is.”

When they got home, Donnic went about taking off his armor as Aveline sat on their bed and listened to him move around their home. She closed her eyes and tried to commit it all to memory; the way the top drawer of their bureau stuck, the sound of Donnic's armor hitting the floor and the shift in the bed when he joined her. Throughout the past month, they had fought almost every day to keep this place their home. They had endured the second wave of Templars and stood silent when questioned by the Seekers of Truth. They had invited Fenris to become a member of their family and received nothing but respect and loyalty in return. Everything had been their decision, and yet it only took one woman, a complete stranger no less, to shatter it all.

Though tired, Aveline still undressed for bed and completed her nightly routine of standing in front of the mirror for a moment. It was something Isabela had “prescribed” maybe two or so years ago, and while Aveline was loath to admit it, it had helped her self-confidence immensely. When Donnic had discovered the nightly ritual he suggested a “prolonged session” and offered to help. As a matter of fact, if Aveline had the timing calculated correctly, that may have been the reason for her current condition.

Aveline was surprised by how much she enjoyed the feeling of being pregnant. Everyone had always assumed her to be quite “mannish,” and while she did enjoy the respect that having a masculine aura had earned her, she wasn't the kind of person who found femininity abhorrent or the female body inherently weak. On the contrary, a life was beginning inside her, created by her and Donnic and growing more with each passing day. Her baby was a new beginning; something beautiful born in spite of tragedy and war, and no matter what happened that would always be how Aveline viewed him.

Him, she repeated in her own mind. Andraste seemed so sure the baby was a boy, a factor Aveline had no opinion on. All she wanted was a healthy child she could offer the world to. Any path, any calling he wanted. She understood all too well the burden of being born into expectations, and she refused to see her own child suffer the same fate. Yet there she was, forced to look ahead to and worry about her son's first use of magic and his first questions about who he really was.

She dressed for bed and slid under the covers, lying on her back with Donnic facing away from her. She doubted she'd get any sleep, but she waited for the light, tell-tale sound of snoring that would tell her Donnic had fallen asleep. After almost half an hour of staring at the ceiling, however, the signal never came. “Why are we pretending we could possibly sleep at a time like this?” she finally asked aloud.

“I have no idea,” Donnic admitted as he turned in the bed. He reached his arm over and slid it under her breasts before pulling her closer. “I keep thinking about why it had to be you. On the one hand, I'm furious that this couldn't be someone else's problem; some devout Chantry patron who would think it a blessing and an honor. But then, I just can't imagine anyone else more able. Were I a god, I would trust you with this.”

“It sounds like you're saying I brought this on myself.”

“That is one way of interpreting it, I suppose. And I hate to change the subject, but have you seen Fenris since this morning?”

“No,” Aveline answered, “but this wouldn't be the first time he's spent the night elsewhere.”

“Well, those nights were usually spent with Isabela, though I guess that could be where he is now.”

“I guess we'll just have to wait until the morning to find out, but I'm sure he's fine. I'm more worried about us.”

Donnic shifted a bit more and found Aveline's eyes in the dim light of their bedroom. “Would you be upset with me if I told you I'm glad we're leaving?”

“I'd be confused,” she admitted.

“Aveline, you haven't seen the look in people's eyes when they come looking for you, or the energy coming from you, whatever it is. You and I can't sense it, but it is calling them right to us. There's no telling how much time we have before Fenris and I aren't enough to keep them away. Even if I'm still upset with Hawke and Anders for what they did and what they put you through, I know that having them with us is far better than having them against us.”

“You're right,” Aveline sighed. What would she have done if Hawke hadn't helped her and Donnic find each other? Who would be the calm and steady force in the chaos of her life? “Whatever we have to do, we'll at least get to do it together.”

“Of course,” he promised as pressed his forehead to hers. Aveline was able to exploit that moment of peace and actually fall asleep, awaking the next morning with a brief and euphoric denial that quickly faded when she found her bed already empty and her bags already packed.

Chapter Text

***The Hanged Man***

Hawke was incredibly grateful for the lack of windows in the Hanged Man. After how much he'd drank the night before, being woken up by the sun cascading onto his face would have been the most awful thing he'd ever been through; one-on-one combat with the Arishok included.

Anders' arm was dead weight over his chest, and it took Hawke a minute to realize they were in the room that Martin used to sell poisons out of. It made him entertain the possibility that they accidentally drank the merchant's old stash instead of ale the night before.

The doors had been ripped off the hinges in the initial looting, so when Hawke got out of bed and stumbled down the hall, he was able to look inside the rooms and check to make sure no one was dead. In the next room over, Merrill was asleep completely on top of Carver, who was breathing in her dark hair with each loud inhalation. Varric was sleeping on his back with Bianca tucked safely in his arms, and Isabela was nowhere to be found.

Andraste had said they needed to leave for Starkhaven that day but she didn't say when, and Hawke had no idea what time it was. Visual clues gave him an idea of some things that went on the night before, like the large barricade in front of the door and the daggers sticking out of the wall, all four of which belonged to either him or Isabela.

As Hawke went about pulling his weapons out of the stone walls, he heard the barricade creak as someone began putting pressure on it from the outside. “Really, you locked me out?”

Hawke went over and began moving chairs and broken table legs out of the way until the he had enough room to remove the thick wooden bar that was laid across the door. Isabela pushed her way in immediately before she headed up the stairs. “Alright ladies, rise and shine!” she called as she began moving down the hall and clapping her hands.

From his position halfway down the stairs Hawke could hear Merrill yelp before something hit the floor with a dull thud.

“I see someone wakes up with a warrior's reflexes,” Isabela laughed. “Come on Kitten, let me help you up.”

“Are... are we on the boat again?” he heard Merrill ask.

When Isabela emerged from the room she was supporting the exhausted elf on one shoulder. “No, but we will be soon.”

“No,” Merrill argued as she rubbed her eyes, “I can tell we're on the boat again.”

“What do you think Hawke?” Isabela asked from atop the stairs. “A little hair of the dog that bit her?”

“Always works for me,” he replied.

“How about you leave prescribing treatments to me,” Anders suggested as he came down the hall to join them, looking absolutely fine. “Let me look after her.”

“If I let a spirit possess me will I be hangover-proof too?” Hawke asked. Anders ignored him.

“Make it quick,” Isabela ordered. “We cast off in an hour whether you're on the ship or not.”

During their time in Kirkwall, Hawke had never formally been introduced to “Captain Isabela,” but the more he got to know this side of her the more he liked her. She commanded hard work and discipline, but she never lost that part of her personality that made you want to follow her crazy leads, even if they were obvious traps, because you knew there'd be a great story afterward. With Captain Isabela there seemed to be an unspoken promise that if you put in the time and did things right you'd be rewarded with a dependable leader and an unbelievable adventure.

“I won't take long,” Anders promised, “but Andraste would never let you leave without me. I started this war, I'm damn well going to be there at the end of it.”

Isabela shot Hawke a concerned look, but she knew better than to say anything. The night before had been a fun bout of escapism, and there was no reason why they had to face reality mere hours later. Hawke wouldn't have many more opportunities to deny the truth of Anders' fate, so he planned to utilize every last one of them.

War didn't worry Hawke, that wasn't the issue. He'd served King Cailan and fought at Ostagar right alongside Carver, but that war was against the darkspawn; an easy-to-hate enemy that Hawke had no qualms about stabbing in the throat. Anders' war, however; his... rebellion, it was completely different. Hawke had no idea what the parameters of it would be. Who, if anyone, was going to be spared? He was already worried about the death toll from the destruction of the Grand Cathedral, and he didn't want to think of what it'd be like in the future, or how much of it would be on Anders' hands.

But Hawke didn't need to worry about the war at that exact moment, so he wouldn't. There was plenty to occupy his attention in the meantime, including Sebastian's impending political marriage to the dead deity he once worshiped. That, if nothing else, was pushing him to soldier on.

When everyone was at the very least ambulatory, Isabela shepherded them out of the Hanged Man and toward the docks. There they found the crew loading on whatever booze, valuables, food and supplies they'd looted from abandoned Hightown estates. Four of the men were hoisting a large bed up the ramp, and Isabela directed them to put it in her quarters.

When a tall woman in long red robes appeared from below deck and began giving orders to the crew, it took Hawke a moment to recognize that it was Andraste. He'd never seen her with her hair pinned up before, nor did he think he'd ever see her with her face covered in heavy makeup. “When did she get all dolled up?”

“Oh, we went theft shopping after you all passed out last night,” Isabela explained. “She said she wasn't going to show up in Starkhaven looking like 'an urchin boy,' so we found her some more princess-y clothes. And P.S., don't call her princess. She hates it.”

“Heh, Princess Andraste,” Varric laughed and he dragged a bag of spoils onboard as well. “From Warrior Queen Prophetess to Caviar-Eating Noblewoman. She must want to rip her fancy dress off and burn it.”

“Mm, that'd be nice,” Isabela sighed before something in the distance caught her attention. “Oh, speaking of people I'd like to watch rip their clothes off.”

If Hawke didn't already know that Sebastian and Fenris were members of their voyage, he never would have guessed it from the way they were looking anywhere but at the ship. Donnic and Aveline were close behind, with Donnic occasionally glancing behind them.

“I can't believe you expect a pregnant woman to spend six weeks on a boat,” Aveline griped to no one in particular as she made her way up the boarding ramp.

No one spoke as they all pitched in to help load the ship faster. Hawke hadn't been present for any navigation planning, but he knew enough about Thedian geography to know that the only way to get to Starkhaven by boat was to traverse the southern shoreline of the Free Marches until the Waking Sea became the Amaranthine Ocean, then head north toward the mouth of the Minanter River. It was a round-about course, but with Aveline and Andraste both unable to travel long distances on foot and their party being so large, Hawke understood why a trek through the Vimmark Mountains was out of the question.

When the cargo was finally loaded and the crew was preparing to cast off, Hawke found himself slowly being overcome with the urge to grab Anders, jump off the ship and leave the whole mess behind them. He'd have given anything to return to the implications of their initial escape, when he thought the plan was to get as far away from Kirkwall as possible and never look back.

“You ready?” Anders asked him. Hawke didn't even know when the man had shown up, but it was the worst thing he could have been asked at that moment.

But still, he smiled. “For six weeks trapped on a boat with my idiot brother, a blood mage, a pregnant guard captain, her overprotective husband, an angsty prince, a nosy dwarf, a broody elf, a pirate queen and a warrior prophetess bent on waging war with half of Thedas? Sounds like fun.”

***The Void's Deceit, Waking Sea***

Figuring out the sleeping arrangements for their first night on board had been a mess. Isabela had ever-so-charitably offered to let Fenris sleep in her quarters, but beyond that there was no plan.

The three rooms they occupied during their journey from Orlais were, in fact, the only three rooms on the ship that weren't the crew quarters or storage rooms filled to the brim with cargo. Andraste admitted that during the last trip she'd slept in one of the storage rooms, but that wasn't an option for her any longer.

“Carver and I can share a room with Varric,” Merrill immediately offered.

Carver went to object, but thought about his options first and realized it was the far better bargain, considering that the alternatives were having his brother and Anders as roommates or Sebastian and Andraste. No one was going to be obtuse enough to try to share a room with Aveline.

Varric seemed to weigh the same set of options and came to the same conclusion. “A six-week slumber party with Daisy and Junior? I'm game. Just put a sock on the door if you need privacy.”

When Anders and Sebastian eyed each other awkwardly, Aveline finally realized what the rest of them had silently decided without her. “I'm not so delicate that I can't share a room like the rest of you have to.”

“Yes you are,” Donnic corrected with a nervous laugh. “Please?”

“But Aveline and I were finally going to paint each other’s toenails,” Anders pretended to whine.

“Alright, I get it,” she relented. “But we'll take the smallest one.”

“That's easy,” Hawke replied, “they're all the smallest one.”

When they got to their room, however, Carver realized the other reason why Merrill insisted on Varric and not any of their other companions.

“Really Daisy, you brought the mirror?” Varric asked. He kept his back pressed against the opposite wall as if the relic was actively repelling him.

“I had to,” Merrill said. “Please Varric, please, don't tell anyone. It's perfectly safe, I promise, and I think I know how to fix it now.”

“You're sure it's safe?” Carver asked, noting that it'd stopped glowing blue like it had been at Merrill's hovel.

“I've been sleeping next to it for six years, I'm sure six weeks won't be any different.”

Another interesting facet of the room's furniture was the removal of the rickety old cots they'd slept on before. While they were “gathering supplies” the crew made sure to acquire enough blankets to create beds, something Carver was rather thankful for. When they were traveling through the Vimmark Mountains, Carver slept as far away from Merrill as he could in order to be polite. After they'd both admitted to having feeling for one another, they were forced to sleep on those tiny, awful cots. Even when they got to spend the night in an actual inn, their only option was a single-person bed and they'd been too drunk to... do anything. He was actually glad that they'd be sleeping on the floor instead, though what he'd gained in sleeping space he lost in privacy.

Varric did end up being a decent roommate, usually making himself scarce during the day. He spent most of his time drinking with the crew and exchanging stories, which would have been great for Carver's romantic life had it not been for the fact that Merrill enjoyed Varric's stories as well. It was a little frustrating, but Carver knew he was signing on for that sort of thing when he let himself fall for her, and it was worth it when she finally did come back in the evening to lie beside him and deliver hilariously terrible retellings of the stories.

Carver had responsibilities which occupied his time during the day anyways, and he was often on deck with Andraste discussing how she envisioned the structure of the new Templar Order. After the first week they were joined by Anders, who had apparently been having similar meetings in regard to reforming the Circles. If they were going to lead their respective factions, they'd have to decide some things together. That, unfortunately, opened the conversation to the one topic Carver didn't want to address.

“We can't avoid this any longer,” Anders stated. “What about blood mages?”

“What about them?” Andraste asked.

“Blood magic is the work of demons,” Anders began, but Andraste motioned for him to stop before he could even get started.

“Blood magic is the work of blood mages,” she corrected. “Yes, a pact with a demon can augment such a power, but blood magic itself is nothing criminal. The crime is in taking on such a burden for malevolent reasons and via malevolent means.”

Carver would have given anything to be able to hold on to the image of Anders' face in that particular moment for the rest of his life. The mage looked like something in his mind had snapped. “You... don't forbid the use of blood magic? The Maker doesn't forbid the use of blood magic?”

“If the Maker wished for there to be no blood magic then it would not be an option,” Andraste explained. “It is risky, however, and should not be undertaken without a strong will and a noble purpose. When practiced correctly, it is not an art of selfishness, but rather one of self-sacrifice.”

“And what is altruistic about the way blood magic is used to rule over others, often times fueled by the murder of the innocent?” Anders asked, sounding strangely like Fenris in that instant.

“Yes Anders,” Carver responded, “Tell me about all the innocent people Merrill has murdered to fix the Eluvian. Tell me about all the people she's oppressed and how many demons have possessed her.”

“It's only a matter of time.”

Carver couldn't control his anger as he jumped to stand over Anders. "It's been nearly a decade you bull-headed moron. If she was going to-

"Calm yourself" Andrate interrupted. "But I agree. Merrill has a stronger will than even she may yet realize, and she also understands the true nature of spirits and demons. They represent equally necessary forces in our world; the embodiment of what make us the Maker's flawed, and thus beautiful, children. The knowledge and the willpower required to not only accept this imperfection, but also harness it, is beyond even my ability. And she fuels it solely by her own life force.”

“Right,” Carver agreed, glad to have Andraste on his side in the matter. “Just because you can't control yourself doesn't mean that she's as weak as you are.”

Carver should have been surprised at himself for saying something like that, but it'd been boiling under his skin for far too long and it was bound to come out eventually. For all that his brother lauded Anders' passion and devotion to the mage cause, Carver only saw a willing blindness to the true complexity of the matters at hand. He didn't feel remotely guilty when Anders left, and he was pleased that Andraste didn't seem to either.

***Void's Deceit, Waking Sea***

This wasn't how Sebastian imagined returning home. When his parents first pledged him to the Chantry he was twenty and still a spoiled brat who didn't recognize the opportunity he was being given. He left to run back home within a week, fully expecting that, upon his arrival, he would be allowed to resume his former life as if nothing had happened. Instead he learned he was so inconsequential to the affairs of his family that it took two days for anyone to notice he'd returned.

After he realized that he was no longer welcome in his own home, Sebastian began escaping to places within Kirkwall. The second time he left the Chantry, he went straight to a Lowtown brothel, but was too busy getting drunk and complaining about his life to properly “patronize” the establishment. The third time he ran off with a young Sister, but left her at an inn before the sun even rose.

And yet, despite his immature refusal to be anything less than a pain, Elthina never gave up on him. She didn't need to lecture, not when she could just ask him to defend himself and listen as he talked his selfish reasoning into the ground. He had no excuse for his behavior, and she knew it. In time he learned to become the kind of person he could be proud of, and he did so without worrying about his family and their expectations. He missed his parents and his brothers, yes, but he didn't feel entitled to a life of luxury and materialism any longer; not when Elthina had shown him the person he could become through his devotion to the Chantry.

Sebastian still mourned the loss of her, but he was worried by how much his anger toward Anders had faded. He refused to believe that Elthina had to die, but nothing would change the fact that he had to spend every night sleeping in the same room as that murderous abomination. As the days passed, however, he found his rage being tempered by familiarity, as well as, if he was honest with himself, the comfort of not sleeping alone.

He probably should have felt more distressed by the idea of sharing his quarters with Andraste, but after everything they'd been through it hardly seemed shocking any more. They'd slept beside each other in the Cumberland Chantry, and this wasn't much different. In addition to that, they'd be expected to share a room once they got married; most likely his parents’ old room, so he figured he might as well get used to the idea. They didn't exchange affectionate touches or whisper to each other like Hawke and Anders did, but Sebastian could hear her breathing and feel as she shifted positions and pulled at the blankets over them. After sleeping alone his entire life, even that inconsequential level of intimacy was enough to give him the illusion of companionship.

Most of Sebastian's time in the room was spent listening to Anders and Andraste discuss magic while he and Hawke only half-understood what they were talking about; a result of Sebastian having never really studied those fields. Memorizing the Chant of Light alone had taken him years, as it contained hundreds of verses that needed to be delivered with proper pacing and dactylic meter. He'd also taken it upon himself to include the Dissonant Verses in his studies, and there weren't many sources for him to draw from when it came to that subject matter.

“So why the white fire?” Anders asked one night.

“It is a message,” she answered. “During my time in the Imperium I specialized in force magic. I liked that it could be as subtle or as damaging as I wanted it to be, and it was a highly-praised skill amongst the magisters. When we marched against the Tevinter forces I mainly used a sword, but when magic was the better option I employed that instead. I found the invisibility of force magic lacked the... presence I was looking to achieve, so I prayed to the Maker and asked that he guide my magic in a way that would allow me to better convey the power of His divinity. When next we came across a farm, I had my soldiers harvest what was edible before I set about burning it to the ground, and as I went to rain fire upon the fields the flames I conjured were bright and white and righteous. I knew it was a sign, and I knew then how I was meant to represent His power and His glory in our world; through the cleansing, reconstructive power of the flame.”

It was yet another story that, in years of studying Chantry lore, Sebastian had never heard before. “Tell me something,” he cut in. “How much of the Chant of Light is your original, verbatim script?”

“Bits and pieces, “Andraste answered, “but much of it has changed over time.”

“Have you considered writing a new Chant?”

“A short one, please,” Hawke requested.

Sebastian smiled, as he understood Hawke's point all-too-well. “Brevity would indeed be a factor you would want to consider.”

“I have no interest in forcing those who celebrate the Maker to chant some endless academia detailing my life and my cause,” Andraste dismissed. “It is a mockery of the unbridled passion one should feel when expressing themselves through song. If people wish to simply learn a profusion of facts they should read it in a book.”

Anders and Hawke turned to each other and stifled their laughter, thought Sebastian didn't catch on to why.

“And what, may I ask, is so funny?”

Hawke kept his lips pressed firmly together and motioned for Anders to speak instead.

“As far as I know, the only book that has your true story and teachings in it is... Varric's.”

“Then Varric shall spread the true word of the Maker unto the faithful,” Andraste said.

“Someone should tell Varric that,” Hawke suggested.

Sebastian didn't want to find the comment funny, but the idea of Varric proselytizing in the name of the Maker was too ridiculous and idea to imagine without laughing, and even Andraste wasn't immune to the infectious grin that was making its way around the room.

***Wycome, Free Marches***

“I really don't like this,” Fenris muttered, as if his fifth objection would somehow change anything.

“Noted and ignored,” Aveline replied. “I'm getting off this ship, and I don't care if I have to fight my way through you to do it.”

Just as Isabela had advised, Aveline's nausea was fine when she wasn't below deck. Being above deck, however, was only a temporary solution. She couldn't sleep there, so when the morning came and it was time for her to get up, she'd get hit with a tagteam of morning sickness and seasickness. It generally took her an hour of being bent over the deck railing before she could even bring herself to drink some water, and two hours before food was an option.

She felt passably alright as long as she was moving, but pacing the length of the ship was both boring and hazardous, as Isabela's crew didn't much care for politely asking to be let through. At times her companions would walk with her, however, and that helped break up the monotony. Even Sebastian was decent company. The two of them discussed the protective forces in Starkhaven, which were apparently broken into two groups; the Royal Guard and the City Militia. The Royal Guard was made up of the highly-trained children of nobles who guarded the palace and the estates. To wear the crest of a Guard was the utmost honor in the city, as only a select few were allowed into their ranks every year. The City Militia, which was supposed to have been run by Sebastian, was a volunteer group of laborers and youths who received a stipend and provided their own weapons and armor.

Before Aveline could even ask, Sebastian said he would love to have her input on managing either organization as soon as they arrived.

Isabela took notice of Aveline's predicament and offered to let her nap in the Captain's quarters, which was the only room above deck. The room reeked, unsurprisingly, of sex, sea and alcohol, but Aveline didn't have to worry about vomiting or getting heat stroke, so she took what she could get. Eventually, however, the nausea and the fatigue and the cabin fever were just too much, and she began insisting that they spend at least one night on dry land. Isabela was fine with the idea, especially if they could find a port city with a brothel, but Fenris and Donnic didn't want to risk it. None of Isabela's crew members were mages, but they had no idea who they'd run into while staying on land.

Anders, Merrill and Andraste said they'd simply learned to deal with what Anders called the "spiritual shrieking". They felt it non-stop, and Andraste compared it to the constant pain of an old battle wound becoming a simple part of life. Aveline appreciated being able to follow at least one mage's magical metaphors. The argument solved itself, however, when the woman on watch in the crow's nest reported a storm right in their path. Before they docked, everyone involved in the Grand Cathedral debacle donned cloaks and agreed to wait until sundown to leave the ship.

The Wycome docks were much smaller than Kirkwall's, but also in far better shape due to less use. The Void's Deceit was by far the largest vessel there, with most of the others being fishing boats, but they were still about to come in safely and without incident.

“I'll go speak with the innkeepers,” Fenris offered. “I'll see if anyone has the space to house us all for the night.”

“I'll go with you,” Isabela suggested. “I need to find a merchant and see about unloading some of the stuff we got from those estates. These massive expeditions don't fund themselves.”

Donnic, on the other hand, remained glued to Aveline's side as she took long strides to stretch out her aching muscles. She wanted to believe that his paranoia was unfounded, but if something did happen she was unarmored and unarmed, which made her feel naked and helpless.

Aveline turned to the shops for a distraction, and the first thing she and Donnic bought when they reached the marketplace was a bag of apples. All the food on the ship had been dried so it would keep during the journey, but the taste of fresh fruit was something that couldn't be matched. Plus, apples were Fenris' favorite food, and the elf deserved some sort of reward for what he was willing to endure in order to honor his self-imposed debt to Aveline and Donnic. A piece of fruit didn't quite feel adequate, but it was a start.

Aveline wanted to relax, but years of carefully honing her instincts made her unable to drop her guard. The merchants were beginning to think about closing as the sun neared the end of its descent, but she swore eyes were peering at her from behind carts and within crowds. She made random turns and even doubled back a time or two. She took note of who did the same after, and instead of working her way further into the village, she turned the first corner she could and began idly wandering back toward the docks.

A sudden eruption of shouts rang from further in the marketplace, and Aveline was thankful for the distraction as she looked to Donnic and motioned her head toward the direction of the docks. Donnic nodded and seemed prepared to quietly sneak her out, but two familiar voices halted their exit.

“Excuse me!” Isabela shouted as if the townsfolk were the ones being rude, standing in her way while she was trying to sprint past them. People shouted profanities as she and Fenris shoved their way toward Aveline, but they didn't seem to notice.

“Ship?” was all Aveline asked as she began to walk briskly alongside her companions.

“Now,” Fenris stressed, looking back at something Aveline couldn't see.

When The Void's Deceit finally came into view, the sense of victory that accompanied it was short-lived. There were already a few men and women crowding there, looking downright feral as they scratched at some phantom itch under their skin.

“We can take 'em,” Isabela assured as she pulled her daggers off her back.

“Maybe,” Fenris said, “but then who will 'take' them?”

Aveline turned to find a similar group of apostates stalking its way through the path in the crowd cut by Fenris and Isabela's shoving.

“Balls,” was all Isabela had to say as she oscillated between the two advancing groups.

The cloaks their companions had put on did a fantastic job of concealing their identities, so much so that Aveline didn't even notice they were already on the dock until Andraste swung her staff and knocked a mage woman straight into the water

The group behind them finally quickened their pace to a full-on charge, but a wall of ice shot out in front of them, halting them long enough for thorny vines to grow out of the ground and ensnare them.

Aveline resumed her mission to get on board the ship, dodging one man who Carver elbowed in the nose and another who was knocked back by a swift kick from Hawke. Someone grabbed at Aveline's dress, and out of reflex she swung at the man, effectively knocking the wind out of him with the sack of apples she forgot she was still carrying.

After she was safely up the ramp, Aveline could only watch nervously as Donnic and Fenris went to help Isabela cast off.

“Everyone on!” Isabela shouted. “And if you can use magic to get us going then do it!”

The remaining companions still fighting on the dock hurried up the ramp, and the apostates who made the mistake of following were quickly halted by non-lethal arrow wounds. When Aveline followed the trajectory she realized that Sebastian and Varric were using the crow's nest as a long-range defense tower.

In a quick and desperate move, Anders torched the ramp that lead to the ship, reducing it to ashes and splinters before trying to manipulate the water enough to get them on their way.

“You cannot call out to us and then abandon us!” one woman shouted from the dock. Others pleaded for the ship to return, begging for more of “the song” even as they clamped their hands over their ears to block it out. Though it terrified her to admit it, the scene reminded Aveline far too much of Bertrand.

When everyone was confident that the chaos was safely behind them, they allowed themselves to practically deflate with relief.

“Well this is great,” Isabela said sarcastically. Aveline turned her gaze toward the horizon; toward the setting sun and the darkening grey sky. It was then that she realized that none of the crew members had remained on the ship or made it back during the escape. As Sebastian and Varric climbed down from their vantage point she counted eleven people, herself included.

Eleven people, one huge storm ahead, and no place left to run.

Chapter Text

***The Void's Deceit, Amaranthine Ocean***

“Eleven people,” Isabela counted, “and only two of you have any idea how this ship even works.”

The winds were already picking up, and while Hawke didn't know as much as he wished he did, he knew enough to be worried about how little time they had to act.

“Just tell us what to do,” Donnic offered. “We're your crew now.”

Isabela paced for a bit, pointing to parts of the ship and muttering to herself before she snapped her fingers and shouted “Damn it!”

“What?” Aveline asked.

“When you hit that guy with your bag of apples you had the perfect opportunity to say 'how about them apples.' That would have been brilliant.”

“Can you please save the witty one-liners for after we're done avoiding a burial at sea?” Aveline shouted.

“Well fine then. For starters how about you get below deck?”

“No, there has to be something I can-”

“Captain's orders!” Isabela interrupted. “Oh, I've always wanted to say that to you.”

“Isabela,” Aveline warned, “You better get us through this.”

“Below deck,” Isabela repeated. “And take Merrill with you.”

“What?” Merrill asked. “Why me?”

“Because, Kitten, someone needs to watch over Big Momma here, and you weigh, what, six and a half stone? The storm will blow you clear overboard. And you might want to-” She cleared her throat and leaned in closer before adding, “secure your cargo.”

“Oh, oh no,” Merrill whispered. “Come on Aveline let's go.”

Hawke had no idea what they were talking about, but guessed it was easier sexual or... feminine in nature.

“Well now what?” Varric asked. “That thing is closing in fast and it's getting dark.”

“Alright,” Isabela began, her voice beginning to build with authority, “some of you will need to furl the forward jib, and the others have to reef the mainsail.”

Hawke, as well as everyone else on deck, didn't move an inch.

Isabela gave an exasperated sigh and threw her hands in the air. “We're doomed.”

“No one is 'doomed,'” Sebastian argued. “Just tell us what to do, one step at a time.”

“Alright, I'm going stop the ship,” she told them, “and when I do, someone has to be ready to roll up the sails on the forward-most mast. Carver, you've done this before, remember?”

“Right,” Carver replied, “Yeah, I'm on it.”

“Donnic, Varric; you help him,” Isabela ordered. “Fenris, Sebastian, Andraste, Hawke, Anders; once we're stopped I'm going to turn the boat so the mainsail cuts the wind. You'll know it's in the right position because the pressure will be low enough for the five of you to ease the halyard and pull the bottom of the mainsail toward the boom.” She turned to Hawke with a pleading look in her eyes. “Please tell me you remember what that means.”

“I'm going to say, yes?” Hawke answered uncertainly. “Don't worry, I'll get it done. I mean, do we really have time for a nautical lesson?”

The nine remaining people on the deck looked out in time to see lighting flash against the darkening horizon. Everyone broke apart, with Isabela leaving to man the helm, Carver directing the activity at the front of the ship and Hawke responsible for the mainsail. “Everyone brace yourself!” Isabela announced before the ship swung around sharply and the sails caught the full brunt of the high winds, causing them to come to an abrupt halt.

“Alright,” Hawke muttered as he tried to remember what little training Isabela had given him. He followed the thick rope that kept the mainsail hoisted and found where it'd been tied down. “The rest of you, hold the rope while I undo the fastenings.”

“Maker guide us,” Andraste whispered as she and the others grabbed hold and waited for Isabela to steer the ship into position. Were they not in immediate danger, Hawke would have laughed at the irony of Andraste, Anders, Fenris and Sebastian all working together to keep each other alive.

Hawke made quick work of unraveling the rope and grabbed hold of the halyard. The winds picked up even more, making it difficult for Isabela to keep a steady position, but when the pressure finally let up Hawke made the call to begin giving the rope some slack, just in time for the cold rain to begin.

When Isabela had explained reefing the mainsail to him she said “if you're asking yourself if you should do it, you're probably too late.” It was dangerous to do when the wind was at ten knots, and if Hawke had to guess they were already at about twenty-five. The five of them were having trouble enough holding on to the halyard, and he'd need to let go in order to climb the mast and grab the control line.

The metal pegs used to climb the mast were already soaked, however, and the winds were coming in in gusts, making it so Hawke had to use the armored points on his boots to anchor himself in the wood each step of the way. It took him multiple attempts, but he finally grabbed hold of the control line and began to make his way back down the mast. He was almost back on the deck when a large swell crashed into the side of the boat, bucking him off the pegs and sending the control line whipping into the air. Luckily Sebastian was able to catch it as Anders helped Hawke back to his feet.

The rain was officially pouring at that point, as well as blowing into their faces from every direction, making it impossible to see more than an arm's length ahead with any sort of clarity. Hawke helped Sebastian get a firm enough hold on the control line, knowing full-well that Fenris and Andraste couldn't hold the halyard for long. He found a rig to belay the line to and told Sebastian to fasten it as tight as he could, but another swell knocked into the ship as a heavy gust picked up, and everything began to fall apart.

The wind pressure on the mainsail pulled at the halyard just in time for the swaying of the ship to knock both Fenris and Andraste off their feet. Hawke couldn't see where they landed, but he knew that if he didn't finish reefing the mainsail that there was no way Isabela could navigate them out of the storm. He climbed the mast again and made a desperate dive toward the thick rope whipping about in the wind, and when he grabbed hold of it his weight was a good enough counter-balance to slowly lower him back to the dock. As soon as his boots hit the wood he and Anders secured it to the same rig as the control line, and Hawke finally noticed that Sebastian was gone too.

He finally spotted the prince's bright, white armor dangerously close to the deck railing. Hawke raised his arm to shield his eyes against the rain and fumbled his way closer, slowly realizing that Sebastian was leaning over the railing and holding on to someone's gauntleted hand.

Hawke stood beside Sebastian and grabbed on to Fenris' arm as well, pulling with all his strength as the elf, who seemed strangely heavier than expected, looked down at the water. When another flash of lightning brightened the sky, however, Hawke spotted a blur of red hanging from Fenris' other arm.

As soon as Fenris was able to swing his legs around he planted himself firmly on the deck and reached his other arm down as well, hoisting Andraste up behind him with one strong pull.

There was no time to ask why, even if the question was painted on everyone's face. Another wave lurched the ship, and the five of them half-ran half-crawled their way to where Isabela was still steadfastly manning the helm. Much to Hawke's relief Carver, Donnic and Varric were already with her.

“What do we do now?” he shouted over the howling wind and the pounding beat of the rain against the deck.

We don't do anything,” Isabela corrected. “Either I steer us out of this or we capsize.”

“Is there anything we can do?” Sebastian asked.

“Pray.”

***The Void's Deceit, ???***

It took almost two hours, but the storm finally passed; or maybe they passed through it, Carver didn't really know or care. All he knew was that once it was over he was desperate to see Merrill, who ran up to him as soon as he got below deck and locked her arms around his neck. She was so incredibly warm after hours in the pulverizing rain, and he refused to let go of her.

The shock of the storm and the reality of their situation made for a very quiet morning after. Donnic was sick from the stress and the wet chill that had saturated him the night before, which only compounded Aveline's already crippling feelings of guilt and helplessness. Everyone's clothing was wrinkled and smelled moldy from the moisture, so they left their armor below deck in the hopes of airing everything out. When the sun was finally high and warm in the afternoon sky they all stood on the deck to bathe in the light.

After they reset the sails, Isabela called a meeting down in the crew quarters. The eleven of them flipped the tables back over and picked the chairs up from various corners of the room, arranging everything so they could sit in a circle and face each other.

Carver had no idea where they were even supposed to start. He'd already begun worrying about a plethora of issues, from the in-fighting to the glaringly obvious danger associated with letting Aveline off the ship. No one was making eye contact, not even people who liked each other, and Carver didn't see how Isabela expected them to discuss anything.

“Well this sucks,” was the pirate captain's uplifting and elegant opening line.

“Yes and no,” Varric countered. “We brought enough food and booze for the eleven of us and your crew, so we won't run out of either of those any time soon.”

“Where even are we?” Carver asked.

“I won't really know until tonight,” Isabela answered. “I can't see any land from what's left of the crow's nest, so I'll have to wait until I can use the stars to right our course.”

“So what is the meaning of all this?” Anders asked, looking to Andraste for an answer. “What happened in Wycome?”

“Yes,” Merrill added. “Is Aveline going to be alright?”

“I wish I knew,” she admitted. “I... have not felt the Maker's guidance in quite some time. I know not if yesterday was a test or a warning or...what it was.”

Aveline looked ready to throw up again. “You don't even know what's going on with me? Wonderful.”

“Wait,” Anders said as he leaned in toward the table, “how long have the blind been leading the blind here? We've all been following your lead on this, oh Holy Prophetess.”

“I felt my connection to the Maker break around the time we were fleeing from the Grand Cathedral,” Andraste answered.

Carver had no idea what to say to that. He respected Andraste, but in all honesty a great deal of that respect came from the fact that he thought she received her orders from the Maker Himself. What if everything she had planned and decreed since then was wrong? When she felt the connection again, if she felt the connection again, would she reconsider everything? Would she still want to appoint Carver as the Commander of the Templar Order? Would she still plan to marry Sebastian? Carver turned to the prince, fully expecting the same indignant shock, but he found none.

His brother seemed to notice as well. “You don't look surprised, Sebastian.”

“I already knew,” Sebastian admitted. “But I trust Andraste's judgment regardless.”

“Or maybe you'd just like to,” Fenris suggested bitterly. “And Maker's guidance or not, I don't trust her.”

“I am right here, you blasphemous aberration,” Andraste shot back. “Do not speak of me like I am not in the room.”

“Vade ad inferem,” he spit at her. Carver had no idea what it meant, but the tone of Fenris' voice convinced him that he was fine not knowing. “I should have let you drown.”

“As I said before, you know a great deal of Tevene for a slave,” she observed calmly.

“Don't,” was all Fenris said, but it was obvious from the curious expressions on the faces of everyone else in the room that the conversation was far from over.

“What is she talking about?” Anders asked. “And is Tevene what they call the language there? I always thought it was just... Tevinter.”

“It matters not what you call it,” Andraste dismissed. “Tevinter, Tevene, Arcanum. Either way, it is not a language taught to slaves.”

“Is she telling the truth?” Donnic asked, trying to get Fenris to even look at him.

When no answer came, Anders started piecing the information together. “You weren't a slave were you? Maker, all that talk of the evil of mages and you weren't even a slave.”

“Do not speak of things you know nothing about,” Fenris warned. “You spout all this rhetoric about your persecution and the abuses you have faced because it is all you know. Now imagine tomorrow you wake up and suddenly you remember that before all that, you wanted nothing more than to be a Templar.”

“Wait, what?” Aveline asked. “Fenris, what are you talking about?” There was a great deal of disappointment in her voice, and it pained Carver how much it reminded him of his own mother's tone when he and his brother had done something thoughtless and immature.

“I- What Verania said before she left was true,” the elf explained. “I was not forced to get these markings. I wanted them. Our parents were slaves in Perivantium, but my sister's magic and my fighting abilities earned us the attention of the magisters in Minrathous. She didn't want to be apprenticed, which I-” Fenris stopped and stared at the table, seething with what seemed like anger at his younger self. “I didn't understand why she didn't want to go. They said they wouldn't take me without her, and it was our only opportunity to have any kind of power or status; to live our lives as something more than a possession. They offered to free our parents, how could she just say no to all that?”

“The grass isn't always greener,” Varric offered.

“You think I don't know that now?” Fenris snapped, stretching his arms over the table to expose the length of the brands that twisted around his flesh. “I asked if there was anything I could do to make up for my sister's reluctance, and that's when I met Danarius. He said he... liked my spirit, and offered me a chance at an apprenticeship instead. I had to fight my way through nine other boys for the chance, though. Danarius said I didn't have to kill them if I didn't want to, but I didn't want to risk one of them claiming what needed to be mine, so I killed every last one of them.”

“All of that, just to free your parents?” Isabela asked.

“How can you ask that?” Fenris wondered. “You know what it's like to be sold as if you don't matter; how degrading that is. Someone owned my entire family. My sister and I were someone's property before we were even born!”

Carver tried not to, but he began to question how far he would go to protect his family and the people he loved. He was eternally grateful that he'd never had to make a decision like that before. Refusing to fight alongside Meredith was one thing, but Fenris' predicament was something entirely different.

“So then why did you run from Danarius if you were his apprentice?” his brother asked.

“I was the first person to ever receive markings like this. It was an experiment, and we didn't even know if it would work. The pain was so excruciating that, when I awoke, I had no idea who I was or what had happened. I was paralyzed for a few days, and in that time Danarius 'taught' me about who I was. He told me that my name was Fenris and I was his slave; that I had no family and that I served him faithfully. Despite having the power to crush a man's heart in my hands, he succeeded in making me believe I was too lowly a being to ever consider doing such a thing to him. And yet, in the end, I am grateful for his lies. I would much rather be Fenris the slave than Leto, the aspiring magister.”

Anders didn't seem to buy it. "Not that I don't love listening to you admit you're an enormous hypocrite, but why would a magister want to give magical powers to someone who wasn't born with them? Wouldn't that create competition?"

"Yes, now imagine how much all magisters would fear someone who could do that. Or, take a look at what it did to me and imagine what it could do to you."

Anders shook his head as if declining the invitation.

“How long have you... remembered all this?” Aveline asked. “Why didn't you tell us? We would have understood.”

“It started coming back after I killed Danarius. And what would you have wanted me to say? I'm not that person anymore, my past is irrelevant and my convictions still stand. Mages cannot be trusted.”

“Selective denial does not absolve you of your hubris,” Andraste argued, “especially when you continue to counter your self-loathing by universally vilifying us.”

“Then what would you have me do?” Fenris yelled as he stood abruptly and knocked back his chair, giving Carver the distinct feeling that both he and Andraste had forgotten anyone else was in the room. “Wallow in my mistakes? Crumble under the weight of my own humility? Because I won't.”

“I want you to see who the enemy really is,” Andraste told him. “We are your allies, if not because we are friends then because we share an enemy.”

“I will not ally myself with one evil just to see another fall.”

“Magic does not make decisions, Fenris. It has as much agency as any blade.”

“Magic is a disease, a sword is not.”

“And yet you have let both infect your soul! Stop fighting yourself and turn your wrath on those who drove you to your sin in the first place.”

When Fenris didn't have an immediate retort, the room feel silent, save for the scrape of Varric's pen across his paper. Everyone turned toward him slowly, and it took the dwarf until the end of the sentence he was writing before he realized that everyone was staring at him. “What?”

“Are you writing this down?” Fenris asked.

“Of course I am,” Varric answered. “What kind of question is that?”

“Do we entertain you?” Aveline asked, making no attempt to hide her offense.

“That's not the point,” the dwarf explained. “Look at what lying about the fallibility of people did to Andraste's story. Where in the Chant does it mention that she abandoned her parents to become a magister, or that she used to own her top general? That is what people need to hear. 'Cause yeah, vilifying magisters while championing a mage prophetess is complicated, but it's the dirty, gritty, necessary truth. Maybe in a hundred years, after we've all returned to the stone or gone to sleep for eternity or ascended to the Maker's side or whatever, people won't be pretentious tits to each other because they'll know that even their saviors were a bunch of short-tempered, emotionally-stunted hypocrites.”

Carver felt something brush across his lap, and as he looked down he found Merrill's hand sliding into his. As he squeezed her delicate fingers, he twitched at how awkward it felt to think of himself as anyone's savior. Purpose, skill and recognition were all he ever wanted, but when he was finally faced with the cost, he began to regret ever coveting those things.

Fenris never sat back down. He left the room, though not in the angry huff Carver would have expected. Everyone else began to rise slowly, the conversation very obviously over.

“Isabela!” Fenris called from, if Carver heard right, the deck. “You might want to get out here.”

Everyone headed down the hall and up the stairs to the deck, confused by the sight that greeted them.

“Is that..?” Isabela began to ask as she eyed the land that suddenly surrounded them. “Holy mother of... that's the Minanter River.”

***The Void's Deceit, Minanter River***

Everyone shifted the remaining cargo to the large room that once housed the crew, opening up the storage rooms for people to sleep in. Hawke and Anders moved their things to another room, but Andraste made no mention of leaving despite the fact that she was obviously able to do so.

If Andraste knew that Sebastian had been slipping out at night, she didn't say anything. It had been easy to resign himself to his duty in theory, but as he felt the approach of his home-city, the weight of his pledge began to take its toll on his nerves. He didn't even know how to go about any of it. The succession of the crown had been automatic and untested for years, but when Lady Harrimann ordered the assassination of his family she threw Starkhaven into a political climate that it was entirely unaccustomed to. Flora claimed that there were people outside her family vying for the throne, but if that was true they were too afraid to make a move. Everyone knew Sebastian was still alive, and while Goran was only his cousin, he was still a Vael and still had a right to the throne.

With a teenage figurehead on the throne, the noble families set up a democratic governing body, using Goran for pomp and ceremony while voting, in private, on the political matters of the city. There was no real need for Sebastian to return and take the throne; things were just fine without him.

Starkhaven had always been a highly devout and slightly isolationist city, so the idea that it would be leading Thedas in a war against the Chantry seemed preposterous. Convincing the city to acknowledge his authority would be difficult enough; convincing them that the Chantry had to be eradicated would be nearly impossible.

“Up before sunrise,” Andraste remarked as she walked up from behind him. “You would have made a good farmer.”

“Somehow I doubt that,” Sebastian laughed. “I apologize if I woke you.”

“Worry not. I too have been finding it difficult to sleep. I am... not accustomed to this much autonomy. It is, honestly, quite frightening.”

“You will have to excuse me if I find it hard to imagine you frightened.”

“Because I did one great thing in my life? Even that ended up a disaster, both the war and the subsequent spreading of my teachings. In fact, I have spent much of my life afraid. Afraid of rival magisters. Afraid of misinterpreting the Maker's wishes. Afraid for my son.”

Sebastian braced his arms against the deck railing and sighed. “I am sorry you did not get to raise him. I am sure he was a remarkable child.”

“He was,” she said with assurance. “I did get to hear his voice as he grew into adulthood, and even his final thoughts before his death.”

“That must have been heartbreaking.”

“Yes,” Andraste agreed, “and entirely worth it.”

“I used to want children,” Sebastian recalled as he watched the sun begin to rise over the mountains and reflect off the water. “Before I took my vows; but I wanted them for the wrong reasons. I was still angry with my parents and I wanted to be what I thought a 'better father' was. Maybe now, however, things could be different.”

Andraste arched a brow at him. “Do you think maybe we should get married first before we start thinking about children?”

“That's not what I-” Sebastian began to say before a noise in the distance caught his attention. “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Andraste asked. “The sound of a desperate attempt to change the topic?”

Sebastian was about to express his disapproval of her mockery when the trumpets sounded again. “That. That is-”

“Land ho!” Varric called from the crow's nest. “Heh, always wanted to say that.”

“Varric there's land everywhere,” Isabela shouted from the helm.

“Fine, uh, destination ahead on the starboard side.”

“That's better.”

The trumpets sounded again, and while it had been over fifteen years since he'd last heard them, Sebastian recognized the reveille that usually marked his father's return to the city after long trips. “How would they even know?” he whispered to himself.

As they began to round the last bend Sebastian could see the ramparts of Starkhaven Castle rising up over the mountains. They approached the city as the sun continued to rise, and he began to notice that the dock was absolutely packed with people. “Andraste, what is going on?”

“I do not know. It is as if they knew we were coming.”

“Did I hear Isabela say we've arrived?” Donnic asked as he too emerged from below deck, the rest of their party in tow.

“Yes,” Sebastian answered. “And with quite the welcoming party, it seems.”

“You don't think...” Aveline trailed off as she backed away from the railing. “Are they waiting for me?”

“I do not believe so. They seem to be announcing my arrival, though how they knew I was on this ship or even that I was returning is something I cannot answer.”

Baseless speculation wasn't going to accomplish anything, so Sebastian remained silent and vigilant as the Hawke brothers helped Isabela with something she called “tacking the mainsail.” With such a huge crowd gathered to greet him, Sebastian expected either joyous celebration or furious jeering; something to express why they would all wait at the first light of dawn for him to arrive, but there was neither.

A team of dock workers made quick work of mooring the vessel before bowing low and hurrying out of the way.

“Wait here,” Sebastian whispered to his companions. “Andraste and I will go speak with them first.”

As they approached the ramp to the docks, Sebastian felt someone put pressure on his arm, and turned to find that Andraste had latched on to his forearm to steady herself, hiding her weakness under the guise of affection. He was thankful then that she'd decided to change before their journey, making it much easier to introduce her to the crowd as someone deserving of the title of princess.

Standing on the docks before them were a few Royal Guards and a handful of women in the uniform of the Chantry Seekers, which made Sebastian exceptionally nervous.

“Cousin,” a young man called out as he walked past the guards and approached them. Sebastian had never met Goran before, only heard of him in letters from their family. The boy was tall and lanky, and looked for too unkempt for a prince; with dark, thick hair that laid messily under his crown. His eyes, a paler blue than Sebastian's, looked so relieved that if the acting prince had begun to cry right then and there, no one would have been surprised. “Oh, and this must be your fiancee,” he said, turning to Andraste. “It is an honor to meet you.”

“And you as well,” Andraste replied politely. “Tell me, who you informed you as to our arrival?”

“Right, yes,” the boy remembered. He stepped aside and motioned to a severe-looking woman who stood behind him. She too was in the raiment of the Seekers, but she was carrying an ornate wooden box in her hands. “This is Cassandra Pentaghast,” Goran introduced.

“The woman who interrogated Varric?” Andraste asked.

“Yes,” Cassandra confirmed. “But first, please accept this amulet. It should silence any... unintentional signals from your companions.”

Believing he understood what the woman was cryptically hinting at, Sebastian eyed the box before gently taking it and bringing it on board the ship. As soon as Aveline put the necklace on, Anders and Merrill gave a synchronized sigh of relief. “Maker bless you,” Anders breathed.

“Where is she?” Andraste asked out of nowhere, her voice sounding angry and suspicious.

“Where is who?” Cassandra asked.

“Where is the Seer?”

“This is the Seeker,” Sebastian corrected as he assumed his place at her side once again, completely baffled as to what had caused her drastic shift in tone.

“No,” Andraste argued, “Where is the Seer? You are not her.”

“Calm yourself,” a voice spoke from the crowd. A handful of men and women stepped aside and let another familiar Seeker pass by them. “I am here.”

“Sister Nightingale?” Sebastian guessed, trying to remember her name. “Or was it Leliana?” He was quickly beginning to feel as angry as Andraste sounded, as he didn't like situations where it was obvious everyone knew more about what was going on than he did.

“Please forgive the charade,” the Orlesian woman apologized. “I had to be sure it was really you. I have not felt your presence in quite some time.”

“Maker,” Goran breathed. “So it's true then? This is... really Andraste?”

Sebastian watched as his cousin took a knee before them, followed soon after by the Guards, the Seekers and the entire crowd. He could hear the murmured hum of hastily whispered prayers sweeping through the air around him.

Sister Nightingale approached them and leaned in so no one else could hear her. “Come,” she said. “We have much to discuss.”

***Starkhaven Castle, Guest Suit***

Everything after they got off the ship was a blur. Aveline vaguely remembered a carriage ride through the streets and the people of the city bowing as the convoy passed. The bumpy texture of the cobblestone roads changed suddenly, and when Aveline looked outside she found that they were on a granite road headed toward a huge marble castle. They arrived to the announcement of trumpets and drums, follow swiftly by attendants fussing over her and leading her and Donnic to a large, lavish suite.

One of the servants explained that an attendant would be outside the door at all times in case “m'lady” needed anything. Aveline had never been called that before, and now that she had she was perfectly content to never be called it again.

When they were finally left alone, Aveline wrapped her arms around Donnic and laid her palms flat against his back. She let her chin rest on his shoulder as he rubbed random circles against the small of her back, whispering repeatedly that everything was going to be alright, even if they both knew he couldn't possibly promise that.

After they broke apart, Aveline sat on the bed and inspected the amulet she'd been given. It looked like some kind of red rune, though she didn't know enough about the art of enchanting to guess anything past that.

“This can't be what you pictured when you proposed,” Aveline joked, though there was no laughter in her voice when she did.

“Of course it is,” Donnic assured as he sat beside her. “Us, together. Starting a family.” He reached up and brushed a bit of her hair aside. “You, looking beautiful, as always.”

“On the run from zealots,” she added, even as she couldn't help smiling affectionately at his words of comfort. “Guarded by a reborn prophet. Stuck in a castle.”

“We'll get through this, Aveline, I promise.” He leaned to kiss her, brushing his thumb lightly over her cheek as he did. “Now why don't you get some rest? This bed looks comfortable enough. I think the blankets are down.”

Donnic's attempts at changing the subject were transparent, but that didn't make them any less sweet. Even though they'd just woken up not two hours before, Aveline hadn't slept well since the Wycome fiasco, and they seemed to be stuck in a tangled mess of “hurry up and wait” political nonsense that she wanted no part in.

Aveline slid off her shoes and pressed her feet against the plush red carpet that had been laid under the bed to guard against the cold of the gold and white marble floors, which looked like they'd be freezing no matter what the temperature in the room was. Donnic stood as well, and they both worked toward relieving him of his armor. It made Aveline miss the rare days when they'd be able to go home together and help each other undo the straps and pull off the pieces of a long, tiring, and rewarding shift.

Donnic had been right, the blanket on the bed was indeed filled with goose down, which Aveline wanted to find frivolous and instead found amazing. She was asleep before Donnic even joined her in the bed, and when she awoke some time later the afternoon sun had found just the right angle to filter glaring streams of light into their room.

Knowing that her husband was still getting over a nasty cold, Aveline let him continue sleeping as she got up to shut the curtains. Further inspection of the room revealed that it had its own private bath and a plethora of unnecessary luxury items, from a mahogany chess table to silver tea set.

A sudden knock at the door startled her and woke up Donnic. “Master and Mistress Hendyr, may I enter?”

“Master Hendyr?” Donnic asked groggily. “Never been called that before.”

Not wanting to let some stranger into her room, Aveline cracked the door open and stuck her head out. “Yes?”

“Oh, my apologies for disturbing you, mistress,” the servant apologized. “Master Vael and his fiancee have requested you and your companions gather in the main hall. When you are ready, I shall escort you.”

“Wonderful,” Aveline groaned. “Fine, we'll be out in a moment.”

After she shut the door she turned and found that Donnic was already up. “Maker, I hope they have something for us to eat,” he muttered. “I'm starving.”

In truth, neither of them could have imagined the sheer amount of food that awaited them in that room. They were the last to arrive, and the rest of their companions were already eating with unashamed enthusiasm, no one bothering to speak as it would interfere with chewing. Between her pregnancy, her fatigue and the restricted diet she'd been living on since the rebellion, she was more than happy to join them. Without even needing to speak, everyone passed her and Donnic platters full of fresh fruits, warm meats and crisp vegetables.

“Cousin, your friends seem to have... healthy appetites,” Goran commented from the head of the table. Aveline glared at him from over her plate, but held her tongue. At least the privileged little prince wasn't throwing a fit over the fact that Sebastian had returned to take the throne from him. As a matter of fact, he seemed relieved to the point of giddiness.

Also at the head of the table were Sebastian and Andraste, who were seated across from Leliana and Cassandra. The two soon-to-be rulers of Starkhaven were obviously trying to eat at a slower, more dignified pace, but as soon as the first forkful met their lips they broke all illusion of propriety.

“Your journey here must have been arduous,” Leliana observed. “I wish I could have helped, but I did not want to interfere with your mission to Orlais. I thought it best for me to prepare for your eventual arrival in Starkhaven, and to explain the situation to those who rule this city.”

“Then why spend three days interrogating me?” Varric asked. “Was it the chest hair?"

“We needed to gauge where the Champion's allegiances lied,” Cassandra explained, “and we thought we could benefit from further context in regards to the events leading up to the rebellion. Leliana's visions are...”

“Vague, at best,” Leliana finished. “They are less like promises and more like instincts.”

“Blessed are those who receive any form of His guidance,” Sebastian stated.

“I wish I could say I always saw it that way,” she sighed, and in her voice Aveline could hear the same stifling burden that often tainted Andraste's tone as well. She wondered, even though she tried not to, how long it would take for her to sound like that. For her child to sound like that. “But on a happier note,” she added, forcing her voice to brighten, “we have a wedding to plan. I'm very excited. We should begin commissioning your gown immediately.”

“Oh trust me,” Hawke laughed, “We're all looking forward to it. Right Sebastian?”

“Will you quit being an ass?” Carver protested from across the table.

“What? You don't like weddings?” Merrill asked him.

“No, I never said- I mean, I don't usually think about weddings, not that I don't want to, or that I necessarily-”

“Junior,” Varric mercifully interrupted. “Stop digging.”

“Will do.”

At the end of the table Leliana was chucking to herself. “This will surely be an interesting wedding. And afterward we can discuss the coming war. For now, let us not trouble ourselves.”

“You know as well as I do how impossible that is,” Andraste said. “The call of the Maker is never truly silent. It never rests, even in His absence.”

Leliana nodded in recognition, further compounding the dread that tightened in Aveline's chest every time she realized that she, and eventually her child, would share in those struggles. “Then we shall pretend.”

Chapter Text

***Starkhaven Castle, Main Hall***

Hawke wanted to eavesdrop on the conversation at the head of the table, but the temptation to have a normal dinner with his friends and his brother was too great. He laughed as Isabela said wildly inappropriate things in front of the stuck-up wait staff, and watched as Carver nervously scratched the back of his neck when Merrill said something sweet about him. Aveline, on the other hand, seemed to be having the opposite problem. As much as she was trying to focus on her companions, the somber attitude emanating from Sebastian, Andraste and the Seekers was seeping into her as well, slowing her appetite and making her face sink into a scowl.

“So Aveline,” he said loudly, “any thoughts as to a name yet?”

“A what?” she replied, her attention still partially elsewhere.

“A name, for your son,” he clarified. “Have you thought of one yet?”

“I haven't even considered it. I've had other things on my mind, in case you haven't noticed.”

“What about you, Donnic?”

“As with most things I figured I'd leave it up to Aveline,” Donnic said with a smile.

“You better not feel that way after he's born,” Aveline warned. “He's your son too.”

“Of course not, my love. We're in this together.”

Isabela raised her wine glass with a grin. “Honey, if you ever let him go I will hunt you down and smack you.”

“I'd deserve it,” Aveline stated. “But I guess you're right Hawke, I should start thinking about a name. Something people will look up to and respect.”

“Not at all,” Andraste argued, “The only person who needs to approve of or understand the meaning of your own child's name is you.”

There was a silent, yet very strong understanding that Hawke could sense between the two of them, and as a result everyone dropped the subject.

When they finished eating, Sebastian, Andraste and Leliana excused themselves to meet with the ruling nobles. Hawke and Anders were, thankfully, not invited to join them.

“Champion, Anders,” Cassandra called out as he tried to leave the main hall, “I'd like a word with you two.”

“That's probably unnecessary, Seeker,” Hawke assured. “I'm sure Varric told you everything you needed to know.”

“I am not here to interrogate you. Come, walk with me. We can talk on the way to your room.” After she said that, however, she began walking in the opposite direction of the room Hawke and Anders had been previously assigned.

“I think it's that way,” Anders told her as he pointed to a different hallway.

“We figured it would be best to put you in a simple guest room when you arrived; that way you could focus on resting.”

“Right, resting,” Hawke said sarcastically, earning him an elbow in the ribs from Anders even as the other man shot him a knowing grin.

“Upon hearing about everything you went through from Varric, I made sure the Seekers took care of some of your affairs. Your mother's belongings were respectfully moved here, as well as some of your... companions.”

“You did all of that, for me, just because of what Varric said?” Hawke asked. "Must have been quite the tale. Wish I could have heard it instead of living it."

“And more importantly,” Anders added, “you're not trying to kill us? You are a Chantry Seeker, aren't you?”

“I was once,” Cassandra answered. “As was Leliana; or, as Andraste calls her, the Seer. Apparently she knew Justinia in a time before they were Seeker and Divine, and at first Leliana was encouraged by Her Grace to follow her visions. Then, over time, the visions became more vivid and more blasphemous. Her Grace tried to... counsel Leliana by reinterpreting her visions so as to placate those who lead the Chantry.”

“Sounds like the Chantry alright,” Anders agreed. “You can come to them with mountains of proof that contradicts their precious Chant and they'll just spout some vague, evasive allegory until you give up.”

“That is precisely what the clergy tried to do with Leliana. I watched as she looked into the eyes of the highest-ranking officials in the Chantry and told them they were wrong. There was no hesitation or doubt in her voice, but there was much fear and uncertainty in theirs.”

“Even so,” Hawke countered, “Your family, the Chantry; it must have taken a lot more than 'sounding confident' to turn you.”

“Had I and the other former Seekers not known Leliana for quite some time, we probably wouldn't have joined her cause. When she began her service to the Order she was a model Andrastian. She'd helped the Hero of Ferelden defeat the Archdemon, and that made some people think she was guided by the Maker's hand. In time she told us about her visions, and as they began to turn her away from the Chantry, they turned us with her. So am I pleased by the death and the destruction you have caused in Kirkwall and Val Royeaux? No. However I do understand why it had to be done. I am ready to fight in the coming war on the true side of the Maker, and not some charade. But that is enough talk of this for today. I'm sure you two would like the evening to yourselves.” Cassandra gave a polite nod before she began heading back in the direction they came from.

“Wait,” Hawke called out to her, “which room is m-”

“Master!” a young woman shouted from further down the hall. “Oh Master, it is so good to see you again.”

“Orana?” Hawke asked in disbelief. “How in the Maker's name did you end up here?”

The elven girl rushed up to Hawke and Anders like she was going to hug them, but folded her hands together politely at the last moment. “The Seekers arrived at your house and I told them about how you'd saved me. I begged them not to hurt you, and told them you and Master Anders were the nicest men I'd ever met. I hope you're alright. Please, if there's anything you need, I would be happy to begin serving you again right away.”

“Settle down, Orana. Are you alright?”

“Oh, there's no reason to worry about me. I should not have even been granted another chance such as this. Surely the Maker has seen what a good girl I am, and He knows my place is with you. Please let me continue to serve you.”

As much as Hawke never felt entirely comfortable with Orana's desperate, imploring eyes constantly watching him and seeking validation, he felt better having her fuss over him than some randomly-assigned Starkhaven servant. “That's fine. Just, don't worry about me so much. I'll call on you if I need you.”

“Thank you,” she sighed. “Oh, and the Seekers prepared one last surprise for you.”

Orana took a key out of her pocket and used it to unlock the door beside them. As soon as it was open far enough, a large figure flew out and tackled Hawke to the ground before vigorously licking his face.

“Oh wonderful,” he could hear Anders groaning, but Hawke didn't care.

“Barkspawn!”

“Honestly, Hawke, that is the stupidest name for a mabari that I have ever heard. And yet so very, very you.”

***Starkhaven Castle, Outer Gardens***

In the days leading up to Sebastian and Andraste's wedding, Carver found Merrill and himself thankfully out of the marital warpath. They took the opportunity to lay low and play at being nobles, ordering food to be delivered to their room while Carver taught Merrill how to play chess. At night they walked the parts of the city that bordered the castle, and on the eve of the big day they finally made it to the inner gardens.

“It's nice to be able to sit in a garden without the guards looking cross,” Merrill sighed as she stared up at the sky.

Usually Carver would have been stumbling for some way to fill the air, but there was so much going on around them in that moment that they were both content to stand there and take it all in. The internal courtyard at Starkhaven Castle was enormous, stretching out literally as far as Carver's eyes could see by the light of the torches and the full moon. The entire area was laid out in a neat grid, populated by lush trees, flowering bushes and elaborate marble fountains. It was hard for Carver believe that anyone could be raised in that kind of luxury. Even his mother's childhood estate was nothing compared to the opulence and wealth oozing out of every crevice in the city.

Carver and Merrill seated themselves at the base of one of the central fountains. When Merrill inched herself closer and leaned her shoulder into him, he shifted so he could reach his arm around her shoulders. It was getting late, and the sound of the water falling behind them was soothing, but Carver refused to let himself get tired. He'd learned his lesson when it came to taking quiet moments for granted, and while they'd been left alone in lieu of preparing for Sebastian's wedding, he could feel the impending barrage of changes and questions that was likely to crash into them both as soon as the ceremony was over.

But as the sounds of footsteps approaching broke him from his reverie, he realized that “tomorrow” was too much to ask for.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Leliana said, and while Carver could tell that her tone was genuine, it didn't stop him from glowering at her with probably more ire than was necessary. “I was hoping to speak with you both before things got too crazy with the wedding and the coronation.”

“What about?” Merrill asked, pulling away from Carver to sit up straight.

“First of all, I wanted you to know that I've sent messengers to the Arlathvenn,” Leliana told Merrill. “We have invited them to meet with us here, and we'd like you to speak on our behalf when they arrive.”

“Me? Speak for our cause? In front of all the clans in Thedas? Are you crazy? My own clan was ready to kill me, and if it weren't for Carver's brother they would have.”

As much as he wanted to take the severity of Merrill's situation seriously, it was hard for him not to smile at the fact that, for once, his brother was referred to in relation to him and not the other way around.

“You need to make them see reason, no matter how difficult it is,” Leliana pushed. “We cannot hope to gain the Dalish as allies without one of their own to lead them in the name of our cause, and you are the only one who already understands Andraste's vision for the future. She sees something in you, Merrill. You are blessed with a sight not unlike ours, one that allows you to see past the confines that others would disguise as tradition, and question even when it is easier not to. It must be you.”

“I... I'll try,” she finally offered. It seemed, however, that when she heard the insecurity in her own voice that it triggered something within her. “I'll... I'll make them see that if we don't make serious changes we can hope to, at best, stagnate and, at worst, die out.”

“Glad to hear it,” Leliana said before turning to Carver. “You, Knight-Commander, already have a great deal of men and women in the city who wish to hear your plans for the Order. Some are the Templars who were already stationed here, but many others defected after the rebellion in Kirkwall. While both sides of the debate are aware that things are about to undergo drastic changes, some are not so keen on welcoming them.”

“And you expect them to listen to me?” Carver asked.

“I expect you to demand that they do.”

“Yes,” Carver began sarcastically, “I'm sure it'll be that easy.”

“I never said it would be easy,” Leliana pointed out. “But it must be done. No one's path in this is easy, but what worth doing is?”

“But you're asking me to convince loyal Templars to follow a mage into war against the Chantry.”

“Is that what is really going on? Or will they be fighting in the name of the prince and princess of Starkhaven, in a war sanctified by the Maker himself? Words are as good a weapon as any sword, Carver, and you would be wise to learn to wield them properly.”

Leliana didn't stay after that, and Carver understood that her intention was to give them the time needed to think things over, even as it also meant that they'd be agonizing over it for days without having the authority to act.

Though it'd be difficult, Carver wanted to at least try to resume the nice evening he and Merrill were having, but the heavy clatter of Andraste's leg braces told him that wasn't going to happen. He turned around, ready to snap at her, but her nervous expression and panting breaths took the bite right out of his tone. “Are you alright?”

“Have you seen Sebastian?” she huffed. “At all?”

“No,” Merrill answered. “We haven't seen him since dinner yesterday. At least, I think he was there. He's usually at dinner isn't he? I just kind of assume he is. He doesn't talk much. Just kind of looks sad and lost.”

“Maker, not now,” she whispered to herself. “Carver, can you help me back to the main hall?”

Carver looked back at Merrill and tried to apologize to her with his eyes. She nodded in understanding and followed behind as the three of them went back inside.

***Wine Cellar, Starkhaven Castle***

After days upon days of preparations Sebastian just couldn't deal with it anymore. Meetings with nobles, fittings for his wedding robes, decisions about the ceremony, pages of military maps, inspections of soldier gear, interrogations about what he'd been through; it was stiflingly overwhelming. He wasn't ready for this to become his life. Being prince was difficult enough, but being prince and trying to convince his people to go to war against the Chantry was seemingly impossible.

The nobles were vehemently against the idea at first, and Sebastian's attempts at swaying them were unhelpful. He admitted far too early in the discussion that he had been the one who slayed the Divine, and the uproar that resulted lasted an entire night. It was only Andraste who could calm them and get them to even consider giving their support, making Sebastian realize that he brought nothing to the table save for his name.

He was supposed to marry her tomorrow. Andraste. The Prophetess of his faith throughout his entire life. He was marrying her.

He'd stuffed these thoughts down for weeks now, but the wine was pulling them all to the surface at once. The servants who normally would have been in the cellar were too busy decorating, prepping food and assigning guests to their rooms, leaving him alone to wallow in his repressed insecurities.

He lied to himself, insisting that he'd just have a glass to calm his nerves even though he'd never had “just a glass” in his entire life.

A bottle and a half of deep red, ten-year-old wine later, Sebastian was ready to call the entire thing off. Andraste didn't need to be the princess of Starkhaven in order to get people to follow her. Between her amazing leadership skills and the corroboration of her identity by Leliana, she was already well on her way to amassing the support she needed.

He would not live his life as an afterthought; not anymore. Not after spending his childhood as the expendable son. If he wasn't going to live up to his family's name as the ruler of his city then he would be glad to devote himself to serving the Maker. This limbo though, it was killing him; batting him about like chaff in the wind.

“You must be joking.”

He didn't turn around to face her; he didn't even sit up straight. She walked over beside him, so close he heard her robes rustle near his ear, but he couldn't bring himself to look at her.

He'd been in a fog of alcohol-dulled senses for so long that when her hand came in contact with the side of his face Sebastian felt a shock go through him.

“Sebastian. What is going on?”

“Why are we even doing this?” he asked. When Andraste didn't take her hand back Sebastian grabbed her wrist and pulled it away.

“What do you- Sebastian... this is not the time,” she said as she began to pace in front of his chair. “Why this?” she asked, picking up the empty wine bottle off the floor. “Why now?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” he muttered. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, letting his forehead fall into his hands. “This doesn't make any sense. Why are we getting married? Leliana has already made sure that the people of this city know who you are and many already support your cause. You've assigned Carver to lead the Templars, Anders to lead the mages, Merrill to lead the elves. You'll lead the army. This wedding, it is pointless.”

“I understand that I am not the beautiful, refined noblewoman you probably imagined yourself marrying, but-”

“This is not about me being shallow,” he interrupted. “This is about me being useless to your cause. This is about how I spent my life worshiping you only to- it is astonishing enough that I am even speaking to you right now, let alone that I am supposed to marry you tomorrow.”

He still wasn't looking at her, but he could all but hear the pity in her expression as she sat down on the floor in front of him. “Why have you never mentioned any of this before?”

“When was there time?” he asked, finally meeting her eyes with his. He noted, in that instant, how terribly awkward she looked; hair held up with fancy pins and face painted so heavily it looked like a mask. It felt like he was taking to a stranger, and really, wasn't that exactly what he was doing? “We have been too busy running and hiding. We've had to be. I killed the Divine to protect you, and escaped with the help of a mass-murderer. Now you expect me to go from priest to fugitive to prince all in the span of, what, three months?”

He wasn't sure if it was the alcohol or not, but Sebastian could have sworn Andraste looked nervous. “Has this just been festering inside you this whole time? I am aware that this has not been easy, and if you had just said something we could have-”

“Said what?” he cut in. “Who am I to deny you anything? You will simply get it anyways, with or without me. My usefulness is in my name, and that is all.”

“Where do you even- Maker, this coming from the man who once held a knife to my throat and swore that nothing would stop him for seeking justice for a crime that had been committed against someone he cared for.”

“That man is long gone. I barely even remember him.”

“That man saved my life, twice,” Andraste pointed out. “That man helped protect Aveline in Wycome. He walked off Isabela's ship alone to face a crowd of hundreds of people when none of us knew what was going on. That man has literally held me up for most of this journey. He is far from dead.”

“And where, in all of that, was justice found for Elthina?” he asked.

“Elthina's death sent a message!” she shouted at him. “And if you do not help make sure that message is delivered properly than she will have died for nothing.”

Sebastian shook his head and took another drink of wine, too tired and too exasperated to raise his voice in response. “You have an answer for everything, don't you?”

“No,” Andraste breathed, her voice shaking with rage and she scrambled to stand again. “No, I am not doing this again.”

“Doing what again?”

“Dealing with another husband who spends his life quietly resenting me!”

If Sebastian wasn't already wincing at the implication of Andraste's outburst then he certainly would have been when an entire shelf of wine bottles were sent crashing to the stone floor.

Sebastian stood up to avoid the flood of wine and waited with a nervous anticipation that made his heart pound in his ears, debating what he was supposed to say in response to something like that. Really, all he could hope was that she would realize that her marriage idea had been a mistake.

She didn't move or speak, however, and the reality of what happened began to sink in past the pleasant numb of the alcohol, forcing him to acknowledge that he had already sunk so low as to remind Andraste herself of Maferath's petty jealousy. And yet, even as he was ashamed of his selfish behavior, he realized that in order for her to be this disappointed, Andraste would've had to have trusted him a great deal to begin with. The fall could not have been so devastating if she had never thought highly of him.

Though he stumbled a bit at first, he soon found his way over to where Andraste was supporting herself by leaning on the shelf she had emptied. Some part of him knew that physical contact was how normal people comforted each other after these kinds of fights, but nothing about their situation was normal.

“I'm sorry,” he finally whispered, leaving his hands at his sides. “I do not know how to see you as a person,nor your story as the actual events of your life.”

“I have plenty of followers, Sebastian,” she stated. “What I need is a partner.”

“How can you possibly believe that I am worthy of that even as I stand here before you drunk on the eve of our wedding?”

Andraste lifted her head and presented herself to him. “And I stand before you painted like a princess, hiding that I am crippled, and desperately wanting to be neither. But I am what the Maker wills me to be. I can be no less, but what I strive to be is something more.”

Bits of Sebastian's hair had fallen into his face, and he tried to push them back into place by running his fingers back across his scalp. They still fell by his ears, but there was little he could do about it in that moment, so he stopped fidgeting with his hair and forced himself to respond to what Andraste had said. His knee-jerk reaction was to denigrate himself again, but as he looked back he realized how little good it did him to be humble. It wasn't what Andraste needed, and it didn't benefit him either.

“We are quite a pair, aren't we?” he asked. “Do you think Varric is right when he says that people will be better off for having read about our struggles as much as our victories?”

Realizing that there was a hint of hope returning to the situation, Andraste's face softened a bit and she took Sebastian's hands in hers. “I do not know, but I think we all benefit from viewing our shortcomings with as much honesty as we view our strengths. Now come,” she said as she took a bottle of wine off a lower shelf. “Let us at least finish this conversation in our room.”

***Starkhaven Castle, Hawke & Anders' Room***

Aveline stood outside the door to Hawke and Anders' room for almost a half hour, going through cycles of raising her arm to knock and chickening out at the last second. Every time a noble or servant passed she'd busily smooth out the creases in her dress until they passed.

She didn't hear anything going on inside, and Orana had already told her that Hawke was out in the militia practice yards letting his mabari chase the new recruits. She felt incredibly stupid, but then again she couldn't remember a time when emotional confrontations had been her strong suit. All Hawke had to say was “Donnic” and she usually shut up about whatever it was they'd been arguing about.

When she finally did knock the sound almost startled her into jumping back, but she held firm and stood her ground as she heard the door unlock from the inside.

“What is it Ora- Aveline?” Anders asked, going from cross to surprised mid-question.

“Yes, it's me,” she replied, already wanting to kick herself for sounding so awkward. “Listen Anders, can we talk?”

“What about?” he asked, still refusing to let her in. If anything he stepped further into the doorway.

“It's personal, and I'd rather not discuss it in the middle of the hall,” she said in a harsher voice than she meant to.

Anders paused to think over her small outburst before wordlessly stepping into the room and leaving her to let herself in.

After Aveline shut the door behind her she immediately felt imprisoned. It was nearly impossible to take her hand off the latch, and she found herself unable to begin the conversation.

“Are you alright?” Anders asked her.

“I'm fine,” she lied. “I was thinking, actually, about what Hawke said before. About what I was going to name my son. Do you... know how I got my name?”

“Well it's obvious who you were named after. Seems fitting enough.”

“It happens to fit,” she corrected, though in hindsight she realized that her explanation probably made little sense to Anders. “He wanted to raise a knight, so he gave me a name that left me few other options.”

“You do know I was kidding about wanting a slumber party,” Anders told her.

Aveline took a deep breath and balled her hands into fists by her side. “I swear, sometimes you're as bad as Hawke. The two of you are impossible to talk to; it's like you were made for each other.”

“Alright, alright,” he relented, sensing her tension. “But why are you telling me about your name all of a sudden? You and I have never been what I'd call close.”

“I know that, but I've been thinking about what's already been decided for my son and...” She reached down and knitted her fingers together over her stomach nervously. “Naming him is one of the only things I get to decide.”

“So you came here, what, to tell me you thought of one?”

“Sort of. I- He needs a name that comes without expectation. These people may have already decided that he's charged with saving the world someday, but until that day comes he will be my son and he will live whatever life he wants.”

“That's... admirable,” Anders said hesitantly. “I don't mind you wanting to tell me all this, but I get the feeling it isn't what you came here to say.”

“No, you're right,” she admitted. “I actually came here to ask you something. If it isn't too personal, that is. If it’s too personal just say so and we never have to speak of it again.”

“Aveline, what in the Maker's name are you getting at?”

Aveline took a deep breath and forced herself to ask, on the first try, “What was your name?”

The room was agonizingly silent for far longer than Aveline thought she could stand. She eyed Anders, who looked nothing short of stunned by her question, before shifting her gaze to the door and contemplating her escape. She knew it was a stupid idea, and now she was left feeling guilty for over-stepping her bounds.

Then finally, “Why do you want to know?”

Aveline stopped fantasizing about running from the room, but she still couldn't face Anders as she tried to explain her reasoning. “You... gave up your name a long time ago, right? Whoever that little boy was, he never got a say. He never got to grow up, and in a way he died...” She didn't want to project where she had no right to, but she still offered and quiet and heartbroken “...unwanted.”

Anders didn't say anything, but he didn't yell at her to leave either, so Aveline took it as a sign to continue.

“I thought maybe- maybe my son could change that. Whatever your name was, it deserved to have meant something. That is, if it's alright with you.”

Again, Anders didn't respond. For a while Aveline doubted he even heard her, but when she turned to leave he moved to stop her.

He stared at her, eyes confused and still lost in the past somewhere, but he didn't look angry or insulted. “If we survive,” he offered.

“If we survive what?”

“If we survive this, the war, protecting you. If we live through it, I'll tell you.”

Words would have been hollow in comparison to how Aveline felt in that moment, so instead of ruining the beauty of it she simply allowed herself to smile, the gesture genuine and completely unrestrained in the hopes of communicating how honored she felt by his promise.

Chapter Text

 

***Starkhaven Castle, Guest Suite***

“Rise and shine, Master Hawke,” Orana chirped as she let herself into the room and opened the curtains. “Your assistance had been requested by the other servants, but if you would like to eat first I have brought your breakfast to your room.”

Some sort of annoyed, exhausted noise gurgled out of Hawke's throat, and were it any other day he would have insisted he be allowed to sleep longer. Today, however, was his friend's crazy, awkward, arranged-marriage-to-a-dead-goddess wedding day, and Hawke wasn't going to miss a moment of it.

“Come on, Anders,” Hawke whispered as he kissed the back of his lover's neck. “We have a wedding to watch unfold hilariously, and it seems the fun is already beginning.”

“Oh, I am sorry, I forgot to tell you,” Orana apologized as she poured their tea. “Revered Lady Andraste has new attire planned for Master Anders. When he is ready I am to fetch the dressing servants to prepare him for the ceremony.”

“I can dress myself,” Anders griped into his pillow. “And how in the Maker's name are you so perky all the time?”

Hawke tried his best to boisterously laugh off Anders' early-morning aggression, lest Orana's eyes get even wider in a desperate plea for forgiveness. “Why don't you wait outside, Orana? We'll get you when we need you.”

As soon as the door clicked shut Anders sat up in their giant bed and rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “New clothes? Really? Why don't you have to change?”

“Because my armor is the armor of a Champion,” Hawke answered, knowing full well that Anders would know he didn't mean a word of it. Hawke had always found the title awkwardly dramatic, but he knew it did more good than harm when it came to getting things done, so he never said anything about it.

He dressed quickly and ignored his tea in favor of a roll that could travel with him. “I'll leave you to get fancy,” he said as he slipped out the door.

“Serrah Hawke,” an older woman greeted him in the hall. “You are a close companion of Lord Sebastian, are you not?”

“Sure,” he agreed, not meaning for it to sound so much like a question.

She didn't seem thrilled with his response, but she began walking and motioned for him to follow. “I have been serving the Vael family for over forty years now. I knew Lord Sebastian's grandparents, his parents and his brothers. I have also overseen three royal weddings, and while I recognize that the circumstances of this one are a bit different, it does not excuse wantonly inappropriate behavior.”

Hawke didn't know if he was supposed to nod in response or keep listening; or maybe say something. She wasn't exactly giving him clues as to why he was needed.

She stopped suddenly in front of a door and Hawke noticed that Aveline and Donnic were already waiting outside the room dressed in formal attire. “This, however,” she said after they stopped, “is not something I am prepared to deal with. You three are their companions, you speak to them.”

The terseness of the woman's speech and the sharp clench of her jaw made Hawke lean away from her as she left muttering about how she always knew that Sebastian brat would be trouble until the day he died.

“Do you have any idea what she's talking about?” Donnic asked.

“Apparently in this woman's forty years of service to the royal family she has never once seen something as awful as what's behind this door,” Hawke answered. “To the the point where she fetched me, and you two apparently, to deal with it.”

“Well we could keep standing around in the hallway,” Aveline began, “or we could see what supposed terrors lie beyond.” Without any other warning she pushed the door open and found that the inside of the room was almost pitch black.

The three of them stepped inside and were immediately met with the familiar and yet unexpected scent of sweat and tannin.

“Not. A. Word,” Sebastian groaned. Hawke followed the direction of the voice and found the soon-to-be prince sitting on the edge of his bed, his back to Andraste's while his hands were clamped firmly over his eyes. He took a few slow, deep breaths, but otherwise said nothing else.

“Maker,” Aveline gasped, “Are you hungover?”

“If you cannot say it in a whisper do not say it all,” Andraste ordered. “Remind me again why I thought 'catching up' to you was a good idea?”

“I could not tell you,” Sebastian replied.

“Seriously?” Hawke asked. “You really are hungover? You, of all people?”

“Can we not discuss the failings of my willpower at this very moment?” Sebastian requested. “How long until the wedding?”

“Oh only,” Donnic began before pausing for some quick arithmetic. “About two hours.”

“Tell me you are joking,” Andraste demanded, “and then come over here so I can smack you for thinking that is funny.”

“No joke,” Aveline promised. “I don't care what you do to get over this, but get over it quickly. Vomit if you have to, or chug a pitcher of water. By the Void, drink more if that'll help. Either way, if you two aren't ready to leave this room in twenty minutes I am dragging you out of here myself.”

As if demonstrating that she had the capability, even in a green gown and short heels, Aveline grabbed both Hawke and Donnic by the arm and planted them right outside the door.

“At least they're bonding?” Hawke offered, though it appeared his friends didn't see the same silver lining.

“Should they even be staying in the same room?” Donnic asked. "Tradition and all."

“She had a son, Donnic,” his wife replied, “I don't think anyone believes she's a virgin.”

“A virgin mother,” Hawke laughed. “I'm surprised the Chantry didn't think that up themselves.”

When the happy couple finally emerged servants swooped in from all angles and dragged the two of them off in opposite directions to prepare for the ceremony.

“You will be called to the balcony when the ceremony is to begin,” one of them told Hawke. “Until then please wait with your other companions in the Main Hall.”

Hawke and his companions had met up in the Main Hall plenty of times since their arrival, but when he arrived, however, something about the room and its inhabitants was different enough that he questioned for a moment if he'd gotten lost. Sure, Aveline and Donnic had shown up in new clothes, but it was nothing compared to the way in which Hawke barely recognized his own brother. Maybe it had been a refusal to acknowledge change, but Hawke never thought Carver looked like he was getting older. Even on the day of the Chantry attack, the day Carver took his side against Meredith and they became a family again, Hawke felt like he was looking at the same nineteen year-old kid who he left sulking in Gamlen’s hovel during the Deep Roads expedition. In the Main Hall, however, everything seemed to speed up to the present in ways Hawke hadn't been prepared for.

Maybe it was the pants, Hawke mused to himself. The overall design of Carver's new armor gave him a great deal of presence, something he always had the height and musculature to pull off, but never the right attitude. The new armor bore no representation of the Templar crest, but something about it still conveyed power and authority, probably even more so than Carver's old uniform did. The chest piece had a high, sturdy neck guard and a slight outward angle that bowed out over his sternum, covering his entire chest and stopping somewhere under a thick red sash that was tied around his waist. The tall plating on the shoulders made him even taller, and for the first time Hawke felt rather small standing next to him.

“Amazing craftsmanship, isn't it?” Carver asked when he caught his brother staring. “Andraste had it commissioned. Merrill's too.”

Hawke hadn't even noticed her, having never seen Merrill in armor before. He almost asked how she could even handle the weight of the full-body chainmail and the platinum plating that encased her torso, but he remembered that Andraste had been instructing Merrill in the same sort of magic-to-strength conversion technique the "Arcane Warriors" practiced.

“I miss the skirt,” some woman in a pale blue dress complained. For a moment Hawke thought it was just some noble, passing her over because he couldn't think of anyone he knew who would wear such a frivolously ornate gown.

He took a few steps closer and peered at her face before he confirmed that what he was seeing was reality. “Serrah Isabela,” Hawke mocked. “You look lovely.”

“What?” she countered. “You really think I'd show up to this wedding with no pants on? Scratch that, do you think Leliana would let me? Maker, you'd think she was the one getting married with how obsessed she's been with every little detail. Not that I'm complaining.”

“Are you telling me you like being this dressed up?” Aveline asked.

“The clothing was the only upside to being married to my son-of-a-bitch husband. What I hated was when he stuffed me in whatever he wanted so he could impress his friends. It's like you and your name,” she explained to Aveline. “I like fancy dresses for me, and no one should get to tell me they're my only option.”

“I swear Isabela, sometimes I think your wisdom runs as deep as your depravity.”

Isabela shrugged before something behind Hawke made her raise an eyebrow. “Oh my, look at you.”

Hawke turned in time to see Anders step into the room with a sheepish, lopsided grin. “Don't,” he warned, “I feel ridiculous enough as it is. I'm pretty sure these gloves alone cost more than everything I've ever owned combined.”

It was Anders' voice, and Anders' face, but beyond that Hawke was having a difficult time recognizing his beloved mess of a partner. The mage's new armor seemed so expensive that it looked more decorative than useful. Like Anders' previous outfit, it was black with gold accents, but with the exception of the colors and the boots, everything about it was completely different.

Without any sort of request for permission Hawke began a rather close-up inspection of the garments. He gave up on trying to guess the cost of the pieces as soon as he realized the neck and shoulder piece was quilted black leather accented with square gold studs. The black robes underneath were made from some sort of heavy, high-quality material held shut but intricate gold closures, tucked at the forearm into leather gloves that did, in fact, look more expensive than anything Anders had ever owned.

And then there was the hair. When Anders first chopped it off in a desperate attempt to change his appearance, Hawke had hated it. The servants had washed and cut it again, however, and evened out the previous hack job in a way Hawke was entirely on-board with.

When Hawke began to trace the piece of armor covering the top half of Anders' chest, he realized it had something in common with the sash on Carver's armor. The piece was lightweight steel, and while most of it was painted black there was a raised, gold sun in the center of it. “A Chantry symbol?” he asked.

“Andraste's idea,” Sebastian explained as he entered the room. “She and Leliana felt it best to keep any non-stigmatized iconography intact.”

One of the first things Hawke had been told about Sebastian was that the man was a prince, but over time familiarity made that fact harder and harder to believe. That disbelief vanished when a regal, authentic prince stood before him, trailed by a retinue and dressed from head to toe in a red, gold and black uniform the likes of which Hawke had never seen outside of historical portraits.

If Hawke had that much clothing on he'd have felt like he was swimming in it, but for someone still nursing a hangover, Sebastian was carrying himself well. Hawke wasn't sure, however, if the credit should go to Sebastian or the clothing. He was sure his mabari would have looked like royalty in a cloak like that, the fabric deep red and plush, with the edges lined in black-speckled white fur that Hawke didn't recognize as being from any animal he'd ever seen.

Sebastian was obviously uncomfortable with everyone's silent staring, but instead of commenting he just started fidgeting with his outfit; scratching under the detailed embroidery of his high collar and straightening the already straight line of buttons that held his jacket shut. Hawke watched as the man pretended to inspect the room, as if he hadn't been raised there or seen it every day for the past two weeks. What started as a desperate attempt to avoid eye contact, however, suddenly morphed into genuine surprise.

Hawke searched the room and realized that something had indeed changed. The east wall was the only one without an entrance, and that made it a large, uninterrupted expense of space perfect for decoration. It was covered in candelabras, fine fabrics and family portraits, but the center of the wall had been rearranged to accommodate a large new addition.

“Where did this...?” Sebastian began to ask as he approached the painting. There were five people in it; a man, a woman and three young men.

One of the older noblemen who had accompanied Sebastian into the room leaned in to answer. “Do you not remember standing for this portrait, your Highness?”

“I do,” Sebastian spoke up, “I just... my parents never put it up.”

“Is that you then?” Isabela asked, pointing to the youngest boy in the painting. “Aw, look at little teenage Sebastian. Still hadn't lost your baby fat, huh?”

“I was sixteen,” he told her. “Mathis was already married and Charon had just gotten engaged. My mother was getting very emotional about it, so she made us all stand for one last portrait before our family ceased to be just the five of us.”

“Princess Meaghan was always so fond of you three,” the attendant remembered. “I think she would have preferred that her children never grow up. But to see you now, the chosen mortal husband of Blessed Andraste herself; Prince Arion would have been proud.”

“I wish they were here,” Sebastian said so quietly it seemed he was speaking to himself.

Hawke looked around the room and saw a great deal of understanding in his companions' eyes. Hawke wasn't sure when, but at some point they'd all become the closest thing any of them had to a real family; dysfunction and back-biting included.

He didn't notice that Carver had moved until an armored glove fell onto Sebastian's shoulder. “It is time to go, your Highness,” he said, voice commanding but not without tenderness.

“Indeed, Knight-Commander,” Sebastian replied. “Let us begin.”

***Starkhaven Castle, Garden view Balcony***

It was odd how the simplest little change could alter so much, but as Carver walked down the halls of Starkhaven Castle, dressed in the full uniform of the Knight-Commander, the world seemed to see him as different as he was beginning to see himself. For once he didn't feel out of place at all, and he never would have guessed that he would finally feel comfortable with himself in the company of royalty, about to stand before an entire city-state as a person of note and status.

Merrill was fascinated by the golden statues standing watch along the halls, so she didn't notice him smiling down at her. He was content, however, to have that moment of admiration to himself. Her new armor helped change how he saw her as well, making it easier for him to realize that she wasn't some naïve, decorative object for him to take care of. They were partners; they were there to support each other. 

The brightness of her new armor suited her, as did the amazing job that was done tailoring it to her form, which Carver definitely noticed. In all honesty, he'd been incredibly aware of her form ever since they arrived in Starkhaven. When they went to bed at night he tried to send her signals that questioned how she felt about... moving things along physically, but she didn't seem to be picking up on them, and he wasn't about to come as far as he did only to mess everything up because he was too impatient.

He just thought she deserved so much, and he didn't want to give her any less than that. She was unique and beautiful and literally like no one else he had ever met. Nothing in the whole of Thedas could compare to the privilege of waking up and seeing her eyes smiling at him from the other half of the same pillow. It was too bad he never knew how to say any of that to her, because it rang through his head every time he was near her.

Carver had to pull himself back from his thoughts and remember that the day wasn't about him or Merrill. He focused instead on the Starkhaven crest embroidered into the back of Sebastian cloak, trying to figure out what the swirling black figures around the white chalice were supposed to be. Fish, maybe, if he had to make a guess.

Two servants up ahead of their group bowed before pulling the double doors to the balcony open. Carver's first instinct was to shield his eyes against the bright sun, but he realized that fidgeting and squinting would probably make him look less than dignified. This was the first impression the entire city was going to have of him, and he needed to be cautious about how he presented himself.

Sebastian stopped suddenly, and while the attendants and nobles continued walking, Sebastian's companions remained by his side.

“My Lords and Ladies,” one of the servants called, “You are to take your positions before the ceremony begins, remember?”

Carver, and apparently the rest of them as well, had completely forgotten the order of events that Leliana had outlined for them a few night's prior. It didn't help that they were all on-edge about whether or not Sebastian would go through with the marriage, and seeing the man stop dead in his tracks sent up some understandably confusing warning flags.

“Come on, Broody, everyone loves a wedding,” someone said from the hall to Carver's right. After a moment, Varric and an entirely unenthusiastic Fenris rounded the corner, which seemed to take a small degree of tension out of Sebastian's shoulders.

“It is good to see you,” Sebastian admitted. “I was worried you would refuse to come.”

“He wouldn't miss it for the world,” Varric lied emphatically. “Isn't that right?”

“I am here to support my friend,” Fenris clarified. “He may be making a colossal mistake, but I will stand by him. I owe him that much.”

“I'm liking the change in style,” Varric commented when he noticed everyone's new clothing. “It's nice to not feel bad about upstaging you all.”

One of the nobles cleared his throat loudly as he stood before the open doorway. Taking the hint, each one of them stopped to grant Sebastian words of encouragement before moving to the balcony, most of them vague promises that he would be fine. Donnic, however, seemed to have something more he wanted to get off his chest.

“If I may, your Highness,” he began in that deep, stern voice of his. Carver couldn't imagine any child, Maker-chosen or not, misbehaving when he had parents who sounded like Aveline and Donnic. “This may not be about love, but this woman is pledging herself to you because she trusts you. That should be the most humbling thing you have ever felt. If it isn't, you don't deserve her.”

As touched as Carver should have felt by Donnic's poignant advice, he was more than a little jealous of the man's ability to make things sound as good out loud as they did in his head.

The seven of them proceeded to the balcony and stood in their designated spots facing directly into the sun. Carver wondered for a moment if the geniuses planning the ceremony had completely failed to note the time of day, but as he looked out at the enormous crowd he realized that there wasn't a single aspect of the wedding that was meant for the people on the balcony. It was about the people of the city; the life-long residents, the defected Templars, the skeptical elves and the mages seeking freedom. They needed to see this unfold in order to comprehend the extent to which the world was changing right in front of them, in a revolution they were very much a part of.

When everyone was situated and the crowd quieted, Andraste and Sebastian approached the center of the balcony from opposite entrances, meeting together in the middle as they both seemed to find resolve despite their apprehension. For the first time ever they looked like an actual couple, though their matching outfits were probably the main reason why.

Carver didn't know who he felt more sorry for in that moment; Sebastian or Andraste. Sebastian, on the one hand, had been alone for pretty much the past decade, not even allowed physical intimacy let alone an actual relationship. Meanwhile Andraste had already married for love once, and Carver couldn't imagine how cheap this entire experience must have felt to her, especially in comparison to the meaning it held the first time. Or maybe she was relieved to have the pressure of caring for another person off her shoulders. If he'd had the same experience with love as she did, Carver wouldn't want to risk his heart anymore either.

Leliana stepped out from behind the set of red curtains that draped across the back of the balcony; one displaying the crest of Starkhaven and the other the golden sun of the Chantry. She was dressed in the gold robes Carver usually associated with the Revered Mothers who came in from Orlais, subtly demonstrating how much the ceremony was a metaphor for uniting Thedas. The defected Tevinter magister marrying the rightful Prince of Starkhaven in a ceremony performed by a former Orlesian bard and overseen by two Ferelden refugees (one the Champion of Kirkwall, the other the new Knight-Commander), an elf originally from Nevarra, a pirate queen from Rivain, and a renegade apostate from the Anderfels. Carver had to bite back a laugh when he noted they were desperately in need of a token Antivan to finish their unintentional collection of cultures.

Leliana lifted her arms and her face toward the sun for a moment and took a deep breath before she began. This was an important performance for her as well, as there had been talks of appointing her the new Divine, but Carver couldn't imagine her messing up; not today, not when Leliana had been so incredibly excited about the wedding. From the flowers that lined the balcony to the fine leather boots that had been tailored to fit over Andraste's braces, she'd thought of everything necessary and many things unnecessary to make the entire event memorable.

“When so many people with so many differences stand at the precipice of change as we do now, it is difficult to see order and reason beyond the initial chaos. Change this drastic and this revolutionary is as terrifying as it is exciting, but you are here today to witness history in the making. Blessed Andraste herself had not only returned to us, but she has found it within her heart to trust once again in the holy partnership offered to her by a mortal husband.”

The people in the crowd probably thought Andraste was still looking deep into her soon-to-be husband's eyes. Only those on the balcony could see that her gaze was trained squarely on the floor while Sebastian's was somewhere in the sky.

“Sebastian and Andraste have come before you today to take one unified vow promising to devote themselves unto the Maker and the good of Thedas as He would see fit.”

“They're not even exchanging vows?” Carver heard his brother mutter from behind him.

“That's not what this is about,” Aveline whispered back. “Not all of us get to spend the rest of our lives with someone we love, Haw...”

When Aveline's last words began to trail off, Carver fought the urge to turn around. He was tall enough that whatever was going on behind him was impossible to see from the gardens, so as long as he looked calm no one would notice a thing.

“Are you alright, Aveline?” Donnic asked.

“I'm fine,” she said sharply, and Carver could have sworn it made Merrill flinch.

Trying to remained focused on the ceremony, Carver watched as the bride and groom walked toward the steps leading up to where Leliana was standing. They climbed one step before stopping to kneel before her.

“Do you both solemnly swear to serve the Maker and, by serving Him, serve your people?” Leliana asked. “Do you swear to forsake all others, and devote yourselves to your partnership; to uplift that which is best in both of you and challenge each other to overcome your faults? Do you acknowledge the glory and the privilege of being the Maker's chosen leaders in this time of war, and also in the peace you will ensure follows?”

“I do,” Sebastian and Andraste answered in unison.

“Then rise and accept your role as His mortal voices.”

The two of them stood and turned to face the crowd once more, remaining still as Leliana took Sebastian's crown from one attendant and Goran stepped forward to take Andraste's from another. Much like the bride and groom's wandering eyes, only those on the balcony could see just how ecstatic Goran was to be giving up the title and responsibly of being Prince. The young man was taking deep, shaky breaths to control what appeared to be a bordering-on-manic desire to laugh with relief. “I crown thee,” he began, still grinning as he stepped behind Andraste and placed the crown upon her head, “Princess of Starkhaven. May you honor us, lead us and protect us by the grace of His holy guidance.”

“And I crown thee,” Leliana added as she repeated the process with Sebastian, “Prince of Starkhaven. May you always remember that you serve the Maker best by serving His children first.”

Sebastian and Andraste clasped their hands together and raised their heads before walking the rest of the way down to the edge of the balcony. Together they raised their free hands, earning them triumphant cheers from the crowd packed into the gardens to witness this momentous occasion.

Carver had never in his life attended a wedding where the bride and groom didn't kiss at the end. It felt depressingly hallow and pointless, like nothing had even happened. The attendants quietly instructed their group to leave the balcony, and just like that it was over.

If Carver remembered correctly there was supposed to be a feast in the Main Hall following the ceremony, then dancing in the Grand Ballroom. He'd long-since run out of the energy to roll his eyes every time Starkhaven Castle surpassed its own ridiculous standards of extravagance, to the point where he was numb to it all as he walked the heavily decorated halls.

He made a decision right then and there that he wasn't going to go through the motions with these people. Maybe Sebastian and Andraste would never feel the crushing mix of unworthiness and anticipation that came with truly loving another person, but he did and he wasn't going to waste it.

When he took Merrill's hand she went to say something, but he pressed a finger against his lips and stopped her. He tried to look inconspicuous as he moved to the outside of the crowd, pulling Merrill along with him. When they finally passed another hallway, he pulled her into it and waited for everyone to pass them by.

“Carver what are you doing?” Merrill whispered.

“I was-” he started, then abruptly stopped. He'd had a million ideas in his head, but now that the chatter of nobles was fading further and further into the distance, he'd lost it all. “We- Do you think they'd notice if we... stepped aside for a moment? Well, more than a moment.”

“Do you need to- Do you think we need to... talk or something?” she asked nervously.

“Yeah, maybe, something like that. I mean, didn't you think that whole wedding was just...” He gestured in the air between them, finding himself unable to finish the sentence.

“Woefully unemotional?” she offered.

“Yes!”

“I almost cried,” she admitted with deep sigh of relief. “And not happy tears either, like you're supposed to cry at a wedding. I mean, elgar'nan, I know we should support them, but that was just so... sad.”

“It's their duty,” Carver tried to get himself to accept. “Aveline was right, not everyone gets to be as lucky.”

“As lucky as... us?” Merrill asked quietly.

Simply saying “yes” didn't feel quite adequate, so Carver squeezed her hand a bit tighter and led her back to their room. As soon as they were inside with the door shut behind them he rested his armored hands as gently as he could on either side of her face and hoped that something in the way he kissed her could communicate what he wanted her to understand about how deeply he cared for her.

He felt Merrill's soft, delicate fingers slide against his neck as he traced his way down her body, his armored gloves playing soft, rattling music against her chainmail. As she opened her mouth to his with a sigh he instinctively tried to press his body against hers, but the scrape of metal against metal made them both jump back a bit.

Merrill caught her breath and couldn't help laughing a little. “Maybe we should- I mean, if we want to get close to each other we'd need to...” Already flustered, Merrill simply turned around and reached back to lightly run her fingers over the leather lacing that held her armor on. Carver shed his gloves and tried to calm the shaking in his hands as he reached for the string, incredibly enamored with the way Merrill's neck flushed red as she waited for him.

 

He was no virgin. Void take him, his first time was some eight or nine years ago, and in that time he'd had... enough. There was a pretty young Templar recruit during his training and, yes, he'd paid for it once, but there was a completely different feeling at work as he fumbled with those laces and tried not to appear desperate. Merrill wasn't just some fling. She had been the first person to ever make him feel like Kirkwall wasn't an absolute curse. She was worth the punishments he received when he was caught neglecting his patrols in the Alienage. She was worth every moment he'd ever waited for her, and he could wait a few more if it meant getting things right.

 

When the laces were finally undone, Merrill slid her chest plating off and rested it on the floor. When she stood up again she ran her hands down Carver's arm and began to undo the straps there, lips pursed in concentration before she smiled in triumph when she slid one open.

 

They took turns in silence as they gradually learned how to undress each other. Carver had asked before why Merrill had such... attractive underclothes. Apparently her black and gold bustier helped protect her from being pinched by her chainmail. In all honesty Carver didn't care much about the why, so long as he got the privilege of appreciating it on her. When she grabbed his hand and began to walk backward toward the bed he couldn't help slowly sweeping his eyes up the entire length of her. She was so much shorter than he was, and yet her body was impossibly long; fluid, beautiful and memorizing.

 

As hard as he tried, it was very difficult for Carver to avoid getting distracted by the Eluvian. He'd gotten used to having it around, but there were still many moments when he found himself looking into it, knowing full well that it didn't reflect and yet still feeling like someone was staring back at him.

 

Pushing it out of his mind, Carver stripped down until he was left in only his breeches as Merrill shifted her way up toward the pillows. He made his way to the bed in slow and measured steps, trying not to rush excitedly as he anchored his knees to either side of Merrill's hips and dipped his head down to softly bite at the side of her neck. Her fingers traced the dips between the muscles of his arms and pressed into the back of his shoulders.

 

There was a great deal of apprehension keeping them apart, however. Carver was aware that he was much larger than Merrill, and as badly as he wanted to rest his arms against the sheets and sink into her, he knew better. Seeing if a change of position would help, he rolled himself onto his back and pulled Merrill on top of him, grinning like an idiot when she let out a surprised yelp in response. When she realized what he'd done, however, it didn't take long before she was situating herself on top of him, knees by his hips as she settled the full weight of her body against his.

 

His intention when this all began was to allow Merrill to set the pace, and thankfully it wasn't long before she was stifling moans in his shoulder as he bucked so hard against her that she gripped his hair in a reflexive effort to anchor herself. She didn't seem to mind though, crashing her hips right back down against his, shifting them up toward his chest before receding like a wave across his body.

 

Merrill seemed as fascinated by what made them different as he did, constantly squeezing at his arms and back and shoulders and chest as if she refused to believe that so little of him could fit her in hands. Carver was entirely more gentle, rubbing along her shoulders and massaging her breasts tenderly through her underclothes as the muscles in his thighs constricted and relaxed to the rhythm of her torturous rocking.

 

Because of the extreme difference in their height it was difficult for them to kiss when their hips were lined up like that. When Merrill rested her elbows on the bed, however, she leaned forward and practically fell into the kiss, allowing her whole body to rest against Carver's lips and jawline. There were hook closures that held the back of her bustier shut, and while Carver wanted desperately to get them undone, his hands were entirely too impatient for the task. Every time he found his way to the top of the garment, he would then feel the need to shift Merrill just so or run his hands down her thighs in the hopes of hearing the addictive sounds of her breathy sighs.

 

And that... hum, or whatever it was. His brother had warned him about it in a far more open conversation than Carver would have liked to have heard about "banging a mage", but once he was in that moment and feeling the static in his nerves he couldn't believe he'd ever lived without it; lived without her body sparking electricity under his fingertips and feeding it to him through her lips.

 

Realizing that Carver was far too unfocused to finish undressing her, Merrill sat up, strategically resting herself over his still-clothed erection and grinning when he hissed in his breath through his teeth. Her hands tucked themselves behind her back before pausing, making sure she had his attention before she unhooked the top closure. Carver had no idea where to lay his hands as he watched with rapt attention from below her. As she snapped open another he clamped his hands onto her hips and tried not to let the friction and the silky feel of her thighs under his palms entice him into letting his eyes slide shut. He wasn't going to miss a moment of this, not when Merrill was commanding his attention as she slowly moved to the third hook and raised an eyebrow as if asking him if he wanted her to continue.

 

Carver tried so hard not to let self-consciousness overcome him. Feeling inferior and unworthy wasn't going to accomplish anything, and Merrill shouldn't have to interrupt an amazing moment between them to worry about his hang ups. Apparently he was bad at keeping those insecurities from showing in his face, however, and she stopped unhooking her bustier so she could lean forward and rub her palms up the planes of his chest. “Are you nervous?” she asked sweetly. “Have you never done this before? Oh, do you want me to get the belt?”

 

Every fiber in Carver's body froze as soon as he processed what Merrill had said. She looked dead serious for just long enough to hear him stutter once before she burst out laughing. “Your face,” she cried breathlessly. “Oh, that was priceless.”

 

Carver couldn't help but grin in response, the sound of her laughter burning away the tense chill in his nerves. He took control of his muscles for long enough to undo the rest of the closures and toss the garment aside. He sat up fully, breathing in so deeply that his bare chest pressed into hers. He braced himself on one arm and with the other pulled her even closer, tilting his face up to lick and bite along her neck and under her chin until she pressed her lips to his again and let herself be rolled onto her back.

 

It had been a while, Carver acknowledged that, but he wasn't going to let his lack of endurance cut their fun short. He shifted his body down the bed and laid a kiss against the side of her knee, running his other hand up her leg. When she let her head fall back against the pillows it arched her chest up a bit, and the view inspired Carver to move his mouth down the inside of her leg.

 

Carver had never been with an elf before, and it took him a second to accept that they had literally no body hair. Body hair had always signaled adulthood in humans, but he knew Merrill was no child. When he leaned in to the juncture between her legs, he reveled in the keening noise that erupted from somewhere deep in the back of her throat.

 

The positive reinforcement offered by Merrill's groans and Elven exclamations encouraged Carver to continue pressing his mouth against her. He was downright proud when her thighs clamped down on either side of his jaw, and even though he could have pushed her legs apart, he didn't want to censor any of the raw, organic reactions she had to pleasure he was giving her.

 

He stayed like that as long as he needed to, eyes closed so he could focus on the feel of her heels digging into his back and the rustling sound of the bed sheets being yanked out of their tight, neat corners. Her fingers found their way into his hair and guided his lips and tongue against her in ways Carver gladly obliged. He hurried his pace and increased the pressure as he felt her fingers tighten to the point of pulling, her thighs trembling as they tried to find leverage against his shoulders. He tried to watch her face but could only see her neck and chin as the back of her head thrashed against the pillows in the kind of wanton bliss that had been all he ever wanted to give her. Seeing her like that made even the press of his cock against the bed sheets painfully responsive to the barely-there friction he felt through the cloth of his pants, the sensation amplified by the unbridled desperation in every one of Merrill's gasps.

 

The fingers in his hair pulled his face up, and Merrill's legs slid down as if they'd become boneless. Carver busied himself with kisses up her stomach and light licks across her perky breasts and pinkish-tan nipples. He didn't care what happened after. He would have gladly finished himself off, still basking in the memory of her sated, ragged breaths, but once she'd had time to rest it was obvious Merrill had other things in mind.

 

Much of what happened after that was a blur to him; the rushed excitement of getting undressed followed abruptly by the methodical patience needed as he pushed inside her with excruciatingly necessary patience; watching her face for discomfort. His prediction had, unfortunately, been entirely right. He was so aroused and she was so beautiful and so tight that he didn't find himself needing as much time as he'd wanted. He'd have given anything to spend just a few more moments experiencing what it was like to be so trusted and loved by her. He never could have imagined how amazing it felt to feel her legs twist around his and her body rock in time with his motions, her hair mussing and tangling against the pillows as he tried and failed to ignore the overwhelming sensations that her body offered.

He experimented with angles, trying to find something that could buy him a few extra moments, but nothing about being with Merrill would afford him such reprieve. While pleasuring her with his mouth would be replaying in his head basically until the moment he got to do it again, the view from above had its perks as well. The gentle sloping line of her chin down to her neck and her collarbones, the pale curve of her breasts, bouncing with his thrusts yet taught from the arch of her back. Any other attempts to sate his desires would have been boorish in their disregard for living in the beauty of the moment, fleeting though it would have to be thanks to the delicious circular pattern mapped by Merrill's hips.

 

After he finished his arms threatened to give out, so with the last of his strength he pushed off with his left arm and let his body come crashing down to his right.

 

As their breathing calmed and their strength returned, Carver took Merrill's hand and kissed idly along her fingers. They both knew their opportunity to enjoy each other was coming to an end, so they took their time returning to the outside word. They stopped to take a bath in their private quarters, exchanging quiet smiles that didn't need to come with the pressure of finding the right words to justify them. They begrudgingly learned to put each other's armor back on, leaning in to kiss one last time before the metal plating that protected them would end up keeping them apart.

 

***Starkhaven Castle, Grand Ballroom***

 

“So whose idea was it to put raisers in my boots?” Sebastian asked, surprised that Andraste was actually letting him lead as they danced. It was a good way for them to be close enough to hold conversations without anyone else hearing. They'd exchanged a few good-natured laughs at the absurdity of their nuptials, and hoped the nobles translated them as flirtatious.

 

“Mine,” Andraste admitted. “You have to admit that we are more... aesthetically pleasing as a couple when you are taller than I am. Why, are they uncomfortable?”

 

“They are... odd,” Sebastian described, “but I am sure I will survive the night.”

 

“You, my lord husband, grace us with the selflessness of your sacrifice,” she said, her tone sarcastic though still light-hearted. He didn't expect to be in such a good mood, especially considering the dread and self-loathing that preceded the ceremony, but he felt that he and Andraste had finally reached a sort of camaraderie, born from the shared awkwardness with which they viewed their situation.

 

The only aspect of the whole ordeal that soured Sebastian's mood was the insulting amount of effort that went into making Andraste look more feminine, as if it were the only way she could look like royalty. He didn't know why it bothered him so much, but the woman he met on the Wounded Coast all those months ago was an undeniably strong woman of conviction, and that was all she needed to be.

 

They had figured out about an hour before that no one would bother them while they were dancing. The nobles had started as soon as the ball began, carelessly waltzing across the floor while Sebastian and Andraste held glasses of celebratory wine that they pretended to drink and fielded questions about taxes and the Circle and where all the elves were supposed to stay. Some more bold nobles tried to sneak in snide remarks about Andraste being a mage, hinting that she was a fraud or asking for more details about her life. She knew they were coming, however, and she was plenty prepared for them. There had never been magic in Sebastian's line, so a mage as a monarch was entirely new to the people of Starkhaven.

 

Thankfully, someone had lifted the still-full wine glass out of Sebastian's hand, and he soon found himself looking into Isabela's clever golden eyes. “Your Highness, I have yet to see you dance with your bride,” she pointed out. “Surely these gentlemen don't wish to see their Prince and Princess forced to discuss politics for the entirety of their wedding celebration?”

 

Sebastian could have embraced her with the exuberance of his gratitude, but Isabela grabbed Andraste’s glass as well and used her shoulder to push them both toward the dance floor. For the first few moments their arms collided as they awkwardly tested out different positions, but eventually one of Sebastian's hands settled on Andraste's hip and one of hers reached out to rest on his shoulder, leaving their free hands joined at their sides.

 

They didn't speak for the entire duration of the first song. Instead they swayed lightly and listened to the hum of the string orchestra. When the performers finished one piece and began another, neither Sebastian nor Andraste made a move to leave the floor. Sure enough the nobles continued to leave them alone as they danced, giving the two of them some much needed time to talk.

 

They had both been dealing with a non-stop bombardment of questions since the banquet, and while they were prepared to answer the political and military inquiries, they were completely unprepared for people to ask about their relationship. The Chantry had performed plenty of chaste marriages; unions between men and women who wanted to demonstrate their love for one another by taking their vows together and living their shared life in service to the Maker, and Sebastian figured that was what he and Andraste had entered in to.

 

And then someone at the banquet asked the couple if they planned on having children. Sebastian thought, at first, that he'd misheard the question. The Chant of Light never sought to imply that Andraste lived a chaste life, but Sebastian hadn't even kissed her at the end of the marriage ceremony. He didn't understand where people were getting their ideas from, let alone the audacity to ask about it in public. 

 

Considering how preoccupied he'd been with the sheer absurdity of his situation, Sebastian hadn't even considered life after the war, and he certainly gave no thought to the state of his marriage that far into the future. In the days leading up to the wedding they discussed every aspect of the ceremony, but never once mentioned that being married might have to, someday, be more than a political maneuver for the sake of the coming war.

 

As awkward as the conversation would be, Sebastian knew it should probably happen before they were escorted to the Royal Chambers to spend their first night together as husband and wife.

 

“What... happens after all this?” he asked.

 

“Tomorrow everyone meets with their designated leaders,” she answered, not catching on to the correct context of his vague question. “We will be meeting with the Captain of the Royal Guard about recruitment before addressing the concerns of the former Grand Cleric. She insists that we appoint a new Divine.”

 

“You sound as if you do not wish to do so,” Sebastian noted.

 

“I worry about giving one person that kind of power. Having multiple Grand Clerics better ensures a system of checks and balances.”

 

“What about Leliana?” he suggested. “None of this would have been possible without her, and she has obviously been blessed in much the same way as you.”

 

“Leliana will be present at the discussions tomorrow, so if you would like you can suggest it then. But that is tomorrow's affair. Take this quiet moment for what it is; do not try to complicate it.”

 

“I will try,” Sebastian relented. “So long as you are comfortable.”

 

“Ask me to run and I will most likely topple,” Andraste admitted, “but this? This I can do.”

 

The harmony of the orchestra continued in the background, and Sebastian decided to let the two of them fell into a welcome silence. The song being played was rather repetitive, and Andraste soon picked up on the tune, humming it lightly as her eyes wandered about the room.

 

Sebastian opened his mouth to ask why she never sang anymore, but the sound of almost half the room gasping had the two of them hurrying toward the commotion in an instant. Of course no moment could be calm for longer than a song. Of course the path of his life has no moments of peaceful travel.

 

After he pushed through the crowd, Sebastian found Aveline lying on her back on the floor, face serene as if asleep and body so still she looked statuesque. She didn't stir at all, even when Donnic knelt beside her and shouted her name. He tried to grasp her shoulders but something halted his hands just outside the line of her body.

 

With a heartbreaking denial of reality, Donnic continued to try and reach his wife. He had to be forcibly pulled away when Anders arrived to check on her, but even the healer's magic floated around her body and dissipated into the air. The sight of such an odd occurrence sparked a mass, hysterical exodus from the ball room, the nobles forgoing all decorum out of fear of being the next to fall.

 

It wasn't long before the ballroom was empty, silent but for the echo of Donnic's ragged, panicked breaths. Sebastian and his companions remained there for over an hour, waiting as Merrill ran tests and Anders tried every spell he could think of. None of them dared to speak, not even Fenris, who stood by and watched as Merrill tried to get through the invisible barrier with blood magic.

 

The time eventually came when everyone began to exchange those disheartened looks which silently communicated the guilt and powerlessness they were all feeling, but even as the sun rose it was obvious that not a one of them was going to give up on her.

 

***Starkhaven Castle, Grand Ballroom***

 

Aveline didn't want to ruin the surprising joyousness and celebration that followed Sebastian and Andraste's somber ceremony, but when Carver and Merrill snuck themselves into the ballroom she clenched her jaw and, without realizing it, squeeze Donnic's hand a bit too tightly.

 

“Not now, my love,” he warned as soon as he realized what she was glowering at.

 

“Do you think Andraste knows?” she asked, refusing to let the two young morons out of her sight.

 

“You should ask her... tomorrow.”

 

Aveline tried to do as Donnic said and ignore her frustration for the night, but the longer she kept quiet the more it gnawed at her.

 

Merrill had been doing so well, too. At least Aveline thought so. The girl was gaining confidence and making good choices. Carver was a bit of a dolt at times, but the two of them together had actually proven to be a great combination. Aveline could see how good they were at understanding and supporting each other, and she looked forward to seeing what new responsibility would bring out in the both of them. Knowing that they were both young and insecure, she wanted to take advantage of the dwindling hours of calm they had left to express her approval of their development and encourage them to keep going.

 

When it took them too long to answer the door she figured it was just another "side effect" of being young and in love, but when Merrill answered the door her behavior radiated guilt and nervousness. Despite being fully-clothed she refused to open the door more than a few inches, her eyes spending as much time looking at Aveline as they did looking at something in the room.

 

“Can I come in?” Aveline asked, surprised that she had to. She wanted to chalk it up to cultural differences, but her instincts wouldn't let her lie to herself like that. “I want to talk to you and Carver."

 

“What for?” Merrill asked.

 

“Merrill, let me in,” Aveline demanded as she pushed on the door.

 

“Carver's not even here,” Merrill responded as she pushed back.

 

Not in the mood for games and fully aware that she was the stronger woman, Aveline pushed the door the rest of the way open and froze at the sight of a mirror that wasn't staring back at her.

 

Merrill slammed the door shut and locked it before the excuses began. “I figured out how to fix it. I mean it, Aveline. I just need time to work on it, and a few added resources.”

 

“Do you have a death wish?” Aveline shouted.

 

“Please don't yell,” Merrill begged. “And please don't act like you understand anything about blood magic or elven artifacts, because I am fully aware that you don't.”

 

For a few moments all Aveline could do was shake her head in disbelief. She didn't even want to look at Merrill, but she didn't want to look at the blasted mirror either. Even being in the same room as it made her uncomfortable, especially after whatever Merrill had to it. It unnerved her how a mirror with no reflection could make her feel so... watched. “I'm trying to protect you, Merrill.”

 

“From what?”

 

“From yourself!”

 

“Well don't! I never asked you to.”

 

“Merrill-”

 

“No!” Merrill shouted. Had this been any other time, any other conversation, Aveline would have been proud to see the elf stand her ground like she was. “This isn't your people's legacy and it's not your risk to take, meaning this has nothing to do with you. What did you even come here for?”

 

The hair on the back of Aveline's neck bristled as a sharp, searing pain shot through her head. “Nothing Merrill, I seem to have forgotten,” she answered, already heading for the door.

 

While she was surprised to find that her headache vanished as soon as she left, Aveline was too furious to think anything of it. She returned to her room and told Donnic about what had happened, but he told her to sleep on the matter before she did anything rash. She was woken up early the next morning by servants begging for her help with the alcoholic bride and groom, and she was upset to find the headache back in full force.

 

Not wanting to add to the already stifling drama of the day, Aveline didn't complain even as she began to find it hard to see, her vision warping and blurring as if there were a dirty plane of glass between her and the rest of the world. She held Donnic close and complained that she was tired, but she refused to go back to their room.

 

Carver and Merrill weren't even at the banquet, and they returned after the ball had already started, dressed like people of status but still acting like children.

 

After Donnic talked her out of causing a scene, Aveline tried to let herself enjoy the warmth of her husband's rough, gentle hands and the soothing melody of the orchestra. At first she thought the song had changed, but when she opened her eyes she felt as if the world was slowing down. The once elegant whine of the violin had morphed into a dull groan, and the glass between her and reality began to spread out from her sight to encase her body until she felt surrounded by nothingness.

 

She vaguely remembered her knees refusing to hold her up anymore, the warmth of Donnic's hands fading as everything went black.

END PART 2

Chapter Text

***Starkhaven Castle, Main Hall***

No one slept that night. The inevitable “this is all Merrill's fault” argument came and went almost like they were all getting it over with, because while the Eluvian had obviously triggered something, there was no proof that suggested the mirror was the direct cause. Actions done to the mirror, from spells to physical damage, had no effect on Aveline's condition, and Andraste didn't want to destroy it for fear of making matters worse. The only compromise they could all agree on was locking the artifact away in the basement of the castle.

Donnic staunchly refused to leave Aveline's side, and when all attempts to move her had failed, Sebastian ordered a few servants to set up screens and bedding in the ballroom so that the two of them could have privacy. Leliana offered to pray by Aveline's side throughout the night, and with nothing else working, Donnic allowed it. Hawke truly felt for the man, fully admitting to himself that he would be a complete mess if it were Anders lying there instead. The fact that Donnic could muster the strength to try to be helpful was humbling to say the least.

 

The rest of them tried to brainstorm but only succeeded in exhausted, half-hearted arguing. Varric and Isabela nominated themselves as the wine restockers to keep them all just buzzed enough not to have full-blown panic attacks. After another round of drinks and trying to figure out who or what was to blame, everyone fell into a pensive quiet that lasted for almost a half hour before Andraste slammed her hands onto the floor and shouted, “Venhedis!”

 

Everyone looked to Fenris for a translation, but found that the elf was completely shocked. “That is not the kind of language I would expect from a princess.”

 

“We have been thinking about this all wrong,” Andraste realized. She tried to scramble to her feet, but she didn't make it two steps before she collapsed from the weakness in her legs. “Someone help me get to Aveline's side, quickly!”

 

Sebastian took his usual place at his new bride's side, guiding her to her feet by gently lifting her arm over his shoulder. The rest of them followed the pair behind the screens and watched as Andraste knelt at Aveline's side, red and gold robes flowing out in all directions. Donnic watched but didn't interfere as the woman pulled the blankets aside and motioned for everyone to be still. She leaned in to hover her head over Aveline's mouth before bending over so she could press her ear to where the woman's heart should have been beating in her chest. Then, out of absolutely nowhere, she conjured a small ball of fire and hurled it right toward the spot she'd just been listening to.

 

Everyone jumped back and Hawke was sure each and every one of them swore out of reflex. Fenris reached out and grabbed Andraste by the wrist, probably intending to yell at her for acting like a madwoman. Andraste's face looked terrified at first, but in time Hawke realized she was awestruck by some revelation. She muttered something, as if holding half of a conversation under her breath, but Donnic quickly demonstrated that he was through with her keeping important information to herself. “What is going on?” he asked, stressing every word.

 

“I...” Andraste tried to start as she pulled her wrist from Fenris' grasp. “He is not gone. The Maker, He has not left me- left us. Aveline is neither dead nor alive. Time does not pass for her body and she is protected from all the energies of our world. This is not an attack; she is being protected.”

 

Leliana stepped out from the group and knelt beside Andraste, hovering her hands just above Aveline's body. “Is this how you survived?”

 

“I would not have called it 'surviving,'” Andraste corrected. “But yes, this is the state I was... preserved in.”

 

“But the Urn,” Sebastian brought up. “Your phylactery.”

 

“The Urn of Sacred Ashes, as you call it, does indeed contain...” Andraste trailed off with a shudder before eventually continuing. “It contains ashen remains of my flesh and blood, yes; mostly, from when Hessarian stabbed me or from the flames that reach my legs. But before the blade or the fire could take my life the Maker intervened. How or why I will never understand, but He is intervening again.”

 

“My son,” Donnic all but pleaded, “Is he-”

 

“Frozen as well. Stopped. At least until his mother is no longer in danger.”

 

“But an event so monumental” Leliana argued. “We should have felt something like this coming. Even if the Maker's guidance has felt absent, He wouldn't just do this completely out of nowhere.”

 

Sebastian seemed skeptical as well. “And is this not a bit too obvious- a bit too literal to be the Maker's work?”

 

“Something must have reached through the mirror and made an attempt on Aveline's life,” Andraste guessed. “Something strong enough to force His hand, and there is one group of people who have the knowledge, power and desire to do something so malicious.”

 

“The Imperium!” Merrill realized. “Who else but the civilization that has violated my people's culture and history at every opportunity? Half of our artifacts are locked in the estates of their wealthy, treated like furniture or harnessed in order to yield a power that was never meant for them.”

 

“I have no recollection of ever seeing anything in Minrathous that looked like your cursed mirror,” Fenris argued. “And how could a Magister in the Imperium use a broken mirror to try and kill Aveline?”

 

“My Eluvian is what remains of a once great and powerful artifact. Completed Eluvians are far more grand, and probably kept somewhere where only those of high power and status can use them. The ancient texts say there was at least one Eluvian in every kingdom across Thedas. They were used to communicate across hundred of miles, but some say the greatest of our magic users could travel through them.”

 

“Then finish the thing,” Isabela suggested. “I'll be the first one through. Show them what happens what they mess with our Big Mama.”

 

“Yeah Daisy, can crossbows travel through it?” Varric asked. "Cause I'm up for a field trip."

 

“We will not be touching the mirror,” Andraste announced. “But we will be acquiescing their demand for our attention. Severing my connection with the Maker, targeting Aveline; someone is trying to send a loud message, and it is about time I listen.”

 

“Wasn't that already the plan?” Hawke asked. “Wasn't 'war with the Imperium' already on your To-Do list?” It wasn't like Hawke was against the idea. Far from it, he'd spent seven years living in Kirkwall under the twisted, tortured gazes of the statues that the Tevinter slaves left in their wake, not to mention the stories Fenris and Orana had shared with him. He'd never go so far as to say he was excited about going to war, but he wasn't morally conflicted about sinking a dagger into some slaver bastard's chest.

 

“Not this soon,” Andraste explained. “And not directly. Come, let us discuss this in the War Room. Donnic does not need us crowding hi-”

 

“No,” Donnic refused. “You're going to tell me how to save them.”

 

Andraste took a deep breath, and the way she flinched made Hawke feel as if he too should brace for some kind of impact. “We must visit the Imperium in the hopes of making them our allies.”

 

Anders was so flabbergasted that he had little choice but to laugh. “Are you joking?”

 

“I should have guess that the culture which raised me would, in its own time, see through my strategy," Andraste chided to herself. "We are but a small principality cobbling together an army with deserters and rebels, already engaged in war against the Chantry. My plan was to allow the Imperium to watch on under the assumption that we had common goals, and we were to deal with them after as to not split our resources. A two-pronged war will stretch us too thin, but will be inevitable unless we convince them that a mage monarch is better to leave as an ally than for them to strike while we are distracted. ”

 

“Perhaps that ploy would have worked before,” Sebastian argued, “but the Imperium is obviously after you now.”

 

“This is the work of one person, maybe a small group. If I make the purpose of my visit readily known to the public, the Black Divine and the Archon will have no choice but to at least entertain my offer, if only because failing to do so will seem foolish to those not directly involved in this magical subterfuge. Worst case scenario, they reject our offer and we investigate the city while we are there. It is a better plan than staying here drinking and weeping and wringing our hands.”

 

“Then it's settled," Isabela announced. "Need a ship?"

 

“Wait,” Carver interrupted. “We have an army to lead. You have a city to rule.”

 

“You and Merrill have armies to lead,” Andraste corrected. “And Sebastian has a city to lead.”

 

And Anders had the mages to lead, Hawke thought, confused as to why Andraste had left that part out.

 

“You expect me to lead all of Starkhaven alone?” Sebastian asked. “As we prepare for war?”

 

“I need you to,” she implored. “I do not know what will happen during my voyage, and you will need to be ready for anything that may arise.”

 

“You're seriously going?” Varric asked. “You know it's a trap, right?”

 

“I have no other choice.”

 

“And what makes you think they'll even believe you?” Fenris challenged.

 

Andraste answered his question with one of her own. “That depends. What are you willing to do to ensure that Aveline is safe?”

 

Fenris cocked his head to the side before his eyes widened in realization. “You expect to sell your charade by presenting me as your slave. An excellent plan; one you certainly didn't just come up with on the spot.”

 

“This was not the timing I expected, "Andraste admitted, "but yes, it was the plan for after the war with the Chantry. I did not arrive to this decision easily, but do you truly think the magisters would risk leaving the safety of their capitol or open their doors for an outsider? The only way to get past the Imperium's defenses will be if they believe I am one of them, and that is not possible without slaves and an apprentice.”

 

Hawke began to piece all the evidence of Andraste's intentions together, but it was when she hazarded a glance toward Anders that he found himself saying “No” before he even finished thinking the word. He wasn't going to let Andraste tote Anders off the Imperium, not when it was finally beginning to feel like the man he loved had a reason to live again.

 

“Me?” Anders asked. “A magister's apprentice? That's ridiculous.”

 

“You think it's at the the Great Hall in Minrathous,” Fenris realized. “And the only innocuous method of entry is bringing an apprentice before the Enchanters Assembly.”

 

“No,” Hawke repeated. Apparently they didn't hear him the first time because they were still discussing it. “You're not dragging Anders to the Imperium.”

 

“You act as if you would be left behind,” Andraste noted. “Why would a powerful monarch seeking to recruit the aid of the Archon not arrive in the company of her greatest ally? The famed Champion of Kirkwall, who defeated both the Arishok and the Knight Commander. With the correct rewriting the Imperium will be very impressed with your narrative.”

 

“But your apprentice?” Anders asked. “I am-”

 

“A powerful mage and the man most responsible for the downfall of the Chantry?" she finished for him. "A spirit healer with control over life and death?”

 

“And what about the mages here?”

 

“You will appoint a First Enchanter before we leave tomorrow.”

 

“That's it?” Hawke asked. “You're just declaring that we're going?” He found himself laughing involuntarily, but the mix of shock and exhaustion couldn't produce any other reaction in him at that point.

 

Andraste finally hoisted herself with the help of Donnic and Leliana. “If you do not wish to join me then I will save her by myself.”

 

“Hey!” Isabela shouted. “You won't get all the credit. I'm coming, and I for one don't care what I have to do. I'll gladly pretend to be your slave.”

 

“I'm sure you'd like that,” Varric muttered. When everyone turned to stare at him his eyes fell to Aveline's form. “It's what she would have said.”

 

Despite the hollowness still darkening Donnic's eyes, the man couldn't help but smile at how right Varric was. It was a longing smile, however, one that remembered happiness but could no longer feel it.

 

“I know you are tired,” Andraste spoke, “but many of you have obligations in the coming hours. Please, we must continue to serve those who answer to us through our fortitude and leadership. Now is not the time to falter.” Deciding that the conversation was over, Andraste moved toward the door and held her arm out, waiting for Sebastian to take it and lead her out.

 

Much to her surprise it was Fenris who stepped forward to aid her, but when he took her arm he gripped it tight and pulled her toward him until their foreheads almost touched. “You had better know what you're doing, mistress.”

 

***Starkhaven Castle, Assembly Hall***

 

As soon as Carver and Merrill left the ballroom there were servants on hand with extremely strong tea and directions to where the two of them were to meet with their people. They both slid the bitter brew down their throats in the hopes of not tasting it and headed down the corridors lead by a royal attendant.

 

“How do I look?” Carver asked.

 

“Exhausted,” Merrill answered honestly. “I'm sure I look lovely as well.”

 

When the attendant finally stopped in front of a set of double doors she stepped aside and waited for a command.

 

“Which of us is suppos-” Carver began to say before the sound of chaotic arguing rang from behind the thick doors.

 

“Did you put both groups in there?” Merrill asked.

 

“Upon her Highness's request,” the servant answered with a nod.

 

Carver raised and eyebrow and looked to Merrill, hoping she had an answer as to why Andraste would do something as insane as locking a group of Templars in a room with the Dalish. When she looked equally as concerned he could feel his self-assurance plummeting into the pit of his stomach.

 

They each took hold of one of the door handles and pulled, revealing a large room visibly divided by the Templars on the left and the Dalish on the right. There were only about ten men and women on each side, presumably assigned representatives from different garrisons and clans, but their heated arguing echoing off the marble floors made the large room feel impossibly claustrophobic.

 

No one seemed to notice that they'd even walked in, giving Carver and Merrill one last chance to look into each other's eyes and communicate all the nerves, exhaustion and insecurity they couldn't afford to show to anyone else.

 

Merrill took a deep breath and placed her thumb and index finger between her lips. When the shrill whistle sounded it halted every conversation in the room and left a distinct ringing in Carver's ears.

 

“Well if it isn't the exile,” one of the elves noted as he crossed his arms over his chest.

 

“Greetings, Master Ilen,” Merrill replied politely. “And andaran atish'an to you all.”

 

“How old are you, boy?” one of the Templars asked.

 

“Old enough to know how to appropriately address my commanding officer,” Carver answered. “And I believe I'd start with my name, first.”

 

The man approached Carver with little regard for the new Knight-Commander's personal space, his eyes glaring in a way that pulled lines across his dark skin. He was about Carver's height, with a bald head and a severe, rigid expression. “Hollis Moore, former Knight-Commander of Starkhaven.”

 

“At least we can agree on one thing,” an older elven woman offered. “We have been assigned wholly inappropriate leadership.”

 

“Inappropriate?” Merrill challenged. “I have spent nearly two decades learning to be a Keeper. I forfeited my entire adolescence to do so.”

 

“You think we do not know of what happened to Marethari?” another elf asked. “As if the murder of your own mentor and abuse of blood magic were not bad enough, you stand with the Templar Knight-Commander as his lover.”

 

Hollis' eyebrow shot up in response, and while Carver had expected his relationship with Merrill to be an issue, he didn't expect it to come up within his first ten minutes as Knight-Commander. “You expect to command the Order while sharing your bed with a blood mage?”

 

“I don't even see how our relationship is relevant,” Merrill argued. “This is not a war that can be won through- through stubbornness and isolationism. Whether you like it or not, when you look across the room what you see are your allies.”

 

“You want to argue relevance?” a young elven woman asked. “We are a dying race and the only way our culture lives on is through our Keepers. How can our culture live on through you when your own children will be tainted by humanity?”

 

“What children?” Carver asked, maybe a bit too quickly.

 

“And you don't think our people deserve better than that, Keeper Lanaya?” Merrill posed. “There is an entire continent of people out there: humans, elves, dwarves, all with unique personalities and the capacity within them to care for another person. We deserve to live in a world where we choose our partners based on love and not a cold, unfeeling obligation to... breed.”

 

“This is madness,” Hollis complained. “Cullen, you were at the Ferelden Circle. Tell the new Knight-Commander what happens when mages are trusted to control their own demons.”

 

In the chaos of his initial entrance, Carver hadn't even noticed Cullen leaning quietly against the side wall. He had no idea where his former knight Captain would stand on the matter, and he tried not to let that show on his face.

 

“I was,” Cullen agreed. “And I was there when Knight-Commander Meredith invoked the Rite of Annulment and ordered the slaughter of innocent mages; mages who were surrendering and asking to be arrested, for the crimes of a lone apostate. In all honesty, Ser Hollis, I do not know where I stand on the matter, but I do know I serve the Maker's prophet Andraste first and foremost.”

 

“Good,” Carver commented. “The more confused you are on the matter of your own authority, the better.”

 

“And how do you figure that?” one of the Templar women asked. “And since you're so fond of introductions: I am Ser Vittoria of Bastion.”

 

“Antiva?” Carver questioned, though her tan skin and sun-streaked hair should have told him her nationality immediately. He didn't know people were coming from that far, and his mouth grew dry at the thought of how many Templars were actually in the city awaiting his command.

 

“You will like her,” one of the elven women claimed as she crossed the invisible barrier dividing the room. She looked so small next to all those humans in giant armor, but Carver noted that she didn't seem the least bit intimated. “She cannot seem to figure out if she is anti-magic either, and the Crows are the only people with the coin to help her make up her mind. I will not send my clan to fight beside this woman and all the others like her.”

 

“You mistake serving Andraste with serving the Chantry,” Merrill pointed out. “If she'd been allowed to finish her war the first time we probably wouldn't be... vagrants satisfied with what little scraps of our former glory we can cling to. This is our chance to ensure the survival of our race and our culture; to create a world where- where magic is treated like a gift and the inherent rights of every person in Thedas are respected. How can you not want that, Keeper Rhydana? Because it means fighting beside humans?”

 

“And how are we supposed to trust them?” Rhydana asked.

 

“You're worried about trusting us?” Vittoria laughed. The only way Carver could think to describe it was very... Antivan. “Funny words coming from a bunch of knife-eared heathens.”

 

“Excuse me?” Rhydana asked.

 

“No,” Carver spoke up. “It seems it is Ser Vittoria who needs to be excused.”

 

Vittoria only smiled. “You think some empty title you didn't earn means that I just automatically accept your command?”

 

“Who do you serve then?” Carver asked. “There is no more Chantry. Your Divine is dead.”

 

“I served the crest.”

 

“You serve yourself,” he accused. “The blessed prophet Andraste has issued her edicts and chosen the leadership for the coming war. A true Knight and servant of the Maker would follow her judgment, or did you just come all the way from Antiva to stand here and stubbornly refuse to be anything more than an antiquated racist?” Not even the elves had a comment after that, and while Carver couldn't believe he'd just said all that, he used to pause to finally put an end to the bickering. “If you don't feel like accepting change then you can feel free to keep your cursed crest. See what good that does you. The rest of you,” he addressed to the room, “report to the barracks with your Knights for inspection and armor fittings. You are dismissed.”

 

At first no one moved, but a series of nods made its way across the room before each of the former Commanders excused themselves. Carver was the last to leave, smiling slightly to Merrill before leaving her to deal with the Dalish.

 

***Starkhaven Docks***

 

Sebastian's first instinct was to try to talk Andraste out of leaving, but he knew it would be selfish to ask her to stay when Aveline and her child were in such a dire situation, nevermind the fog they were in regarding intelligence on the Imperium. There was something incredibly frightening about the Maker needing to intervene so directly and in such a way not seen since the day of Andraste's execution. Chantry lore stated that magisters were capable of gaining the power needed to defy even the Maker Himself, but that was a possibility Sebastian felt far more comfortable reading about than he did experiencing it first hand.

 

A trip from Starkhaven to Minrathous and back again would take Andraste away from him for over two months, possibly longer if need be, and Sebastian's attempts to mollify his worry ended up accomplishing the opposite. After all, the only way to assure himself that Andraste would be safe was to trust in her ability to maintain her cover, which was easy to believe when one considered that she had actually been a magister, and a slave-owning blood mage at that. Needless to say it did little in the way of improving his overall opinion on the situation.

 

In addition to that stress, many of the nobles were still opposing the war, which Sebastian found ridiculous considering that they were in the presence of two prophetesses, one of whom had accurately predicted the arrival of the other. It was, surprisingly, the common citizens of the city who had come out to support Sebastian in earnest. Something about abolishing both the notion of mage supremacy and the practice of mage oppression sparked within them a newfound faith in the notion of true equality. When the practice of beneficial magic was made legal within the walls of Starkhaven, clinics began popping up and plans for a new Circle were being drafted at the behest of First Enchanter Finn, the neurotic young man Anders had appointed to lead the mages in his absence.

 

When asked why he chose Finn, Anders laughed and said, “He matches our theme, don't you think? Nervous, eager, curious and conflicted. He fits right in."

 

Even as Sebastian walked down to the docks to say his final farewells to his companions, Finn was right there behind him, rattling non-stop questions about possible architectural designs for the new Circle and requisitions requests for books. “Maybe we should stay away from tower-type designs,” he suggested. “It just screams 'you can't escape.' I think if we build a single-, maybe double-story dormitory wing with plenty of windows and doors it'll help a lot of mages realize it's a school and not a prison.”

 

“Would it be too inconvenient to have the dormitories be separate buildings?” Sebastian asked. “There are plots primed for development within the city limits, but none large enough for the academic buildings and the lodgings to be attached.”

 

“I... never would have even thought of that.”

 

Something was off in Finn's tone that made Sebastian worried. “If you see an issue with my suggestion feel free to object.”

 

“No!” Finn answered quickly. “None at all. I just- all these changes, they don't seem real. Being allowed to leave the Circle to go... home. When I was in Ferelden I could never have imagined something like that.”

 

There was a longing and an appreciation in Finn's voice that Sebastian couldn't even fathom. When he was younger it was easy to believe that the shackles placed on mages were necessary for the safety of Thesdas, but even Justinia had called the building tensions between the Chantry and the mages a vicious cycle. Andraste's points about trust, education and enforcement were difficult to understand as abstracts, but in practice their effectiveness became glaringly obvious. It demonstrated to Sebastian how avoidable those struggles had been, and it forced him to recognize that the Chantry's inaction was all in the interest of maintaining prejudice and lies.

 

The sight of Anders walking toward him almost made Sebastian jump back as he realized how dangerously similar their views were becoming. Feeling empathy toward mages was an inevitable outcome of allying himself with them, but getting a glimpse into what it felt like to see the Chantry as abusive and irredeemable was not something he had been prepared to experience. For years he thought he'd found his purpose in learning the word of the Maker from Elthina, but with each passing day he was beginning to feel as if the consequences of her inaction negated the positive influence she'd had on him. He was glad to have been shown the way of true piousness, but taming one young man's wild demeanor did not excuse allowing an unjust system of imprisonment.

 

“And another thing,” Finn added, thankfully pulling Sebastian back to the conversation. “I know you called for all mages to undergo training to help them pass their Harrowings, but is that law going to be retroactive?”

 

“That, I would imagine, is a question you need to answer,” Sebastian stated.

 

“Right of course, Ser. Er, your Highness,” Finn corrected with a nervous laugh. “Still really only used to talking to Templars. Here, I've written up some proposals, you can look them over and call on me whenever you'd like to discuss them.” Finn didn't even wait to be dismissed before he began walking away, but he turned abruptly to add one last thought. “And keep the proposals in order please.”

 

“Do not worry, acting First Enchanter,” Sebastian assured as he held the proposals up carefully. “I will call on you soon.”

 

“Well look at you,” Isabela commented from somewhere behind him. “All important now. Bossing people around. Authority looks surprisingly sexy on you.”

 

Sebastian's eyes traveled right past her when he turned around, as he hadn't expected her to still be in her dress from the night before. “Are you not ready to leave yet?”

 

“What? Oh, you mean this?” Isabela asked, pulling at her dress. All the lattice work and beading that had been on it the night before had been stripped off, making the blue fabric look cheap and worn out. “I had to open my big mouth and offer to play a slave in this little play of ours. Andraste said I should look good enough that it's obvious she's rich, but not so good that it looks like she thinks I'm people.”

 

“That sounds about right,” Fenris agreed bitterly as he passed the two of them and boarded the ship with a small bag of his things.

 

“He's still not thrilled about our upcoming adventure,” Isabela said with a cringe. “I don't think I'm getting any for a while. And speaking of, sorry to hear you had to cancel your wedding night.”

 

Sebastian could tell she was fishing and he knew better than to respond. Instead he watched as the servants finished loading the ship with supplies. The Minanter River was calm enough that a six-person crew would suffice until they got off at the Imperial Highway and purchased horses for the final leg of their journey.

 

As Hawke and Anders handed their things over to the servants, they were still trying to explain to Orana that she only had to pretend she was a slave again. She was frustratingly confused by the concept, but she was also one of the best resources they had. She and Fenris were known in Minrathous as the property of powerful magisters Hawke had killed, and returning with them in his employ would help sell their story tremendously.

 

Orana seemed to get distracted by something, and Sebastian followed her line of sight to the find Fenris approaching the docks once again.

 

“Andraste wishes to speak with you,” he said in a monotone. “In her quarters on the ship.”

 

“I cannot imagine how difficult this is for you,” Sebastian admitted.

 

“I'm not going to leave Aveline like that. As much as I hate this plan, Andraste is right when she says it is our only option.”

 

Sebastian placed a hand on his friend's shoulder and offered a “Thank you” that he hoped Fenris found sincere. He boarded the ship and headed below deck to the room he and Andraste had shared after they lost the crew in Wycome. He found her sitting on the floor, eyes closed but not asleep. She looked so strange, sitting there in all her finery, crown on the floor by her legs. “Are you alright?”

 

“I never wanted to go back to the Imperium,” she admitted as her head fell back and hit the wall behind her. “Not without and army by my side and a trail of ashes in my wake.”

 

“Not everything can be earned through brute strength and intimidation,” he said as he slid down the wall to sit beside her. “But I have faith that you are as cunning as you are strong.”

 

“And I have faith that you will be as fine a prince as this city deserves. I also know I will be gone for quite some time, and I wanted to discuss our... relationship before I left.”

 

Sebastian didn't know if the prospect of the conversation made him feel relieved or anxiously awkward, but either way he knew it needed to happen. “I had intended to discuss it as well.”

 

“You are no longer a priest,” she lead in slowly. “There is no need for you to continue living like one. But I... I acknowledge that I am not the kind of woman you would have ever pictured yourself with, and I will be gone for two months at the least.

“What are you saying?”

 

“I am saying you need not worry that I still hold on to the foolishly romantic views of matrimony that I once held. I just ask that you be discreet.”

 

Sebastian almost didn't follow, but as soon as the meaning of her vague suggestion sunk in he searched her face for some sort of proof that she was joking. “Are you advising me on how to be unfaithful while you are gone?”

 

“I am being realistic, Sebastian,” she sighed as she glanced over at him. “Let us not fool ourselves.”

 

“I am not- how can you even suggest such a thing?”

 

“Because I, unlike you, have been down this road before, and I will not have the people who should be respecting me eying me with pity behind my back.”

 

Andraste didn't realize the volume of her own voice until the end of her rant, and though she tried not break eye contact she still swallowed nervously as she waited for him to respond. Sebastian tried to keep his expression placid, having just heard her lament the humiliation she felt when others felt sorry for her, but he wasn't even sure what he was feeling in that moment.

 

He couldn't comprehend how any man in a position of power could disgrace his position like that, or how any husband could violate the trust placed in him by his wife and the mother of his child. Then again, maybe he should have expected as much from a man who allowed jealousy to corrupt every shred of honor he had.

 

It saddened Sebastian to think that Andraste was willing to fight and die for the people of Thedas twice and yet all she thought she deserved from him was discreet infidelity.

 

“I'm not-” he started, unsure how to even begin to express how absurd he found her proposal. “Not only do I have no personal interest in philandering, but I believe you deserve better than that.”

 

Andraste stared down at her hands as she knotted her fingers together. “I would really rather you be honest with me and-”

 

“I am being honest with you!”

 

He didn't realize he'd grabbed onto her shoulders until she was facing him again, but he wasn't going to send her into the Imperium to risk her life thinking that he had no respect for the vow he took to rule by her side as her husband and partner.

 

“Can you help me up please?” she asked. Sebastian waited a bit longer, but when she still wouldn't acknowledge what he'd said, he gripped her arm at the elbow and helped her stand. The servants had finished stocking the ship, and as they walked across the deck they found a group of nobles waiting on the docks to speak with Sebastian.

 

When he reached the ramp that led to the dock, Sebastian gave his wife's arm a platonic pat and glanced back toward her one last time. The nobles looked puzzled, probably confused by the cold farewell, but there was nothing more Sebastian could do to convince her that he wasn't Maferath.

 

Something pulled at the sleeve of his robes, and Sebastian turned to find that Andraste had followed him half-way down the ramp. She took another step toward him, the incline of the wooden planks making her considerably taller, and placed her palms alongside his face. He had no idea what her intention was until she pressed her lips against his forehead.

 

They didn't say anything else, and no one commented when he finally joined the nobles on the dock. Hawke and Fenris pulled the ramp back onto the ship as the dock workers helped them cast off, but the demands of the city denied Sebastian the opportunity to watch as the ship pulled out; his last chance to stall before heading back the castle to rule alone.

  This is actually a scene from the next chapter

  Carver and Merrill going "Damn it why can't we just take a friggin' nap?"

Chapter Text

***The Void's Deceit, Minanter River***

Hawke and Fenris did most of the grunt work on the ship, but both of them were impressed with how much Isabela could still do in a full-length gown. The more work she did, the more she weathered the dress, and Andraste commented that by the time they got to the Imperium the garment would look "appropriately unwanted."

When the winds died and the boat stalled Isabela gave word to drop the anchor and told Hawke he was free to go track down Anders. The small size of their skeleton crew meant he was needed at odd hours, so he didn't get to sleep until long after Anders did. It was the first time in months that Hawke had slept pretty much alone, and he could point out a multitude of reasons why it bothered him.

There had been plenty of times when he'd felt that Anders was slipping away from him, but he never voiced his concerns for fear of the inevitable awkwardness or the possibility that talking about it would make it a reality. Whenever Anders left for the clinic before sunrise, however, Hawke would wake up cold and nervous, worried that he'd stalled the conversation for too long and lost his chance to be there for one of the only loved ones he had left.

He found the mage on the starboard deck, staring out at nothing and resting his weight on the golden staff Hawke had given him. It had originally belonged to Hawke and Carver's father, but that wasn't information he thought Anders needed to know, nor did anyone need to acknowledge that the nude figure atop the staff was supposed to represent Andraste. It looked completely unlike her anyways. She wasn't nearly as... curvy in real life.

Hawke had been incredibly surprised when he found his father's old staff in Gamlen's hovel of all places. The thing was gold plated and expertly enchanted. Sold to the right person, it would have fetched a high price. Apparently his father had left it behind in the estate, and when asked why it hadn't been sold Gamlen shouted that he wouldn't be caught dead trying to sell mage weaponry. While Hawke wasn't convinced that was the entire reason, he was content to simply have it back and in the hands of someone else he loved.

Had Anders attacked the Chantry three years earlier, Hawke would have been shocked. The Anders he stayed up talking to after the first (and second) time they had sex just wanted people to recognize the common sense of his argument; that it wasn't right to punish people because of how they were born, and that "guilty until proven innocent" was no way to serve justice. Hawke agreed so whole-heartedly that Anders thought he was being placated in the hopes of an impossible "round three," but Hawke explained what it was like trying to understand from a young age why everyone thought his father and sister were criminals. He hadn't even heard of magic until Bethany began showing signs of it, his parents content to pretend their father had never been a mage in the first place.

As he leaned against a nearby wall, Hawke found he barely recognized Anders from behind, but there was no denying that the new clothes fit well and looked attractive. This was a version of Anders that Hawke hadn't been able to admit he wanted; a version with power, respect and agency.

Though Hawke would never admit it, he had indeed read through his lover's scattered dissertation pages on mage rights and Chantry abuses. In the beginning they detailed how slow changes over time could transform Thedas into a world without Circles and Templars and bigotry, but with each new page they became more like angry rants fueled by bitterness and exasperation. Hawke could see Anders getting tired of the fight to control his own consciousness and strike a balance with Justice. Literally, he could see it. Even the mage's handwriting had changed.

"Do you ever intend to stop staring?" Anders asked without moving.

"At you?" Hawke questioned. "I doubt it."

"Are you afraid of me?"

"Am I-" Hawke was going to repeat the question, but he found himself shaking his head, unable to do anything but laugh nervously. "What?"

"Are you afraid of me?" Anders asked again as he finally turned around.

"Of you? No," Hawke stammered. "For you? Maybe." He was actually rather proud of his answer. If Carver was any indication, emotional expression through words seemed to skip a generation. Anders, however, glared at him before shaking his head and returning his gaze to the river. "Was that... the wrong answer?" he asked. "Do you want me to lie and tell you I think you're terrifying?"

"You're either lying or so good at lying to yourself that you believe it." Anders said. "I don't know which is worse."

"What are you even talking about? Where did this come from?"

Isabela cleared her throat loudly from behind them, and when they turned to face her she bowed gracefully. "My mistress requests your..." she began politely before she broke her character. "Shit, what was the rest of it?"

"And you're supposed to convince people that you're a slave?" Hawke asked.

"Yeah yeah," she dismissed. "It's a long way to Tevinter. I'll get the hang of it. Til then just come down to the crew quarters."

Isabela moved to go below deck, but Hawke wasn't sure if it was right to end their conversation out of nowhere.

"I'm giving you an easy out from your awkward-ass conversation" she shouted from atop the stairs. "I suggest you two take it and save your angsty lovers' quarrel for later."

Rolling his eyes, Anders begrudgingly followed Hawke as they went to join their companions in the crew quarters. When they arrived they found Andraste sitting at the head of the room's rickety dining table, which had been set like for a proper dinner despite the decrepit state of the plates and utensils. Orana and Fenris stood off to the side, distant and stoic as if they weren't actually in the room.

Isabela took a deep breath and tried out her demure, polite speaking voice once more. "My mistress requests you join her for a practice meal."

"A practice meal?" Anders asked as he sat to her right and stared down at his empty plate. "And where is this meal?"

"I'm guessing in our imaginations," Hawke answered as he went to sit beside him.

"Wrong seat, Champion," Andraste announced. "You will sit across from Anders."

"Alright," he relented as he moved to the other side of the table. "Is there a reason why?"

"Because it is unwise for a man to place himself across from the people he is trying to lie to. Lying is an art performed in the eyes."

Only a day into their voyage and Hawke was already beginning to find it overwhelming. He glanced over at his two newly-acquired "slaves" and was surprised to find that Fenris seemed to be biting back a smile. "Everything alright, Fenris?"

"Indeed," Fenris offered almost joyously. "Yes, let's practice being magister and slave. I'm interested in seeing how you all react when faced with the reality of a world where mages are free to do as they please. Maybe then you'll wake up and see the inevitability of chaos and oppression in such a society, or perhaps you will turn into the self-serving, power-hungry supremacist you claimed you'd never become."

"And what if we do neither?" Anders asked. "What if we get there, are disgusted by what we see, save Aveline and return to Starkhaven with a renewed desire to see the whole Imperium burn as we construct fair, yet realistic, rules governing the use of magic? What then?"

"Then I will serve your cause."

For the second time in not even an hour Hawke found himself wondering if he was hearing his companions correctly, and he began to entertain the possibility that there was something in the water they'd brought along.

"Really?" Andraste asked incredulously.

"Truly," Fenris sneered, which didn't exactly inspire confidence in the authenticity of his promise. "If, at the end of this mission, you still believe you can create some mythical utopia where free mages couldn't possibly turn all of Thedas into an Imperium, then I will lend you my sword in your war against the magisters. Now, shall we begin the lessons on how to properly treat one's slaves like furniture?"

"Now you're just being facetious," Anders accused.

"Actually, he is not," Andraste corrected. "For the most part looking at or in any way acknowledging your slaves will give away your cover."

"Wait," Hawke interrupted. "Then how do you... order them around?"

"No magister would ever show up to a function with a slave who had not already been trained. Your slaves should already understand how to cater to your needs without any spoken orders. Orana?"

Orana nodded in response but didn't move as Andraste changed the subject. "So Hawke, do you think we should request aid from Ferelden?"

Hawke looked around, wondering if Andraste had completely forgotten where they were and what they were in the middle of. "You're asking me this now?"

"I am," she said as she reached forward, picked up her wine glass and finished it. Instead of putting it back down or demanding more, however, she rested her elbow on the table and held the wine glass up.

"Then, yes, I do," he answered hesitantly. "I know there were at least two mages who helped King Alistair defeat the Blight, and he's never been very-" He paused when Orana came up from behind and began refilling the glass, but Andraste didn't even flinch. "-kingly, in the traditional sense of the... are you really not going to acknowledge her?"

"Acknowledge who?" Andraste asked as she sipped from her glass.

"So you just..." Anders began to ask as he reached for a glass and finished his wine as well.

"Keep talking," Andraste ordered. "If you keep up these awkward silences every time they serve you, people will get suspicious."

"Right, Alistair," Anders remembered, trying to ignore the fact that Fenris, of all people, was obediently refilling his wine glass. "I heard of him when I was a Warden, but we never met. The Hero of Ferelden seemed to think he was trustworthy and honorable, even if she did always end her compliments with 'for a human.'"

"What about asking her to join us?" Hawke asked as Isabela practiced with him.

"No one has seen her since she and Sigrun led warriors into the Deep Roads to protect Kal'Hirol while they rebu-"

A sudden wind pushed on the sails, causing the boat to lurch and send everyone who was standing stumbling to the side. Orana and Isabela spilled some wine but otherwise held on the the bottles. Fenris, on the other hand, hadn't removed his gauntlets and therefor couldn't maintain a good enough grip on the glass, letting the bottle slide from his hands and crash open on the wooden floor.

"Hit him," Andraste ordered.

"What? No!" Anders shouted. "I don't even like him and I think that's going a bit far."

"He embarrassed you in front of others. Do you want to do this right or not?" she asked. "Listen to me, you need to accept now that you are not going to be comfortable with the majority of things you will need to do or say to maintain your cover. If we are caught hesitating even once, we are not going to be able to meet with the Archon or gain access to the other Eluvian. You have to commit to being a magister all day, every day, for however long it takes."

"Just imagine you're better than everyone else," Fenris offered. "Imagine a society in which no one polices how you wield your magic; where you cast spells to impress other mages and keep those weaker than you in line. Give in to the pride you feel in what should be considered a curse. Acknowledge that it gives you the power to take whatever you want by force."

"No, you're wrong!" Orana shouted. Her eyes were clenched shut as if she expected someone to hit her, but her hands were balled into tight fists that suggested she'd been holding back an outburst for quite some time. Hawke had never heard her be so aggressive, and he was almost proud to see it. "Magisters do not act the way they do because of pride. I remember when Mistress Hadriana would come home from Master Danarius' estate and immediately find something I had done wrong. She'd start hitting me, but then the tears would come. They always came. She cried and lamented how she had to offer her body to her mentor in exchange for his tutelage. She said I should consider myself lucky because no one noticed me or expected anything of me."

"Are you defending her?" Fenris asked. "You feel sorry for her because she whored herself out to get ahead?"

"Sounds more like she did it to survive," Isabela said as she crossed her arms.

"It's true," Orana argued, refusing to give up. "Mistress Hadriana hated herself. Sometimes she would get so upset it made her ill, and she'd lock herself in her room and refuse to eat. She broke every mirror in the estate; she said her eyes wouldn't stop judging her."

"She was a monster!" Fenris yelled.

"But do you not see the true reason she became that way?" Orana asked quietly, pleading with Fenris to understand her point. "There was never any pride within her. Can you remember a time when our masters did anything that did not revolve around what other people thought of them? Maybe my Mistress took Papa away from me, but when I had him he loved me. No magister knows love. They are alone. They are always sad and they are always alone and they never like themselves, not even for a moment."

Hawke expected Fenris to storm out of the room again, as he usually did when things became difficult to talk about, but Anders cleared his throat and rapped his finger against his glass, the high ringing sound telling the room that it was empty again. "For Aveline, remember?"

People tended to think of the Orlesians as the ones with complex, elaborate customs, but that was because the entire country bragged about it. The "Game" was nothing compared to balancing the mage hierarchy and slave etiquette of the Imperium. They spent another hour practicing, and in that time Hawke began to see the truth in Orana's argument. There was nothing prideful about the massive degree of showmanship that went into every little action. He knew mustering false pompousness wasn't going to get him anywhere, so instead he practiced becoming a bitter husk who hated himself more and more as he was forced to live up to societal expectations he didn't even care about. That he could do just fine.

***Starkhaven Castle, Knight-Commander's Office***

Carver knew his meeting with the Templar Captains wasn't anywhere near over, but there were matters he couldn't discuss in front of the elves that he knew would be brought up sooner rather than later. He found the room that would act as his new office and told a servant to send the Circle's best Spirit Healers there. The mages arrived just in time to ask why they were needed before Ser Hollis burst in without knocking.

"The Quartermaster just told me there is to be no Lyrium supplied to the Templars. Is this some kind of joke? Are you mad, boy?"

"No, but call me 'boy' one more time and I will be," Carver promised.

"You wanna change the Circle? Fine. You want to be more lenient with the mages? Fine. But how in the Maker's name are we supposed to face down the dangerous ones without lyrium? They are powerful enough already, you cannot take away what few advantages we have left."

"You call crippling addiction an advantage? How long have you being choking that poison down, Ser Hollis? Ten years? Ever gone a day without it? Ever seen a Templar get stripped of his crest and thrown to the wolves of his own withdrawal?" Carver almost shuddered at the memory of men like Samson, dirty and itching and begging in the streets for dust money. "I will not see the Order continue to be a slave to some... blue liquid."

"That liquid saves lives!" Hollis shouted. "You have all these grand ideas, but they're not realistic."

"You think I'm acting on some whim?" Carver asked, turning to the mages waiting awkwardly for the arguing to cease. "Acting First Enchanter, in your studies which have you found to be a better defense against magic: consuming lyrium or enchanting armor?"

"Enchanting armor, Knight-Commander," Finn answered. "Some of the greatest enchanters from all across Thedas are at your disposal, and are prepared to craft proper armor runes for all your Knights."

The vast majority of Hollis' indignation dissipated suddenly. "The mages should be trusted to outfit Templars with defenses against magic? You will have to excuse me, but I find that hard to believe."

"Permission to speak freely, Knight-Commander?" Finn requested.

"Permission granted, Acting First Enchanter," Carver allowed.

"We agree to recognize that there are those among us who have the potential to harbor malicious intentions, so long as you agree to recognize that malicious intent is a flaw not unique to mages."

"Right," Hollis agreed sarcastically, "because I worry about demons possessing me all the time."

"No, you're right," Finn agreed. "At least, sort of. That is a problem specific to us, but have you ever considered that a mage using the new Circle for nefarious purposes would turn into an abomination in the Circle? The people of Thedas as a whole need protection from abominations, sure, but if we fail it's the mages who get wiped out. Most of us, though? Most of us just want to study in peace. Learn to control ourselves. Maybe become farmers or blacksmiths or serve in the guard."

"Mages? In the royal guard?"

"Why not?" Carver asked. "You're worried about how powerful they are, why not let them use that power to serve?"

Hollis laughed. "Next you'll be telling me they want to be Templars too."

"Actually," Finn led in, his tone quiet and nervous. "We have a young man who grew up outside Denerim. Strong, good with a sword. He wants to undergo his Harrowing and if he passes, join you."

"What? Why?"

"An abomination killed his sister, Ser," Finn told him. "He says those who use their magic against others are a discredit to us all. He could be a valuable asset."

Carver tried not to smile. "These mages represent some of the best healers we have within the city limits, and they will help your knights deal with symptoms of withdrawal. The enchanters are already working on armor runes. Will there be anything else, Ser Hollis?"

"No, Knight-Commander."

***Starkhaven, Militia Training Grounds***

The targets were lined up in front of a stone wall, beat up across every inch by years of archery practice. There were targets on the castle grounds, ones that belonged to the Royal Guard, but Sebastian had already begun to grow sick of the palace. His bed was empty and his days were filled with close-minded nobles who were justifying their oppressive regime by hiding behind the guise of "tradition." There were few things left in his life that made him feel like he was in control, but when Sebastian stood on the militia training grounds at midnight and heard the blissful, familiar sound of an arrow piercing a target, he could pretend for a moment that he had power over something.

He was sure that at such a late hour no one would be around to bother him, so he wasn't prepared for the second arrow that flew past him and hit the same target.

"I see I'm not the only one who comes here at night," Leliana noticed.

Sebastian almost commented that she looked odd firing arrows in gold and red Chantry robes, but it would have sounded hypocritical considering he hadn't even removed his crown. In all honesty he was beginning to forget it was there; beginning to get used to it. "I needed some time away from the castle," he admitted.

"I understand what you are going through," she sighed as she approached him. "This has not been easy for me either. I miss the certainty of battle, where your enemy is obvious."

Sebastian stepped aside and chose the target to Leliana's left, shifting his robes under the strap of his quiver so he could comfortably reach back for another arrow. They'd both come there for some peace and practice, and they both deserved it. He was pleased to find that his aim didn't suffer from all the weeks he'd gone without fighting, his arrows clustering within the two center-most rings even though the only light he had was the moon.

The sound of arrows sinking into Leliana's target in rapid succession halted Sebastian's hand. He watched as she pulled arrow after arrow, her precision suffering slightly in exchange for speed. "Melee archery?" he guessed. "A unique skill I have not seen in quite some time."

"The Hero of Ferelden was not a stealthy woman," Leliana laughed. "There was no time for sneaking in quietly and lining up the perfect shot from afar. I... adapted."

"Why not take up another weapon?"

"I could have used daggers," she supposed. "I've used them in the past. But I took up archery after I joined the Chantry. There is serenity in it. A mix of control and faith. You do your best to aim, but the world is always moving around you and at some point it is all in the Maker's hands."

Sebastian returned to his target and readied another arrow. "I wish I had that noble of a reason for taking up my bow," he said as he fired again. "In all honesty it seemed the proper weapon for a third son. Bows are for those left behind, stuck up in the ramparts while true princes ride into battle with sword and shield to look their foe in the eye."

"Or maybe it is only for the wisest of princes," she offered. "The men who care not for glory, but for the safety of the city they protect. Blood and battle are good for stories, but to defend a city without opening its gates is the mark of a leader who will be remembered in the hearts, and the children, of those he saved."

"You are a wise woman," Sebastian complimented genuinely. "If the nobles and what remains of the Chantry would stop fighting me, I would see that you become the new Divine."

"It would be an honor, but I would need a new name for my title. Many things about 'Leliana' need to be left behind."

"Divine Elthina, maybe," he suggested.

"A fitting name, and a complicated homage for a complicated time. You were close with her, yes?"

Sebastian nodded and finally lowered his arms so he could face her. "She pulled me out of a dark place, even though I fought her for quite some time. It is difficult to balance the appreciation I feel with my growing disapproval of her actions."

"Neither negates the other," she sighed. "But living with that knowledge is a burden; one I empathize with far too well."

"Have you also already lost someone to the chaos of the coming war?"

"Yes," Leliana stated. "Revered Mother Dorothea."

"Rever- Divine Justinia?" Sebastian realized. "You knew her? Personally?"

"She saved my life, in more ways than one. In return I swore my allegiance to her, and before you worry yourself thinking of how to tell me that it was you who killed her, know that I am already aware and I understand why you did what you did."

"How can you- I murdered someone who meant something to you."

"You act as if acceptance is the same as being glad she is gone, and in that you are very mistaken. I would have been dead without her, and she helped me find light in the Maker's guidance. But I also saw what her rule as Divine was doing to Thedas. I saw that what she was doing defied the Maker's will, and I begged her to listen to me."

Sebastian could hear Leliana's voice cracking, and he glanced away to give her a moment to compose herself. The entire time they'd known each other, she had never once mentioned how close she'd been to Justinia. She'd performed his wedding ceremony, knowing full-well that he'd been the one to murder the Divine, and here he still felt guilty for his growing lack of disgust in Anders' presence.

"Maybe it is because I saw it before it happened," Leliana spoke softly. "I had time to prepare myself emotionally for what I knew had to be done. Justinia, she was so lost; so tired. She saw that everything was crumbling but she couldn't bring herself to do what she knew had to be done. The lies, the oppression; they had become our entire society, and she did not have the fortitude to change that. But Thedas deserves better. I will miss her, yes, but she was not worth losing the world and the Maker's regard."

"Knowing and accepting are two very different things," he all-but whispered. "Even if you have made your peace with what needed to happen, know that I am truly sorry for what I have done to someone who once meant so much to you."

When Leliana didn't respond, the silence sunk heavily into his chest. He wanted to beg for her forgiveness, maybe even reach out and touch her to convey his sincerity, but he realized his apology was meant to help her come to terms with what happened, not him. He didn't want to leave her there either, so he returned to his target and took aim once more. After a few shots he heard her move, and at first he was worried he'd upset her enough to make her leave. Instead he heard the creak of her bow as she aimed quickly and fired within an instant.

Chapter Text

***The Void's Deceit, Imperial Highway Bridge***

 

Because there was no crew to leave with the ship, Isabela and Andraste though it would be wise to drop anchor further down the river and drape the royal crest of Starkhaven over the mainsail to mark that it belonged to the ruling family. Hawke was surprised that Isabela would do something so risky for a ship she worked so hard to earn, but she insisted that if anything happened then the Prince and Princess of Starkhaven would surely provide her with an even better one.

 

They reached their destination sometime in the late evening, however, and everyone agreed it would be stupid to cart Andraste off in the dead of night to limp and stumble along the shore. With the ship at a complete stop, Hawke searched the ship for Anders and Andraste. Since he rarely saw either of them at all during the day, he figured maybe they were together.

 

He knocked on Andraste's door and she called for him to come in, her voice so nonchalant that Hawke wasn't at all prepared to find her lying on her back, Anders bent over her and holding one of her legs up by his hip. A flurry of jokes, questions and accusations all tried to come out at once, resulting in little more than an incoherent string of random syllables.

 

“It's physical therapy,” Anders explained. “Now come on, push back harder.”

 

“I am pushing back harder,” Andraste argued with an obvious strain in her voice. “This is no use, the damage is too great. I cannot possibly hope to walk correctly without the use of spells.”

 

“Neither you nor I have the endurance to sustain a spell for that long a time,” Anders told her plainly. “The braces are supporting you from the knee down so you need to, and you can, strengthen your hips and thighs to accommodate.”

 

Hawke knew better than to comment, and the joke was far too easy anyways. “Yes, well, could you possibly do your suggestive exercising after dinner?”

 

“Dinner?” Anders questioned. “What would we even- ah, you mean pretend dinner.”

 

“More like liquid dinner,” he clarified. “Isabela said 'the family who drinks together fools magisters together.' She's in the crew quarters.”

 

“Alcohol sounds wonderful,” Andraste groaned.

 

“Yes,” Anders agreed sarcastically. “Get drunk when you're trying to learn to walk right.”

 

“Trust me, there is plenty of drinking in the Imperium. If I cannot walk while intoxicated, we have failed.”

 

“We? Don't pin this on me. You're the one who won't do her exercises. I can't be up your ass all the time, you know; you need to do them on your own.”

 

“They are humiliating,” Andraste snapped. “I have beaten magisters to death with my bare hands, I should not need to practice squatting.”

 

“Then call them, I don't know, deep knee bends. Just do them.”

 

Hawke laughed, and without thinking remarked, “You sound like my father.”

 

There was a great deal of uncomfortable implication in that statement, and Hawke would have given anything to take it back. Adding to the heaping pile of subjects they didn't address, everyone knew better than to mention Anders was some ten or so years older than Hawke.

 

“Yes, well,” Andraste thankfully spoke up. “I had a father and you are not him. Come, I think we could all use a drink.”

 

After having spent so long traveling with Andraste, Hawke took his place by her side automatically.

 

“I cannot continue to appear crippled,” she sighed. “The magisters would exploit it in an instant, or at the very least lose all respect for me. The best you can do to aid in my ruse is walk slowly when you are beside me.”

 

Hawke was sure that putting everyone in a room together with a bunch of alcohol was a terrible idea, but as he left the room with Anders and Andraste behind him, he found they didn't even need alcohol for things to get heated between them.

 

“No, no,” Orana corrected. “Straighten your back, but bow your head very low.”

 

“Andraste's tits, Orana, why does it even matter?” Isabela shouted.

 

“Because you'll embarrass your mistress if you bow sloppily or with your head up. They will think she is too weak to train you properly.”

 

“And might I suggest,” Andraste offered as she walked in, “that you not refer to my breasts in your expletives. Or really use any expletives at all. The most you should ever need to say is yes, no and 'I apologize.'”

 

“And if you need to apologize,” Fenris added, “you're probably as good as dead already.”

 

“Are you really not exaggerating?” Anders asked. “Is it really that bad there?”

 

“Come, let me tell you something,” Andraste announced as she gathered her black skirts, sat down and poured herself some ale. She chugged her first mug, then poured a second to actually drink. Hawke, Isabela and Fenris poured some as well, and Orana took a mug when it was offered, but Anders declined. “Let me tell you more about why we cannot afford a misstep. One, Minrathous is bordered by the Nocen Sea to the east and an artificial canal to the west. If you are not sailing into the docks, there is one bridge that you may cross to get in to the city. If they so choose they could cut that bridge down and focus the entirety of their forces on one nautical choke point. We must convince them to leave the city and march against the lands of the so-called 'White' Divine. There is no other path to victory in the coming war. Two, if Anders and I are to be given an audience with the Enchanters Assembly then you cannot stutter, falter or hesitate. Not only will we fail to save Aveline, but we are no use to the war if we are stuck in the Imperium being tortured. When you are supposed to hit Fenris, you will hit Fenris. When you are supposed to ignore Orana, you will ignore Orana. And when they ask if we all take turns with Isabela, you will tell them we pass her around like she is nothing. If you cannot commit to the awful things you need to do and say, speak now before your unwillingness gets us killed.”

 

In response Isabela raised her hand. “If you three want to actually 'pass me around' to ensure authenticity, I am willing to make that sacrifice for the good of the cause.”

 

“Of all the things-” Fenris started before he balled his gauntleted hands into fists. “Are you sure you're even capable of taking this situation seriously? Or do you just plan to laugh your way through Minrathous?”

 

“I can laugh all the way to the bloody gates if I think it'll help me get through this bullshit,” she informed him. “Until then you have no right policing how I act.”

 

“And what will you do the first time a magister treats you like some piece of property with no worth and no rights?”

 

In the years that Hawke knew Isabela, he'd never once seen her hesitate. Time and time again she proved she'd rather make a rash, stupid decision than stand there for even a second doing nothing. This time, however, she sauntered over to Fenris, mouth clamped shut in a tense, thin line but obviously not through talking. “You really think you're the only one who knows how to die inside so you can survive?”

 

“Maybe this was a poorly thought-out idea,” Andraste admitted. “Maybe what we really need is a night of quiet and privacy before we are stuck with each other for the next month.”

 

“I would like that,” Orana agreed quietly, placing down her still-full mug of ale. She scurried out of the room, uncharacteristically forgetting to bow and even pushing Hawke aside to get away from the awkward tension in the air.

 

As much as he felt like leaving was a curt decision, Hawke knew Andraste was right. They'd been together non-stop, working on the ship or practicing their roles, and in the morning they'd have to commit to those personas until the mission was over.

 

“Do you think we should have code phrases?” Hawke asked on the way back to their room.

 

“For what?” Anders asked.

 

“For when one of us is in danger. Yelling something like 'Mabari attack!' might get you some funny looks, but it's better than 'Anders, I think someone's on to us.' Or a code for suggesting we sneak off somewhere to be alone. The possibilities are endless.”

 

“I can't believe we're even having this conversation,” Anders sighed as he shook his head, and his disbelief didn't fade as they entered the room and shut the door behind them. Hawke went about his usual routine of removing his armor before bed, but half-way through he noticed that Anders was still leaning with his back against the door, head hanging low in what seemed like premature defeat. “You shouldn't be here.”

 

“In... the room we share?” Hawke asked, confused.

 

“On this ship. On this mission. Stuck here, risking your life for my cause.”

 

“As much as I'd love to be able to claim that I'm doing this all for you, that's not actually why I'm here.” After he finished shedding the last of his arm guards, Hawke walked over and pulled Anders off the rickety wooden door so he could help the mage out of his breastplate and jacket. “Whether I loved you or not, Andraste would still need my name. Champion of Kirkwall, slayer of Qunari and defeater of Knight-Commanders.” When Anders didn't respond with some dismissive comment about the perils of patting oneself on the back, Hawke knew something was wrong. The black clothing began to fall to the floor, but Anders still wouldn't look at him.

 

The site of blue crackling up Anders' neck made Hawke jump back, and the scent in the air stung at the back of his throat. Anders, or Justice; whoever it was, balled his fist and knocked it into the wall in pain, or maybe frustration. With every reflexive step back Hawke regretted being so uncontrollably afraid of someone he should have loved unconditionally, but he had no desire to die just to prove that point.

 

“We need to talk” were words Hawke hated enough as it was, but hearing them spoken from Anders' lips in that discordant, echoed hybrid of voices made him nauseous. Justice didn't look at him, possibly embarrassed that he was only half-dressed and interrupting a rather intimate moment, but Hawke wasn't going to complain. He hated Justice's eyes. They were too deep; too bright and inhuman to look at directly.

 

“And if I don't want to?” Hawke asked, crossing his arms. “Will you leave?”

 

“No,” Justice answered plainly. “But if you are content to stand there pouting like an insolent child then I suggest you at least listen.”

 

Hawke uncrossed his arms, acknowledging that his posture was less than mature, and sighed. “Talk.”

 

“We spirits are virtues, bound by everything we encompass, and I cannot stand idly by while you and Anders travel to a place ruled by slavers, the likes of whom blackened the Maker's Golden City.”

 

“You can't pull this now,” Hawke refused. “Aveline is-”

 

“Hold!” Justice interrupted, raising his hand. “I understand your friend is in danger. I understand that you are doing what you are doing because it is the only way to bring these people to justice. Despite this, I am still a personification of a virtue, one which is being violated in the lands you seek to visit. I cannot help you with your deception, and I will most certainly prove to be a liability you cannot afford.”

 

“Andraste can't do this without an apprentice, so unless you plan on running back to Starkhaven and prying Merrill off my brother, then prying my brother's hands off your neck, I suggest you suck it up, or whatever you spirits do when you need to get over yourselves.”

 

“I am trying to help you!” Justice raged. “Do not take your mocking tone with me.”

 

As difficult as it was, Hawke refrained from rolling his eyes, lest Justice felt insulted enough to murder him right then and there. “Fine, what are you suggesting?”

 

“The only way to quiet my presence during your journey is for both of us to enter into a fair agreement.”

 

“This is beginning to sound like a deal with a demon. Do I get to become a blood mage after?”

 

“You would be wise to never call me 'demon' again,” Justice warned, “but spirits and demons are in fact bound by many of the same laws. I have thought this over, and I believe I have found an agreement we both benefit from. I will agree to give Anders complete control over our mind for the time that he is in the Imperium. In return, however, I must be allowed full control during the war.”

 

“Have you forgotten this isn't even your body?” Hawke asked. “You're asking a lot of someone you're practically renting from.”

 

“Anders knows nothing of war; of strategy and maneuvers. He is a strong mage yes, but he is more philosopher than soldier, even you must see that. He will be needed for your mission in the Imperium, but I will be needed in the war.”

 

“This doesn't sound like it should be my decisions. Shouldn't you be asking Anders?”

 

“There is a great deal of overlap between my consciousness and his. It makes it impossible to broker this kind of deal with him, as it is like making an agreement with myself. I am expending a great deal of energy to block him out of this conversation right now, and that is because you must decide this. You are the only mortal with enough control over Anders to enforce what you decide.”

 

“I don't own him,” Hawke said, cringing at the word. “Can't I at least talk to him about this first?”

 

“You and I are both aware of what his stance on the matter would be. I am relying on you to see that this is the best option, but decide quickly. You don't have much time.”

 

Hawke looked at the ceiling, the floor, the walls, the bed; anything that wasn't the glowing husk that Justice always turned Anders' body into. “What about after the war?” he asked. “If we win won't that mean that justice was served? There'd be no more need for you, as least as far as Anders is concerned. You could leave, right? Go back to the Fade?”

 

“You think I am, what, visiting?” Justice asked him. “That your precious Anders is some victim I puppeteer for my amusement? He and I entered into this agreement because we shared a cause which neither of us could champion on our own. We become more like one mind with every passing day; there is no separating us. Accept that now, and then make your choice.”

 

“But-”

 

“No more stalling!” There was no distant echo of Anders' voice in that command. The cracks across the mage's skin grew wider and brighter, like his body was reduced to hunks of rock floating in the vague shape of a man. “Make your choice.”

 

“Do it, then,” Hawke blurted out before he could overthink the situation or talk himself out of it. It was, quite obviously, his only option. Anders was having a difficult enough time controlling his rage at the mere description of what happened amongst the Tevinter Magisters, and even with Justice completely silenced in the mage's head, Hawke was wary of the toll their charade would take. The deal would give them a much better chance, even if Hawke had to go behind Anders' back to make it. “Yes, I accept your deal.”

 

Justice didn't say anything more, and Hawke had to lunge forward in order to prevent Anders from toppling over as the spirit fled to some unknown corner of his host's consciousness. As Anders returned he heaved in deep breaths as if he'd been suffocating during the entire conversation.

 

“Why is it so quiet?” he rasped. Desperate, shaking fingers dug into Hawke's unprotected shoulders and held him in place. “Hawke why do I feel so empty?”

 

“Justice is... going on vacation for a bit,” Hawke offered in the way of an explanation, knowing that at some point he'd have to elaborate. It didn't have to be right then and there, though. As selfish as it was to find a silver lining in the complexities of what he'd just done, he had to admit that the idea of finally, truly being alone with Anders sounded too amazing to be true.

 

“How-” Anders went to ask, but Hawke took both sides of his face and pulled them together in an obviously desperate attempt to stall the conversation.

 

Hawke was surprised how quickly Anders gave in, but it was a pleasant kind of surprise that Hawke wasn't going to argue with. He pulled himself away for a moment to pulled his shirt over his head, but found himself being pushed back and pinned to the bed as soon as he discarded the cloth. Maybe Anders didn't want to have that conversation either, or maybe he too was ecstatic that, for the first time, it was only the two of them there on those furs, gripping each other with a fervor reserved for men who feared they may not survive the coming storm.

 

***Starkhaven Castle, Carver and Merrill's Room***

 

Since they never got back to their room at the same time, Carver and Merrill agreed to take one hour in the middle of every afternoon to drop what they were doing so they could see each other. The first couple days they'd grin at the sight of each other and start undoing their armor before they even got through the door, but in less than a week that hour devolved into naps spent fully-clothed and sitting up in chairs. Recently they'd begun splitting up their time and taking turns giving each other massages.

 

They had one rule, and it forbade all discussions of work. Their roles were stressful enough without bringing those issues into the only place the two of them had peace and privacy. If anything needed to be discussed between them in a professional manner, they had proper channels for that.

 

Neither of them was very good at massages, so they mostly just rubbed and squeezed in random places, but being touched while being close to one another was enough of a release in the chaos of their new lives. Or life, singular. The life they shared.

 

“Well you're tighter than usual,” Merrill remarked as her small, pliant hands squeezed against what, to Carver, felt like rocks under his shoulder blades. “Want to talk about it?”

 

“I thought we agreed no work?” he asked with his head hung low, chin pressing into his sternum. His chest plate was the only piece of armor he'd removed, but it was enough to give Merrill access to his neck and shoulders.

 

“Well, yes, but- I just thought, you know, everyone benefits from a little bit of venting, don't you think? I know I could certainly use some. We all have to share the same archery grounds, you know, and everyone is being so childish about it. You'd think elves and humans could fire arrows into some straw without bicke-”

 

“Ah, Merrill!” Carver shouted as he curled his body away from her surprisingly strong hands. “Maker, Andraste's teachings are really working, aren't they? Pretty soon you'll be stronger than me.”

 

“Oh, I doubt that,” Merrill dismissed with a laugh. “But do you know who's helping me continue to study the Arcane Warrior technique? Finn! A human. The acting First Enchanter, even. He's actually quite interested in elven lore. Has been for a long time. The Circles have all sorts of books on our old magics, and books on how to translate Dalish words even I didn't know.”

 

“Anything on how to best treat men and women going through severe withdrawal? I've already been vomited on four times this week.”

 

“Withdrawal? From what?”

 

“From lyrium.”

 

There was something very startling about the abruptness with which Merrill's hands stopped their ministrations. Carver turned to check on her, not expecting to find her looking so lost and nervous.

 

“Who...” she started to ask. She wasn't looking at him, and she was backing away slowly. “Who's going through lyrium withdrawal?”

 

“Uh, all the Templars,” Carver answered, his confusion plain in his voice. “Merrill what is it? What's wrong?”

 

“Why are all the Templars going through lyrium withdrawal?” Merrill was looking at the door by then, like she was ready to bolt out of the room at any moment.

 

“Because I don't want to lead an army of addicts into war. Are you... worried about me? Is that it? Because we don't need to swallow that poison down anymore. The runes being crafted for us are far better with no repercussions, not to mention cheaper.”

 

Something in what he said stopped all of Merrill's erratic behavior. When she finally looked up at his face she looked... betrayed. “There aren't many dwarves here,” she noted.

 

“No, there aren't. What does that have to do with anything?”

 

“There are only two types of people who can craft runes. Dwaves and... are you forcing Tranquil mages to protect the people who made them that way in the first place?”

 

It was a question Carver had already prepared an answer for, but his pre-written script felt so hollow when he was looking down at Merrill's wide, disappointed eyes. “I- Merrill, they-” he began as he reached for her shoulder only to have her flinch away from him. “Would you rather they keep choking down lyrium?”

 

And just like that she went from boring into him with her eyes to awkwardly, longingly staring at the door again. “Don't change the subject.”

 

You changed the subject,” he all but accused as he stepped toward her. “What's going on, Merrill? Why do you care if the Templars are taking lyrium or not?”

 

“I- I don't,” she lied terribly. As soon as the words left her mouth it was obvious she knew he'd never believe them. “What would- How far would you be willing to go to save Aveline?”

 

“Why would you ask-”

 

“Because I would do anything!” she shouted. “I have to. Andraste tried to tell you all it wasn't my fault, but who are we kidding?” She buried her face in the palms of her hands and tried to breathe slowly as a way of bypassing the guilt crackling its way through her voice. “This is my problem, and I have to be ready for whatever order Andraste brings back. I'll destroy it if I have to. I mean it. But I truly- I mean truly, do not believe that is going to be the answer. I don't know how many Eluvians the Imperium has, but if Andraste can figure out how a completed mirror operates she can take that knowledge back here and we can use it.”

 

“For what?”

 

“I don't know yet, but if they have any we should at least have one, don't you think?”

 

“This isn't really my area of expertise, Merrill,” he admitted, “and I want to trust you, but I worry about you.”

 

“You worry about me?” she repeated. “You know, every person who's ever told me they were worried about me has really meant to say they didn't believe in me.”

 

“Why are you putting words in my mouth?” he asked. “It's like you want me to be mad at you or something. Or are you avoiding my original question? Why do you care about the lyrium?”

 

“Because I- I need to be ready in case I have to fix the mirror,” she blurted out. “Please, Carver, please, just accept that as enough of an answer.”

 

Carver wanted to let it go, to pretend the whole argument never happened, but the other shoe had already dropped and nothing was going to change that as the pieces of their fight were finally coming together in his mind.

 

At some point he'd simply forgotten she was a blood mage. Despite knowing, for a fact, that blood magic wasn't inherently evil; despite having defended her practice of the art, something inside Carver couldn't believe that the woman he awoke next to every day slit her wrists to fuel her magic. More than anything else, he wanted their life together to be so much simpler than it was, and now his intentional ignorance and obliviousness was rearing its ugly head.

 

He didn't realize how much he'd repressed until it all came crashing back at once. The way she noticed that he didn't drink lyrium, the way she hovered around Wren's body all those months ago, the blue glow of the mirror when she got to Kirkwall, her reaction when he said the Templars weren't drinking lyrium anymore...

 

“Templar blood.” Even though he'd only whispered it, Merrill flinched as if he'd screamed it at her. “Laced with lyrium; it must be- Maker, blood magic with Templar blood. Merrill, how could you?”

 

“Don't-” she started as she awkwardly tried to figure out what to do with her hands. She seemed to want to push him away. “Don't you dare ask me that. I took a dead man's blood. I didn't hurt anyone. Do you know how long I've known that Templar blood was the answer to fixing the Eluvian? Two years, Carver. And I didn't do anything about it because I wasn't going to go slice a living person open just to fix a mirror. But if Andraste comes back and needs me to fix the mirror than I have to-”

 

“Have to what?” Carver posed. “Ask politely for the Templars to bleed out into a basin for you?”

 

“Are you mocking me?” Merrill accused. “I am trying to help. I didn't decide that these were the answers, but I am realistic enough to accept that they are what they are.”

 

“Well then find a new answer, because my Knights have been going through sickness and insanity to purge themselves of that poison. Not a one of them is drinking it again.”

 

Merrill didn't say anything in response, and when she started to leave Carver let her go. She stopped at the door, maybe because she was hoping he'd stop her, or maybe because she wanted to have the last word, but either way the pause didn't last long before she left without bothering to close the door behind her.

 

***Starkhaven Castle, Main Hall***

 

His meetings with the nobles had ended some twenty or thirty minutes before, but Sebastian didn't want to stay in the throne room, nor did he want to return to his quiet, empty chambers, so he sat at the head of the table in the Main Hall and rapped his fingertips against the expensive wood. He stared at the wall across from him until his vision went blurry, content to do and think of absolutely nothing for one Maker-forsaken moment before someone inevitably came in to ask him something or yell at him or-

 

“There you are!”

 

Varric's was the last voice Sebastian expected, but he found he was glad to hear it. When he turned in his chair to greet the dwarf, however, he was surprised to find another man standing in the doorway as well. “Donnic,” he greeted, “how are you?”

 

“Donnic here is doing terribly,” Varric said.

 

“That... is not false,” Donnic admitted. “I cannot sleep. I know Aveline won't show any signs of improvement until Andraste reaches the Imperium, perhaps not even until she returns, but that does not mean I feel content to rest while my wife and my son are neither alive nor dead.”

 

“I figured he could use a drink,” Varric explained as he dropped his stack of shuffled parchment on the table. “But I'm not gonna drag him to a bar, and I'll bet anything you have access to some quality booze. I figured we could have a drink and Donnic can tell me some things I can write about Aveline.”

 

Sebastian was tired himself, but he wasn't about to deny Donnic some much-needed companionship because of a little fatigue. He called for a servant to bring up a decent bottle of wine from the cellar, but when the woman returned with three bottles and three glasses Sebastian requested water instead.

 

“You could use a glass or two yourself,” Varric suggested.

 

“I assure you I had enough to drink the night before my wedding,” Sebastian laughed. “After that I am more than prepared for another decade of sobriety.”

 

“Shall we drink to our wives then?” Donnic asked. He raised his glass and his tired eyes tried to muster some semblance of hope. “May they both make it out of this safely.”

 

Sebastian nodded and rose his glass as well, trying to accept the reality that when someone spoke of him having a wife, they meant Andraste. Now, in addition to being his father's son and his people's leader, he was now his wife's husband. There was a whole new set of responsibilities that came with that, and while many of those expectations were self-imposed, that didn't make them any less important to him.

 

“Andra-” Varric went to exclaim before he pressed a finger to his lips. “Ah, see, stopped myself that time. But yes, this is really good wine. I'd forgotten what the good stuff tasted like.”

 

“Yes,” Donnic laughed. “Varric here has finally been able to stop taking his Princess' name in vain.”

 

“Thanks to Aveline,” the dwarf added as he rubbed his shoulder. “Maker, that woman really understands negative reinforcement.”

 

“And in multiple forms, trust me on that. You know, when we were on our honeymoon in Orlais she would barter at stalls by asking what the price of something was, and if she didn't like it she would make a face and put it back down. She'd ask about a couple other things, then pick up the item she wanted and ask about it again, and every time the seller would come down a little on the price. It was genius, worked every time.”

 

“She didn't just threaten to rearrange their face if they didn't let her pay what she wanted?”

 

“She could have, sure, but my wife isn't like that,” Donnic spoke as he stared down into his wine glass. “She knows when words are the best weapons. Or disgruntled facial expressions, when the situation so calls for it.”

 

“It sounds like you really understand her,” Sebastian noted.

 

“And, if it is not too forward of me to say, your Highness, it sounds like you are a bit jealous.”

 

Sebastian gave a bitter smile and nodded as he took another sip of water, regretting a little that he'd passed on the wine. “Yes, well, the circumstances of our marriages are quite dissimilar. You will have to forgive me if I am a bit envious.”

 

“You may be surprised to learn that our situations are more alike than you think. When Hawke and Isabela blurted out that Aveline was trying to... get my attention I-”

 

“I'm gonna have to stop you right there,” Varric interrupted. “Calling that blundering fiasco 'trying to get your attention' is like calling The Battle of Squealing Plains 'slightly noisy.'”

 

“She had reason to be apprehensive,” Donnic admitted. “I'd never thought of her in that way before. We talked often, but there was never any flirting. I never gave her any reason to think I returned the feelings because, in all honesty, I didn't.”

 

“That's interesting, because the sounds coming from Aveline's office told a very different story.”

 

“Let me tell you something,” Donnic started as he leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. “When the Maker hands you someone who is strong and noble and striking and just... unlike anyone you've ever met, you don't turn her away because you didn't fall in love with her the moment you laid eyes on her. Sometimes love is sweeping and romantic, and sometimes is born from immense respect and the humbling knowledge that someone that amazing has chosen you of all people.”

 

Sebastian looked up at the portrait of his family on the wall and remembered the advice his father had given him when he was younger. Well, his father had been talking to Mathis at the time and he just happened to overhear, but Sebastian had absorbed it all the same. His father was never an overly proud man, and though he could be a tad sententious at times, he never took full credit for the prosperous state of the city. “A good prince is a man who surrounds himself with smart men who do not agree with him and are not afraid to tell him so,” he always said, and true to his word Ayreon's council was filled with men who challenged him enough to ensure that he believed in and was ready to defend every decision he made.

 

“Are either or both of you free tomorrow?” Sebastian asked.

 

“I have a daily, non-negotiable calibration appointment with Bianca every afternoon,” Varric stated. “But other than that, I'm all yours, Your Highness. What do you need?”

 

“Would you be interested in serving on my High Council?”

 

“With... the nobles?” Donnic asked. “Your Highness, are you sure that's a wise move?”

 

“No,” Sebastian answered honestly. “But it is what I want to do. I spend my days tip-toeing around the issues, debating with men and women who seek to oppose me and placate me at the same time. It is frustrating and it is getting us nowhere.”

 

Varric finished off his wine and wiped his mouth off with the back of his glove. “With every passing day I swear you and your wife there make weirder and weirder decisions. You've got kids leading your Templars, your mages and your elves, and now you want some grunt from Kirkwall, no offense-”

 

“None taken,” Donnic dismissed.

 

“-and a consistently buzzed, though devilishly handsome dwarf to yell at nobles for you. I'd say you're either insane or a genius, but I'm beginning to think you're both.”

 

“I have leaders with fresh, new ideas,” Sebastian defended. “Tradition has stagnated any chance at prosperity we had under the previous regime, so maybe it is time we make unusual choices for no other reason than that they have never been tried before.”

 

Varric and Donnic were his friends, and they understood the gravity of even the smallest decisions. Anyone who spent enough time with Hawke came to learn that lesson quickly.

 

“What time should I report?” Donnic asked.

 

Upon actually hearing the man agree, Sebastian began to backpedal. “Are you sure? I know that with Aveline-”

 

“I cannot sit by her side and worry every hour of every day. At some point I have to put faith in the Maker and in Andraste, and work toward improving the world she will be returning to.”

 

“I'll drink to that,” Varric announced as he refilled his and Donnic's glasses.

 

“Does that mean you will be joining us tomorrow?” Sebastian asked.

 

“I can't leave Donnic alone with those stuffy bastards. They'd eat a nice guy like him for dinner, mutton chops and all.”

 

Sebastian smiled and grabbed his water decanter so he too could toast to the new alliance. For the first time ever, he began to feel as if Starkhaven was his city, and while the pressure to succeed was, at times, seemingly crippling, he wouldn't have trusted the role to anyone else.

 

Chapter Text

Note: I have a SIX person Dragon Age group that I am making all the costumes for and the craftsmanship judging is on July 13th. After this chapter I will not be updating again until after the convention is over, so alas I will be on hiatus until around the 20th of July. You can follow me over at casey-chu on tumblr if you wanna watch me slowly die inside because OMG why did I decide this was a good idea?

 

And here, have a picture of Sebastian and Andraste's wedding thanks to the lovely work of skillethelm on tumblr

 

 

***Imperial Highway/Minanter River Crossing, Nevarra***

 

Hawke didn't think anyone could have been more angry about what he did than Anders was, but then he told Andraste and watched as the offense and rage she felt coursed through her muscles, manifesting as a myriad of violent urges. Her arms pulled back for a moment as if she were going to shove him clear through the wall, but her hands were balled into tight fists and eventually came to rest somewhere near his neck, like she wanted nothing more than to choke the life out of him right then and there.

 

Anders tried everything to find Justice's consciousness again, even clutching a ring of pure lyrium which he claimed could “sing” to the spirit, but it didn't work. Andraste confirmed that Justice's power and presence in a human host would in fact be bound by such a deal, leaving them no feasible way of getting him back. The spirit could more than likely see and hear what was going on, but was the supernatural version of "contractually obligated" not to intervene.

 

“He's trapped,” Anders realized. The distant, frightful tone in his voice made it obvious that he was already dreading his turn. "He's locked up like a prisoner in his own consciousness, and during the war I will be too."

 

And yet, amongst the feelings of betrayal and frustration, there was a relief Anders couldn't hide; not from Hawke. A long-forgotten serenity permeated Anders' entire demeanor, and he somehow seemed less empty now that he was the only one home, so to speak.

 

The ordeal had also forced Hawke to realize two things. One, he wasn't afraid of Anders anymore, and two, 'anymore' meant he really had just been lying to himself the whole time.

 

Yelling about the complexity of the situation while still on-board the ship wasn't going to change or accomplish anything, so the three of them agreed to keep the information to themselves and address it upon their return to Starkhaven. They gathered the others and began the slow trek along the coast with Andraste in the lead and setting the pace. It was awkward to walk so slowly when he knew he had the strength and energy to go much faster, but Hawke knew it was something he had to get used to. Rushing, he had been told, was for the poor and the underprivileged.

 

As they walked, Hawke used the top of Andraste's staff to maintain the correct pace. It was forged from two steel rods that grew in width as they twisted their way up to the red gem at the top, held in place by what looked like the mouths of serpents.

 

“Do all of you have at least a basic understanding of horseback riding?” Andraste asked as the outpost began to come into view.

 

“I take it you aren't addressing your new slaves,” Fenris said. “Unless you've forgotten that bit of cultural custom.”

 

“Cultural custom?” Hawke asked, grateful for any topic of conversation that didn't involve him.

 

“Slaves walk,” Orana stated. “Beside their masters' horses. If celerity is of the utmost importance, magisters will use carriages and allow their slaves to ride the horses, but that is rare.”

 

“And we have neither a carriage nor the time required to have any member of our party on foot,” Andraste pointed out, “So we all have to travel on horseback.”

 

“You'll ruin your cover the moment someone sees you,” Fenris argued.

 

“And it will take three or four times as long if we do it your way. How long do you plan to make Donnic wait to see his wife breathe again or know his son is safe?”

 

Fenris stopped walking, and while most of the group stopped as well, Andraste made a show of continuing forward. She didn't halt until she heard Fenris mutter “Venhedis.”

 

“Excuse me?” she asked, turning only her head.

 

Hawke stepped aside and allowed Fenris to pass, confident that the elf would walk through anything between him and the target of his rage. “What right do you have to use my desire to help my friends as some tool to manipulate me into supporting your terrible decisions? I may not have much time left where I can speak against you, so I will tell you this now. You are a selfish woman, who cares nothing for the people she has to trample in order to accomplish her goals. You know nothing about me or any of us. You do not even know your own husband, a man who has been a greater friend to me than I deserve. But why would you when he's just a token you can cash in for status and an army?”

 

“Then why did you not let go?” Andraste asked in a hush so quiet Hawke almost didn't catch it. “Why did you not drop me into the ocean and free your friends from my 'selfish' plans?”

 

“Because Sebastian has been nothing but kind to me since the moment I met him, something you would see changed so he can go to war against everything he's ever believed in, and everything that has ever shaped him as a person.”

 

Andraste crossed her arms and laughed a terse, derisive laugh unique to only her, and Hawke had to admit he hated the sound. “That is your answer?” she asked. “You did not kill me because you believe I am corrupting your friend?”

 

“I may hate you,” Fenris admitted, “but I owe Sebastian too much to just let the woman he loves die, no matter how I feel about her.”

 

“Sebastian does not-” Andraste tried to rebut, but Hawke could tell Fenris had already planned on her denial.

 

“He has loved you since before you stepped back into this world. All the good that he believes in, both in himself and in others, is tied to your name. I may not agree with the purpose you have given him, but I acknowledge that he has one now. I wasn't willing to see him die with you, which he inevitably would have if I had let you go.”

 

Andraste clenched her teeth together and huffed an exasperated sigh, but otherwise didn't respond as she continued to walk again.

 

After spending days acclimating to the wealth that practically blanketed all of Starkhaven, Hawke found the site of Andraste walking into the crowd of travelers to be jarring. Her clothes were so expensive, made of heavy material and embroidered with gold accents, that she looked like art that had come to life in contrast to the dirt roads and weather-worn shops that surrounded her.

 

People were coming out to stare both at Andraste and at Anders. The merchants who had come in to barter, buy and sell were usually dressed well, but nowhere near as well as the two pretend magisters who had taken their place at the head of the group. Anders stared back nervously at first, but when he realized Andraste wasn't paying them any mind he tried to correct his behavior to better match hers.

 

Another awkward habit Hawke needed to get used to was his “place” in their group, both physically and socially. While he had been the one to defeat the Arishok in single combat and lead the mages in their fight against the Templars, he was still no mage. There were people of importance in the Imperium who weren't born with magic, but where they started and where they were allowed to go in regards to Tevinter culture were both much lower than the options afforded to mages. It put him in an awkward middle area; a kind of social limbo between the magisters and the slaves that reflected in his lonely spot at the center of their convoy.

 

Behind him Isabela was standing between Orana and Fenris, trying her best to avoid eye contact with anyone. The outpost was located at the north side of the Imperial Highway bridge, and she had expressed concern about being recognized. In Tevinter, having a former Pirate Queen as a slave was an accomplishment, but if she was recognized before then she ran the risk of her former allies believing she needed rescuing and her former enemies wanting her for themselves. Hawke was rather confident that she was fine, however. Even without her new clothes, something about her head being bowed and her shoulders being slumped made Isabela look like a complete stranger to him.

 

When they reached the stables, Andraste wandered in unannounced, and while the horse trader was within view, she didn't speak up or approach him. Instead she began touching and inspecting the horses, feeling their ribs and the state of their manes. Hawke could see that the trader was approaching to ask what she was doing, and just as he opened his mouth Andraste said to seemingly no one “Dar umo pecuniam.”

 

Hawke didn't understand what Andraste said, but he thought, at first, that the trader did. The man stopped short at the command, but after that he eyed them curiously and waited to see how the rest of them reacted, giving Hawke the impression that the man was reacting to simple use of the language and not the words. Between her demeanor, her language and her staff, Andraste had told the old man everything he needed to know about her.

 

Orana came up from behind them all and slid a coin purse into Andraste hands, demonstrating yet again how she could serve her mistress without even seeming to exist.

 

Purse in hand, Andraste finally turned to the trader and threw him the money. “That is more than plenty for the three we will be taking. Have them brushed and equipped immediatly.”

 

“Three?” Fenris asked without thinking. Before the trader could fearfully excuse himself Andraste spun around and backhanded Fenris across the face, causing everyone to jump back. Hawke fought hard to quell his desire to defend his friend, but he knew that Fenris could handle any actual danger.

 

“Yes three,” Andraste stated. “You think you get a horse? You've spent too much time away from the Imperium, boy. Re-learn your place.”

 

Hawke kept his expression stoic as Fenris seemed to debate the hidden meaning in her words. She stared into his eyes, softening her guarded expression for a moment and gave a subtle nod while the old stable owner remained frozen in place behind her.

 

“Yes mistress,” Fenris conceded. “My apologies.” He gave her one last pointed look before he returned to his place behind Hawke and awaited his next command.

 

The trader called for his workers to get Andraste's tasks completed, but before they left to buy food and supplies Hawke took a moment check on Anders. He found the mage standing off to the side, staring at his hands as if waiting for them to attack of their own free will. When they didn't, Hawke was almost convinced they actually had a chance at pulling their suicide mission off.

 

***Starkhaven Castle, Carver and Merrill's room***

 

She was usually back by then. The candles were burning their way down, their limited light reflecting off the empty glass bottles that littered the floor around him. He started his ordeal at the small table where they usually ate their breakfast, but Carver didn't feel right doing what he was doing in a place he had such fond memories of. If he didn't have to be in their room for secrecy reasons he'd have gladly been anywhere else.

 

He'd already thrown up once, disgusted even further by the unnatural blue color practically glowing in the pot he was hovering over. As the hours ticked by in silence and solitude he began to panic. If Merrill didn't come back he was in no state to go looking for her.

 

Exhausted, Carver let himself fall back the rest of the way until he was splayed on the floor. He let his chest heave as the room refused to stop spinning, and he tried to remember how in the Maker's name he ever thought this was a good idea.

 

When their bedroom door finally opened, Carver thought he was hallucinating at first. It wasn't until Merrill's hands were pulling his head onto her lap that he truly believed she had returned.

 

“Carver- Carver what's going on?” she panicked. “Did someone- What did you- Do you need a healer? Will you be okay while I get you one?”

 

“No,” he said, not sure which of her questions he was even answering. “I did this. I...” He was so tired he couldn't remember what he meant to say when he'd begun his sentence.

 

“What even is this?” Merrill asked as she shifted and took the bottle he didn't remember he was still holding. “Is this lyrium?”

 

“How much do you need?” he asked her. He felt so hot, and he'd long since drenched his nightclothes in sweat. The cool steel of Merrill's armor felt amazing, and Carver never wanted her to leave his side again.

 

“How much what? Carver what did- Creators what did you do?”

 

She sounded so upset, he realized, and it made him upset too. That wasn't his intention, to worry her like this. He thought he could take it. The other Templars had been choking lyrium down for years, and he figured the more he drank the more likely it would be that Merrill wouldn't need anyone's blood but his.

 

Life got fuzzy again, and he couldn't remember if he told her his plan or she put the pieces together herself, but once Merrill understood what was going on the room fell into a silence that Carver couldn't bear. “I'm their leader now,” he told her. “I couldn't ask them to do this.”

 

“This is all my fault,” she sobbed. The sound made Carver realize that Merrill hadn't cried since the day he pretended to turn her over to the Templars. She'd become a much stronger person since then, and he was proud of her.

 

“It's been a couple hours,” he told her, his voice still hoarse from the sting of it going down and the burn of some of it coming back up. He mustered enough strength to pull his arm off his chest, and he let it fall so the inside of his wrist was exposed. “Take it now.”

 

“Carver no,” she whispered. “I can't.”

 

“It's okay.” He tried to open his eyes, but the lights were dim and everything was doubling, overlapping in nauseating, swirling patterns. Usually Templars drank one small bottle throughout an entire day. Older men, due to their built-up tolerance and size, sometimes resorted to inhaling pure dust, but even that didn't equate to what Carver had done to himself. Merrill didn't have much time left before she'd have to call a very powerful, very discreet healer. “This is what I get,” he laughed bitterly, “for thinking that being a Knight-Commander and being with you was gonna just... happen. Like all I had to do was love you enough and it'd all be easy.”

 

“I know,” Merrill agreed, laughing through her tears. “What are we doing, huh? Being stupid, that's what. The leader of the Dalish and the commander of the Templars.”

 

“And the two most stubborn people in the world.”

 

“I think you might be right on that one.” She ran her fingers through his hair, and it felt so wonderful, like even the most insignificant physical contact was illuminating pinpricks of light in his skin.

Somehow she got him to the nearest wall and sat him up before she leaned in and kissed his burning, sweaty forehead. Then another indistinguishable amount of time passed, and for a while Carver thought he had actually died while sitting there. The clang of metal brought him back to reality, and Merrill helped him sit up again, as apparently he'd slumped over while waiting for her.

 

“Can you make a fist?” she asked. She helped him curl his fingers together and he squeezed as hard as he could. He'd made a fist countless times before, but this was the first time he'd ever been so aware of his fingernails digging into his skin.

 

“It's alright,” he told her one last time, knowing she'd need to hear it.

 

“I love you,” she whispered in return before running something sharp across his wrist. Somehow even the pain felt like it was... singing.

 

He was glad she didn't fight him on the matter. After all, he'd already made the decision for her, and he hadn't arrived at it lightly. It was the only way to have it all; to give Merrill what she needed while being the leader he felt the Templars needed. His brother always used to call him stubborn and selfish, and Carver wasn't going to argue with that anymore. Instead he was simply going to pay the price for burning the candle at both ends, because he certainly wasn't going to give any of it up.

 

***Starkhaven Castle, High Counsel Room***

 

“What do you hope to accomplish by having her here?”

 

The nobles had already come to expect Varric and Donnic at their meetings, but when they arrived to find Leliana seated beside their prince it seemed to erode the last of their patience.

 

“She is the topic of today's discussion,” Sebastian pointed out. “I thought it would be wise to have her here to advocate for herself.”

 

“Yes,” Varric agreed, “because apparently clairvoyance doesn't really impress any of you.”

 

“These are complicated times that warrant a great deal of incredulity,” Lady Erskin explained as she took her seat. She was the only woman on the Council, with bronzed skin and reddish-brown hair very similar to Sebastian's, and she was also more than willing to speak out against appointing Leliana as the Divine. During their discussions she made no attempt to sugarcoat the fact that she didn't believe the bard's “visions,” opting instead to explain away every one of them as coincidences and guesses.

 

“Incredulity is one thing,” Leliana defended, “but do not pretend you are doing anything less than calling me a liar.”

 

“You must admit that your visions, as you call them, have helped you gain a great deal of power and standing in Starkhaven,” the noblewoman argued. “You convinced our previous prince, a very impressionable boy with a known abhorrence of his title, that if he listened to you he could be free of his responsibilities. You demonstrated your 'abilities' by predicting that the heir to the throne would return when you knew full-well that he had been run out of his home in Kirkwall. And now, when we need you the most, you have a convenient excuse as to why you cannot be of help.”

 

“Leliana is not the only person afflicted by this,” Sebastian mentioned. “Do you not remember that Andraste herself has corroborated the Maker's silence?”

 

“Your Highness,” the elderly Lord Borland pleaded, “you must understand that it is difficult to fathom this without having been through what you have. Perhaps you have indeed been blessed with a perspective that allows you to see the Maker's true plan, but without having lived as you have and seen as you have, we cannot rule out the possibility that you would simply-” He couldn't even look Sebastian in the eye as he finished his sentence. “-like very much to believe it.”

 

Sebastian glanced down the table at Donnic, who nodded his acknowledgment in return. The prince was unsure if any other group in all of Thedas could speak with two opposing tones of voice in one statement, but his Council had turned it into an art form. “I have presented what I think is rather irrefutable evidence,” he told them. “I took the blood from Andraste myself, and I watched as it reacted to the Urn of Sacred Ashes. I have heard Andraste speak the truth about her past, and I ask you to tell me why she would create an elaborate new explanation of her life, as well as the march on the Imperium, when she could have simply reiterated the Chant of Light?”

 

“It's how I would have done it,” Varric admitted. “And I'm an expert at lying.”

 

Sebastian tried not to laugh at his friend's comment, but it was difficult to treat the petty political aspects of the coming war with the same severity as everything else. Bloodline and title dictated that he had the right to declare war without the approval of the nobles, but that wasn't how he wanted to do it. The nobles still had the power to forbid their children and workers from becoming soldiers, and they could pull their funding from the city's treasury. Sebastian had sent word to every ruling body that wasn't within the Imperium asking for aid of any kind, but he knew that none of them would react well to finding out that he didn't have the support of his own people.

 

Leliana straightened her posture and folded her hands neatly on the table. “Allow me to go over the course of events once more, then. After I helped the Hero of Ferelden kill the Archdemon I sought to continue my service to the Chantry through my work as one of the Seekers. In the beginning I served the order with pride, but at night I would dream of a coming war; a rebellion that would rage like wildfire into a war for the future of Thedas. Every night it was a different part. Sometimes I watched as younger and younger children were taken away for even being suspected of magic, thrown in to prisons and demoralized to keep them under control. Sometimes I saw Kirkwall glowing red from fire and old, sinister magics that should have remained forgotten. I saw the sun rise over Starkhaven to illuminate a ship which carried your true prince. And then I saw her. Them, really. Andraste and the Holy Mother, prepared to usher in a new age.”

 

“Again, there is nothing spectacular about predicting that Sebastian would, given the circumstances, eventually return to Starkhaven,” Lady Erskin stated.

 

“That may be so,” Sebastian relented, “but my arrival was not the important aspect of Leliana's vision. Donnic?”

 

Donnic straightened his shoulders and looked every man and woman in that room straight in the eye before he began. “You all know it is my wife and son who lie neither dead nor alive in your ballroom at this moment. It should be obvious to you that there is something extraordinary going on here, and I will not sit by silent while you claim that all this is happening for no reason. Those with connections to the Fade have been desperate to find Aveline since this rebellion began, claiming there is an energy inside her which draws them in against their will. One man, a Grey Warden, said it reminded him of the call of the Archdemon. The only reason your city isn't besieged with mages infected with this insanity is because Leliana not only knew about it, but knew how to quiet it.”

 

“Speaking of insanity and fighting,” Varric spoke up, “I should probably remind you that despite all the factions inside this city, everyone seems to be slowly learning to not rip each other’s throats out. You've got a good thing going here, and it's due largely in part to your Seer here. Divine magic or not, she's just plain smart."

 

“She also has the loyalty of the Templars, the elves, the mages and many of the former Chantry Seekers,” Sebastian added, “including Cassandra Pentaghast, a name I'm sure you know well.”

 

“Yes, I'm sure she does have serrah Pentaghast's 'loyalty,'” Lord Renton laughed. He was a larger man, and while he was known to be a thoroughly debauched individual, it was also what made him rather popular with a certain sect of nobles. “A pretty face like that can beset the resolve of many, I'd assume. Wouldn't you agree, Your Highness?”

 

That was a tactic Sebastian had been wholly unprepared for. He'd spent so long trying to build up Leliana as an ideal candidate for Divine that he never noticed how it would appear to others. There was no denying she was beautiful, cunning and similar to him in age. It brought him back to Andraste's heartbreaking farewell, and he was beginning to wonder if no one in all the Free Marches trusted him to remain faithful.

 

Sebastian panicked slightly as he realized how long it had been since Renton had made his hardly-subtle accusation. He needed to reply with something, but the longer he took to think of the correct response the more he knew he was proving the man's point for him.

 

“Claim it is seduction all you want,” Leliana dismissed. “I am not asking to be made Divine for power or influence. If my visions are correct then I am volunteering for a dangerous and difficult position that no one else will want, I assure you. I do not believe there is anyone who wants it now, am I wrong? If not, please bring forth your nominations.”

 

When no one could think of a single name to contest Leliana's claim, Sebastian felt the conversation was over for the time being. He knew they wouldn't resolve it that day, but leaving them with a question they could not answer seemed a good tactic for forcing them to reevaluate their stance on the matter.

 

He called for everyone to return to their duties and scheduled a continuation for the following day. As everyone left he thanked Donnic and Varric for their support, but found that Leliana was eager to leave, and he did not want to admit that he could probably guess why.

Chapter Text

***Imperial Highway, Southern Tevinter Imperium***

Hawke was almost thankful that the journey to the Imperium was so incredibly long. It gave them the time they needed to test out the subtle mannerisms they'd need to exhibit once they reached Minrathous; things Hawke would never in his lifetime have considered important enough to notice.

They had to begin their journey, however, by fighting their way across the Silent Plains. Andraste ignored the usual formalities and allowed them all to race across the blighted lands on horseback together. It helped them minimize confrontations with Darkspawn, which, while not a real threat to their lives, would have slowed them down considerably. By the time they made it through to safety they were exhausted, and the sight of a town on the horizon was he only thing driving them forward. While the rest of them collapsed on arrival, Andraste excused herself the moment they crossed the gates.

After annihilating a meal at the inn they'd checked in to, Hawke located them on a map and realized they were in a tiny town just outside Solas, mainly used for people to either prepare to cross the plains or recover from it. The only homes in the town were for the employees of the inns, weapon shops and taverns, so there wasn't much to see when he went to stretch his legs. It also meant that it was easy to find Andraste on her knees in front of the sign that marked the main entrance to the town, her posture displaying the kind of reverence usually reserved for Chantry prayers.

“Are you... hurt?” Hawke asked quietly. He knew public discussions of Andraste's injuries were strictly off limits, but he had no idea what she was doing; not until he was close enough to realize that he had no business being there.

Andraste's shoulders shook once without a sound, and then something escaped from her throat, obviously fighting its way past barriers that didn't want to let it through.

Hawke couldn't imagine that anyone had ever seen Andraste; the leader of armies, conqueror of magisters and chosen soldier of the Maker, reduced to tears with her knees buried in the dirt. He froze in response, unsure of whether he was supposed to stay or go, and his eyes darted around in the hopes that the answer lay somewhere in the scene before him.

Andraste was sobbing before a stone monolith with the name of the city, Heinrich, carved in faded letters at the top. Between his childhood lessons and Andraste's explanation of her past, Hawke knew enough about Chantry lore to know that Maferath got to keep the southern Tevinter lands after he betrayed his wife; the lands they were currently in. As he looked at the faded stone one last time he finally realized that it wasn't marking the entrance to the town.

It was a grave site.

There was only one person Andraste could have been mourning so ardently, and Hawke had no words to soothe the pain she must have been feeling in that moment. He didn't have children and he never would, even if biology wasn't working against him and Anders in that department. If a baby was found abandoned in the woods, it was likely better off being raised by Darkspawn (he noted to tell Varric that plot when he got back) than being raised by a self-admitted manchild and his half-demonghost lover. What he could imagine was how empty and guilty she must have felt being the one to survive. The whole scene brought him back to his mother's haunted words on the day of Bethany's eventual memorial service in Kirkwall: parents are never meant to bury their children.

He knew that Andraste had heard him, but Hawke chose to walk away as if nothing had happened. The next day, as they left the city, Andraste thanked him and they never discussed why.

As a result of their new roles, there seemed to be entire sets of language for each of them to learn, with the rules changing based on who was addressing whom. Andraste was Anders' mentor, meaning he was allowed to be forthright with her, but still humble and at least partially obedient, while she in turn spoke to him with a highly authoritative tone still laced with respect. Even among the servants there were variations on the customs, as masters were expected to address their personal slaves differently than slaves belonging to others.

Fenris had been assigned the role of Anders' personal slave, and Orana as Hawke's, considering the task of “breaking in” a woman of Isabela's reputation was something only Andraste could be trusted to do correctly. Truth be told, Isabela was shaping up to be a horrible slave, to the point where Hawke almost wanted to suggest they send her back to Starkhaven. She couldn't seem to deliver her expected responses without sounding rehearsed and insincere, all the while slumping her posture and ignoring the needs of her mistress in favor of her own. About two weeks into traveling, however, Andraste seemed to give up and declare, “Do not worry. I have a plan.”

That didn't reassure Hawke in the least, but if it meant not having to hear another lecture on the language of social hierarchy, then he was willing to pretend it did. He had plenty of other things to worry about, after all, not least of which was Anders' slowly shifting personality and Hawke's inability to decipher how he felt about it.

The changes were subtle at first, but things began to get more obviously perplexing when Andraste tried to describe Hawke's expected relationship with Anders.

“It should border on ownership,” she described, “but not in the same way as owning slaves.”

“What in the Maker's name does that even mean?” Anders asked.

“Act like you, at least partially, believe you own Hawke and he is yours to do with as you please; as if pleasing you is his privilege.”

Hawke expected Anders to argue, or note how disturbing the concept sounded, but the words that came out instead didn't sound like anything the mage had ever said, and the voice didn't even sound like his.

“Oh, I like the sound of that.”

Isabela and Fenris even stopped their tired, lagging pace beside the horses in an attempt to decide if they'd heard Anders correctly.

Hawke looked over in disbelief, so shocked by the behavior that he simply laughed with a stupid grin plastered on his face, unable to think of any other response to what felt like a taste of his own medicine.

At night Anders laid quiet, affectionate kisses along Hawke's neck and jaw before slipping into a peaceful sleep that lasted the whole night, leaving the rogue awake to stare at the sky and wonder who it was he was lying beside. Anders? The real Anders, if there still was such a thing?

He wanted to miss the man he'd spent six years of his life with, but as their journey continued Hawke was introduced to more and more things he hadn't realized he'd wanted; a genuine laugh with no hints of melancholy or bitterness, or a playfulness with some subjects that didn't interfere with the seriousness required for others. There was no longer a constant, underlying fear that Justice's vengeful wrath would just show up out of nowhere and warp Anders' consciousness. Because even if Anders claimed that he and Justice had destroyed each other, Hawke imagined that the other-worldly power of one of the Maker's first children was slightly more to blame than one pissed-off mage.

By the time they reached Vol Dorma, Hawke didn't feel any more sure of where he stood on the matter, but he did feel that he and the others were ready to blend in with the culture of the Imperium. Andraste and Anders brandished their staffs in public and threw around sovereigns as if the things grew on trees. Her royal highness booked one room entirely for herself and Hawke and Anders shelled out some serious coin for a large suit that included a large bathing room.

Andraste asked if there was room in the stables for their slaves, and Hawke could see Orana's face light up briefly out of the corner of his eye. There was a fine line, he had been told, between having the money and station to care for ones slaves and running the risk of “pampering” them, as if a roof over their head while smelling like horse manure was somehow bordering on too great a privilege for beings as lowly as slaves. The innkeeper charged extra, the same cost as it was to board their horses, and everyone left to get what little rest they could.

The next day they went shopping for supplies and Anders had to learn to let Fenris into his personal space. Orana and Isabela were... aesthetic slaves. They were meant to be pretty, quiet and obedient. When Hawke needed to pay for something Orana slipped his coin purse into his hand and removed it without a sound when he done. She held his purchases and stood out of his way, her spine straight with the pride she felt serving her master and her head bowed with the recognition of her station. Fenris, on the other hand, was meant to play the bodyguard; to look at anyone who wasn't Anders, Hawke or Andraste like potential targets ready to be slaughtered at the slightest provocation. The elf wasn't just a living weapon, he was a living shield as well. There was no personhood in his role, only purpose.

Isabela, on the other hand, was still faltering. Her instincts told her to study the world around her, not the needs and wants of her mistress. She didn't notice her cues to act, and constantly needed to be called on by name; something Andraste had warned them would ruin their cover immediately. When even that didn't work, Andraste called out something that Hawke didn't recognize.

“Naishe.”

It came out like a warning, and Hawke wasn't sure if it was in another language or simply something he misheard, but the look in Isabela's eyes betrayed a vulnerability the likes of which he had never seen from her before. Her chest heaved as she drew in a deep breath, but she couldn't seem to let the air go. Obviously furious, she gritted her teeth and tried to at least keep her retaliation quite. “Never call me that again.”

It was far too late for privacy, however, and Hawke could see the odd looks directed at them from the shopkeeper and the other patrons around them. Having no other choice, Andraste was forced to play her role out loudly and with convincing authenticity.

Thankfully Isabela didn't fight back when Andraste grabbed her by her hair and pulled back until the former pirate queen had no other option but to fall to her knees. A bright blaze of flames crackled to life in Andraste's other hand, illuminating the odd mix of fear and defiance still glowing strong in Isabela's eyes.

“You are not Isabela anymore,” Andraste declared tacitly. She didn't need to yell; Hawke could tell without looking that she had the attention of the room. “You are queen of nothing. You lead no one. You do not even belong to yourself. You, my pretty prize, are Naishe, the lowly child whore from the streets of Rivain. Do not forget that.”

Leaving no time for anyone to respond, Andraste swung her slave into a broken heap on the dusty shop floor. When Isabela tried to scramble to her feet, Fenris appeared from behind her and clamped one gauntleted hand over her mouth to keep her from letting loose the plethora of obscenities they all knew she wanted to screech at the top of her lungs.

“You need to learn your place,” Fenris told her. To anyone else it probably sounded like a slave acting on behalf of his masters' desires, but Hawke could tell the elf was trying to remind her what they stood to lose if they failed.

“Take her to gather our things and meet us by the road to the Imperial Highway,” Andraste ordered. “When you reach the outskirts of the city, beat her for her insubordination.”

Fenris nodded in compliance and roughly lead Isabela out of the shop.

Hawke tried with everything in him to act unfazed by what had just happened, telling himself over and over again that Fenris wasn't actually going to hurt Isabela; not when Andraste had been smart enough to send them away from the eyes of the city. It didn't help his nerves, however, when their leader resumed her shopping with a cold nonchalance that Anders was frighteningly good at mimicking. Another magister in the shop slid next to Andraste and pretended to browse the same shelf of potions before casually asking, “New slave?”

“New and unbroken,” Andraste admitted without looking at the man beside her. “But the more they fight it-”

“-the more rewarding when they finally submit,” he finished for her. That earned him a smile from the princess, one he returned in earnest.

Before they left the shop Hawke tried to get a good look at the man's face. He tried to take solace in the fact that if they completed their mission, and succeeded in starting a war with the Imperium, then he would get to watch the sadistic superiority drain from the eyes of this man and every last disgusting magister like him.

***Starkhaven, City Outskirts***

Merrill locked the bottles of Carver's blood in a chest in their room and studied every scrap of information she could gather between the books provided by the Circles and the various Dalish clans, which were still pouring in from across Thedas.

Carver recovered quickly with the help of a few very discrete healers, and was back to overseeing Templar training within days of his self-inflicted ordeal. He asked Sebastian to provide him with an excuse, and he was thankful when the prince did so without asking any questions. Carver would never have guessed that he'd be so proud to serve Sebastian of all people, but in time the man was beginning to come into his role as ruler of Starkhaven.

At the same time, Carver didn't have time to be humble about the things he'd accomplished on his own in his short time as Knight-Commander. He'd not only recruited the first ever (known) mage Templar, but he'd been able to convince two other mages to join as well. The two men and one woman were accomplished in combat and highly knowledgeable when it came to how mages engaged others both offensively and defensively. Carver enlisted them to run training sessions based on what they knew, as they were not only capable of instruction, but demonstration as well.

With the lyrium out of their systems, many of the Templars reported having more energy and clearer focus. Even Hollis admitted that his senses felt heightened, entertaining the idea that perhaps they were actually just returning to normal. He and the other Templars did still have occasional cravings for the stuff, but it was locked up in the palace and heavily guarded with the intent to save it for use by the mages in the coming war.

And then, as if his time as Knight-Commander hadn't been controversial enough, Carver began talking to Merrill about some of his recruits and asking her about a few of the elves. He called a small meeting on the training grounds a bit before lights-out in the barracks, and when the six recruits he'd chosen showed up, they were surprised to find six elves already there to greet them.

As much as he wanted to keep his numbers up and his Knights' skills varied, Carver knew the Templars focused mainly on heavy armor and sword work, be it two-handed weaponry or weapon and shield combination tactics. There was some room for dagger work, but their emphasis was never on speed, agility or accuracy. After being raised beside a brother who excelled in those areas, Carver recognized their usefulness while still acknowledging that the Templars would never excel at them.

The militia was an option, but Carver didn't seem to be done testing his luck. He knew Andraste had fought this war once before and, if anything, things only got worse afterward. If they did everything the same way, then they'd just end up with the same outcome, whether they won or not.

“Is this a training exercise?” one of the elves asked Merrill, almost acting as if the Templars weren't even there.

“No,” Merrill answered with a great deal of new-found authority, “it is an exchange.”

All twelve soldiers began to protest at once, but Merrill and Carver stood at the head of the group and demanded order.

“You twelve in particular have demonstrated proficiency in skills that your faction cannot properly train you in,” Carver explained to them. “To ensure we're all fighting at our best when the time comes to march, we will be sending you to hone your skills elsewhere; either under the guidance of the Dalish or the Templars.”

One of the young Templar recruits couldn't help but laugh. “You think they'd let us train with them? Bunch of stuck up knife-ears is what they are. Think humans can't move like that can.”

“Like shemlen would ever let an elf wear their precious crest,” a Dalish man shot back. “Some of us are just as good with an axe, if not better.”

“Funny,” Merrill observed, “how you all think the problem is that the other group won't accept you.” She paused for a moment and let that realization sink in before continuing, sneaking in a quick and knowing smile toward Carver that made him bite the inside of his cheek so as not to mirror it. “We are at war alongside each other, not against. Now is not the time to be petty. You are all very talented, and while your talents are greatly appreciated among your own people, you would serve them and yourselves better by serving elsewhere.”

“You will report to either me or Merrill tomorrow morning for armor fitting and skill evaluation,” Carver told them. “Until then you are all dismissed to pack your things before retiring for the evening.”

Carver was accustomed to hearing “Yes Knight-Commander” in response to his orders, but he understood why it was silence that loitered in the air that night as everyone meandered away slowly.

“You're a good leader,” Carver told her, trying to make sure the compliment didn't sound too affectionate. He wasn't saying it because he loved her, he was saying it because it was true. They were both willing to be daring, to be different, and different was going to win the war. Different was going to change Thedas.

“I'm not quite ready to return to the palace yet,” Merrill replied quietly without looking at him. “Do you think maybe we can take a walk?”

Carver was a bit nervous about the sadness and longing that seemed to tint Merrill's voice, but when he began to follow her she reached up and took hold of his arm, the only comfortable gesture of affection they could manage while they were both still wearing their armor.

They walked for quite a while in silence, and Carver got the idea that maybe she was trying to find someplace private for them to talk. When the elves had first shown up in Starkhaven they insisted on setting up camp outside the city walls. Then, when the city was practically bursting at the seams from over-population, more and more settlements began popping up along the outskirts. It took a great deal of walking to find a place that was still uninhabited, but the two of them did eventually arrive at a quiet, private clearing with an open view of the night sky.

“This used to all be ours,” Merrill sighed as she surveyed the land. “Not to own, but to harness. Ancient elven texts say that we once understood the raw power of nature, and it allowed us to be virtually immortal.”

Carver looked around as well, though he wasn't sure what he was meant to see. He supposed that was the difference she was highlighting. “Is that what you want? Immortality?”

“Creators, no,” Merrill dismissed, “I don't think anyone is meant to live forever. Who would want to do that anyways? I don't- I mean I don't want to die, but mortality gives life... meaning, purpose, importance, significan-”

“I get it, Merrill,” he interrupted gently. “But why bring it up then?”

“Being with you is different for me than it is for you,” she answered before pausing to play her words back in her head. “That didn't make much sense, did it? That's not what I meant. What I mean is the only thing you have to worry about is people looking at you funny. Like you're, I don't know, making a mistake or something. And I want you to know that I don't think like that, at least, not anymore I don't, or I try not to. But other people still do. I'm not stupid. I know they do.”

“That's because they are stupid,” Carver pointed out. “They don't know you, and that's their loss.”

“Even if you're right, that doesn't make the prejudice any less real,” she told him, and he could tell she was choosing her tone of voice carefully as to avoid turning their conversation into an argument. In his first real smart decision in some time, Carver decided to just be quiet and listen. “I'm not- I mean, I don't want you to think that I think about this kind of thing all the time, but it is something that others have brought up and-” Merrill skidded her rambling to a halt and started her thought over again. “Elves used to have grand kingdoms and a unified culture and powers that sound like they could only be true in one of Varric's stories. We used to have a complete language, not bits and pieces that no one can even agree on the correct pronunciation of. Now we're dying. Every generation fewer and fewer elves are born with magic. And really, the truth is that every generation fewer and fewer elves are born. We may call the children of elves and humans half-breeds, but it means nothing. They are born human in both blood and body.”

Carver looked down at Merrill, and when she finally turned to face him she could read the concern and confusion written plainly across his features. “I don't mean that- I'm not talking about our children, specifically, or at all really. Or anyone's children, if that makes any sense. What I mean is, I don't really care about who is born what. You know how when, if you don't have enough Halla, you breed them so you have more? That's not how I want my people to behave. I am not an animal. Elves are not animals. What makes us people is our history and our culture, and that is what we live on through. I've always wanted to revive that, but being with you just makes it so much more important. If I can lead us to victory and rebuild the culture we once had, then we can never die. Elven culture can do so much for Thedas, but the elves are too protective of what little they have left and the humans can't be bothered to care.”

“But you're working on that,” Carver reassured her. “We both are. Look at what we started tonight.”

“I know,” Merrill acknowledged with a faint smile. “And I'm excited to see how it plays out, but sometimes I worry that it won't be enough. The consequences of both side believing elves are the only ones willing or worthy to carry on our lore is that the survival of our culture depends solely on continuing to have elven children, and I don't think that's fair. I want everyone to have the freedom to make their own decisions without having to worry about the fate of an entire culture's survival resting on their shoulders. And so, if it means that someone like me can someday feel safe and accepted loving someone like you, then I'll gladly bare that burden for them now. I'll fix whatever broken scraps from our past that we still have and I'll risk my life to try spells other people are too afraid to. I just- I want you to know why it is I do these things. I want you to know that I'm not just being selfish and stubborn.”

“I never thought that,” he assured her. “I didn't-” Even though he knew they were alone, Carver still dropped his voice and chose his next words carefully. “I didn't do... what I did, because I thought I was catering to some impulsive whim you had. I understand why you need to do this. Or at least, I try to. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get confused sometimes.”

“I trusted that you'd understand, but I had to be sure,” Merrill admitted. “I am so grateful for what you did- for everything you've done for me, really. I do not want you to think for even a moment that I take your feelings for granted, but I worry that it can seem that way when I'm so wrapped up in the fate of my people. I love you both so much, and even if having both seems impossible, it will not stop me from trying.”

“I'm glad we have each other,” Carver said as he tried to affectionately rub Merrill's back despite his plated gloves. “I don't think anyone else could stand our particular breed of brash, cocky selflessness.”

“Probably not,” Merrill laughed. She smiled up at him before looking up at the stars. “But we don't have to worry about that, now do we?”

***Starkhaven Palace, Royal Chantry***

The decision regarding whether or not to appoint Leliana as Divine of the new Chantry was eventually shelved after Varric keenly observed that the war actually had to be won before a new trans-national religion could be established. Everyone agreed to withhold their final decisions until after the war was over, as there were plenty of far more urgent matters which needed to be discussed, not least of all was the ever-growing population of Starkhaven and the city's inability to house and feed its people.

Sebastian had expected allies to come in from other parts of Thedas, but the arrival of foreign aid hadn't ceased since his wedding. As word continued to spread further and wider, so then did the official borders of the city. There had been some farming lands surrounding Starkhaven when Sebastian was a boy, but most of their food arrived via the Minanter River from farmers in the soil-rich delta. Now, with Templars, mages, soldiers and elves bringing their entire families with them to Starkhaven, the need for food and jobs ended up leading to an unexpected agricultural boom.

Training was going well, or so Sebastian was being told via the plethora of reports stacked upon the desk in his bedchambers. He was beginning, in time, to see the positive results of his more-than-adequate leadership, but he still felt a stifling lack of support and companionship throughout his ordeal. As a result, he found himself allowing self-care to fall to the wayside on occasion, as evidenced by the fact that he hadn't shaved in weeks. Varric and Donnic approved of the new facial hair, however, and told him to keep it, lest people begin to worry about the implications of their prince not having grown his beard out on purpose.

It seemed, Sebastian often mused, that it was the subtle social responsibilities of being prince that were far more daunting than the political ones.

And yet Sebastian couldn't decide which was worse; the physical and mental exhaustion that came with shouldering his duties alone, or the crippling fear that plagued him before he went to bed every night, wondering if Andraste was locked in a Tevinter prison somewhere being tortured... again, while he slept under furs and dined on fish and egg pies. The fear either kept him up at night or seeped into his dreams to warp them into nightmares. On one particular night he found himself turning Andraste in to the Imperium before he awoke with a yell that, thankfully, none of the servants seemed to hear. He knew he wasn't going to sleep for the rest of the night, so he dressed himself in just his black jacket and pants and went to the only place that seemed appropriate after the Fade had shown him such terrible and deep-seated fears.

The Palace Chantry was much smaller than the City one, but now that it was empty for the night it seemed almost never-ending, and Sebastian actually enjoyed the feeling of being dwarfed by the magnitude of the place. Everything else in his life seemed so insurmountable in theory, but the Chantry was tangibly massive, and Sebastian found comfort in his ability to pinpoint the feeling and attribute it to something so grounded in reality.

It wasn't until he sat down to pray that he noticed the sound of someone else in the Chantry with him. He'd gotten much worse at situational awareness, having fallen a long way from the keen-eyed archer Hawke had depended on for perception and precision. When he stood up again he found Leliana walking toward him, clad once again in her Seeker armor. He still hadn't spoken to her since he'd embarrassed them both before the High Council, and he wasn't sure which of them had been responsible for avoiding the other. “Still having trouble sleeping, I see.”

“I supposed that much is obvious,” Sebastian relented. “It is frustrating, this feeling. All day I look forward to the moment when I no longer have to work, only to find myself unable to extinguish the roar of worries that come when I am alone.”

He didn't know why he felt so comfortable pouring out his concerns to her, considering it was entirely inappropriate of him to do so, but he trusted her nevertheless, and he was desperate for her guidance.

“Your work is difficult because you take the time to ensure that things are done right,” Leliana assured him. “If it begins to feel easy, then you should consider stepping down.”

“When I was younger this role was all I ever wanted,” he admitted. That time felt so impossibly long ago that Sebastian had trouble believing it had been real. “I coveted it like a petulant child even as I grew into adulthood. Now I have it, and while I would never give it up, I realize it is no prize. It is daunting, and it has required sacrifices the likes of which I never could have imagined.”

“It won't always be like this, though. It may seem impossible to envision it now, but there will be an 'after the war.' It will be a time of great reformation, and not only will your authority be unquestioned, but you will have Andraste there to rule by your side.”

Sebastian didn't realize his desire to laugh in response to her words until he had already rudely done so. Leliana's nose scrunched with uncensored offense and she looked fully ready to leave him there to wallow in solitude if he didn't have a good enough excuse for his behavior. “Please, let me explain,” he begged, “I am not- thank you, for trying to help me see a future in all of this chaos. I am truly grateful for your wisdom and you positivity, but I cannot, in all good faith, say that I believe Andraste and I will ever have anything more than a marriage of convenience.”

“Maybe that is true, but perhaps it is also enough” Leliana suggested. “In my time as a bard I collected many stories about so-called 'true' love; the kind that drives people to do seemingly impossible deeds in order to preserve it. In truth, they are all filled with pain and chaos and death. Sometimes the true beauty is in the mundane; in the simple facts we already know which grant us the peace we need. Your relationship with Andraste may not inspire poetry, but you will always know where she stands, and where she stands is by your side.”

“I would like to believe that,” Sebastian sighed, “but I do not think she has any interest in seeing me keep my promises to her. The earnestness with which I originally pledged myself to her was, perhaps, a bit foolish.”

Giving voice to his insecurities only seemed to grant them the power to sit heavily in Sebastian's chest. He reached back and let his palms rest on the back of a long bench as he shifted his weight back onto the wood.

“What is it that you want, then?” Leliana asked, her tone shifting in a way Sebastian found odd. She made her way toward him slowly, punctuating each of her questions with another step forward. “A beautiful wife? A loving marriage? Passion? Intimacy?”

“Whether I want those things or not is irrelevant,” he argued. “Andraste does not care if I ever share her bed. She allows- no, expects disinterest and infidelity.”

“Does she now?” The curious lilt to Leliana's voice made Sebastian's shoulders tense in reaction. He may not have heard that tone directed at him in many, many years, but that didn't mean he'd forgotten what it meant. “And where do you stand on the... possibilities that such freedom offers?”

Leliana's entire posture was bold and inviting as she leaned in towards him. Sebastian tried to hush the frantic clamor of questions in his mind long enough to answer even one of them, but the Seeker's ever-increasing proximity only served to remind him of her beauty and openness. He couldn't deny how much easier it would be to have her by his side instead, and the opportunity was presenting itself with what seemed like little to no consequence.

All he had to do was want it. All he had to do was take it.

At some point he'd shut his eyes in preparation to accept her advance, but after that- nothing. Sebastian wasn't sure how much time had passed, but never once did his body so much as twitch toward hers. This wasn't what he wanted, and something inside him knew that. When he finally opened his eyes and started to explain why Leliana had to go, he found that she was already walking down the middle aisle toward the exit of the Chantry.

She was never going to kiss him, Sebastian realized. It was a test. He felt like he should have said or asked something, but he was too confused to think of what that something was.

Luckily Leliana offered him one last piece of advice before she disappeared through the large wooden doors. “You do not have be what she wants, Your Highness. You need only be what she deserves.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, as promised

Chapter Text

***Tevinter Imperium, Minrathous***

From their place beyond the bridge, the city of Minrathous looked like a mirage. Its appearance was impossibly... dusty, like a chalk mural somehow drawn against the shimmering light of the Nocen Sea behind it. They had arrived around sunrise, but stayed at the foot of the long bridge until the golden hue of the sky melted into pale, clear blues above the city's massive towers. No one spoke, they all just stood in silence, preparing however they needed in order to survive once they crossed that invisible barrier into a world they all wanted to see burn.

“This is your last chance, Isabela,” Andraste finally said some hour or so later. “If you can't d-”

“Naishe,” Isabela corrected quietly. “If it please my mistress.” Her words still took time, and came out in awkward stops and starts, but Hawke finally trusted that she had the potential to play her part. “It will help me remember my place.”

“So be it then, and do not forget that the fate of Thedas is at stake here.”

Fenris placed a hand on Isabela's shoulder. “Thedas can rot,” Hawke heard the elf whisper to her. “Remember that this is for Aveline.”

Hawke didn't really know what he was out there fighting for, or if manipulating his way through the Tevinter social hierarchy could be called “fighting.” Honestly, it was another in a long list of circumstances in which Anders' fight had become his fight, but while Carver had once accused him of being too easily manipulated by “some mage's ass,” Hawke never once felt tricked or begrudgingly dragged along for the ride. And there would always be two weaknesses which could sway Hawke's favor: an interesting challenge and an underdog story.

When they finally moved, Hawke felt like he was wading through the air. Even on horseback, going forward was difficult. He questioned if they were actually going to do what they promised to do; if they were willing or able to accomplish such a task. They were the entire plan, and failure would end in death. A slow, agonizing, probably public death. But hey, at least there'd probably be a chant about it.

When they finished crossing the bridge, Hawke still couldn't believe the city was really there. He knew he was by the sea, but the place seemed to be coated in age and salt, like a husk of former glory left to crack and dry out. The people looked fake against the muted backdrop, so alive in contrast that Hawke jumped the first time someone moved in front of him.

Andraste looked every bit the magister; every bit the Princess as she rode at the head of their group with Isabela on the ground by her side. Hawke couldn't even see her face, but he could see the pride in her posture. Assurance braced her and authority radiated from her, and for a moment Hawke realized why Fenris never ran until Danarius abandoned his "property" on the shores of Seheron. Even without being conditioned by the culture, Hawke couldn't think of any place in all of Thedas where he'd be free of a power as absolute as Andraste's.

People poured out of buildings that looked long since abandoned. The structures appeared to have been great once, but their golden walls had been dulled by time, black roofs made matte but the unforgiving pulse of the sea's sun and wind. So much could have been done to fix them, or better structures could have been built in their place, but it seemed the people of the Tevinter Imperium would rather hold on to old, crumbling glory than admit that they would benefit from some much-needed changes.

As they moved further into the center of the island, the crowds gave way to cleaner, wider spaces and the buildings were more meticulously cared for. The feature most frozen against the tides of time was the Circle of Magi; a bold, black statement among the sprawling skyline, it was visible from every corner of the city. The entire structure was looked after with the utmost care, with pristine walls and multi-story stained glass windows illuminated by the early morning sun. The base of it was wide and sturdy, with every floor seemingly formed over time like the peaks of a luxurious mountain desperately trying to outgrown the heavens.

Hawke knew he could have ended up there. His father could have escaped to the Imperium with his talented mage daughter and their family could have had status instead of fear and farmland. But there was a reason why Malcolm preferred the oppression of the Templars to the illusion of freedom in Tevinter, and Hawke was already beginning to understand why.

The Circle was the obvious epicenter of Minrathous, but it wasn't the only point of interest that the city had to offer. To the west there were the Proving Grounds, and though Andraste and Fenris had described them before, nothing could have prepared Hawke for such odd architecture and pointless opulence. The dark wooden beams, which began in the four corners of the Grounds, were pitched forward until all four of them met at one central point, and all were adorned with exotic plants along every inch. To the east was the Argent Spire, taller than even the Circle, though somehow less impressive; maybe because it wasn't nearly as wide or because its silvery-white exterior made it seem holy and therefore rather innocuous. Hawke had asked once why the Black Divine lived in an Argent Spire, and immediately felt stupid when Andraste pointed out that only those outside the Imperium call her anything but The Divine.

And yet, even among the frivolity and the blissful, extravagant ignorance, what weirded Hawke out the most were the unexpected differences between the servants and the slaves. In the crumbling outskirts of the city, the butchers, sculptures, tailors and armorers lived packed tight like luggage, and yet they were still forced to share even that miniscule space with refugees who would probably never be returning to Seheron. In the city center, however, the slaves seemed, at least on the outside, to have a much better quality of life. They were cleaner and better dressed, though their status was written plainly in their body language. He couldn't imagine trying to make that kind of decision: between the so-called freedom of the slums or the undeniable benefits of being someone's slave.

Hawke was glad to have Andraste leading their group, because he was half-stuck in a daze he couldn't pull himself out of. Minrathous was like nothing he'd ever seen before. No stories or paintings could have prepared him for the full brunt of the Imperium's other-worldy presence. There was blood in the cracks between the beautiful cobblestones of the streets, from blood magic being practiced in public. Mage staffs were sold in the streets, and the ability to craft them was a highly respected skill. Hawke could see Anders eying some of them, and instinct told him to reach out and warn the mage about being too transparent. When his arm grasped a fistful of Anders' sleeve, however, both horses stopped and Hawke realized where they were; realized that Anders was in even finer clothes than him and worthy of a title far beyond the importance some "Champion" of a destroyed city.

“What is it, love?” Anders asked him.

“I... almost just warned you,” Hawke admitted.

“Warned me about what?”

“About acting too mage-y in public.”

Anders knotted his brows together and looked around at the city, as if he too had only just realized where they were and what that meant. As both he and Hawke looked around the crowded center, however, they found that no one cared. If anything, the people were far more interested in the pageantry and inherent importance that Andraste was exuding as she proudly wore her crown atop her head and couldn't be bothered to make eye contact with anyone around her. Hawke and Anders watched as she stopped in front of the main entrance to the Circle tower, and hurried their horses through the crowd to catch up with her.

When Andraste dismounted Hawke followed suit, and he was suddenly reminded that Orana had been by his side the entire time. She took his horse's reigns before she, Fenris and Isabela disappeared somewhere to the side of the tower.

Andraste moved like she was simply entering her home. Everyone turned at the sound of her entrance, made deafeningly loud by the clamor of her braces against the black marble floors. Hawke worried for a moment that the noise would give away her weakness, but instead it sounded like a warning; that under all her finery was sill the armor and the strength of a warrior.

“Greetings, travelers,” one of the magisters hailed as he saw them enter. He was an older gentleman by the looks of his face, but while his hair was thinning there wasn't a touch of grey in his black locks. “I am Raesion, Senior Enchanter and attendant to First Enchanter Flavaris. What business do you have here at the Circle...?” He paused then, looking over their outfits and allowing them to tell him how they should be addressed.

“Your Highness,” Andraste finished. She was taller than Raesion, and she made it apparent in the way she stood close and looked down into his faded blue eyes. “Where is the First Enchanter?”

“She is in meetings,” he answered. “When she is done I can tell her you wish to speak with her.”

“You do that,” Andraste told him. Hawke knew better than to question her out loud, but he was surprised that she let some stranger tell her she had to wait. He didn't realize that she simply wasn't finished yet. She took another step into Raesion's personal space as if she were claiming it for herself, and continued to demonstrate just how much she towered over the man. “Tell Flavaris that Her Royal Highness Princess Andraste Vael of Starkhaven has been left to wait after traveling for over a month to speak with her.”

Andraste Vael, Hawke repeated in his head. While that was technically her full name now, he doubted there would ever come a time when it didn't sound incredibly odd, especially from Andraste's own mouth.

“On second thought, how rude would it be of me to deny Her Highness a place to sit and rest after such a long journey?” the man asked with a desperate smile cracking its way across his aged features. “Come, and bring your companions.”

“We will wait,” Andraste announced. “Our slaves are bringing our horses to the stables. When they return, we shall go.”

The man looked a bit confused, but after a moment he understood what was going on. Andraste did not wait for others; others waited for her. All he'd done with all his subservient backpedaling was earn the right to stand there until she was ready.

When Orana, Isabela and Fenris returned they stood just inside the doorway with their heads bowed, but even at that distance it was impossible for Fenris to blend in.

“Fenris?” Raesion recognized. “How in the- I was told he escaped. They say he killed his master.”

I killed his master, actually,” Anders spoke as he stepped forward. “Which makes him mine now. Can't say I much like looking after Danarius' sloppy seconds, as it were, but he is useful, I'll give the dirty knife-ear that.”

Hawke took all the shock and disgust that welled up from his gut and swallowed it down, trapping it behind the clenched teeth he hid within his smile. The act must have been audibly difficult, because as soon as he did it Raesion seemed to finally notice the only person there who was neither mage nor slave. “And who is this?”

It was Hawke's turn to play his part. “Orana.”

“May I present my master, Lord Hawke of the Amell line,” Orana declared from behind him. “Champion of Kirkwall, slayer of Qunari and Defeater of Knight-Commander Meredith.”

“You missed the part about how handsome and rich I am,” Hawke chastised glibly.

“Of course, Master,” she said in utmost apology. “I will never leave such-”

“Hush,” he interrupted, thankful there was an in-character way for him to have her grovel as little as possible.

“Right,” Raesion dismissed before turning back to Anders. “And I didn't quiet catch your name.”

“Probably because I didn't quite throw it,” Anders shot back in an inappropriately light, mocking tone.

“He is my apprentice,” Andraste explained, “which is more than you need to know. Now, if you are done interrogating my-”

“No interrogations intended, Your Highness,” Raesion assured quickly. “Please, this way.” He led them to the staircase, which in turn led further back into the tower. They traveled down wide, red-carpeted hallways for a bit before they stopped in front of what looked like a small closet with crisscrossing metal bars instead of walls or a door. The Senior Enchanter pushed some of the bars aside and they collapsed into each other, creating enough space for them to walk through.

“The spiral staircase is to the east,” Raesion explained, and though the information was meant for the slaves, he still looked upon the masters when he said it. With the slaves gone to take the scenic route through some good old fashioned Tevinter opulence, the four who remained stepped into the room, and Hawke noted that there was no floor beneath the platform he stood on. When Raesion pulled on a rope that hung from the ceiling, the loud clamor of a bell sounded from somewhere far above them, and in no time the floor began to rise.

Hawke almost lost his footing at first, and while Anders seemed equally confused, Andraste and Raesion stood there like statues, unfazed by their rise in altitude. Entire stories of the tower scrolled by before them- libraries, enchantment workshops, lecture halls- until Hawke finally had the sense to look up and see that there was a group of elves slowly giving slack to a set of ropes above them. He tried to peer over the side of the contraption he was in, but he couldn't see what the ropes were leading to.

“This device is suspended by ropes and moved by counter-weights,” Andraste finally told him. “The Circle Tower has far too many floors, and its inhabitants are far too busy with more pressing matters than taking hours out of their day to trudge up and down the stairs.”

They stopped, finally, and stepped forward into a massive conference room. There was only one woman in the entire room, standing by her seat at the head of the dark, rectangular table in the center of it all. The messy arrangements of the chairs suggested there had been people in them not too long ago, and trying to figure out how she received word of Andraste's arrival so fast gave Hawke a headache.

“Blessed Andraste herself,” the woman stated, sounding less reverent and more.. amused than maybe she should have. She wasn't what Hawke expected from the First Enchanter, not after tales of ancient magisters and evil blood mages, but he'd stopped being surprised by people and their abilities the first time Merrill healed herself by draining the residual life force from a pile of fresh corpses.

First Enchanter Flavaris wasn't very tall, maybe a little taller than Merrill, with a long, tan face and coppery hair tied back tightly at the base of her neck. Much like with Raesion, Hawke couldn't place her age, as there was a heaviness to her eyes but also a youthful splash of freckles along her cheeks and neck. It trailed all the way down to the plunging, black fur neckline of her slate-grey robes.

Raesion was back in the odd levitation contraption before anyone else had a chance to speak, and it made Hawke feel a bit like he was being fed to the High Enchanter. She closed in with an idle kind of saunter, face beaming with forced politeness. “I must admit that when I heard news of your return to Thedas, I did not expect to see you here of all places.”

“I doubt anyone would,” Andraste said. “The people have been lied to for centuries. Tell me,” she began as she filled her palms with glowing white fire, “why I would call for the persecution of my own people?”

“My, well isn't this a revelation,” Flavaris observed with a new light in her eyes. “This answers many questions and raises thousands more, not least of which is 'Why come to me?' What is it that you need from me, Princess Andraste?”

“I need you to call the Senate to Minrathous. Magisterium representatives as well as Chantry.”

“First Enchanters do not serve on the Magisterium, Your Highness. That is something you should have taken up with Raesion. He is the Minrathous representative.”

Andraste smiled and moved in closer toward Flavaris. “Why tell Raesion, only to have him inevitably ask for your permission? Powerful women can always recognize the stench of weak men.”

From the corner of his eye Hawke watched Isabela, Fenris and Orana finally appear from the other side of the room, their chests heaving in silent exhaustion as they took their places against the wall, like furniture. He almost wished he'd had the option to join them in their role. He had no idea what to do with his face or hands or posture while Andraste and Flavaris spoke, and he began to envy the invisibility of slaves.

“Your senses are indeed keen,” the woman acknowledged. “I will send word at once. But what should I tell them? The reports of your activities have been... confusing. Destroying the Grand Cathedral and fleeing to Starkhaven to marry the Prince, then nothing. No one knew what you wanted or where you were going. Ex-Templars, mages, elves, all gathering under your command. Why? And even you must admit that your claims are rather incredible. If you truly respect me as another woman of wisdom, you will understand why I must ask what I do.”

“No, it is fine,” Andraste conceded. “Why should you believe that I am Andraste, chosen sword arm of the Maker and woman of legends? But before you ask that of me, I implore you to inquire some things yourself. There are many lies I could have woven when presenting myself to you, or no lies at all. Prophetess or not, I am still princess of a grand city with an army at my command and incredible power in my blood. I do not need you to believe that I am who I claim to be, I simply want you to. I want the Chantry to hear word that I have come to you, my true people, seeking aid in my war against their fear-fueled lies. I will let no man call himself 'Andrastian' who would deny the superiority of those blessed with magic. I started that war ages ago, not to defeat the magisters, but to take my place as their rightful leader. Archon Hessarian thought the Imperium grand enough under his reign, but I knew that we are destined for greater things. The Maker gives us the power to shape dreams and reality. We are his chosen. All of Thedas should be ours, and I will ensure that it is.”

Flavaris finally stopped smiling, and yet she somehow looked happier.g. She probably didn't even realize, but at some point the woman had slowly, subtly begun to nod. “I shall tell them as much, Your Highness. And please, feel free to stay at the Circle during your wait. There are guest quarters in my wing, just past that door,” she explained as she pointed to the room's western exit. “They include room for your slaves as well.”

“Your hospitality is most welcome,” Andraste said as she bowed slightly. Anders did the same, though a bit lower, meaning Hawke had to bow even lower than that.

“I will go set the needed plans in motion. You, your apprentice and the Champion are free to rest after your long journey." Flavaris gathered her robes in one hand and exited the room with practiced grace and poise, leaving via the same door the slaves had used. Hawke didn't waste any time heading toward the First Enchanter's wing, but as soon as he touched the engraved black latch he felt a jolt tear through his body. The shock sent him reeling back until the floor eventually stopped his ass from falling any further.

“Clever woman,” Andraste muttered to herself. “Enchanted lock, and a powerful one at that. It can only be undone with blood magic.”

“Then how are we going to get in?” Anders asked, though he seemed to realize, as soon as the words left his mouth, what the answer was.

Andraste drew the small blade which she kept on her hip and brought it up to the palm of her hand. For a moment her shoulders slumped with apprehension and what Hawke believed to be shame, but she stood up straight again once the blade sliced its way across her flesh. She made a fist and let blood collect between her fingers before finally pressing her palm to the door. Even underneath the plush red cape she wore, Hawke could see Andraste's muscles ripple with strain, her strength coming as much from her body as it did from the Fade. It started somewhere deep in the core of her chest, rolling over her shoulder and down her arm until a wave of dark, red energy pulsed over the door.

“Long live the glory of the magisters,” Fenris recited bitterly as he approached the door as well. It was probably the last biting remark he'd be allowed to get in, and though Andraste shot him an absolutely venomous look, she didn't say anything to defend herself.

***Starkhaven, Templar Training Grounds***

Despite having trained with his new elven recruits for a week, Carver still had issues anticipating how strong they'd be. They did all the same exercises and drills, but they just did not bulk up the way humans did. As a result, Carver's eyes constantly told his reflexes that he didn't need to take the elves seriously, and every time he found himself having trouble guarding against surprisingly strong blows that shouldn't have surprised him at all.

He placed a few senior Templars in charge of sparring practice and left to oversee lunging drills and check on the last few men who were having issues with their lyrium withdrawal. For the most part, everyone had recovered completely within a month of quitting the stuff, but a few Knights either weren't very lucky or weren't very disciplined. A couple figured out how to get it anyway, bouncing back and forth between recovery and relapse, while others had abused it during their time in the Order, strengthening their addiction and leaving their bodies extraordinarily weak without it.

He didn't make it to the barracks before he heard a few of the Knights yelling about something in the distance. He headed for an area known as Proving Point; a flat sparring ground located at a rather high point in the middle of the city. It was already beginning to fill with people by the time Carver got there, but even without a stellar view he could see the smoke rising from the forests at the outskirts of the city.

“Do you think the Dalish had an accident?” someone in the crowd asked.

“You'd think a bunch of tree-huggers would be more careful with their fires,” someone else laughed, though no one laughed with him.

“I don't... see any flames...” Knight-Captain Cullen realized as he narrowed his eyes and shielded them against the midday sun. “How is there smoke by no f- Wait, are- there are flames, they're just black.”

Carver finally demanded that the crowd let him pass so he could see his Captain's unbelievable claims for himself. Sure enough there were whip-like flickers of black dancing beneath the smoke, the likes of which Carver had never seen before; not as the son of a mage or as a Templar. He called for one of the younger Knights to fetch the nearest horse as he continued to monitor the situation, noting the impossible way in which the fire seemed to grow in strength and yet never spread.

As soon as the reins were in his hands Carver climbed atop the horse and rode at full gallop down the city streets, shouting as he went in the hopes that people would hear him and get out of his way in time. On one particularly sharp turn he nicked a street cart and broke off a few pieces, but it was something he'd have to address later.

When he reached the outer gate there were elves fleeing into the city, shouting about demons and black fire. He tried to ride the horse out toward the forest, but the beast froze at the sound of roaring and the crackling in the distance. Without any other options, Carver set out on foot and maneuvered his way between trees and over gnarly roots until he came to the edge of the great black flames. He almost didn't trust what his senses were telling him, because while the fire radiated with life, it chilled his skin to be near it.

And dead in the center of it all was Merrill, her body so still she looked like nothing more than an outline among the flickers of darkness around her.

With great apprehension and focus Carver crept between columns of flames, noting how they seemed to decay the trees around him instead of burning them. When he finally got within earshot of Merrill he tried to call out to her, but the echoes of splintering wood drowned his words before they could reach her. Though his muscles felt stiff from the cold and his throat began to clog with soot, he found the strength to push himself forward, narrowly avoiding being crushed by the fall of an enormous, rotted tree.

Carver expected to see some signs of life coming from Merrill once he got closer, but even as he stood within arm's reach of her he couldn't even tell if she was breathing. She was standing up perfectly straight without the slightest bit of sway, arms at her side and face turned up toward the sky. She had her back to him, and while Carver was afraid of what might happen if he touched her, he had to at least try.

He let his hand fall upon her shoulder and spoke her name as if trying to wake her from a dream. He wasn't sure what got through to her, but in an instant the flames simply evaporated into the air, leaving the earth and trees to bare black scars as soot settled over everything around them.

“Merrill,” Carver called again with a bit more volume and desperation than before.

She turned to face him slowly; first just her head, then her shoulders and back began to follow. She squinted at him as if he were far away, then blinked repeatedly before finally uttering, “Carver? When did you get here? Where is ev-” Her own question was cut short by the strangled gasp she let out in response to the destruction around her. “Creators, what happened? Where... have I been? Are you hurt, ma vhenan'ara?”

Carver took the final step needed to bridge the gap between them as he brought his free hand up to rest on her other shoulder. “I'm fine, Merrill. I think everyone else is fine too. Do you have any idea what happened?”

“No,” she cried, “I was just- we were meditating. Zoren was leading us in an ancient elven chant and then I-” She stopped and looked back up at what was left of the canopy above her. “I heard someone calling to me from the sky. I stood up to try and see what it was and then everything just went... black.”

Carver had a question lingering under his tongue, and while he knew he had to ask it, he certainly didn't want to. “Merrill,” he began after taking a deep breath, “is there even a chance that you've-”

“I am not possessed!” she shouted as she stepped back and practically shed his hands from her body. “How many times have I told you that demons don't fuel blood magic? They teach it, and I finished learning it long ago. I will not fall to demons, Carver.”

Even though she said his name, Carver got the distinct feeling she was reassuring herself more than she was reassuring him. “I know,” he stated slowly and calmly. “But if that isn't the answer, what is?”

Merrill stared at the decay surrounding her and came up with nothing. She got on her knees and grasped a handful of unrecognizable blackness from the ground beneath her. “I don't know,” she said as she let whatever it was fall from between her fingers. She rested her hands on her thighs, smudging the soot down her legs, and let her shoulders slump in defeat. “I don't know,” she whispered again, and Carver found himself experiencing an entirely unwanted glimpse into how difficult it must be for his brother to fear the love of his life.

***Starkhaven Castle, Throne Room***

“You have a lot of nerve showing up here after yesterday's display,” Lady Erskin shouted across the throne room. Merrill didn't turn to face her, and that only seemed to enrage the noblewoman further. “You could have destroyed the city and now you ask that we waste our resources to protect you and your people.”

“My people are the first defense this city has against an invasion,” Merrill explained, though she was looking into Sebastian's eyes when she said it. “We're not asking for a stone wall like the one outside the main city limits. All we ask is for whatever laborers you can spare for the construction of a wooden fence. The seconds it takes for an enemy to scale an obstacle like that is enough time for an elven archer to take out at least three of them, not to mention the ways in which it deters animals."

"And demonstrates the lengths to which your kingdom has grown,” Varric added. "Size matters."

“Starkhaven is far from the size of a kingdom,” Sebastian corrected respectfully, “but I understand your meaning. Merrill, I will grant you the people and supplies you need.”

Sebastian had finally found the time to have an audience with representatives from across the city, and while he was glad to hear updates about the war effort and have a hand in making sure the people of his city were safe, he could have done without the bickering that arose in response to every decision he made. At least, he rationalized, there was always at least one person there who was on his side.

Varric sat at a small desk to the right of Sebastian's gold and white throne, and to the left Andraste's seat remained empty. He tried not to think about it too hard, as he knew he had to devote all this focus to the diplomatic razor's edge he was constantly balancing on.

“And what if there is another incident?” Lady Erskin posed. “What if this mage woman loses control again and wipes out this barrier which you so readily provided?”

“Merrill,” Sebastian lead in, “What have you to say on the matter?”

“Frankly I'm a bit distracted by the fact that she recognized me as a woman and not just 'some elf,'” Merrill answer in disbelief.

“Oh, I recognize you as plenty,” the councilwoman assured. “Woman, mage, elf, abomination.”

“That is enough, Councilwoman,” Sebastian warned.

“She summons a demon's fire and you sit there and def-”

“It was not the work of demons,” Merrill interrupted. “It is old magic, older than even the first of your kind.”

Abandoning her debate with Merrill, Lady Erskin stormed toward Sebastian's throne only to have her path blocked by Donnic. When she couldn't get past him she leaned to the side and argued around him. “You cannot expect us to allow these dangerous arts to be practiced within our city.”

“The matter of Daisy's power is the least of our issues,” Varric cut in. “Reports are coming in from some of my... sources that say the Chantry is pissed off and ready to march any day now. With the way Starkhaven is getting too big for her breeches, I say build the wall twice as high as the Dalish are asking for. It's not like we don't have the wood. How many trees did we chop down to make room for all their farmland? Which, I might add,” he directed at Lady Erskin, “is putting food on your table. So when the Chantry comes in and burns all our crops because you didn't want to let the elves have an Ancestor-forsaken fence, don't come crying to princey-boy here because you're hungry.”

The councilwoman blinked hard in response to Varric's threat.

“Then the decree stands,” Sebastian told her. “Donnic, will you oversee this project?”

“It would be my honor, Your Highness,” the guardsman proclaimed.

“You may recruit as many non-military personnel as you feel you need, and -”

“Um, if I may interrupt,” Merrill called out. “Uh, Your Highness? Right? Not your Majesty? Yes, that's something else. A king I think. And wait -do I bow or anything, when I address you?”

“You may speak however you like,” Sebastian told her. “What is it that you need?”

“Different supplies," she answered, "to help with forging armor. Many of us can't move in human armor; it doesn't fit right. And since we're heading into the cooler weather, more axes to stockpile firewood.”

“I will let Donnic handle that, then.”

“Will you now?” Donnic asked with lighthearted sarcasm. “You're too kind.”

Lady Erskin, however, was not content to let it end there. “Is this how you intend to hold all your audiences? With foul language and jokes while you hand out favors to your friends? I was there when your parents first took you to the Chantry, and I was there when you started breaking their hearts with your childish antics. We kept the city afloat while mourning their murder. We protected Goran when your enemies would have tried to use his simple nature against us all. Not you, and certainly not them. We are your people, Sebastian- your kin- and we should be respected as such.”

“All who pledge to work and fight for the city of Starkhaven are our people,” Sebastian corrected. "Your work is not disregarded, but your insistence on keeping up this insular nature will kill us."

“Your war will kill us!" she snapped. "If not the enemies you've made without consulting any of us, then the lit bombs you've invited to live on our lands. Are you truly content to see blood magic and other ancient evils practiced in your name just because it is being utilized to defend the city?”

The crowd broke out into murmurs of agreement, and the nodding faces looking to Sebastian for a response did not seem as though they would be swayed easily. The prince gave one last look at the empty throne beside him before he stood up and heaved a pensive sigh. “You are right, Councilwoman,” he relented, and the look on Lady Erskin's face told him she wasn't expecting that response. He stepped down and paced slowly by the foot of his throne, cape dragging behind him slightly as he walked. “Merrill is indeed powerful, and she has admitted to resurrecting an ancient magic which she does not yet know how to control. Let us exile her then, despite the fact that no one was hurt and what damage she did cause ruined a few tress and a canopy they built themselves. Let us exile all mages who dare use abilities which we do not understand, instead of giving them the opportunity to serve this city. Let us throw them into the ranks of our enemies, where they can falter and grow under someone else's protection. And eventually, when they have mastered their talents, let them unleash upon us the full might of their potential.”

“This is-” the woman went to argue, but Sebastian was through with her misguided stubbornness, and he wasn't going to allow it any longer.

“This is what, Lady Erskin? This is why the Maker turned on us? This is why He deemed that only Andraste herself could possibly lead us out of the disconsolate environment of prejudice and persecution that we created? Good people have already died in this fight; people I loved like family, and that is why this war must be the last of its kind. We have destroyed ourselves with ignorant, sweeping generalizations for far too long. We need to build a world in which people earn respect and status by serving the common good, not by following arbitrary rules and casting out those we fear because of whatever potential harm we believe they are to us. Mages will not stop being born, Councilwoman. How many more centuries before we finally realize that and create a realistic plan instead of keeping up the delusion that sadism is the more 'holy' path?”

The throne room fell into dead silence, and it was Varric who finally stood up and said something to interrupt the quiet. “Today's audience with the Prince is officially over. Adjourned, if you will, and I'm sure you all know the way out.”

There were more murmurs as the small crowd left, ushered politely by Donnic, but Sebastian was glad that they were at least discussing what he'd said instead of rioting against him. He turned to sit back down, but found Varric standing between him and the throne.

“You're really not going to take their bullshit anymore, are you?” the dwarf asked.

“No,” Sebastian answered. “I don't suppose I am. I do see the root of their fear, but holding their hands will hinder our progress for generations. We do not have that kind of time.”

Varric laughed and smiled wide as he stepped aside. “Good, because those reports weren't a bluff."

Sebastian, unsurprised by their validity, climbed the two red steps that led to his throne. The action took him back to the moment when he joined the Divine atop a very similar structure; the moment he proved he was a servant of the Maker and not the Chantry. It seemed so very long ago, and while he felt the blood of Divine Justinia would never truly be washed from his hands, he wasn't sure he wanted it to be. 'If it begins to feel easy,' Leliana had told him, 'then you should consider stepping down.' He never wanted to feel like killing Justinia had been an easy choice; only a necessary one.

After he sat down, Sebastian reached up and removed his crown, staring down at it like he did when his father had let him hold it as a boy. He left it on his lap as he rested his weight on the right arm of the throne, scratching at his stubble with his free hand. The room was empty save for Varric, and while empty rooms had once made him feel incredibly lonely, Sebastian was beginning to appreciate solitude and having time to reflect. He was upset that Andraste couldn't be there with him, that much was true, but there would come a time when she would rule the city with him, seated in the throne beside him where she belonged.

 

 

 

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and some amazing art of the brave trio by nathanfielders

Chapter Text

***Guest Chambers, Minrathous Circle***

As much as he felt guilty admitting it, Hawke didn't feel like every part of his role was terrible. Anders was expected to claim Hawke, and in return Hawke was expected to be in awe of his magister lover's skill and status, which usually meant a great deal of public affection going both ways. Then there was the matter of convincing the First Enchanter that their relationship continued as such in private. She was busy most of the time, but she had a dozen slaves who acted as her eyes and ears, meaning they had to play their parts even when they were behind closed doors, and play them loudly.

A week into their stay at the Circle Tower, Anders was bold enough to push Hawke right up against the door so anyone trying to eavesdrop would get a clear idea as to how things were when “no one was looking.”

“I'm going to have fun with you tonight,” the magister's apprentice declared as he pulled the belts off Hawke’s armor.

“And what kind of fun did you have in mind?” Hawke asked. He tried to grab hold of the Anders' hair, as old habits die hard, but found his fingers yet again slipping through the short strands. Hawke had to undo the clips holding on the expensive breastplate; had to slide off fine leather shoulder pieces and pull off well-crafted gloves with his teeth, as per his beloved's orders. The whole fantasy was so... fun that it terrified Hawke, but even the terror only added to it. There was life all of a sudden, a needed breath of love and affection amplified by the fear of losing each other. And yet, somehow, they were actually pulling it off. They were getting away with their plan and they were playing their roles very, very well.

Hawke tried not to think about their companions in the slave quarters, all of them crammed into one room and left to sleep on the bare stone floor. The week had passed without much incident, thankfully, and while the three of them were probably hungry and sore, Fenris' horror stories hadn't really come to pass. If all went well, hopefully they never would.

So Hawke felt it was okay to ignore it for a while; to let his head fall back against the door as Anders bit at his neck and made him say “please” nice and loud for anyone who might be listening. With their roles played out enough, they shed their titles and threw them to the floor. A path of Champion armor and magister finery was left between the door and the bed as the two man fell on top of the plush furs that no one ever slept under; not with Minrathous' constant northern heat saturating the air. They were both on their sides, sweating within moments, but it did little dissuade them from clutching to each other, legs sliding in tangled knots as Anders pressed his fingertips into the muscles of Hawke's shoulders.

Usually, it was perhaps too easy for Hawke to let his eyes slide shut and focus on the sensations, but lately he had a hard time remembering it was Anders unless his eyes were open. And while it was odd to not recognize the touch of the man he loved, it was amazing to watch the mage at work; so ardent and impatient in ways Hawke adored. He would gladly relearn everything he ever thought he knew about Anders if that was his reward.

When Anders rolled on top of him, Hawke almost resumed the pleading that he'd begun at the door. This version of Anders didn't want him; no, this Anders deserved him. Some of it was just silly roleplaying, but the vast majority of what he was feeling was genuine desire. Hawke loved Anders, but sometimes he didn't feel like he could live up to the whole-hearted longing with which his lover pined for him, even after they'd gotten together. During their week in the Tevinter Circle, however, all of those demons seemed to be gone.

“We have to get up early tomorrow,” Hawke reminded, even as his knees came up to flank Anders' hips.

“Is that your way of rejecting me?” Anders asked.

“Of course not.” The fingers at the nape of Anders' neck pulled him down closer so Hawke could whisper quietly, “But I'm not the one who has a part to play tomorrow. The most I have to do is stare at you like you're the most powerful, handsome man I've ever seen.”

“You never know with these people,” Anders whispered back. “But let's not talk about that right now. That's tomorrow's problem.” He hushed Hawke by biting his lip, pressing his body down as he moved his hips in circles.

The fact of the next day's importance still lingered in the air, however, and Hawke knew they didn't have the time to... do things properly. He demonstrated his suggestion for how the night should proceed by using his legs to lock Anders against him, reaching down to sink his fingers into the mages thighs and savoring the approving moan he'd earned.

Anders hooked an arm under Hawke's neck and braced the other against the headboard for leverage, shifting his body at an erratic, desperate pace. Hawke may have been the one pinned down, but he still had plenty of control over the angle and the friction and the lovely, breathtaking view of Anders above him. Arms and legs moved wherever they felt they needed to be until eventually there were no directions anymore, just the two of them beside and around each other in a mess of kisses and ragged breathing. When that friction proved not to be enough for either of them, Hawke was kind enough to reach down between them and earn his magister's favor. Keeping his eyes open gave Hawke the opportunity to watch Anders arch back and shudder with a breathy groan that the First Enchanter and her slaves could most certainly hear, just in case they had any doubts about how devoted Hawke was to his “lord.”

Satisfied but still not nearly finished, Anders bit at the skin behind Hawke's ears and reached down to reward his lover's good behavior. Hawke's senses were finally overwhelmed enough to make his eyes slide shut as he gave in and quieted his worries. Anders was Anders, and pleasure was pleasure. Surely it didn't need to be any more complicated than that.

Hawke hissed between clenched teeth as he came, not noticing until afterward that he'd had a rather bruising grip on Anders' bicep. The other man didn't seem to mind, however, and after a lazy bout of slow, deep kissing they cleaned up in their bathing room and tossed the stained furs aside.

Neither of them bothered getting dressed. The warm nights didn't really call for it, nor did they require more than a thin linen for sleeping under. As Hawke lay on his back Anders moved to tuck his head under the rogue's chin, his stubble abrasive despite Hawke's thick chest hair. They shifted and sighed and settled into their positions, content to be still and listen to each other in the welcome silence of their quarters.

“I love you,” Hawke found himself saying without any forethought, his body tensing as soon as his own words met his ears. He felt strange, like he'd somehow said the words “too soon” or to the wrong person.

“What in the Maker's name has you so nervous?” Anders asked. “I can hear your heart pounding. It's not like you have to worry about me saying it back,” he said with a laugh as he sat up to look Hawke in the eye. “You're acting like you've never said it to... me before...”

When Anders trailed off they both knew exactly where that observation was going and what it implied. Anders was sitting up on the edge of the bed before Hawke could react, and there wasn't anything either of them could say to take the realization back once it was out there.

“I'm not that-” Anders began to say before he laughed bitterly. “Of course I'm that different. I finally... and once this is over it'll all... Why did you let him do this?”

“In all fairness you don't really tell me much,” Hawke whispered harshly. It wasn't really the safest topic for them to discussing while a woman who could easily arrange for their execution was a mere two rooms over, but Hawke wasn't going to pretend he'd done something wrong either. “You glossed over the whole Justice backstory, and even then it was just so you could use it as an excuse to push me away. I didn't know what I was doing, you weren't really there, and I didn't know how else we were going to get through this. I mean, do you think Justice would have stood by while the other magisters congratulated you for doing such a good job 'taming' Fenris? Can you imagine what would have happened in Val Dorma if-”

“Do you think I don't know that?” Anders asked. He stared up at the ceiling and took a deep breath, bringing the volume of his voice back down before continuing. “It all sounded so grand back then: to be a spirit's chosen vessel with Justice at my command, aiding my cause. That was all before I began to learn why they call people like me abominations.”

“You're not an-”

“You don't understand,” Anders told him as he finally turned to look Hawke in the eye. “If we were meant to merge with spirits then it would be a bit more popular, don't you think? For the Maker's sake even Merrill was appalled to hear I'd done it.”

“I'm... not entirely sure who you're mad at,” Hawke admitted. “Me, or you?”

“Yes, well, I don't know either, to be quite honest. You have no idea how much I missed the quiet; how much I missed feeling like I could trust my mind and my body to do what I wanted. Ever since you made that deal I no longer spend my nights staring at the ceiling and living out waking nightmares that detail every horrid possible thing I might someday do to harm you. Knowing that this peace is temporary is maddening, and knowing that we'll both have to live with the memory of how much better this is- that I have no word for. It's too sickening a heartbreak for a word as meek as 'mad'.”

All the comforting lies Hawke could think to say remained stuck in his throat until he felt like he couldn't breathe. He moved across the bed, and while his first attempt to reach out caused Anders to flinch, his hands were eventually allowed to settle on the mage's back. He'd always been terrible at dealing with people who were crying, but in that moment it was all he wanted to hear. Crying, screaming; something other than the emotional emptiness made evident by the ever-growing silence.

“I can't do this,” Anders eventually confessed.

And while it wasn't easy or kind, there was really only one response that Hawke could offer. “You have to.”

***Starkhaven Castle, Ballroom***

Someone was always with Aveline. Donnic slept on a cot beside her every night, but his duties took up most of his waking hours, leaving nurses and healers to watch over her during the day. No one was going to risk the possibility of her waking up alone.

Merrill was so terrified of asking to see her that she made Carver come with when she ventured out to find Donnic. To make matters even more awkward, they couldn't locate the man until he was wrapping up what seemed to have been an incredibly frustrating meeting with the armory.

“Here to ask about your armor and weapon materials?” Donnic asked them. “You'll get them, just maybe not as much as you need. Old prejudices die hard.”

“No, I came here to ask you something,” Merrill told him, “but that's good. About the materials, I mean. Not the prejudices part, though it certainly is true, isn't it?

Donnic crossed his arms and looked down at Merrill in a way Carver found too close to condescending. “What did you really come here for? And why bring along a bodyguard?”

“Yes, a bodyguard,” Carver agreed sarcastically. “Because she's both powerful enough to blame for your wife's predicament and weak enough to need me to protect her.”

“Stop,” Merrill demanded, holding up her arms between the two of them. “Listen, I... I need to spend some time with Aveline.”

Donnic's eyes narrowed and it was obvious that his initial response was to say no and be done with it, but Merrill's unwavering determination actually tempered his reaction. He sighed, and some of the defensiveness drained from his posture. “Why?”

“I need more information about how she was... attacked.”

“I really don't think that's a good idea, Merrill,” Donnic said with a shake of his head. “I'm trying to forgive you, I really am, and the best way for us to get past this is to keep our distance.”

“And under different circumstances I would completely agree with you,” Merrill assured. “I want to give you space, I really do, but I can't. The truth of the matter is that the mirror caused this, and the mirror will be needed to fix it, I'm sure of it. I want to be ready for when that moment comes, and for that I need you let me see her.”

The last thing Carver was expecting was for Donnic to direct his answer at him. “You come too, and we go now.”

“Me?” Carver asked. “Now?”

“Yes,” Donnic insisted, and without even waiting for an answer he began heading toward the stairs. As he navigated the halls he didn't speak to either of them, not until they were in front of the ballroom doors.

“Thank you,” Merrill said as she took hold of both latches, though she was forced to halt her entry when Donnic's hand reached out to stop her.

“I'm not doing you a favor,” he told her. “Save my wife and my son.”

Carver watched as Merrill's jaw tightened, and she nodded to Donnic before finally pressing down on the latches and heading inside. The banners from the ball were still up, but they'd begun to sag and fade in the weeks since the wedding, giving the impression that the room had been entombed years ago; as if nothing were allowed to change until Aveline did.

Carver kept his distance, standing somewhere between the curtains in the center of the room and Donnic, who stayed in the doorway and wouldn't even look at them. Merrill bent down and said something to the older elven woman who had been charged with the current shift, and the woman nodded her understanding in return.

“Vhen serannas,” Merrill said. “We won't be long.”

“My pleasure, Keeper,” the other elf said with a polite bow. There was a smile the came over Merrill's features whenever an elf addressed her as Keeper, one Carver had never seen before. There was no flash of teeth, nor did her eyes brighten. Instead her lips curled, politely, and her eyes showed a soft type of... acceptance. She wasn't thanking them for their respect, she was simply recognizing it.

Before she left to go stand outside, the woman placed a delicate hand on Donnic's arm and prayed, “May the Creators watch over them both.”

For a while Merrill just sat on the floor by Aveline's side, worrying Carver enough to make him take a few more steps toward her. It was entirely possible that she didn't trust herself yet, but they were trying Donnic's patience enough as it was, and they didn't have time for Merrill to be humble or insecure.

When he got closer, however, he realized Merrill was talking to Aveline, or at least toward Aveline. He leaned in to hear better, as he couldn't understand what she was saying, but he quickly realized she was speaking entirely in Dalish. Even at Sundermount, Carver never heard Merrill or any elf speak in Dalish for more than a quick proverb at most. It brought him back to the spell Merrill recited to Flemeth's amulet all those years ago.

“Emma ir abelas,” she whispered almost mournfully, “lath araval ena arla ven. Tu vir mahvir melana nehn, enasal ir sa lethalin, Rhev'asha.”

“Was that... a spell?” Carver asked.

“A prayer,” Merrill told him, “for forgiveness. I want the spirit of Rhev'asha to know that I am sorry, and I will do what I must to set things right. I prayed that she finds the path to home and happiness once more.”

“Rhev'asha?”

“The Frozen Woman,” she explained. “It's what the Dalish have come to call Aveline. I tell them to pray for her every day, and they believe that the Creators are helping her play dead so that Fen'Harel will lose interest in his hunt.”

Someone had draped a sheet over Aveline's rigid form, and Merrill pulled it back to reveal that the woman had, in fact, not moved an inch since the wedding. It unnerved Carver to look at her, as he couldn't help but think that even statues weren't that still. He watched in silent confusion as Merrill crawled in a slow circle around Aveline's entire form, leaning in close to inspect every inch of exposed skin. She even pressed her cheek to the floor in order to see what little she could of anything beneath the 'frozen' woman.

“Donnic,” Merrill called. The guardsman hesitated for a bit, but eventually walked across the room to join them.

“Can you please,” he began as he motioned down toward his wife.

Merrill caught on immediately and rushed to cover Aveline up to her neck with the sheet once again, delicately, like how someone would tuck in a child.

“Why exactly is she on the floor?” Merrill inquired. “I mean, what made her not want to stand up anymore? Did something hurt? What did she tell you before she fell?”

“That... her head hurt,” Donnic answered slowly, trying to remember back to that night and recall the details correctly. “And I think I heard her say-” He swallowed down a rising lump in his throat before taking a deep breath through his nose, and Carver immediately regretted how rude he'd been to the poor man no more than a few minutes before. “She said 'I can't see' and then she just... stopped.”

Merrill stood up and approached Donnic carefully. “Are you sure she wasn't injured at all?” she asked slowly and with dire seriousness. “No wounds? Not anywhere?”

“Not that I recall.”

Merrill looked back at Aveline's face and without any warning began walking quickly toward the door.

“Wait, that's it?” Carver asked as he followed her out.

“That's it,” she replied. Once the three of them were out of the room she shut the doors behind her and continued her brisk pace as she headed down the castle halls.

“Where are you going?” Donnic asked her. “What aren't you telling me?”

“They weren't after Aveline, they were using her,” Merrill explained, and Carver could tell by her tone of voice that she felt stupid for not having realized it before. “If the Maker- or whoever- stepped in because she was being attacked she would have suffered entirely different symptoms before she fell. And the last thing she complained about was not being able to see, and... Carver, you train in how to resist magic effects, and so do I, and Varric's a dwarf so he's naturally resistant, but Aveline- she-”

“But Aveline what?” Donnic asked as she reached out and grabbed Merrill by the arm.

“She was the first person to be exposed to the Eluvian without the proper magical resistance to combat its power. The mirror doesn't reflect because right now it can only work in one direction. Whatever is infecting the mirror must have- must have hopped to Aveline and used her consciousness to gather information. We can't talk near her anymore. There's no way to tell if whoever or whatever this is can still sense us.”

“Gathering information?” Donnic questioned. “On what?”

Merrill clenched her eyes shut tight, the guilt in her expression so vivid that it looked painful. Carver knew what she was about to say, but he wanted so badly not to hear her say it.

“On me.”

***Starkhaven Castle, Guest Quarters***

The night after his argument with Lady Erskin, Sebastian felt rather satisfied with himself. As he took off his finery and slipped on his sleeping clothes, he thought back to how pleasantly surprising the ease of the debate had been. He'd always been nervous about being too stern with the Council, but the truth of the matter was that they were there to advise him, not rule the city for him. He had let them put him on the defensive for far too long, and he wasn't going to tolerate it any longer.

Sebastian devoted his next morning to office work, answering correspondences from across Thedas about the nature of his war and reading numerous requests for some sort of “proof” behind his claim to be married to Andraste. It was difficult to vehemently bash the Chantry that had raised him while leaving the fault of the Imperium out of his arguments, but no one could know that Andraste planned to see the reign of the magisters abolished permanently, not until she'd convinced them to leave their island fortress and join her on the battlefield.

Someone knocked on his door, and he called them in, hoping it was the servant who had been sent to bring his lunch. While the woman who entered was carrying a tray of bread and fish, it wasn't any servant, that was for sure; though she was dressed like one.

“I... have not gotten a chance to speak with you yet,” Flora said as she set the tray down on Sebastian's desk.

“No, you have not,” he said slowly, unable to hide the suspicion in his voice. It didn't help Flora's cause when she peered out the door and checked down both hallways before shutting it tight behind her. “When did you even return to the city? I sent for you when I arrived but was told you were gone.”

“When the Seekers arrived- well, former Seekers, I suppose. They have all turned from the Chantry to follow the visions of that Leliana woman, have they not?" Flora shook and darted her eyes around the room as she spoke in a hurried whisper. It took her a moment to gather herself and continue. "Regardless, when they arrived the Seer said you would be returning soon to reclaim the city. You can imagine the... variety of reasons why I did not want to be here when you did. You and your comrades saved me from a waking nightmare the likes of which I never could have imagined, but I saw in your eyes that you did not want to spare me; that you felt betrayed and I was the only person left alive that you could blame for your family's deaths. And I do blame myself Sebastian,” she sobbed, still hushed, as she got on her knees by his chair. “Every day I pray to the Maker for forgiveness and wish with all my heart that things had not happened as they did. That is why I am coming to you now; to earn your forgiveness by risking myself to save your life.”

“Save my life from what?” Sebastian asked, as uncomfortable with her posture as he was with her words.

Flora immediately reached up to shush him. “I am the heir to my family's name. The estate, the fortune; all of it. When I felt safe enough to return they intercepted me at the gates and thought my mother's ambitions were also my own. They felt comfortable sharing with me their intent to see you taken off the throne. I told them I would consider it because I knew it would allow me into the meetings where they conspired against you. I got myself volunteered to be the one to work in your kitchen. They think I'm devise a plan to poison you, but I knew it'd be the perfect opportunity to meet with you in private without anyone suspecting.”

Sebastian watched and waited for her sincerity to falter, but there was nothing but fear and honesty in her eyes. Slowly but surely everything caught up to him, and his head pounded as his mind screamed at him for being stupid enough to think the Council would ever recognize his birthright or his authority. Leliana had warned him about the dangers of finding his role to be easy, and still he had overestimated himself and underestimated his adversaries.

“Is there anything else you know?” he finally asked.

“I’m sorry but there is not,” she lamented.

Flora may not have had anything else to tell him, but Sebastian knew who would, and he couldn't risk anyone catching her in his room too long. “Return to your work in the kitchen for now,” he told her as he rose to his feet, pulling her up to stand as well. “If your accusations prove to be correct, you can consider your debt paid.” He turned toward his door and dropped an empty inkwell on the floor, raising his voice to the louder side of a customary speaking volume. "And if I ever see you in my quarters- no, this castle- ever again I will see you hanged for your crimes against the crown."

“Be safe, Sebastian,” she whispered as she wrapped her arms around him in a tight embrace. She left the tray on the desk and let her very real tears show as she scurried into the hall. It unfortunately mirrored the the last time she'd snuck out of his room when they were younger; realizing he was leaving for Kirkwall because he couldn't behave or stay faithful long enough for them to be together. A bit after she left, he left and headed for Varric's room.

They had both agreed long ago that Sebastian was better off being ignorant to the invisible strings Varric pulled in his favor. It gave the prince plausible deniability in case things went wrong, and that was an important tool given their already problematic political standing. When Sebastian approached the door it was already open, but he knocked on the frame anyway as a way to announce his presence. Varric looked up from the desk that he'd been using as Bianca's work bench and smiled at the sight of his friend.

“A private meeting, in my quarters no less,” Varric observed. “Can you imagine what the nobles would say if they knew?”

“Funny you should say that,” Sebastian replied, though his tone of voice certainly didn't convey any sort of humor. “Do you have a moment?”

“I'm in the middle of some calibrations, can it wait?” Varric asked. Sebastian eyed the dwarf with surprise, and while he didn't want to lord his position over someone who had been such a loyal confidant, the question had been more a formality than anything else. He opened his mouth to say something to the effect, but was interrupted by Varric's laughter. “I'm just pulling your leg. Of course I have time for you, Your Highness. Come in. Shut the door. Have a seat.”

“Your Highness?” Sebastian noticed as he moved his cape aside and sat on Varric's bed. It was a very small, austere room, but that's what the dwarf had requested. He was glad for the casualness, regardless of how inappropriate it was. “Did 'Choir Boy' and 'Princey Boy' not sit right with you?”

“Ya know, they didn't,” Varric admitted. “I think Your Highness suits you just fine, especially after that speech you pulled the other day.”

“You liked that, did you? I don't imagine Romana Erskin was too fond of it.”

“Can I be honest with you about her?” Varric asked in a serious tone Sebastian knew was coming.

“She didn't listen to or agree with a word I said, did she?” Sebastian sighed.

“Not at all, but it doesn't mean it wasn't a good speech, or that you weren't right. When soldiers come marching I really don't care who is standing next to me or what they use to fight, I only care that they have my ass covered. I like winning and being alive, and I'd like to keep doing both. Lady Erskin is a stale politician who doesn't want her position, or the weight of her purse, to change, and she'll see us all die for it.”

“That may be true, but I can't hope to maintain the support of the people if I abolish their governing body and place myself as the sole ruler.”

“Well, yourself and eventually Andraste,” Varric corrected. “And you may be surprised by your own popularity. True, the entire Council hates your guts, but the elves don't, that's for sure. Do you know who the last person to give a shit about them was? Andraste, that's who.”

“As much as I consider them valued allies of Starkhaven, the elves are not who I'm worried about,” Sebastian told him.

“Alright fine,” Varric relented as reached down and opened one of his desk drawers. He pulled out a stack of small parchment sheets and piled them on his lap, rummage through them as he read the reports off. “First off, most of the Royal Guard has been heard saying that they look forward to serving an actual prince for once, or again, depending on their age. Turns out that while your grandfather was also a pretty decent guy, your cousin Goran had them sitting around all day with their thumbs up their asses, and the Council had made mention on numerous occasions that they didn't think the Guard was worth the money.”

“The Royal Guard is integral to-”

“You don't have to convince me,” Varric assured. “And they know that you feel that way. Your border patrol assignments are the first orders they've received since your family was killed. And the way you actually go down and teach archery to the militia; they love that shit. Apparently your parents treated them a bit like a joke?”

“That... is not untrue,” Sebastian was forced to admit. “My brother Mathis always called them 'pretend soldiers,' and to be honest so did I.”

“Yeah, well apparently you used to say and do a lot of things. I won't lie to you, there are stories about your past that still float around the taverns. How you don't have some bastard claiming to be your heir is beyond me. You really knew how to sow seed like a farme-”

“I would prefer we not go down that road,” Sebastian requested. “And how long have you had all these reports?”

“Varying lengths of time,” Varric gave as his non-answer. “I've been saving them for when you're ready to hear them.”

“And that time is now?”

“I personally think so, especially after I just received this.”

Varric passed off a piece of parchment still curled at the sides from being recently rolled up, and Sebastian immediately recognized the handwriting as Lady Erskin's, as she had taken it upon herself to take notes at Council meetings so she could read back her passive-aggressive rewording of the topics and debate points they had covered. All it said was The Council expects this kindness repayed in the coming war, but it was enough to worry Sebastian greatly. “Where did you get this?”

“A hundred percent of the people who leave the city on horseback in the middle of the night have clandestine purposes. Most of the time they're my clandestine purposes, but this time it wasn't, and my people intercepted it before it could go far. We don't have anything else from this correspondence though, and the messenger had to be... taken care of before the message could be obtained, so there's no asking him.”

Sebastian was about to ask why the message wasn't given to him sooner, but he knew it would have looked very out of place for Varric to try to track him down in the middle of the day. It was the right decision, but it left Sebastian feeling incredibly behind on issues that had been going on right in front of him. He'd wanted so badly to believe he could command respect that he let himself believe he had already accomplished it. And now, somehow, he was going to have to pay the price for his hubris.

Just not before the High Council paid theirs.

Chapter Text

***Minrathous, Senate Meeting Hall***

Andraste only had time for a quick rundown the morning before their meeting. She said two very quiet, very cryptic statements before explaining in her normal voice that they would be joining the First Enchanter for breakfast before heading to the Senate Hall. The first was “Do not contradict me.” The second was “Trust that Isabela can take care of herself.”

Before they headed out they met up with their "slaves" at the exit to the Circle. All three of them looked exhausted and Isabela was almost unrecognizable. She'd gotten noticeably thinner and the bright, bronze glow of her complexion had become as dull as her limp, dusty hair. When Hawke caught her staring at someone, he followed her gaze to where Andraste was going over proper hearing procedure with Raesion. He expected Isabela to be seething with anger, as he would have been in her situation, but instead he found a great deal of trust in her expression, still there even after all the abuse. It had to be, he figured, if Isabela was ever going to feel as if the ordeal had been worth it.

It was a short enough distance that they elected to walk, but even on foot the magisters, Anders included, just seemed so incredibly above everyone. It was how Andraste had instructed them to behave after all, but the illusion was equal parts the narcissism of the magisters and the meek, terrified behavior of those around them. The mages were like living myths, and Hawke couldn't help but wonder how their worlds had become so polarized. He'd always wanted to be able to walk through a city without having to hide that his sister or father or lover was a mage, but he couldn't fathom how anyone thought that the Tevinter way was the answer.

When they arrived and entered the hall, they walked down a set of steps to the speaker's platform; a grey marble area with a large Chantry sun outlined in gold in the center of the floor. Andraste hesitated for a moment, obviously disliking the idea of stepping inside a symbol that the Imperium had no business using.

She hid her disgust, however, and eventually came to stand at the center of it, with Anders to her right and slightly behind her in a physical show of their hierarchy. Anders reached out and took Hawke by the hand, pulling him over to stand with them, and it was then that Hawke noticed how the Senate seats were laid out in two rows of semi-circles high above where he and his companions stood ready to deliver their speech and answer interrogatories. His neck ached from trying to look at them, which was nearly futile anyways considering the room was lit by torches that were placed behind the fourteen men and women who comprised the Imperium's main governing body, obscuring their features and leaving Hawke, Anders and Andraste to suffer the vulnerability of the light.

The only empty seat was presumably Raesion's. According to the rules of the Senate, if he was going to call a meeting on such short notice with such unbelievable claims, then he would have to stand by those he was supporting, literally, and vouch for them. “Ladies and gentleman of the Senate,” he opened, already speaking with far more self-confidence than any of them had ever heard from the man. It reminded Hawke of the difference between speaking with Carver at Gamlen's house and speaking to him in the Templar barracks. Location was a factor many people tended to overlook, but not Hawke. He'd spent his life in a constant state of masked awareness. “Let me begin by saying that I understand your skepticism, and were I in your place I would doubt this woman as well.”

“Have you brought proof then?” asked a gruff voice from one of the many dark figures above them. “You are asking us to go to war, rather stupidly I might add, on the basis of this woman's outrageous claim. Tell me, You Highness, why we are to believe you?”

Andraste looked down at the gold sun under her feet, took a deep breath, and looked up at them with a subtle, knowing smile. “And what proof would satisfy you? Shall I best you all in combat? Shall I call the Maker to... smite you for doubting me? And even then would you ever truly believe that I am who I claim to be? Let us not waste our time with some pointless trial into the authenticity of my identity, for it is not your belief that is important to all this.”

“Do you mean to suggest that we shouldn't care whether or not you're the warlord prophetess who almost defeated our entire empire?” another voice asked. Female this time, and if Hawke wasn't mistaken, Orlesian as well. The accent, however, seemed to have faded a bit in her time away from what he guessed was her birthplace. “You can flaunt your political clout all you want, but your cobbled-together city-state of filthy elves and confused Templars does not frighten the Imperium.”

“You think I am here to frighten you into compliance?” Andraste asked flatly.

“I think you are here to tell us that we can either join you or become your enemy.”

“You misunderstand who the real threat is. The Chantry is primed for war. Both myself and my apprentice have been responsible for large scale attacks against them, and we have done so with the freedom of mages as our battle cry. They will march soon, they will categorize you as one of us, and they will come for you as well. When they do, tell me, what is your plan? Will you believe what Archon Hessarian believed centuries upon centuries ago? That the Imperium is already at its peak of strength and glory? That the best it can become is a stagnated cesspool content to have its leaders hide on an island like cowards?”

Multiple members of the council moved to talk at once, and one man even stood up out of his seat. “You arrive unannounced and have the audacity to-”

“To what?” Andraste asked before he could finish. “To recognize how utterly placated you all have become? Whether I am truly Andraste or not, your borders have not expended once inch since they were laid after my war. My war to take control away from a meek, pathetic ruler like Hessarian who refused to understand that all of Thedas is meant for us and those who recognize our pow-”

“That is quite enough,” Raesion spoke up as he approached her. As soon as he tried to step inside the outline of the golden sun, however, the floor burst into distinctly non-white flames under his feet.

Andraste didn't even react to the flames, acting instead like they were a commonplace occurrence, and Hawke couldn't help but laugh under his breath. It was one of the only sounds in the room as everyone stared at the princess in disbelief. It appeared that no one had seen the slight twitch of Anders' hand, and Hawke could already picture the look on Varric's face when he told the dwarf that the Tevinter Senate was momentarily awed by a parlor trick; at least long enough to sit back down and take a breath.

“You forget that mages aren't the only people on this council,” a Chantry official pointed out. “Magic has coexisted alongside the Imperial Chantry for centuries. Our Circles are not prisons. Every free man and woman in Tevinter has the opportunity to earn a status based on their intellect and work ethic. We are not in need of a cultural revolution or larger borders.”

Hawke winced at the need to say “free” men and women. He couldn't imagine the flawed logic that must have been employed by the Tevinter people in order to justify their abolition of Chantry oppression while in the same breath acknowledging their practice of slavery.

“I am not saying your system is flawed,” Andraste corrected, her voice returning a more calm tone, “On the contrary, I am saying that you have the Maker's favor and now is your time to demonstrate that. The rest of Thedas would prefer to wrongfully blame you for the Blights, and they will continue to perpetuate these lies in my name while using them as an excuse to disregard the inherent superiority of magic. I ask if you will let this stand, for I am here as a mage and as a servant of the Maker to invite you to join a long overdue, world-wide cultural revolution; to cleanse Thedas of these lies. I ask you, who would look upon the power to alter reality and brand such an ability a curse? The answer is the weak and the frightened.”

Hawke told himself he should be proud of Andraste for sounding so convincing. Over and over he played the shameful moment of hesitation before she used blood magic again. He was too uncomfortably close to realizing how the Imperium justified their cruelty to themselves.

“And where do those without magic fit in to this 'revolution' of yours?” a different Chantry official asked. It was odd, for Hawke, to see men speaking for the Chantry as anything higher than a priest. As much as he hated admitting that the Imperium was doing something right, he never really thought the gender hierarchy in the regular Chantry was necessary.

“I only ask that those born without magic recognize its authority and potential. I respect my allies who cannot use magic because they are intelligent enough to work with it. I bring the Champion of Kirkwall before you, and in Starkhaven his brother leads my Templars under the command of my husband; a devote Chantry brother and no user of magic, that is for certain.”

“Speaking of your apprentice,” the once-Orlesian woman mentioned, “it is highly unorthodox for you to take on a spirit healer as an up-and-coming magister. We generally value power and sacrifice, not charity and frailty.”

There it was, the question they had been warned about; or more importantly, the question Fenris had been warned about. It took everything in Hawke not to turn around to check one last time if his companion was alright with going through with their plan. It was far too late for that.

“And you are overlooking a lucrative opportunity in doing so,” Andraste said with a grin as she strolled out of her protective golden sun, back toward the door where the slaves stood in the shadows. She snapped her fingers and Fenris stumbled into the center of the floor, looking back in practiced anger at Isabela for shoving him there. “Slaves offer us many services, and yet their greatest service is a rare, sometimes once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” The way she put her hands on Fenris was entirely meant to convey ownerships and something vaguely sexual, but Hawke couldn't help but shift with discomfort at the way in which she pressed her body against Fenris' side and slid her hand up his armored chest, stopping with mock tenderness at his neck. Hawke could only see Fenris' back, but he could read everything he needed to in the tenseness of the elf's shoulders. “Some of them have been given extra special gifts, haven't they?” she asked with her lips barely an inch away from his face. She clamped her fingers down on his neck and Fenris' markings flared to light in response, but while it was obvious that he wanted to fight back, he knew that he couldn't.

Just like when they fought in Kirkwall, Fenris lost his strength and fell to his knees while Andraste held strong and drained the life out of him. This time, however, Merrill wasn't there and Anders had no other option but to watch and smile. There was a time long ago when Hawke would have been worried that the smile was genuine, but not after this; not after their time in Tevinter. Unable to watch the rest of the spectacle unfold, Hawke opted to watch the spectators instead, trying to force fake cockiness into his face. No one protested or got up. The most movement he saw were some quizzical cocks of people's heads, but nothing beyond that. Eventually the sound of Fenris slumping to the ground echoed off the Senate chamber walls, and still no one moved. If anything they didn't seem to understand what was special or different about what Andraste was doing.

“He's unconscious,” Anders said. When Hawke finally looked back, he found the mage perched over Fenris' seemingly lifeless body. “And therefore completely useless. He can't fight, can't protect you; if we were in the middle of a fight he'd be as good as dead the moment he hit the ground. It seems you're all obsessed with destruction as a means to ensure victory, but it's completely unnecessary.”

There were times in battle when fatigue set in or wounds became too unbearable, and someone was left face-down in the sands of the Wounded Coast or the ancient stone floors of the Deep Roads. For the most part, Hawke always diverted the fight away from his fallen companions until it was safe to heal them. There had been a few times, however, when that wasn't an option, and Hawke had to call on Anders to do something drastic if they were all going to survive.

Revival spells had always creeped Hawke out, so watching Anders perform one on Fenris while not in battle, as nothing more than a demonstration, was incredibly unsettling. Looking away would probably be seen as suspicious, so he watched and tried to look unfazed as Fenris' body rose from the ground through nothing but the force of magic until he was levitating rigidly in the air. Then there was that moment; the creepy jolt that granted renewed energy and a starling awakening for the target of the spell.

Fenris was weak and weary, but he was awake again and standing on his own. Hawke knew from experience that the elf would be able to wield a sword again in a few moments, or, as they were demonstrating to the Senate, able to be drained for mana again. Fenris lurched forward as if he was going to throw up from the stress on his body, but he'd been fed so little during their time in the Circle that nothing came up.

“Blood magic leaves you unable to heal and unable to be healed by conventional methods,” Anders went on to explain, “but the slaves you allow to act as soldiers and bodyguards are not immune to these abilities.”

“I have some of the best spirit healers in Thedas under my command,” Andraste told them. “As well as hordes of elves outside my city gates. Those who will not fight for you will be forced into their rightful place, this I can assure you.”

“You raise interesting arguments,” one of the Senior Enchanters relented, “but we will need time to think this over, and even if we agree you will still need the support of the Divine.”

“Understood, and I look forward to that meeting as well,” Andraste offered. “Until then I thank you for your consideration, and I will leave you all with drafts of my alliance proposal for you to refer to in your deliberations.”

Without any prompting, Isabela appeared from the shadows and walked up the first set of stairs, carefully laying out stacks of paper in front of each Senator. They would each wait a while for her to go past, then pick the papers up as if they had suddenly appeared before them. When she was done with the bottom row, she climbed the next set of steps and repeated the same motions, though she seemed to be slowing down and stalling as she moved across the top row.

Then she reached someone, a pale man with a thick neck from what little Hawke could make out, and she hurried her way through placing the papers in front of him before trying to move on, but he reached out and grabbed her by the wrist before she could continue. “You,” he realized as he leaned out of the light, revealing to Hawke that he was completely bald on the top of his head, with only thin wisps of black hair still remaining around his ears and behind his head.

“Do you take issue with my choice of servant, Senator?” Andraste asked.

“How in the Maker's name did you tame this bitch?” he asked as he looked down to where he was still gripping Isabela's wrist. “Is she really not even going to fight back?” He leaned in and pulled her close in one motion. “Do you remember me, you dirty little thief? Huh? Remember when I paid you to move my merchandise and you sailed off with it? Those slaves cost me more money than you've probably ever seen in your miserable little life.”

Isabela looked absolutely dead in her eyes, far away somewhere where this wasn't the reality of what was happening to her. Hawke felt rather surreal as well, unsure of how it was possible that Justice wasn't raging to the forefront of Anders' consciousness and Isabela wasn't stabbing a dagger straight down into the man's hand. The entire situation was so out of character for all of them that it felt impossible, and yet there it was; unfolding right before his eyes.

“Quite the prize, is she not?” Andraste bragged. “Beautiful and once so very obstinate. I had thought to put her fighting skills to use and assign her to be my bodyguard, but there is something more rewarding in remaking her as a quiet little thing that knows a whole new place in society.”

“If you are quite finished making a scene,” the woman sitting beside the slaver sighed, “some of us would like to seriously consider this alliance.”

“Of course,” the man agreed, letting go of Isabela finally. “My apologies.”

Isabela continued her work and Raesion thanked them all for their cooperation and apologized once again for the urgency with which he had called the meeting. Isabela and Fenris took a short moment to look at each other, the first direct eye contact either of them had been allowed since arriving in Minrathous. They even risked looking at Hawke for a moment, but it was worth it to have even a fraction of a second to grant his companions the assurance they needed to keep going. Or maybe, if he was honest with himself, they were assuring him that they were still there, buried deep under their false identities but not lost in them.

The Senate went out some exit located behind their seats while Raesion ushered the rest of them out the same door they came in. They barely had time to begin walking down the street, however, before the slaver was somehow in front of them, looking substantially larger now that he wasn't sitting down anymore.

“Your Highness,” he greeted. “I know you provided us with a write-up of your proposal, but I've never been an ink and parchment sort of man. If your wench over there is acquainted with your arguments, perhaps she could present them to me so I can be sure I'm making the right decision.”

Hawke looked to Andraste, desperately hoping she had some clever way of talking herself out of handing Isabela over, but she smiled the wrong kind of smile for that to be true. It wasn't the cocky, knowing smile she usually wore; it was one riddled with the smarmy, fake politeness that everyone of note in the Imperium wore to cover their true selves. “If that would help you better understand our stance on the matter, certainly.”

'Trust that Isabela can handle herself.'

Hawke didn't know what upset him more, the fact that he knew what was about to happen or the fact that Andraste had seen it coming the whole time. He hadn't even wanted to hand Isabela over to Castillon, and he had only done so with the knowledge that he'd be following right behind her; able to save her before anything happened. There was no third option, no last minute heroics that could save her in the nick of time, and Hawke didn't know how long he stared at her hunched, retreating form before Anders took him by the arm and forced him to walk back to the Circle.

No one spoke when they returned. The sun shifted the light across the floor as the hours ticked by, and when dinner was ready they did little more than shift the contents of their plates around before retiring to Andraste's room to continue their vigil.

Everyone jumped when the door finally opened, and Isabela came in carrying a tray of food. “I was informed that my mistress did not eat when dinner was served, so I-”

Before Isabela could finish her rehearsed lines Hawke had the door shut and locked, Andraste took the tray away and Anders began inspecting the cuts and bruises that Isabela had unsuccessfully tried to cover with her dirty, tangled hair.

“Don't touch me,” Isabela growled lowly as she held Anders by the wrist and jerked him away from her face. “Now listen to me. I know who's attacking Aveline.”

“How?” Hawke asked as he led her further away from the door.

“Men tend to open their mouths when women open their legs. Let them vent one frustration and suddenly they're venting them all, and he slipped up big time. He was going on about how he doesn't lower himself to sticking it in elves like other magisters he knows, and then he starts ranting to himself like I'm not even under him; complaining about some 'dirty knife-ear' everyone's become obsessed with. He was pissed because someone had recruited an elf for some... secret project that no one was telling him about, muttering something I didn't understand until I was walking back. I knew I'd heard that word before. Som-nee-something or other.” She turned to Hawke and smiled. “I'd say my stunt tonight more than makes up for my 'I like big boats and I cannot lie' moment, wouldn't you say?”

Hawke didn't understand her weird jump in topic until he began backtracking through what she'd been saying. An elf that would have the attention of the magisters. Someone with the power and the ability to attack Aveline from so far away. Isabela's betrayal in the Fade.

He turned to Anders and was met with a mirrored look of realization before the mage closed his eyes and sighed. “How did we not-” he started to ask himself before he threaded his fingers in his hair and growled in frustration. He calmed himself down for a moment, but his shoulders still seemed weighed down by how obvious the revelation was in hindsight. Knowing that one of them had to say it eventually, Anders took a deep breath and shook his head. “How did we not realize it was Feynriel?”

***Starkhaven, Knight-Commander's Office***

“Tell me about Ferelden,” Carver finally said after making Cullen wait in silence for far too long. “About the Circle and the blood mages.”

A plethora of things had come to his attention in the week since Merrill had cryptically told him and Donnic that the person who attacked Aveline was more than likely trying to attack her. She had little else to say on the matter, muttering about hunches and research and spells; things Carver didn't understand and frankly didn't want to.

Then he began getting reports of the elves performing their own version of a Harrowing, something Carver didn't mind at all until he learned that those who failed and became abominations were slain by Merrill herself; stabbed through the heart, according to the reports, by a thin, yet sharp, blade carried by the Keeper while in the Dalish camp. When he confronted her about it she explained that Andraste had it crafted in conjunction with their training.

“I tell them the risks,” Merrill had told him. “It is not an easy road, but those of us who can resist the temptation of demons have the potential to unlock all sorts of new and powerful magic.”

“Like the black fire in the forest?” he'd asked her. He was speaking, in that moment, as the Knight-Commander, but there was no denying that a part of him would have been happy to never see the woman he loved attempt that sort of thing again.

“Yes,” she had answered with a great deal of pride. “But those who cannot resist will become abominations and I will slay them myself. Blood magic will not become a tool of oppression, not under my leadership. It is about sacrifice. It was always meant to be about sacrifice. Anyone who fails to understand that is no ally of mine.”

Things weren't all rainbows and sunshine in the city either. In the beginning Carver had wanted to believe in the infallibility of a system in which mages all passed their Harrowings if given enough training and positive reinforcement, but even in the idyllic circumstances that he was able to create, mages were still giving in to demons and forcing the Templars to slay them as they morphed into grotesque, inhuman monsters as a result of their own lack of willpower.

In dark moments, Carver found himself sympathizing with Meredith. Not completely, but he could see how difficult it was to trust magic and it seemed obvious that the madness caused by the lyrium idol would feed off that fear. He went to bed worried about it and spent his nights dreaming up every worst-case scenario possible.

Cullen had lived one of those scenarios; imprisoned, beaten and tortured for days until he couldn't fathom what reality was anymore. And yet here he was, still acting as Knight-Captain despite Carver's complete overhaul of the Order and everything it stood for. He knew a large part of his authority was earned more by Andraste's name than his own accomplishments, but he wanted to believe that the Knights were still following him for reasons beyond fear of what the Maker's Chosen would do upon her return if her appointed Knight-Commander had been disobeyed in her absence.

“I have told you about my time stationed in Ferelden, Knight-Commander, Ser,” Cullen responded professionally. “I have not withheld any information. Anything I would tell you in this iteration will be the same as the last.”

“You have, and it sounded awful. You mentioned-” he began before stopping himself. He knew that once he finished his question Cullen would know exactly what was on his mind. “Come, sit down, and please, be straight with me Cullen.”

Cullen sat down as he was instructed, and a knowing kind of acknowledgment tugged at the corners of his eyes. “Do you wish to hear more about... your cousin?”

As Carver got older he learned more and more that Thedas was a lot smaller than he thought it was. Genealogy and legacy never interested him much, but he was surprised to find that one of his family members had been a mage in the Ferelden Tower. And, if the tone in Cullen's voice when he spoke about her was any giveaway, she'd been close with the Knight-Captain.

“Tell me about the whole ordeal,” Carver said. “The revolt, the blood magic. I want to know how it is that you still think the Templars' cause is just and the mages' rights are still worth protecting.”

Cullen dropped all pretense of rigid formality and let himself sink into the chair in such a way that his armor clinked as it readjusted itself. “It just takes one, doesn't it?” he almost laughed. “I know you have overseen plenty of Harrowings. You know the look in a mage's eyes when they realize what will happen if they fail; when they create an inventory of every weakness they have and always, inevitably, they don't think they can do it. You've heard them cry and pray to the Maker for the ability to give their power up and live as you and I do. But they don't have that option; and they never will, and thus we must remain vigilant. We must protect people from them, protect them from each other, protect them from us at times. Magic is a reality that isn't going to go away, and we are finally beginning to find a way to make mages take responsibility and submit to the oversight of Templars without us becoming sadists and jailors and tyrants.”

“And she made you believe in all that?”

Cullen rested his elbows on his knees and stared at his hands. Carver appreciated the man's honesty and forthrightness, but he also figured that Cullen saw the similarity in their predicaments. It wasn't as if Carver was going to judge him for being unprofessional and getting involved with a mage.

“I always believed in those ideals,” Cullen said, “Solana Amell made me realize that I needed to do something about it. And then, as if the Maker himself saw fit to show me both sides of the coin, Uldred and his army of abominations took her away from me and showed me every horrible thing magic was capable of.”

“You think the Maker was testing you?”

“Yes, and I believe that I failed that test. I acted like Meredith, but without the taint of ancient lyrium to blame for my hysterics.”

“You'd been tortured, Cullen, no one blames y-”

“No,” Cullen argued, “You mustn't go down that path. You cannot force the many to pay for the sins of the few. Solana didn't survive the attack, but I didn't know that when I stormed up to Greagoir and demanded the Circle be annulled. If the Warden had not safely ushered Irving through the chaos I would have killed the only woman I ever cared for. If the blood mages hadn't taken her away from me, then my own blind need for vengeance would have led me to do it myself, and that surely doesn't make me a better man than them, now does it?”

Carver leaned forward and shifted his weight onto his arms as he rested them on his desk. “We've legalized blood magic.”

“I understand,” Cullen nodded.

“Yes, but do you accept it? I greatly value you as a Knight and as a friend, but this decision is over even my head, and I'd hate to eventually lose your loyalty over it.”

A variety of expressions passed over Cullen's face in response, and Carver wondered if the man had even figured out the answer for himself yet. “I wish I could answer that,” he offered finally. “It seems odd to swear my sword to the Maker and yet question the word of His Prophetess, but-” Cullen stared at some sort of faraway nothingness behind Carver's shoulder and sighed. “According the Templars I had only been missing for a few days, but there is no 'only' in the context of torture. Five minutes, five days; it all feels like an eternity. Objectively I am fully aware that someone can torture others with tools forged by man, but if the blood mages had given me a choice between letting demons plague me with my deepest fears or dying over the course of days at the mercy of a blade I would have considered the blade a reward by comparison.”

It was difficult to decide how or when to respond to what Cullen had said. Carver didn't want to pause too long or speak too quickly, though really he couldn't imagine that there was any sort of proper or perfect response to something like that. He'd never understand what it had been like without living it, and equating it to anything he'd been through would be nothing less than insulting.

“We're doing what we can to ensure that things like that don't happen,” Carver said plainly, “but I'm not going to tell you 'it'll never happen again.' That's just not true.”

“That is good,” Cullen agreed. “I wouldn't trust you if you tried to convince me of such a lie. But tell me, do you trust Merrill?”

Carver wanted to say yes, even had his lower jaw tightened in preparation for beginning the word, but it wouldn't come. He tried to say something like it, but the closest thing he could come up with was, “I love her.”

And even though he knew what that meant, Carver still hated to hear the low, cautious tone in Cullen's voice when he said, “That's not what I asked.”

***Starkhaven, Throne Room***

Sebastian expected a revolt. He expected the Council to have a plan and soldiers ready, or at the very least paid mercenaries to protect them, but when Sebastian entered the throne room he found the Royal Guard standing over a row of Councilors on their knees without a single sign of blood or battle in sight.

He still entered the room with his head high and his shoulders strong, letting the heels of his boots fall hard against the marble floor so that his approach could be heard loud and clear. He'd been too willing to believe in the Council's loyalty before, but he finally knew better than to trust that anything came easily when it came to dealing with them.

Most of them were absolute statues, hands tucked neatly behind their heads and gazes fixed on some imaginary point off in the distance. It was as if they were simply being inconvenienced, and that the whole mess would sort itself out in time. At the end of the line, however, was Lady Erskin; trembling as she darted her teary eyes around the room. It wasn't what Sebastian was expecting at all, and while his mind tried desperately to imagine a scenario that would explain the unpredictable turn of events before him, nothing seemed to fit in a way that made sense.

The obvious answer would be to target Erskin, since she appeared easier to break, but Sebastian wasn't going to make the mistake of taking something that was obviously being set up for him. He reached the end of the line and took a look at her, but when nothing new was revealed upon closer inspection, he turned and walked back, trying to find someone who was only subtly different from the rest.

Among the row of stoic faces was one man whose mouth couldn't stop twitching at the corners; who already seemed to wear the calm, relaxed veneer of victory on his face as he tucked his hands behind his bald head. “Lord Borland,” Sebastian addressed, “you seem be in good spirits considering you are kneeling before your prince with the Royal Guard pressing swords into your back. Guards who remember that you would prefer to see their titles taken.”

The women to Borland's left, Lady Ferghus, leaned forward with a look of absolute disgust on her face. “You will not speak your lies before us; we will no longer tolerate it. You, who would kill the Divine and call it the Maker's will. Who would crumble the Grand Cathedral and say it was for the good of Thedas. You and your false Prophetess will not lead us into temptation.”

Sebastian couldn't help jumping back at her outburst, even though he knew it probably made him look ill-prepared and weak-willed in the eyes of both the Council and his Guard. “And what is supposedly the meaning behind this ridiculousness?”

“The Maker tests the faithful,” Lady Erskin recited as she rocked slightly. “And we will not be fooled. We will let the city burn to save it if we must, and if we die we will ascend to His right hand as reward for our sacrifices.”

“You believe you are saving Starkhaven?” Sebastian asked them all. “You have been told by your prince and by prophecy that you are to trust in the word of Andraste. You cannot even fathom the sacrifices her and her disciples are making to ensure that Starkhaven is victorious in the coming war.”

“We had hoped that you would come to cure yourself of her poison in time,” Lord Keller sighed as he were ashamed on Sebastian's behalf. He was the oldest member of the Council, and he had been good friends with Sebastian's parents, so the tone came across as exceptionally insulting. “We hoped you and Romana would see the truth in time, but alas, only one of you did.”

Sebastian turned to face the still-terrified Lady Erskin and finally put some of the pieces where they belonged. She didn't start the rebellion, she was the last Councilor to join it. The arguments, the begging, the quite, all-too-easy defeat; it was all because the Council wanted her to turn on him and she was hoping he'd change his mind about the direction of his rule before she had to.

“You believe,” Sebastian began, still entirely confused as to their intentions, “that you are the true servants of the Maker? Even as Templars and Seekers alike have left their posts to heed Andraste's call to serve?”

“They are lost,” Lord Keller mourned. “They are traitors who abandoned the Maker.”

“They are good men and women and you know that,” Sebastian snapped. “Every person in my army, from the militia to the mages wishes to serve the greater good, and that was not what the former Chantry accomplished; not at all.” He took a few steps back and regarded the entire Council at once. “Are you all willing to die for the right to continue implementing a system of prejudice and needless oppression? Does pretending to do the Maker's work truly allow you to be blind to your own pettiness?”

“Oh how far you have fallen,” Lord Borland chastised. His voice was strangely even in comparison to everyone else's hysterics.

“You,” Sebastian realized. “You planted this seed. Why?”

“I could not allow you to poison the city with your false gospel, not when my fellow Councilors and I felt nothing but dread when your cousin so readily handed you the crown. And then your first act as prince was to declare a massive-scale holy war against the Chantry your parents served with lifelong honor. We knew your actions were not those of a righteous man, and I inspired them to do what they knew was right. Starkhaven will thrive, but not under you. We are the ones who are truly guided by the Maker.”

“Does the Maker live in Minrathous now?” Varric asked as he strode in through the double doors, holding a small stack of notes scribbled onto scraps of parchment. “Cause according to the notes in your room, that's where your orders and your money have been coming from.”

The stoic resolve of the entire Council shrunk before Sebastian's eyes in an instant. Even with his secret revealed, however, Lord Borland didn't seem to be anything more than annoyed.

“Oh,” Varric added, “and did I forget to mention that the Dalish stopped your rescue squad before they even got near the main gates? That wall of theirs really helped out, too.”

“Rescue squad?” Sebastian asked without taking his eyes off the Councilor, who was finally beginning to sweat.

“Yeah, seems Lord Borland here was selling you out to the Imperium. Has been since a little after Andraste left. He agrees to let them come in and kill you, along with all your supporters, the Council keeps their power, and Starkhaven never goes to war so long as they keep a Magister of the throne.” He threw the paper in front of Sebastions, carefull placed so that some of the Council could read it as well.

“You don't mean-” Lady Ferghus tried to ask. "You don't even-"

"Serve..." Lady Erskin tried to get out, "a... Magister price...?"

“Don't even start with that,” Lord Borland sneered. “You wanted to believe me, and that's what made it easy. You're no victim here. If I'm to face the blade for this then so should you. Not that killing me or any of us will save this blasted city.”

Sebastian crossed his arms over his chest. “You truly believe that you have the power to doom this great city with a few words and a failed coup?”

“Seven words to be precise,” Lord Borland answered. “Andraste. Is. Trying. To. Destroy. The. Imperium. You really should watch your volume when you speak of highly secret undercover missions, Your Highness. You never know who's on the other side of the door.”

The hot shock that jolted through Sebastian when the reality of the situation sunk in left him so paralyzed with rage that he must have appeared eerily calm to anyone who couldn't hear the thrum of his blood in his ears.

“And if you want to know anything beyond that,” the Councilman was bold enough to continue, “I suggest you let me live for the ti-”

“Take him to the dungeons,” Sebastian cut in, his voice still even despite how loud he'd been. “Execute him at once. Lock the others up. Solitary. I do not want them speaking to each other, or anyone else for that matter.”

“You idiot,” Lord Borland hissed, “I'm the only one who can tell you-”

“That's enough out of you,” the gold-clad guardsman standing behind Borland said as he hoisted the man up and dragged him away.

Whatever protests the others made were lost to Sebastian as they too were taken, leaving just the prince, Varric and few more guards standing silently in the throne room.

Sebastian eventually walked over and sat in his throne, back straight as he stared forward and tried to think of what he was supposed to do. Andraste was impossibly far away and in incredible danger; possibly dead already. He needed an equally impossible plan, something no one would dare try, if he ever hoped to see her again.

“What do you want me to do, Your Highness?” Varric asked.

Sebastian blurted out his answer before he had a chance to second guess himself. “Get me Merrill.”

Chapter Text

***Tevinter Circle Tower, Grand Library***

It took a few days of costly bribes and careful questioning, but they did eventually get a lead as to Feynriel's whereabouts.

It was actually Orana who came to them with the news. “Please, excuse the interruption, my masters,” she began tentatively as Hawke and Anders were reading in the Circle library, “but you have been invited to visit the estate of one Onesmus Prochori. He too is known in the city for taking on unorthodox apprentices.”

After a little more digging they found out that Lord Prochori had indeed been the only magister who was willing to take in Feynriel when the boy came to the city with wild claims of being a Somniari. Plenty of people studied the Somniari arts in the Imperium, but mostly in the same way they studied griffons; as extinct creatures of legend that would surely never return to Thedas. From the stories that circulated, mostly among the slaves, it took Feynriel a great deal of time to find someone to apprentice under. The magisters, especially those in Minrathous, were all obsessed with bloodlines and legacy, so as soon as Feynriel stupidly mentioned being raised in an Alienage by his elven mother, he was deemed too filthy in name and in blood to ever carry the title of a true mage.

The rumors regarding what Feynriel did for the months he was mentor-less varied from person to person, but eventually there came one man, a friend of the Divine even, who stepped forward and was willing to take the boy on as a project. It was the talk of the city for quite a while, and many magisters became frightened of what a Somniari under the tutelage of a proper magister could be capable of. It made Hawke laugh to think of all the racist asses cowering in their mansions and wishing more than anything that they'd given the kid a shot, but that dream quickly faded when he remembered that he was dealing with magisters, and magisters were the champions of deflection, delusion and excuses.

Whenever a magister died in his or her sleep it was Prochori who they feared was behind it, with Feynriel getting very little of the “credit.” Feynriel may have been entirely human in physiology, but having an elven mother left very few rungs on the social ladder that he could potentially climb. From the sounds of the reports, Feynriel was just a mage version of Fenris; more tool than apprentice.

During the past couple of months, however, no one had seen or heard from master or apprentice. Elven servants had been seen coming in and out of Prochori's home, probably to guard and maintain the estate, but beyond that there was nothing. It was, however, as good a place as any to start.

Hawke never liked walking to places in the Imperium, because every time he went out he saw a normal, bustling city around him. It weakened his resolve to ensure that the whole place and populous burned to the ground. Children held their mother's skirts, the same as any child in Lothering or Kirkwall ever did, and people hugged their friends upon realizing that one of them was back home after a long trip. Young boys tried awkwardly to flirt with pretty girls who giggled to each other in response and ran off without giving any sort of answer. Hawke found himself laughing, or at least smiling, at a great deal more overheard conversations than he was comfortable admitting. Humanizing one's enemy was never a very good wartime strategy.

“Mine's bigger,” Hawke remarked when they finally arrived at Lord Prochori's estate.

“Yours was bigger, love,” Anders reminded him with sideways grin.

“If you two are quite finished,” Andraste spoke up, “let us see if the Lord is home.” She picked up her skirts and approached the door, but her legs gave out before she reached it. Hawke moved to help her but Anders took his hand and grasped it tight before flashing a smile to mask the warning expression in his eyes.

Andraste had forced herself to get better at walking unaided, but she could barely handle short trips across the city center, and with their awful mission finally drawing to a close, Hawke was forced to begin considering how she was going to lead an army when she couldn't even run beside one.

But the mission wasn't over yet, so Hawke proceeded behind Andraste as she went to knock on the heavy red door. A meek elven woman pulled it open, reading Andraste's status immediately in the princess's fine clothes and regal posture. “Please, my lady, come inside and allow me to alert my master of your arrival.”

The girl all but scampered off, leaving another slave to close the door behind them. Even during his time staying with the First Enchanter, Hawke had never seen so many servants, and while a couple were dusting or scrubbing by the window, many of them were just standing there, completely still, watching their new guests.

Footsteps sounded on the mezzanine, which usually signaled that someone important was approaching, because slaves always did their best to not disrupt “important” people with the noise of their movements. It was one of the many reasons they weren't given shoes. Hawke looked up at the person descending the central staircase, but only had enough time to realize she was female, elven and slightly familiar before something far more important came to his attention.

Fenris charged at the woman with no care or concern for the fact that he was unarmed, his body a blurring streak of light across the stone floor of the estate. Some of the slaves shrieked, but despite their fear the hordes of elves moved to form a living wall around the base of the stairs. They were obviously terrified, but they also made it clear that they weren't going to move.

“Stop,” the woman shouted, her voice somehow as pleading as it was commanding.

“What do you want, Varania?” Fenris asked. "How is it that you're always there at my lowest moments?"

That was it. That was where he knew her from.

“Varania?” Anders began to ask before he realized where he'd heard the name before. “The Varania? Fenris' sister?” He took a few steps closer and regarded her once over from head to toe and back up again. “Wow.”

The tenseness in the room faded slightly when everyone, Varania included, turned to stare at Anders, eyes entirely disbelieving of the inappropriateness of his comment.

He shrugged it off. “What? Maybe if your brother didn't stand with all the grace of tangled tree roots he wouldn't look so awkward, and I'd actually believe you two were related.”

Somewhere behind them Isabela laughed. Hawke didn't realize how much he'd missed the sound, but it eased his nerves a little further and seemed to have the same effect on Fenris as well. The elf looked back at his companions as if they'd showed up out of nowhere and interrupted him.

“Would you mind telling me where Lord Prochori is?” Andraste asked, her voice almost bored.

“The lord magister took Feynriel to the Argent Spire almost two months ago,” Varania told them. As she walked tentatively down the stairs Hawke watched the servants, all of whom looked reverent in their anticipation. Some of them even bowed their heads to her. “I hope you can forgive my deception, but I needed to meet with you. You're in terrible danger.”

“Give me one good reason why we should believe you?” Fenris snarled. His markings flared so bright it hurt Hawke to look at him.

“Did you find it odd that Danarius was rather easy for you to defeat?” she asked. “That he brought a small group of paid muscle to take down a lyrium infused warrior, the Champion of Kirkwall, the Captain of the Guard, and a Pirate Queen.”

“Oh it feels so good to hear someone call me that again,” Isabela sighed.

“It sounds like you're having sex back there,”Anders commented.

“Hearing that might feel better than sex. And remembering that night, too. If I thought I was excited to destroy Danarius, watching Aveline cave a guy's face in was... it was art, really. A master class in physical destruction.”

“You were saying,” Andraste interrupted again, “about this grave danger?”

“No,” Fenris corrected, “She was telling the story of the night she betrayed me.”

“I was explaining that I was supposed to help Danarius bring you back!” Varania shouted. “Do you know what it was like for us after you won your precious markings? We were no longer slaves, but what does that even mean in a place like this? Freedom sounds so noble, but all you did was strip away the only job we had and the only roof over our heads. Our mother starved begging on the streets as every free elf does in the Imperium.”

“A wonderful sob story,” Fenris mocked. “Too bad every spy Varric had told me you were a tailor.”

“Yes,” Varania shot back, mirroring his sneer, “I was indeed working as a tailor for the month Danarius knew your dwarf's 'friends' were in town. In that time he fed me his own version of your time away from me. He claimed you'd been captured by Qunari and wounded; that you'd been injured so badly you didn't remember who you were. He promised to make me a magister if I did well, and that once you were back we'd be a powerful duo under his tutelage and status.” Varania reached the bottom of the stairs and motioned for her protectors to part and let her through. Hawke thought it was a needlessly bold move, but she was indeed her brother's sister. “I don't know if you remember, but the magisters originally wanted me to receive your markings.”

“I remember,” Fenris whispered like it was a warning growl.

“Then you remember that you called me stupid for not going; that you begged to take my place. You were so enamored with your fantasies of power that you let your body be defiled in an experiment you didn't even know if you'd survive. You risked leaving your family alone to mourn you so you could earn freedom we never asked for. I had nowhere else to go and no one else to turn to, so I left for Kirkwall to bring you back so we could lead the life you'd always wanted for us. But when I arrived I...” she stopped and looked him over. “I don't even know who you are. Fenris, they call you, yes? The wolf. When you showed up that day, all I saw was Fenris, and he wanted me dead for the same things Leto wanted me to live for.”

“Liar!” Fenris accused. “Do you think I'm that stupid?”

Anders took a deep breath and Hawke shot him an acidic glare.

Varania leaned in and demonstrated no fear as she stared into her brother's eyes. “Do you think I'm that weak? That you'd still be standing here if I'd come to Kirkwall to help Danarius capture you?”

“And how, in all this, did you get involved with the Somniari?” Andraste asked.

“I knew I'd be punished for not aiding in Danarius' fight. A few scouts did escape The Hanged Man to return to the Imperium and report my 'treachery,' but this place has been my only home and I did not know where else to go. So I returned and was thrown in prison until traffickers sold me to a brothel.”

“You met Feynriel in... a brothel?” Hawke asked indelicately. “You mean he...?”

“He was apparently doing well in his studies,” Varania told them. The way she spread out her arms as she announced her words with a bitter tone immediately reminded Hawke of sitting in Danarius' dingy old estate and listening to Fenris yell about magisters and slavery. “Lord Prochori decided Feynriel deserved a gift. Nothing too fancy, like the human women in the brothels by the city center. No, we were the throwaways who cost a few coppers for the night, and for a sovereign you could take one of us home.”

“How far have his abilities developed?” Andraste inquired, and Hawke balked at her absolute lack of empathy. He wondered, with a twinge of fear, if she wasn't getting too far into character, or reverting too far back into who she once was.

“Of course you'd believe her,” Fenris griped.

“Feynriel is strong,” Varania answered, seemingly unfazed by the princess's directness or her brother's incredulity. “Master Prochori began giving him more autonomy, more money and more training. I did my chores and reported to his bed every evening, but he only ever talked to me. He asked about where I was from, my family, why I didn't escape and join the Dalish; he even tried to teach me some more advanced spells that he'd learned in his apprenticeship.”

“You work here with... all these people?” Orana asked tentatively. “This is more slaves than I have ever seen in one house.”

“Some of us are the slaves of the estate, but certainly not all. The night before Feynriel left he-” Varania paused and looked at the floor. “He gave me a heavy pouch of sovereigns and told me to leave the Imperium. He said I deserved a better life and... he asked to kiss me. When I awoke the next day he was gone.” She reached over her shoulder and pulled the staff off her back, revealing that it was entirely gold and expertly enchanted. “He left this behind as well, and I wanted to honor his wishes, but as I started my attempt to sneak my way out of the city I found myself wading through a sea of elves just like me; scared and hungry and degraded. I have spent my life hating myself and what I've allowed the people of the Imperium to do to me. So I took the money, I took advantage of the empty estate, and I began hiding slaves. There are more in the wine cellar, and others upstairs.”

“Varania is beginning a revolution,” one of the men announced. “Slaves across Minrathous are working in secret on a revolt.”

“You can count on us, Lady Andraste,” a young woman piped up. “We know the Maker sent you to lead the elves to freedom once more.”

Varania knelt before Andraste, and soon the whole room was on its knees, some of the elves even pressing their foreheads to the floor. “We are ready to be yours to command, but please, Blessed Prophetess, bring Feynriel back to me; if for no other reason than he is far too great a war asset for you to let him die or remain in the hands of the magisters.”

Something didn't seem to be adding up for Hawke, however. “Wait,” he said slowly as he watched them, “How do you know who she is? I mean, you started this two month ago? Because you were waiting for Andraste?”

“Because they've known,” Varania stated with all the gravity of a death threat. “They've been grooming Feynriel to do...something. Even he was not told what exactly they wanted him to do. At first he thought he was supposed to kill someone, but that is an ability he perfected long ago. They wanted him to learn a much higher degree of control, he said, but I cannot even begin to fathom what atrocities he is capable of; that gentle man whose bed I shared at night.”

Upon hearing that, the sting of empathy made Hawke bite the inside of his cheek so hard he was surprised he didn't taste blood.

Andraste swallowed audibly. “The Senate?”

Varania nodded.

Hawke could hear the subtle shake as Andraste drew in a long, deep breath. “This whole trip...”

It took a moment for reality to hit, but when it did all the world froze as Hawke felt the pain of their ordeal rush to the surface to crash unmercifully against this new-found futility. The guilt he felt over what he'd put his friends through permeated his consciousness like a horrid, unrelenting itch.

“No!” Anders yelled. “This can't have been for nothing! That means-” He looked at Hawke and, through the pain evident in every fiber of his being, choked out the one word Hawke didn't want to hear in that moment. “Justice... was for nothing.”

“How?” Andraste demanded.

“It is complicated,” Varania answered as she placed a hand on the prophetess's shoulder. “We need to sit and discuss-”

“We're not staying,” Fenris insisted. “At least I'm certainly not.”

“Then leave,” his sister sighed as she led Andraste back up the stairs, the other elves bowing as they passed. “Go run off and forget about the people who need you. Or stay, for once, and do something.”

Hawke took a deep breath and, along with Anders, Isabela, and Orana,

***Starkhaven Castle, Abandoned Storage Cellar***

It was odd for Carver to walk down the dank old halls underneath the castle, torch in hand while Merrill carried a rather large, heavy chest behind him. He wasn't sure which part was harder to fathom, that the chest was filled with his blood or that Merrill could carry it by herself.

The squirrely Finn fellow and Sebastian were already in the room with the mirror, and Carver sneered at it without even thinking. He hated the Eluvian with a passion, and it took everything in him not to push Merrill behind him protectively and back them both out of the room, never to look upon the blasted thing again.

That wasn't an option, however. In fact, the mirror was just about the only option they had left.

“The instances of the Eluvian being used to communicate are few and far between in what little literature we have left,” Finn immediately began rambling, “and there's only one mention of it being used for travel. Then again, I did see that Wilds woman walk straight into one, so, I mean, I guess we don't need books to prove that it's possible.”

Sebastian raised an eyebrow at that. “So you mean to say the Hero of Ferelden just... allowed this sorceress to escape through the mirror?”

“The witch said the Commander owed her for saving her life; that they were friends. I don't know much, I mean, Lady Aeducan didn't tolerate my inquisitive nature. My though, but she is terrifying. Two swords, she wields. One in each hand. Both as tall as her. You can imagine that they helped 'inspire' me to keep my mouth shut.”

“I have one sword that's as tall as you,” Carver mentioned. “Is that inspirational enough?”

“Noted and acknowledged, Knight-Commander ser,” Finn said with a nervous smile.

“What is that?” Sebastian asked as Merrill placed the chest on the ground by the mirror.

“You know, Varric taught me a very interesting word the other day,” Merrill replied as if she hadn't heard him. “It was 'plausible deniability.' Funny concept, it seemed to me, but he swears it's extremely necessary in human governments.”

Sebastian thankfully nodded in understanding and stopped even looking at what Merrill was unpacking. A good idea, Carver thought, as he too looked away before the sight of so much of his own blood could lead him to faint.

Merrill had asked him to assign one Templar to guard the ritual, but Carver couldn't think of anyone who was the right mix of discreet and capable. He was still dealing with rampant prejudices against elves and mages; still occasionally finding Knights missing from the morning roll call because they'd left the city. Carver had accepted long ago that he probably wouldn't feel sure of his command until after the war was over.

If they won.

If they even survived long enough to wage a war.

“What is it you need me for?” Sebastian asked.

“Well,” Merrill led in nervously, “I'm not entirely sure- how this all works, I mean. You're the only person Andraste is really... connected to? You are her husband, after all. Whatever that means to you two it's none of my business, but you're all she really has. Maybe if you try to reach out to her, she'll try to reach back.”

“Reach out to her how?”

“You know, I don't really know how to explain that to someone who isn't a mage,” Merrill said as Carver heard her uncork one of the glass bottles. As he heard her approach the mirror, Carver found he couldn't quiet his morbid curiosity at what was being done with his blood, which he still felt very... responsible for. He watched as Merrill poured it over the tangled roots that haphazardly cradled the non-reflective glass, making sure to get none of it on the mirror itself. “Try to, I guess, find her with your energy? Does that make sense?”

“Not really,” Sebastian admitted.

“My then, not being a mage must be terribly dull, no offense. Well, maybe a little offense. Or more pity, I guess. There is so much in this world; energy and life going on all around you at all times, like a pulse. Find that.”

“Are you sure that is even possible?” the prince asked.

“Think of it like Templar training,” Carver tried to explain. “We're not mages either, but we are humans and elves, so we do have a connection to the Fade. We can manipulate what's already there, but we can't harness it like mages can.”

“Yes,” Finn agreed, “Lucky for us you're not a Dwarf!” When Carver regarded him with a sour look, the young man laughed nervously and wiped a thin sheen of sweat from his forehead with the back of his Starkhaven red mage robes. “You'll have to excuse my excitement, but this is... absolutely amazing. I mean, do you understand what'll happen if we get this right? This'll change everything. It'll give the Prince and all under his command an incredible power, and by way of an alliance with the Dalish. This very ritual could revive something ancient; something that could eventually build Starkhaven into an Empire; change the role of elves in every society across Thedas. This room is about to house what could be the most important historical moment of our age, if not all of living memory!”

“Thank you for that,” Carver said with dull sarcasm, “it really helps alleviate the immense pressure we'll all under.”

“Everything will be fine,” Merrill assured. “Finn and I have been studying every aspect of the Eluvianathen ritual, we-”

“Eluvianthan,” Finn corrected.

Merrill balked so hard at his interruption that Carver was surprised her head didn't snap off her long, delicate neck. “Did you just... correct my Dalish?

“It's a common mistake with the more ancient words and dialects,” Finn said comfortingly, not at all aware of Merrill's offense. “People mix up the possessive with-”

“Finn,” Carver stopped. “Just don't.”

“Ah, alright then, I shall commence with the don't-ing.”

Merrill turned to Sebastian and rested a hand on the prince's shoulder. At first Carver read the gesture as friendly, and it seemed Sebastian did as well, but the look and Merrill face was etched with severity. “Are you ready to begin?”

Sebastian took a breath so deep Carver could swear he heard the seams of the prince's well-tailored jacket strain with the swell of the man's chest. He held it for a moment and stared at Merrill's face as if rereading her to see if he'd missed something. Finally, after a tense silence, he blinked away his apprehension and replaced it with resolve. “It's alright,” he stated, almost more to himself than her, “I trust you.”

Carver's neck sunk into his shoulders at the amount of guilt that flooded into him. The man who once condemned magic to the point of supporting the full Annulment of the Kirkwall Circle, could now say with great finality and honesty that he trusted Merrill: the woman Carver loved more than anyone in the world, who had tongue-tied him as a lad and helped him grow into a man, who he should have trusted without reservation. And Sebastian could say it to her face. Carver couldn't even say it as a lie to someone else.

This wasn't Carver's risk, however, and angsting over his inner demons was a selfish waste of time in the face of their reality. After all, it wasn't just Andraste they were trying to protect, it was everyone with her. Carver clenched his fist, gritted his teeth and swore to the Maker that if his smartass brother didn't make it home in once piece that there'd be a path of absolute carnage carved from Starkhaven to Minrathous.

Merrill raise her other hand, the one still coated in Carver's blood, and began using her fingers to paint sweeping, yet seemingly purposeful marks across Sebastian's face. “Once you get in front of the mirror, you need to close your eyes and focus on calling out to Andraste. Finn and I will begin chanting, but it'll be in Dalish, so hopefully it shouldn't distract you. Don't let your mind wander and don't open your eyes. When you feel something call back, walk forward. You might feel sleepy, since you're entering the Fade, but you shouldn't fight it. Let go, and don't stop or open your eyes until you can't hear us chanting anymore.”

Sebastian simply nodded before taking his place in front of the mirror, and Carver couldn't help but reach back to grasp his sword.

***The Fade***

As soon as Merrill and acting First Enchanter Finn began reciting the spell, Sebastian's eyes slipped shut of their own accord. He tried to focus as Merrill had instructed, but the foreign power in the air was an absolute haze invading his consciousness. His body leaned and his legs brought him forward, his mind screaming commands like his body was an insubordinate entity.

He tried to think of Andraste, but his fear of failing her brought on a huge wave of stress that made it hard to even make an attempt. He didn't know what he was doing there, secretly engaging in ancient elven blood magic while wearing the raiment of the Prince of Starkhaven, but it was his only option. He couldn't just abandon her. She'd been abandoned by enough people she trusted, and for once Andraste deserved someone willing to sacrifice for her.

And it wasn't just Andraste who needed him. Hawke had made sure Sebastian's family was avenged and Fenris had honored him with hard-won trust. A prince with any honor at all did not turn a blind eye to the needs of his greatest friends and allies.

He didn't even notice the chanting disappear, not with his obligations all but haunting him as he fumbled forward with his eyes shut tight. He was a leader now. People needed him; his people, and he wanted nothing more than to see them all prosper. He questioned, however, if he was capable of giving them everything they deserved.

Those were the questions that plagued his nightmares, Sebastian realized, and he wondered if he wasn't being forced to live through one. It was awful enough to be stifled by his insecurities after he closed his eyes at night, but feeling it all swarming him while awake was a wholly new and horrible form of torture.

Sebastian took a deep breath and tried to continue forward, focusing on thoughts of his wife; the courageous woman who he, for some reason, had been given the honor of standing beside. Fear regarding the impending war made his thoughts of her slip away, so he tried to think of the quiet moments they'd shared before they were prince and prophetess. His mind reached back and found memories of their time together in the Chantry, spreading warmth and charity in a way that was so simplistic, yet absolute in its conveyance of the Maker's will.

Without his permission, Sebastian's mind then turned to the future; to the time after the war when his bed would not be empty at night and maybe, perhaps, the walls of the castle would echo with the laughter of children.

Sebastian's muscles tensed as he was wracked with embarrassment by that uncontrollable line of thought, but it didn't halt the small shadow that crept down the hall in the vision playing behind his eyes. When the child rounded the corner, however, Sebastian realized it wasn't his offspring starring in the fantasy.

The little girl had thick ginger hair and soft brown eyes, narrowed with hilarious seriousness as she played with a wooden sword.

“Sebastian!”

He could have sworn he heard something, but he tried to ignore it in favor of returning his mind to thoughts of Andraste. That one mental tangent, however, refused to let go, almost seeming as if someone or someplace else was invading his mind.

Sebastian accepted the risk and opened his eyes, jumping when he found his bow somehow in his hand and his white Chantry armor back on his body. He heard footsteps coming from his right, and reached back for an arrow, trying not to let his vision swim in the odd, unfocused atmosphere he found himself in.

“Sebastian!” came the voice again. “Stop. It's me.”

Sebastian wished more than anything that he'd agreed to go into the Fade when Hawke asked for help with Feynriel, but he had refused and now he had no idea how to treat visions and trickery in such a realm. He took a huge step forward before he allowed himself to turn around, ignoring the voice's demand that he cease drawing his bow.

They stood there like that in absolute silence, Sebastian's hands shaking as he decided whether to shoot what may or may not have been Aveline straight through the heart.

Chapter Text

***Lord Prochori's Estate***

Varania's awkward swallow had all the presence of a scream when compared to the silence that followed what she'd just explained.

“Do you have any idea if...” Andraste shut her eyes and sighed shakily. “...if Sebastian and the others are alright?”

“No, I'm sorry,” Varania apologized, “I have no way of knowing.”

“And Feynriel lied to get himself sent into the mirror?”

“Yes your highness. To protect himself, as well as me. We are safe as long as they believe he is hunting your friend in the Fade.”

Andraste didn't move for quite some time, meditating on the facts until Hawke had begun to worry she'd turned to stone.

Guilt, fear, and fury raged in Hawke's mind, and yet he still felt numb to the situation. He could see Anders' hand over his, but he couldn't feel the warmth at all, and it took all he had not to pull back and bristle like a cornered street cat. His instincts told him he was surrounded and the enemy was coming in from all sides, something Hawke could've dealt with if it was an actual ambush, but he couldn't fight back with speed and daggers against political subterfuge. He'd built his name being a mercenary, he'd become Champion by defeating the Arishok, and he'd fought his way out of Kirkwall with the blood of the Knight-Commander on his blades. Suddenly being told that he had, in actuality, been entrapped for weeks was driving him mad and stoking his desire for a true battle.

“They will call for me soon,” Andraste spoke. Hawke looked up and found that she was sitting up in her chair, shoulders strong and chin high as if she'd transformed the simple furniture into a throne. “We will go.”

“Are you drunk, stupid or suicidal?” Isabela asked.

“I made a promise,” Andraste said stoically without averting her gaze from whatever far-off idea she was imagining in her head. “We have played the role of being at their mercy well enough thus far, and now that we are no longer 'playing' it should only become easier from here on out, yes? The Black Divine has the mirror, and we are not leaving without it.”

“At least not without destroying it,” Fenris said from the doorway.

“No,” Andraste corrected. “I mean we cannot possibly leave without using it. The only safe way out for us now is through that mirror.”

“You want to walk into their trap?” Anders asked. He looked to Hawke for backup, and while his mouth was laughing at the absurdity of the idea, his eyes were terrified.

“What else can we do?” Hawke asked. Honestly, a trip through a magic mirror sounded a lot easier than a six-person army fighting its way out of Minrathous.

“We can run!”

“What?!” Isabela balked. “You? Suggesting we run instead of fight?”

Fenris seemed to find it rather amusing as well. “Funny how you forsake your desire for martyrdom when it's mages you're expected to fight.”

When Anders jumped out of his seat Hawke tried to pull the man back down, but Anders wouldn't have it. “This isn't a matter of dying for a cause. If dying would stop this war I would lay my head on the block and make my peace with the Maker, but it won't. It will accomplish nothing except ending our war before it even begins.”

Fenris looked ready to respond, but he never got the chance. “You think we will die?” Andraste asked, finally turning to face the rest of them.

“Even if we do, I'm sinking a dagger into one of their eyes,” Isabela declared, “I don't care if it's the last thing I do.”

“It won't be,” Varania assured. “We can fight them. Now is not the time for doubt.”

“Now is not the time for stupidity,” Fenris argued.

“You will address Lady Varania with respect,” one woman said as she pressed her chest right into Fenris' armor.

“I will speak to that treacherous bitch howev-”

“Enough,” Varania interrupted. “Step aside, Alina, let him approach and speak his mind.”

“You are too kind, Mistress,” Fenris sneered as he moved into the room. His sister didn't react to the obvious attempt to goad her.

Without saying a word Andraste stood from her chair and, despite the complete lack of pomp and circumstance, everyone in the room was silent and attentive, watching as the Prophetess turned to Varania. “Pick your best thieves. I want your quickest and your quietest on-hand and ready to move at my command.”

Hawke cleared his throat unashamedly. It was about time Andraste needed him for a task he was actually good at.

“Your reputation is far more valuable than your stealth,” she told him, and he could tell there was no arguing with her. Oddly enough, there was something powerful about the calm measure of her voice and the slow deliberateness of her movements. After spending years of his life focusing on being faster and deadlier than everyone else, her behavior was strangely captivating.

“And what would you have me do?” Orana asked. Hawke had, like he often did, completely forgotten she was there.

“You have been an invaluable asset,” Andraste commented. “You possess a strength of character the likes of which rivals anything a warrior could display with a sword. When I say that you are not fit for this mission, know that I do not undervalue your importance or fail to recognize your sacrifice.”

“You are too kind,” she said with a bow and a smile unlike any kind Hawke had ever seen from her before. “But you are also wrong.”

Isabela couldn't help but laugh proudly at that. “You tell 'em, girlie.”

“I beg your pardon?” Andraste asked.

“You now know that they know that they can't trust you,” Orana tried to explain. “But they don't know that you know that they know that they can't trust you.”

“I... vaguely follow your logic,” the princess acknowledged.

Orana cross the room and planted herself under Andraste's gaze. “If you don't bring me you lose that one last element of surprise. It's unwise to bring someone who can't fight when you know there is to be a battle.”

Hawke finally caught on to her meaning. “Bringing you makes us look so dumb that we'd have to be unaware of their motives in order to do it.”

“You could die,” Varania warned.

“Couldn't we all?” Orana asked. “I have been weak and useless my whole life. I watched and waited like a good girl while Mistress Hadriana murdered my father in front of me. Even if it may cost me my life, I want to go. I have to go.”

“But why the thieves then?” Anders asked.

“A two-pronged attack,” Fenris had already figured out. “One group searches for the mirror while the other distracts the Divine.”

The entire situation was too absurd for Hawke not to smile a bit as he stated their plan out loud. “You want us to waltz into the Black Divine's... Spire and hope he? She? Thinks we're idiots so they won't see an attack coming? And all just to distract them while some elves find a magic mirror for us to escape through?”

Andraste stared directly through him. “We leave victorious or we die here. I will not return to my people a failure.”

“I will put together a team to search the Spire for the Eluvian,” Varania offered. “It shouldn't take me long. I have already sent scouts to monitor the outside of the Circle and report back to the others when the Divine's envoy comes to escort you. You can trust they'll be searching as soon as you enter those giant white doors.”

“Of course I can,” Andraste stated, “Fenris wouldn't allow any less.”

Fenris' brow knitted in displeasure at the command. “You expect me to play spy while there are magisters to be slaughtered?”

“I expect you to protect the mirror. You would like to leave this place, would you not? Do you think we can walk out the front gates now?”

“Fine," Fenris agreed, "if it means not fighting alongside you.”

“And where exactly is he supposed to take the mirror after we beat up the Divine and run for our lives?” Hawke asked.

“To the Audience Chamber, which is most certainly where we will be taken. It will either take us through Merrill's mirror, where we will be able to deactivate it from our side, or we will be transported to the Fade. Either way we will no longer be in Tevinter, and for now that is enough.”

“You really think we'll come out of this alive?” Anders asked.

“It is our only option. The Maker tests us, we cannot fa-”

“Your Highness,” a young boy called out breathlessly as he ran through the door. “They're asking for you. It's time.”

Everyone, the steel-willed Prophetess included, look utterly unprepared. They'd just formed a plan not two minutes before, but it would be impossible to pull off if they were caught in Prochori's estate with forty or so rebel elves. Hawke watched as Anders tried to stand and leave, but when something yanked the mage back into his seat, Hawke realized he still had his lover's hand gripped tight in his own.

Escaping through the mirror was truly their only chance at getting out of the Imperium alive, but it also meant no trip home. If it worked they'd go straight back to Starkhaven in seconds, and as soon as they returned there'd be a war to fight.

Justice's war.

Hawke simply did not have the time to worry about that, though. Varania gave last-minute instructions to the woman she'd called Alina, and Andraste took the chance to do the same with Fenris.

“We have the same goal,” she reminded him. “Work with me and we will save Aveline. But none of us can save her if we're prisoners or corpses.”

She extended her hand and Fenris eyed it with a suspicion. Eventually, however, Fenris gripped the woman's wrist in solidarity. “I am in your service; at least for now.”

“I have no interest in your service” she returned, "show me your loyalty."

Varania wrapped her hair, neck and mouth in a faded red scarf and lead them all out the back of the estate, allowing them to merge into the crowd without as much as a second look for anyone. She took her place in the back of the group with Isabela and Orana. Andraste made small stops along the way, letting herself be seen before continuing on quietly, but it wasn't until they returned to the Circle that they met with agents of the Divine.

“Your majesty,” one of the five of them greeted politely. “I trust you are well.”

“Well yes,” she answered, “but also impatient to know why you are waiting outside the Circle tower for me. Do you bring word from the Divine?”

“Truly the Maker does smile upon you, my lady. Yes, His Grace does indeed wish to meet with you. Presently, in fact. He apologizes for His abruptness, but He recognizes the severity of the political situation in Thedas right now, and does not wish to waste what precious little time we have to act.”

Hawke was impressed with how much genuineness Andraste could fake in her smile. “I could not agree more, Ser. Please, lead the way.”

“Her Highness does not wish to retrieve anything from her quarters before the meeting?” the Templar asked. It was then that Hawke realized that they were all completely unarmed, save for whatever small blades they had hidden in their boots or strapped to their thighs.

“No,” Andraste answered, feigning confusion. “Is there anything I need? Were copies of my treaties not sent to His Grace?”

“They were,” he assured. “But I thought I would extend the courtesy in attempt to make up for the short notice. If Her Highness is ready, we can be off.”

The Argent Spire was the tallest building in Minrathous, so Hawke could see it against the skyline from pretty much anywhere in the city, but that was nothing compared to actually standing before its great white doors. The entire structure was a brilliant white that almost glittered sliver in the sunlight of midday. Now that Hawke was so much closer, he could see the intricate lines that climbed in a spiral up the outer walls, making it look like the horn of some great fantasy beast from a children's fable.

The Templars, as well as the other attendants in the Spire, continued to treat Andraste and her entourage with the utmost respect as they were led to the Divine's Audience Chamber, just as Andraste had predicted.

Hawke hoped no one noticed the way he and Anders grasped each other’s hands tightly when the heavy door shut behind them. Before them stood five men, some of them members of the Senate, at the base of what looked exactly like the red carpet, golden seat and marble steps of the Grand Cathedral.

There was one stark contrast, however, and that was the abundance of black. Like the Senate Chamber, the Audience Chamber was entirely black with Chantry suns and other embellishments gilded in brilliant gold. The men before them wore luxurious mage robes and staffs with enough gems, runes and precious metals to buy Hawke two or three estates to replace the one he lost.

And to his left, pressed against the wall like any other piece of decorative furniture in the room, was a mirror that gave no reflection. Hawke didn't need to bring any unnecessary attention to himself by looking to see if they noticed as well; he knew his companions were observant enough while still being smart enough not to stare at it. Fear began to prickle its way across the underneath of his skin, though it wasn't for his own safety. He'd already accepted the danger he was placing himself in, but he had no idea how long it would take Fenris to notice that the Eluvian had been taken out of storage.

“An unlikely alliance, wouldn't you say?” the magister in the center spoke. He had dark, well-kept hair and sharp lines to his face, but he was dressed so much like the other men that Hawke still wasn't sure who was actually the Divine. The rest didn't act even remotely reverent or lower in social stature, and with how many lectures on Imperium social hierarchy Andraste has made him sit through, it made Hawke extremely confused.

“I do not agree,” Andraste stated. “Tevinter is my home. Do not confuse what you know to be the truth with the lies of the false Chantry. I am the Prophetess Andraste, standing before you with the blessing of magic that the Maker bestows upon the most worthy.”

“Yes,” the man agreed, but something in his tones almost seemed sarcastic. If there was anything Hawke was an expert at, it was sarcasm. “Magic is indeed a blessing. It helps separate the strong from the weak. Those of us, those select few born with this gift, are meant to rule.”

Hawke could sense the subtle way in which Andraste's muscles tensed and her posture got more defensive. He was behind her, so he couldn't see her face, but the man addressing them certainly didn't look pleased anymore.

“Would you like to discuss this alliance or not?” Andraste asked flatly.

“Today will see an unlikely alliance forged,” he told her, “but no, not between the greatest empire in the history of Thedas and your cobbled together, feeble excuse for a city. Seize them.”

Between the terror of knowingly walking into an ambush unarmed, wondering why the magisters had brought the mirror to the Audience Chamber, and worrying about how and when Fenris would meet back up with them, Hawke found himself unable to react when Qunari soldiers appeared from hidden doorways in the walls.

***Starkhaven Castle, Abandoned Storage Cellar***

The three of them stood there in silence, staring at the mirror for what felt like hours. Sebastian had disappeared over an hour ago, and there was little left to do but wait.

“There has to be something we can do from this side,” Carver sighed as he resisted the urge to pace a trench into the stone floor.

Merrill turned and rested her hand on his shoulder. He wished he wasn't wearing his armor; it'd have been nice to actually feel her touch in that moment. “There isn't.” The look in her eyes suggested that a thought had occurred to her, and she turned to Finn. “In fact, why don't you go?”

“Maker yes, I am on board with that idea,” Finn laughed awkwardly. Carver hadn't noticed that the mage was shaking so terribly until his words came out with all the steadiness of a man on horseback at full gallop.

As Finn tried to leave the room with both respect and celerity, Carver couldn't help but laugh in an attempt to relieve the tension. His mind told him to remain serious, but his nerves couldn't stop him from saying something stupid. “I feel this isn't the best moment for... 'privacy' related things.”

When nothing came in response to his comment, Carver found his skin flushing with dread. Merrill wasn't even looking at him. She'd already started staring at the mirror again.

Finally, “Carver I'm scared.”

“Sebastian will be fine,” he assured. “He has a knack for avoiding death, same as my brother.”

“Not for others, for myself,” she corrected, her voice oddly steady. Carver couldn't explain why, but the less emotional her voice held, the more it terrified him.

“Are you-?” Carver had been avoiding asking the obvious for weeks, but it couldn't be put off any longer. “Is there something you haven't been telling me?”

“Of course,” she laughed a little. “There will always be little things that people who love each other have to keep to themselves. You don't think my Dalish folktales are interesting, I think your mabari tattoo is stupid and... I'm babbling to avoid talking about something I don't want to talk about.”

“Merrill, are you alright?”

“No,” she stated. It was a simple but vulnerable answer.

“No? How- how 'no'? Merrill what is going on?”

She took a deep breath and, if Carver wasn't mistaken, threw a quick, longing glance at the door. “When the black fire decayed the forest outside the city I wasn't... there.”

“Where... were you?”

“I don't know. Someone called. From the sky. And then I was just gone. At some point later, I have no idea how much later, I could feel you... pulling? And yelling, but you sounded so far away like- like maybe I was under water? But different.”

“Has anything like that happened before?” Carver asked, trying desperately not to get upset. “Is there a way to fix it? Do the Dalish have a- some sort of story about it? Why are you only saying all this now? Sebastian's in the Fade. We sent Finn away. Andraste is- Maker why wait till now, Merrill?”

“I don't know, okay?" Merril snapped, her sudden rise in volume making him jump. "I don't- there's no lore. No story, no tradition, no prophecy. I don't know what's happening to me, but I do know this. My people are finally beginning to have a place again. We have land, and laws and allies. I can't let whatever this is ruin all that.”

“You might not have a choice,” Carver said apprehensively.

“I know that,” Merrill responded with an air of defiance before finally calming herself and repeating it in a far more somber tone. “I know that. But I can't just step down now. It'll make it look like everyone's been right about me from the start. It will undo everything.”

“Then why even tell me? Why bring it up now?”

Merrill slipped away from him and positioned herself in front of the mirror like a guard, even going as far as to draw the sword Andraste had given her.

“This is my last chance to speak to you privately about it,” she said sternly without so much as glancing back at him. “It might affect what happens today, but it might not. I wanted you to be prepared.”

Carver stepped forward until he was standing beside her, staring into the same odd, dark-yet-still-somehow-bright ripple of magic undulating over the mirror's surface. “And what if it doesn't? Am I just supposed to pretend you never said anything? Like you didn't... admit that you might go off again at any second?”

“I'd appreciate if you didn't tell anyone,” she admitted, “but no, I don't plan on hiding from this forever. If this plan even works, and the entire city isn't simply thrown into chaos at the loss of its leaders, then I will need you to- to do me a sort of favor when this is over.”

“Why do I have a feeling what you're about to ask is nothing like a favor?”

Yet again Merrill's laugh was a bitter mockery of its once gleeful genuineness. Carver was beginning to worry it was doomed to stay like that. “Because you know me too well.”

Carver was already beginning to piece it together, even if he didn't want to acknowledge it. “Does it-” He took a deep breath and tried to finish his question as nonchalantly as possible. He didn't know why he was trying to seem unfazed by the situation, but he couldn't help feeling like something in his mind was trying to shut his emotions down. “Does it have to do with me being a Templar?” It sounded like they were playing a guessing game.

“It wouldn't be like a Harrowing,” she got out quickly, like she often did when trying to ensure she wouldn't stall saying something she didn't want to. “It'd be much more dangerous, and complicated. We're not- we're not talking about a demon here. If only we were...”

“If only?” Carver repeated. “You're saying you- what? You long for a demon in lieu of whatever this thing is?”

Whoever,” Merrill corrected. Her nervous shiver clattered her armor a bit.

Carver tried to step in front of Merrill but she wouldn't look up at him. “Do you know who it was that did that to you? Back in the forest? Do you know who's behind this?”

Merrill gripped her sword tighter and clenched her jaw. The way she spoke through her teeth made her sound angry and betrayed. “I do. I knew the voice. That's why my instincts didn't have me immediately jump to defend myself against her. And she knew. She knew that all along. Probably long before I even met her. Like I'm some pawn. Some- some naïve, stupid little pawn!”

“Merrill who is it? Who got into your head like that?”

She finally looked away from the mirror, but she still wouldn't face him, opting instead to look at the floor with a furious kind of shame. “Asha'bellanar.”

***The Fade***

“Don't be stupid, Sebastian,” 'Aveline' said steadily as she held her arms forward in a posture that denoted an obvious readiness despite looking like surrender. “If there's a test, I'll take it, just think before you shoot.”

Sebastian did as she suggested and looked her over, which only made him draw his arrow back further. “Then mind telling me while you're in your guard plate, which shouldn't even fit you?”

'Aveline' sighed and let her eyes slip shut in frustration. “Alright, good point. In all honesty I don't know why. I don't... feel pregnant anymore. And that frightens me. I don't even know if firing that arrow is going to do anything. I'm still not sure how this place works. But I do know your arm must be getting tired, and that you're not wearing what I last saw you in either.”

Sebastian only considered the truth of her statement for a moment, but it was enough of a distraction for her to lunge forward and knock him onto his back.

He expected a sword at his throat and was surprised when it was a mage's staff being used to keep him in place. He was even more surprised when a gangly, if not well-dressed, young man was glaring down at him.

“No further Feynriel,” Aveline commanded.

Had Sebastian not just been regretting not helping the boy, he probably would have taken far longer to recognize the not-entirely-human curvature of the boy’s face.

Sebastian and Feynriel had never met, but the mage's situation was a matter that tore Hawke's companions in every direction. There had been countless arguments, going on long after the boy was on his way to Tevinter. Even those who agreed with each other agreed for different reasons. Aveline was opposed because it was illegal, Sebastian because Feynriel obviously needed the Templars' guidance, and Fenris because he believed the boy needed to die.

No spell was holding Sebastian in place, but uncertainty was a far better restraint in their situation.

“How do we know he isn't an illusion too?” Feynriel asked Aveline without looking at her. The way his voice broke at the word 'too' told Sebastian plenty.

“Sebastian would be a bit of an... odd choice for an illusion,” Aveline guessed. “Donnic, or Hawke, or Wesley; but not Sebastian.”

“How did you get here then?” the mage asked, pressing the gold staff in closer.

“Merrill's mirror,” Sebastian told them. “We were hoping it would lead me to the other mirror being kept in the Imperium. I need to reach Andraste as soon as possible.”

Feynriel relaxed a bit. “He knows about the other Eluvian.”

Sebastian could hear Aveline pace for a moment, her footsteps heavy under the weight of her armor, before she finally sighed with resignation. “Let him up.”

Even after the staff was no longer pressing into Sebastian's chest, he remained on the ground and observed his surroundings. All around them were dusty red rock formations and haphazardly constructed items with no real function or reason; crumbled statues, chests with rotted and rusty hinges, the beginnings of stone walls in places no structure should be built.

Finally he made a move to stand. “As much as I wish I could help you, Aveline, you are actually far more safe at the moment than Andraste is. Do either of you have any idea how to get out through the Tevinter Eluvian?”

“As a matter of fact we do,” Aveline answered, “but I don't care how urgent your mission is, you're going to explain to me how in the Maker's name you can call my present state safe.”

“Your body is fine,” he rushed to explain. “More than fine. You are... untouchable, at the moment.”

“How untouchable?” Feynriel asked.

“It's almost as if your body does not exist,” he said, “at least not in any plane a mortal can reach.”

“There's no outside curse that could do that to you,” Feynriel told her. “Not one that could last this long and withstand those kinds of attacks. I was right.”

“Right about what?” Sebastian asked.

“Before that,” Aveline interrupted,” since you two have never met, let me properly introduce you to Feynriel. He's been my guide for... however long I've been stuck in this awful place, and he's the one who can show you the way out.”

“Under one condition,” Feynriel added. “Or two, technically. Two conditions.”

“Let's talk and travel,” Aveline suggested. “You lead, Feynriel, and I'll bring Sebastian up to speed.” With a grateful nod Feynriel gestured in what, to Sebastian, seemed like a random direction. The three of them began walking carefully over the uneven terrain, and Aveline took a deep breath before speaking again. “He was told to kill me,” she began with an inappropriately casual tone. “Obviously it didn't work, not completely, and Feynriel thinks it's because I, or maybe the baby, have special powers of some kind. That and he was purposely trying to botch it.”

“The moment my spell failed,” Feynriel broke in, “I felt so relieved. The Senate, the ruling body of the Imperium, they've been making me assassinate people for months now. But I knew there was an opportunity there. Something I had to take advantage of if I was ever going to be free of the magisters.”

Sebastian was confused. “But you asked Hawke to send you there,” he recalled, “did you not?”

“And at first it was wonderful. Their command of magic is unsurpassed. The Senior Enchanters of the Free Marches were nothing compared to even the novices of the Imperium. They taught me how to control my abilities, and that felt amazing.” For nearly a minute Feynriel didn't speak, then he began again in a much quieter, slower tone. “Then came the... assignments. A name, a memento, and a date. At first I was too scared to say no, then I started hating myself so much that I preferred dying to being used like that. When they saw I wasn't scared anymore they... they...”

“They gave him someone else to fear for,” Aveline finished for him. “They bought him a woman and threatened her instead.”

“But when my attempt to take out Aveline failed I knew it was divine intervention,” Feynriel explained excitedly. “I knew about the Eluvian, so I made up a lie about runes and spells protecting her. I told them I needed to be able to physically go to the Fade and slay her myself, that way they'd be the ones to suggest the mirror and I wouldn't look suspicious. They're probably still waiting for me to return.”

“I, on the other hand,” Aveline recounted, “was wondering around here alone for Maker only knows how long until Feynriel actually did find me, and the two of us have been awaiting rescue ever since. I figured with all the cryptic prophecies Andraste had been spouting at me we wouldn't be waiting long, but no, it seems everyone was fine with me being on the edge of existing for however long it's been by now. Put Andraste in trouble though, and they'll send their last surviving monarch through a dangerous mirror just to see if maybe it'll help.”

“We all assumed it was the mirror that hurt you,” Sebastian told her. “And we didn't know how to undo it. Did the Eluvian really have nothing to do with what happened to you? And how did he even know to look for you here?”

“I'm powerful enough that I wouldn't need the mirror to kill a target,” Feynriel explained. “And with how unbelievably invulnerable Aveline's body was, I knew the protective spell must have cost her a great deal to maintain, and her mind couldn't possibly still be... with her, so to speak. I don't think she's truly safe until I am, though; until they can't threaten me into hurting her anymore.”

“I will have to tell the others that as well,” Sebastian reminded himself. “If I can even reach them. Andraste, Hawke, Anders, Fenris, Isabela and Orana are all in Tevinter as we speak trying to figure out what happened to you.”

Aveline stopped abruptly and gaped at him. “Orana? Fenris? Isabela even?”

“All to try and save you,” he assured sincerely. “But their plan will be for naught if I cannot reach her. Not only is she going in thinking that the mirror is the cause, but a leak in my Counsel gave away her rouse days before she could have arrived.”

“And you won't reach her if we don't get moving,” Feynriel rushed. “Now about those two demands,” he explained as they began walking again. “One, you will take me back with you when you go through your mirror.”

“You walked into the Fade with no plan of escape?” Sebastian asked.

“A lifetime in the Fade is better than another moment in the Imperium,” Feynriel snapped, and Sebastian felt a very unsettling shift in the energy around him. The young man was still a bit insecure, but that just made it all too easy to forget how powerful he was. “Will you hear my second demand or not?”

“Of course,” Sebastian said calmly.

“Find Varania and bring her back with you. Otherwise, they'll kill her. Her only use to them was to motivate me to follow their orders. She's been through enough. Let me take her someplace safe.”

“Varania?” Sebastian echoed. He looked over to Aveline. “No. Certainly you can't mean-”

“Sebastian,” Aveline interrupted, “It is a far longer and more complicated story than we have time for. I owe Feynriel far too much not to-”

“And what of what you owe Fenris?”

“Don't you even think of lecturing me on how indebted I am to him," Aveline warned. "I am well aware. And I still say if you find Varania, you bring her back, understood?”

“You may not have to look far,” Feynriel spoke with utter disbelief. Distracted by the argument, Sebastian didn't notice that they'd turned into a random, half-built structure which housed a floating rectangle of white light. The mage stared into the light in shock, and it wasn't until Sebastian approached it from the correct angle that he was able to see why.

The image was like a bright, hazy window into an ornately decorated room. The walls were black marble and any place that could be trimmed in gold was, but that wasn't the important part of the image before him. There were soldiers everywhere, human and Qunari, some of them already holding their captives while others stood ready to react at the slightest provocation. It was, of course, Andraste who he noticed first, her large frame draped in the colors of Starkhaven's royal family. Looking completely exhausted, she was on her knees on the floor before her captors.

Without thinking Sebastian leaned in for a better look, and he barely heard Feynriel scream for him to step back before a hand reached through, grasped a fistful of his robes and pulled him in.

***The Fade***

In hindsight it was a horrible idea to even try, but luckily for Aveline the window that was so easy for Sebastian to get pulled through was completely solid for her.

“You're not a physical being, Aveline,” Feynriel reminded her, staying a safe distance away.

“Then you go!”

“Go do what?” he asked. “Rush in and get myself killed? We don't know what's going on. We have to wait.”

No words could have sounded worse to her in that moment. She avoided looking into the window for as long as she could stand, because she knew as soon as she did she wouldn't be able to look away. When she finally dared to open her eyes Sebastian was being flung toward Andraste. He landed awkwardly across her lap and cried out in pain.

Aveline scanned the faces of the captives in the room and her heart sank lower and lower with each one she recognized. When she got to the end, however, she expected to find Fenris standing there grimacing with contempt, but found a different elf instead; though oddly enough the same grimace.

The scarf that had been covering her hair and mouth was now hanging around her neck, and even though Aveline had only met her once it was easy to recognize Varania. As much of a surprise as that was, it was their captors who were most shocking of all.

“I...” Feynriel began to stammer. “But how? Why? Qunari?”

Aveline had stupidly begun to think that the world was done hurtling unbelievable surprises at her. The view through the pane of magic was a bit hazy, but there were few beings out there who could make a woman of Andraste's height and build look so small. Only about half of them had horns, but all of them were covered in the same grey war paint as the Qunari who revolted in Kirkwall all those years ago.

The beasts stood behind Aveline's companions with swords drawn, but they looked across the room to the magisters for their next orders. Admittedly, foreign politics were not one of her areas of expertise, but Aveline knew enough to question how in the Maker's name such an alliance came to be.

Andraste pulled Sebastian up to face her with her palms gently resting on either side of his face. “Sebastian why are you-? How-?”

“I came to warn you,” he told her, his voice already low and defeated. “I found out you were walking into a trap and... fell into it myself.” Aveline thanked the Maker that Sebastian was smart enough not to say anything, even quietly or cryptically, about her presence or Feynriel's rouse.

“Well, no two ways about it now,” Isabela sighed. “We’re fucked.”

“Yes,” Andraste agreed. “It would seem we are. But these men are not the reason why.”

Anders' head snapped up and he eyed her like she was crazy. “You don't think the Black Divine is the one pulling the strings here?”

“No, I do” she corrected, looking dead into the eyes of the well-dressed man across from her. “I think she's been planning this for decades now.”

“She?” Aveline questioned. “What is Andraste talking about?”

Feynriel tentatively stepped a bit closer and Aveline moved aside so the young man could see who was being addressed. “That man there, posing as the Black Divine, that's my master, Onesmus Prochori. He doesn't speak to me directly about these things, but what I've gathered from the context of his conversations is that a small group of men rule together under the guise of one Divine. It complicates assassination attempts and lines all their pockets with more gold than either of us can imagine.”

Prochori gave an impressed smile. “You seem so defeated, my lady Andraste, but you most certainly did not make it easy. You have been smart. Striking when the Chantry and mages were already at the cusp of all-out war, marrying well, amassing such a huge, albeit crude, army in such a short amount of time. You secured the Holy Mother before we could find her, you secured the true Divine's desired vessel, and you were wise enough not to bring either. Needless to say you did quite a good job of backing us into a corner. Why, you even helped broker peace between the Imperium and the Qunari. Well done, Your Highness. Well done indeed.”

Aveline had been in the Fade for what felt like an eternity, and even though her body had shown no signs of being with child the entire time, the idea that the Imperium was after her son made her lay her palm over where he would have been growing inside her had these people not torn her away from him. Knowing full-well that she couldn't hop through and throttle the bastards herself, Aveline balled her hand into a fist and pounded it against the invisible barrier.

She didn't expect Prochori to respond, but the man turned and looked right at her. Feynriel retreated immediately, but Aveline was done being intimidated.

“Ah, his Highness was not alone it seems,” Prochori realized. “We have a larger audience than we suspected. Tell me, Sebastian- and feel free to be honest as she is perfectly safe where she is- but is the Holy Mother among your Fade entourage?”

Aveline knew her position was given away as soon as Sebastian stuttered on his first attempt to lie.

“Excellent,” came another voice in the room. A woman's voice; and one Aveline couldn't forget even if she wanted to. The voice, the shock of white hair, the glow of gold eyes, and the scream of a dragon had never stopped haunting her dreams.

“Flemeth?” Hawke breathed in disbelief. “Well this is certainly the most absurd game of cat and mouse I've ever been a part of. Did you honestly save me so you could kill me now? Is all this pageantry really necessary?”

One of the Qunari hit Hawke in the back of the head with the pommel of a sword. “Silence. Your tone is grating.”

Flemeth ignored him in favor of addressing the mirror, somehow making eye contact with Aveline thought she was sure that wasn't possible. “My how curious you made me then,” she spoke. “Had I known then what I know now, I would have let you die and rot with your obnoxious husband.”

In the time just after Wesley's death, Aveline found herself kept up at night by the “what if’s” of that day. If he'd just been stronger, or faster, or if she'd been better at protecting him, maybe he could have left mere minutes later with the rest of them. But no, he simply had no part to play in the Maker's circus of a prophecy. He simply wasn't interesting to the gods who found entertainment in their fates.

Aveline wanted to throw up, but her form wasn't real enough to provide even that catharsis.

“Flemeth?” Andraste questioned. “Is that it now? Not Asha'bellanar or the Witch of the Wilds or Vasilia?”

“Ah,” Flemeth laughed, “How good of you to recognize an old friend. Here I thought you had forgotten in your old age. How many centuries has it been? Rumor has it you've spent it listening to mortals whine, and yet you still come back like some abused housewife who keeps thinking this time will be ever so different. How many times must these people use and abandon you before you give up?”

“You thought a new body would confuse me?” Andraste asked. “You may look different, but you will always reek of sin.” She made a move to lunge forward, but the Qunari guarding her had a hand in her hair within moments.

“Useful, are they not?” Flemeth commented. “It wasn't easy to get them into talks, you see, but you wouldn't believe how quickly they came around as soon as they heard about your little plan. Because while we may agree for entirely opposite reasons, everyone here does agree that a world full of nothing but mages sounds like a horrible future to see dawning on the horizon, and we will do what we must to stop it.”

“A what?!” Aveline and Feynriel found themselves asking in unison with everyone else in Andraste's party.

Flemeth looked shocked for a moment, then burst into raucous laughter. “The kind of blind devotion you inspire never cease to amaze me. Here these people are willing to lay down their lives for a prophecy you haven't even told them about.”

“What is she talking about?” Anders asked. “You can't mean- all of Thedas? Everyone? Of every race?”

Andraste nodded solemnly. “All those who are not dwarves, born after Aveline's son.”

Before Aveline knew it she was pounding on her side of the mirror again. “You bitch! When were you planning on telling me any of this?” She didn't know if Andraste could hear her, but she would allow herself her rage regardless.

Obviously something could be heard, or at least sensed, because the room turned to look in her direction.

“Seems your allies are not fond of your love of secrets,” Flemeth taunted. “I would have thought you learned that lesson by now. You kept so much from Maferath, and look how that en-”

Even with no staff, on her knees and surrounded by captors, Andraste could still summon the strength to toss Flemeth across the room with force magic. Aveline watched as Isabela took advantage of the confusion, hiked up her dress, pulled out a small dagger and flung it into the eye of one of the men by the fake-Divine's side.

“Take that you sick son of a bitch,” she shouted as the Qunari warrior behind her tried to get her under control. With a dexterity and speed so unique to her that it was like a signature, Isabela dropped out of his arms and dug another small blade into the back of the Qunari's knee.

Despite her anger, Aveline still wanted nothing more than to rush in to help. The haze of the mirror and the close-quarters chaos made it impossible for her to follow what was going on.

“Enough!” Flemeth called, stilling the room. It gave Aveline the chance to see Sebastian holding a rather ornate dagger to Lord Prochori's throat, as well as the other magister who held poor Orana in the same fashion. “Nothing is accomplished by all or any of us dying here in secret. Two empires waking up tomorrow with no leaders is just going to cause completely useless chaos, and I much prefer my chaos useful.”

“But your Grace,” Lord Prochori tried to argue as he struggled, nicking himself for his efforts.

“The Prince and Princess are the only two people in all of Starkhaven who support this war. Without them there will be no grand battles for them to lose, no history books to tell of how I came in and slaughtered all those who dared to oppose me. Stories, Lord Prochori, are the epitome of immortality.”

“You expect us to, what?” another magister asked. “Let them walk out the city the gates?”

“No need. Look at the little redheaded whore,” the witch said, motioning to Varania and causing Feynriel to swallow nervously. In the short tussle she'd crept closer to Aveline. “She's trying to get to the mirror, and they wouldn't risk going through the Eluvian unless they had another one to step out of. That's perfect.” She strolled up to Andraste and pushed the woman toward the mirror. “Realize that you have never and will never beat me. Surrender like a good girl for once in your miserable life. Rush your broken body back to Starkhaven and deliver me what you know I want.”

“And how exactly are we supposed to know what that even is?” Hawke asked. “Shall we stay and play the question game? Is it animal, mineral, or vegetable?”

Aveline should have gotten used to Hawke's talent for horribly-timed glibness by then, but as soon as she did the man always found a new low to hit.

Flemeth went to answer him, but seemed to reconsider and turned to the mirror instead. Despite knowing she was safe there, Aveline found herself trying to step back to match Flemeth's steps forward. “Listen to me,” she spoke as if they were sharing a secret. “Think about what the birth of your son means for the world. Think of the turmoil he will bring. Try to imagine the horrible life the Maker has planned for him; a life not unlike hers,” she said as she pointed back to Andraste. “He will be born my enemy. I will hunt him down until I am successful, and then I will make him an example to all who follow his cause. I will give you back your inept leaders and your obnoxious friends, and in return you will do what you can to end this all before it has to begin. You will rid yourself of your child, and you will send me my final vessel.”

“Your vessel has a name,” Andraste called out. “And a will far too strong for you to break.”

“That girl rose me from the dead with her own blood and bent her knee to me as soon as I appeared before her. When she was lost it was me she reached out to for guidance. I have seen her mind, I know where the breaches are, and slaughtering you will only strengthen her resolve to defeat me. No, guilt is the ice that will expand in the cracks of her mind and widen the fissures enough for me to get through, and you will deliver that guilt for me. Every time she looks at one of you she will remember that your suffering is hers to end. That I spared you for her.”

“Are you talking about Merrill?” Anders realized. “You want us to hand you Merrill so you can... possess her?”

“Long ago the elves were immortal,” Andraste explained, “and with the right magic they can be again.”

“I have grown tired of shedding body after body,” Flemeth all but yawned. “It's time for something permanent, now that a powerful and corrupt enough vessel has finally presented itself.” She turned and walked away from the mirror, leaving the path to it completely open. “So go. Take this chance and be smart about it for once. Give me when I want, and you won't have to fight in a war you cannot possibly win... again.”

Never needing to be offered something twice, Isabela moved first, stopping only to flip off the room and spit on the man she'd stabbed in the eye. Everyone else attempted to follow suit, but the standoff between Sebastian and the man holding Orana couldn't seem to break.

“We keep one,” the man holding her demanded. “Maybe a little extra collateral.”

“Fine,” Flemeth agreed. “I don't even know who that is anyways. I doubt they care.”

“You know actually I do,” Hawke spoke up.

“It's fine,” Orana relented, trying to sound brave. “Please go. I'll be fine.”

“Orana I'm not going to-”

“Go!” she shouted. “If someone needs to stay let it be me.”

Hawke paused for a moment, and though Aveline didn't know why, she trusted his judgment as he slowly began to walk away. Sebastian was the last to move, pushing Prochori away before inching carefully toward the mirror.

When Isabela reached out to tentatively touch the surface of the mirror, Aveline took a step back to let everyone through. One by one, and without taking their eyes off Flemeth until the last possible moment, everyone made their way through, stopping on the other side to express joy in regards to Aveline's safety and give one last guilty look to Orana.

“Break it,” Flemeth commanded, and within seconds the pane of light shattered into useless shards on the ground.

“Why were you okay with leaving her?” Aveline asked as they began half-running back to the site of the Starkhaven mirror.

“Fenris is still there,” Hawke told her, “along with a whole resistance movement. Someone has to tell them what's happened, and they'd never suspect Orana.”

Aveline would have gotten more upset about leaving Fenris all the way in Tevinter, but they were coming up on the other portal. “Wait, what about me?”

“I was what was threatening you, right?” Feynriel suggested. It was then that Aveline noticed he and Varania holding hands as they ran. “And I'm free now. You should feel safe enough to break the spell now.”

“And if I can't?”

“You can,” Andraste promised, limping along behind her with Sebastian's help. “We all went to Tevinter to try and save you, you must trust that we will always keep you safe.”

Isabela got there first, but she turned and waited for everyone else. “You're not getting away from me that easy,” she said as she reached out her hand to rest on Aveline's shoulder plate. “And you haven't even tried to do it yet so you could at least put your damn negativity on hold, don't you think?”

Aveline tried to look annoyed but she couldn't help smiling at the familiarity of it all. “You don't look half bad in that dress, by the way.”

“Screw you, I'm ripping this off and burning it as soon as we get home. I'll dance naked around the damn fire in celebration. And we will get home. I will scream at you till you wake up. I'll make out with Donnic over your sleeping body if I have to.”

Through the light floating before her Aveline could see a dimly lit stone room. Much like how they came into the Fade, they all left it one at a time, with Andraste opting to go last to take advantage of one last moment of privacy between them. “You are who the Maker chose to carry the burden of not only birthing a child of prophecy,” she said, “but in raising him to be the honorable and responsible leader people will need him to be. You are so very important, Aveline, and because you are important your friends and your people and your Maker will do what they must to protect you. This you must believe.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Aveline asked.

“Because whatever magic protected you reacted to your own fear. The Maker did not simply bestow this responsibility upon you and abandon you. He has given you and your son both the power you need to protect yourselves. Now that you are safe, it is your own will which must guide you back.”

Aveline didn't fully understand, but she didn't think that more lecturing was going to help. She was anticipating some kind of long, drawn-out goodbye, but she was surprised to find Andraste still there, making no move to leave.

“That does not mean that I will abandon you here. Only when you are gone will I too go home. Now wake up.”

Aveline felt embarrassed and a bit like a child, but she also had no interest in turning Andraste away. Smiling appreciatively, she let her eyes slide shut so she could focus in the hauntingly perfect silence of the Fade. She tried to let go of what she'd been so afraid of, but everything she'd just learned was too fresh in her mind. Still, she tried to focus on the lengths her companions were willing to go to see her safe again. She forced herself admit that it wasn't the mirrors that had doomed her, and her lack of trust in Merrill was both misplaced and damaging to them both. If anything, the blasted things were the only reason Feynriel and Sebastian had found her in the first place. But they had, and she was safe again, if only she could believe that enough to wake up.

She had no idea how long she stayed like that, but eventually she resigned herself to defeat. “I don't think I can do this.”

“Aveline?” someone asked from above her.

Her eyes snapped open, and though the bright sunlight streaming in to the ballroom was near blinding, the pain was well worth it to see her husband again. And when she raised her hands and felt the swell of her stomach once more, she could help but burst into tears.

Donnic probably thought they were tears of joy, and since they were, for the most part, Aveline was content to let him think that; to let him smile down at her with glassy, weary eyes of his own and stroke the hair from her face. He didn't need to know what she'd been asked to do. Not when she already knew she could never do it.

Chapter Text

***Starkhaven Castle, Dining Hall***

Everyone slept for days upon returning to Starkhaven. Yes, there was a world-altering war on the horizon and yes, Andraste had some serious explaining to do, but everyone agreed to simply leave it for three or fours days or however long it took for them to recover. Nothing would get solved if the important players couldn't even stay awake.

For the most part the whole castle just shut down during that time. No meetings, what with there being no Council, and no audiences with the Prince. There were only four people who either couldn't or wouldn't take the opportunity for much-needed rest. The first was Hawke, who could only get about one hour of sleep before he'd wake up worried that Justice had returned. He had no way of knowing when that would happen, as they were in a weird grey period between Anders needing to be in control for the mission and Justice needing to be in control for the war, and Hawke didn't want to spend what could have been some of their last moments together hogging the blankets and snoring.

When Anders finally told him to either sleep or get out, Hawke took to pacing the strangely empty halls until he could tire himself out. It was then that he learned of one of the other people having issues sleeping: Donnic. Despite having appeared to be asleep, Aveline hadn't rested in weeks and was out like a light most hours of the day. Hawke didn't need to ask why that worried Donnic enough to get him exiled from his bedroom as well.

They had the servants bring them whatever was handy and ate at the banquet table in the main hall while playing Diamondback. The only real talking they did was related to the game, at least until Hawke finally decided to ask something that had been gnawing at him since Kirkwall. “Do you ever wish it was you instead?”

“Maker yes,” Donnic groaned as he planted his cards face-down on the table. “All of it. I'd carry the baby if I could, I'm completely serious.”

“You know I still dream about my sister?” Hawke found himself blurting out. “Maker knows what her role would be in this if she'd survived. Literally, only the Maker knows, the bastard.”

“You think maybe you should tone down the blasphemy?” Donnic suggested.

“And what is He going to do? Take away the blessings he's already given us?” It was supposed to come out sounding more like a joke, but Hawke's words were pure bitterness when they met his own ears.

“So what devastating event are you waiting for?” Donnic asked. “We all seem to be waiting for one.”

“We all?”

“The lesser halves. You, me, Carver, Sebastian.”

Donnic didn't need to explain anymore; Hawke understood him perfectly. “Oh, well, my deep seeded fears have the added bonus of being fueled by my own stupidity. I, ah-” Hawke sighed, laughed and tapped his cards on the table. Anything to prolong answering. “I made a deal with a Spirit because, ya know, that's what sane people do. And not even for anything regarding me, no. I promised complete control of Anders' mind and body for the duration of the war.”

“How is that even possible? Can a Spirit ask one person for permission to possess another?”

“Apparently you can when the vessel in question is all but dead inside anyway.” The serving girl who had walked in at just the wrong moment promptly turned on her heel and walked straight back out. Hawke flipped, shuffled and lined up his cards some twenty more times in agitated silence before he finally decided that he had to change the subject before he threw a plate at the wall. “I take it Aveline told you about...”

“Oh, the grand dawn of the magic age Andraste mentioned once and never fully explained? Yes, she told me. I hear it's already united the Magisters and the Qunari against us.”

“The Maker didn't want things to be too easy for us I guess.”

“Well good thing there's plenty of fun left to come,” Donnic sighed. “A three-pronged war, a powerful witch who's one step away from immortality, and a child whose birth will be so momentous that he will usher in a new Age before the old one is even finished.”

Hawke finally put his cards down and ran his palms down his face in frustration. “And they won't run, will they?”

“Not at all,” Donnic answered, and the man couldn't seem to help but smile a bit at the truth in that. “You and I, we seem to go for the stubborn ones.”

“The stubbornest. You'd think they were competing for a title. And hey,” Hawke added solemnly, “I'm sorry about Fenris.”

“He knew the risks, and he is a grown adult,” Donnic dismissed. “You said there was a resistance effort? I'm sure he's having the time of his life showing magisters their own hearts.”

“Most likely.” Hawke looked back at his cards as if he intended to start playing again. “Do you even know where we left off?”

“Not a clue.”

Hawke discarded his hand into the main deck and began idly shuffling them in along with Donnic's to pass the time. “It's probably selfish to feel like this is the harder part, huh?”

“It is indeed selfish,” Donnic agreed, “but it is not going to stop you or me or Carver or Sebastian from feeling it. Call it what it is: it is uselessness. All we can do is say we are sorry for things we did not do and cannot control.”

“Is it weird that I would give anything to fight the Arishok again?”

“I miss patrols,” Donnic said in commiseration. “Back then Aveline could order me to do something that actually mattered. How many nights did I protect merchants as they packed up after the sun set in Lowtown? And now I cannot even protect my own wife; not with... magical mind assassins being hired to-”

“Don't let Varric hear you say that,” Hawke warned, deciding the moment needed a bit of levity. “Magical Mind Assassins will end up the title of his next book.”

“I am sure Serrah Tethras has enough inspiration to last multiple lifetimes. But perhaps it is time I go return to my uselessness.”

Hawke nodded in agreement and stood. “It's all we have.” The two of them parted ways, leaving Hawke to expertly meander his way back to his quarters. His mother always told him he could find the longest path between the house and the fields when he was younger. That same instinct told him the best way to get back to his chambers was through the kennels.

A small room had to be set aside for the mabari who were also refugees of the war, and in the makeshift kennel there were haphazardly-constructed cages strewn about the place. They were mainly for sleeping at night, and otherwise were never closed, as the small group of dogs got along well enough that it wasn't needed. Hawke cracked the door open as little as possible and slid himself inside, pushing through the excited pack of war hounds already sniffing excitedly at his boots.

“Dinner first, at least,” he protested as he pushed one of them away from his crotch. He reached out to give them all a quick pat on the head and was proud to find Barkspawn sitting like a good boy behind the rest of the pack. Hawke dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around the beast, who licked his face ecstatically in response.

He knew no one had really abandoned him, per se. Carver needed to find himself and his mother and sister had been killed, but there was something really great- really simple- about having a dog as a constant companion. Mabari were smart enough for people to feel connected to them, but they didn't have politics or destiny to worry about; just the approval of the people they loved.

He thought about refusing to let Barkspawn fight in the coming war, but he knew his mabari would feel downright spurned by the exclusion. He wished that he and his friends could have been cowards, but he'd assembled a team of heroes, albeit accidentally, and nothing could have annoyed him more in that moment.

He did his fighting. He spent his adolescence protecting his father and sister's secret. He ran from his home when the Darkspawn came and did his best to protect Kirkwall when it was threatened. He'd been fighting for two decades by then, and life was showing no signs that his battle would be over anytime soon.

***Starkhaven Castle Throne Room***

Occasionally sleeping alone wasn't something that bothered Carver. After some of his rougher days he couldn't even make the trip from the Templar barracks to his chambers, opting for a close-by cot over his plush bed a few blocks away, so he could imagine how exhausting it would be to trek back and forth between the Dalish encampment and the castle. He was glad that, if he was going to have someone by his side during the most gruelingly hectic time in his life, it was someone as busy as him. The last thing he needed was someone who took his absence personally.

He woke up alone that morning, thought in his bed this time, to the sound of someone knocking on the door. He probably would have yelled at the messenger had it not been a young elven boy who looked terrified.

Carver sighed and tried to send his tenseness out with the air. “What is it you need?”

“The Prince and Princess request your presence in the Throne Room,” he said with about three too many bows.

A meeting with both Sebastian and Andraste, especially in the Throne room, warranted full parade armor, which Carver was in no mood to have himself strapped into. “Do you know how to get a man into his armor?” he asked the elf.

“Yes, Knight-Commander.”

Carver didn't say anything, just opened the door further and stepped inside his room. It wasn't until the young man heard the clink of metal that he looked up and realized what the Knight-Commander had meant. As straps were being tightened and plates were shifting over each other, Carver tried to feign ignorance about the meeting topic. It was a massive stretch, but he still created a naive list of suspects: a new Council, the impending visit from the King and Queen of Ferelden, the construction of the new Circle. Anything but Merrill.

A moment passed where he considered bringing his sword. He didn't know why, he just couldn't shake the feeling that the true beginning of the war, the moment not written about in history books or sung by bards in court, was just moments away. Soldier's intuition told him something similar was on the horizon the night before Ostagar; not necessarily the kind of dread that would have predicted the slaughter that followed, but a growing insistence that the whole world was about to change, and change chaotically.

He was, unsurprisingly, the second-to-last member of the “audience” to arrive. While he had the most armor to put on, Merrill had to travel the entire length of the Dalish camp, plus nearly three-quarters of the city before the steep road to the castle even began. She wasn't that far behind him, but when she arrived there was no greeting. They were like strangers in that room. No one had names anymore, just titles. The Knight-Commander, the Keeper, the Champion, the Holy Mother, the Divine and the First Enchanter. The ragtag band of absolute misfits who, for some reason, thought they were going to change the world.

Someone came out to announce Sebastian and Andraste's entrance, after which everyone bowed accordingly. Despite having been at their wedding, this was the first time Carver had seen Sebastian and Andraste actually do something as a couple. He had to admit they were an odd pair at first glance; Sebastian being, honestly, prettier than his wife. Circumstance had molded him into a true prince though, and he sat beside his wife with just as straight a spine and stern an expression as hers.

“I am not fond of repeating myself,” Andraste announced. “I have no intention of having a hundred different conversations about this issue. Yes, it is delicate. Yes, you will hear things you would have rather heard in private, but there is no time for that.”

“My wife is correct,” Sebastian agreed. “Our position now is... precarious at best, and our foes want nothing more than to sow distrust in our highest ranks and watch us destroy ourselves for them. That is not something I intend to let happen.”

“You all have my trust,” Andraste continued, “and that trust was rightfully earned. It is time I tell you something that must not leave this room. Then we will discuss this information, we will reach a consensus, and we will adhere to our decisions without faltering. Is that understood?”

Carver contributed his voice to the slightly out-of-unison chorus of “Yes Your Highness.”

“Time has changed history and turned it into stories, as it often does, but the basic facts never really deviated all that much. Her name wasn't Flemeth then; it wasn't even Vasilia. Hessarion didn't like her peasant name, so when he bought her from her husband he gave her one more fitting of a new status. He had her mentored in magic as a formality, but she excelled far beyond even her instructors, and was soon leading and training the mages in their army. When I began my march I heard stories of her on the battlefield. The first time a soldier fled the battlefield screaming about a “Dragon Woman” I locked him up to await execution for desertion. Then twenty more came, with melted breastplates and pure fear in their eyes, if they returned at all.

I never had the honor of facing her in battle. The first time I saw her face was through the bars of my cell. I barely even remember speaking to her. People think it is the pain that makes torture so debilitating, but that is nothing compared to the sleep deprivation and the thirst. It rained one day, and they boarded up my window because they caught me licking water off the stone walls.” Something left Andraste's eyes, and it was obvious she wasn't in the room anymore. Sebastian leaned over and whispered her name, and with a hard blink she resumed. “From what information I could gather on her, she was practical and ruthless, but her magic was her best weapon. She knew people as a whole would rather live in a world akin to the one I was building, but she didn't think that was what they deserved, so she made me watch it crumble. She killed me slowly, painfully and publicly. She understood the potential of the elves, so she forced them back into slavery. Then she waited.”

“Waited?” Aveline asked.

“If I may,” Leliana interrupted. Andraste gave her a nod. “I have met one of Flemeth's daughters, while I was traveling with the Hero of Ferelden. Stories of Flemeth have existed for centuries, and there is, in fact, a perfectly reasonable explanation for that: she has existed for centuries.”

Carver wasn't sure how that was possible. “Like... when she was in the necklace?”

“Not in objects,” Leliana corrected, “but people. Her 'daughters,' as she calls them; though the more I look into her history, the less I believe she birthed any of them. Stealing human girls probably makes the process of taking over their bodies easier, but it has become obvious she has an even greater plan in motion. I have reason to believe it began years ago, before the end of the Blight.”

“What plan?” Aveline asked. “Something with my son?”

“No,” Merrill answered. “With me.”

This wasn't how Carver wanted to hear the full story, but this was how the Knight-Commander needed to hear it: as a member of an audience detached from the situation.

“I thought the mirror didn't have anything to do with what happened?” Aveline wondered.

Merrill took a deep breath and didn't start speaking until she could look everyone in the eye. “Repairing the Eluvian was one of many 'auditions' I didn't know I was participating in. It proved I could master ancient magic and utilize relics long forgotten. It was exactly what Asha'belanar needs.”

Andraste gripped the arms of her throne until the wood creaked. “Vasilia... Flemeth... whatever you wish to call her, she has seemingly abandoned old prejudices in favor of convenience. She is no longer satisfied with stitching together faux-immortality with the stolen lives of stolen girls.”

“Wait,” Anders interrupted. “How does she even do this? Is she a- a demon or a vessel or- What is she? I haven't heard of any kind of magic like this.”

“She is an old promise,” Merrill told him. “She is a relic. And she is patient.”

“But what does this have to do with you?” Carver was relieved to hear his brother ask so he didn't have to.

“I'd her best bet for something more... permanent.”

“Permanent?”

“It's not an indestructible kind of immortality,” she explained, “it's more like- with enough power and knowledge of our ancient magic, your own body will never be what kills you. An arrow could still pierce your breast, but your body will no longer know the march of time.”

“That's-” Anders started, and Carver could have sworn he heard the man laugh. “That's a legend. It's a story so old the only books in the Circle that even mentioned it were falling apart.”

“No,” Leliana argued, “It's true. I have seen it, in the Brescilian Forest. Zathrian did not possess the young but he knew the right spells and the right conditions. It is possible.”

Carver took a deep breath, swallowed and tried to keep his face blank. “Is there any way to stop her? The Dalish have been practicing their own kind of Harrowing, you've been saying.”

“We're beyond that, unfortunately,” Merrill said. “I heard her voice telling me I bend my knee too easily- that Andraste should bow to me and then no elf would ever have to be a slave or a vagrant again. And she's smart too, offering to leave you all alone if I forfeit myself. She knows I'll sit here and blame myself for every death and hardship we face, because I could stop it all if I just... let her in.”

“Merrill you-” Leliana began as she took a step forward.

“I have to accept that,” Merrill insisted. “It's true. This situation is complicated enough without me lying to myself. She let almost everyone just walk away because she knew putting their fate in my hands would ruin me. And to be honest, it will come very close, but I will never let it. I won't.”

“I don't mean to sound self-centered,” Aveline said carefully, “But why does she want my son dead? Her plans are for immortality, what harm could my son be to her plans?”

“Your son is not the only pawn in her chess game,” Andraste answered.

“My son is no pawn,” Aveline all but threatened.

Sebastian raised his hands and held the room in silence for a needed moment. “Excuse the insensitive comparison,” he apologized. “But we have reason to believe Flemeth is not the champion of her own cause. She prefers to use and manipulate others, and it is likely she is grooming someone to eventually fight for her. The Maker may have sent your son to us so that he may lead the next generation in that war.”

That war?” Anders snapped. “You cannot be serious. This is... what? The pre-war?”

Andraste hoisted herself up to stand before her throne. “This war is about ending the lies and that tyranny of both Chantries. It is about one last drastic plea for the Maker to stay; to convince Him that we are not lost and we will fight. And He sees that. He sees that there is an ever-growing faction of us that will not submit to these liars who are entirely undeserving of their authority. He has seen fit to let us see a Golden Empire rise from all this.”

“Golden Empire?” Aveline questioned, and then something dawned on her; something Carver already had a bad feeling about. “That's why you need an army of mages. Literally fighting fire with fire.”

“What... army of mages?” Carver asked. He looked toward his brother. “Do I want to know?”

“Want to?” his brother repeated. “Probably not. But, you do need to. Also, how many Templars do you have right now? Does the Order have a lot of room to grow?”

“No,” Aveline spoke up, “Make Andraste say it. She owes us the truth. The whole truth.”

Carver was having a hard enough time processing all the talk of possession, ancient magic and immortality. He wished he'd brought his sword again, but he didn't know why.

“Aveline's son will be a Prophet,” Andraste told them. “He will lead the next generation against Flemeth's champion. He will be born a mage, as will every human, elf and qunari born after him.”

Carver swore the room moved around him, or under him, or something. The air was suddenly dry and his armor too heavy for him to bear. The Order was already having enough problems with the changes being made. The amount of Templars caught with black market lyrium was bad enough, but the ones stealing from the already limited Circle supplies were even worse. Then there were the separate sleeping arrangements that had to be made for the mage Templars who were being harassed by older Knights. Carver could not begin to imagine how they'd react to a world populated almost entirely by mages, and yet in a few years he'd have a tidal wave of children and families showing up at Circles across Thedas, and he'd need to look them in the eyes and know he was raising those children for war.

***Starkhaven Castle, Royal Quarters****

The meeting in the Throne Room went on for hours, and, despite Andraste's introduction, it ended with plans for further discussions. Anders and Merrill were tasked with researching how to shield Merrill mentally and spiritually from anything Flemeth might try. To help combat the issues Carver was having with theft, smuggling and hazing in the Order, Hawke and Donnic were on special assignment guard duty while Varric was summoned to investigate the sources. As far as Feynriel and Varania were concerned, they were confined to a heavily-guarded but comfortable room until a better assessment could be made. It was an arrangement they were quite pleased with.

Everyone gave a polite farewell and left their Prince and Princess to eat dinner together in private; accompanied by the most welcome and comforting silence Sebastian had ever experienced. He used the rare moment of down time to construct an orderly to-do list for the next day's responsibilities, unable to recall the last time he'd had the time to taste and enjoy a meal. He'd forgotten how talented his cooks were.

Across the table Andraste was scanning the room for any unwelcome audience while she bit off a... liberal amount of bread and helped wash it down with ale. When she caught Sebastian staring, she swallowed and straightened her back. “I will eat like a Princess when I have to and not a moment more.”

Sebastian just smiled and reached for his water. “It is good to have you back safe.”

“It is good to be back,” she spoke as if the words were a relieved yet heavy sigh. She knocked her glass against his in a casual toast and returned to her unashamed demonstration of appetite.

It wasn't until they were finished and walking down the hall toward their room that Sebastian realized he and Andraste were, for the first time since their wedding, going to bed together. It wasn't as if it was their first time sharing a bed, but the context had most certainly changed. After returning through the mirror, Andraste had spent most of her time asleep. Sebastian needed to carry on with his usual duties, and every night he'd return to find her still in bed. He was embarrassed by how he began weighing his options, as it felt incredibly immature, but he still considered sleeping elsewhere or staying up to work with the hope that she would awaken. He pushed his stalling tactics aside quickly, however, and joined her deeply unconscious form in their bed.

When they arrive at their quarters he held the door open for her before clicking it shut quietly. The crowns went first, and it made Sebastian pleased to know the habit wasn't his alone. The cloth may have been heavy and the embroidery itchy, but nothing felt more freeing than taking the hammered metal off his head. Then the robes were shed and hung up, and after that the jewels and the gloves. Next, however, came the reason why the Prince and Princess dressed alone.

Andraste pulled a chair over so she could take off her braces, but after a moment of consideration she moved it one last time so the back of it was facing Sebastian.

“Do you need help with th-”

“I am fine,” Andraste told him quickly.

He could feel her waiting for him to go about his business and ignore her, so Sebastian did just that, turning around to undo the hooks in the front of his shirt.

The sound of the braces was awful. The first time they creaked Sebastian flinched and stopped undressing, which made Andraste stop as well. He learned how to ignore the noise quickly, and soon heard the clatter of one of them hitting the floor.

From the corner of his eye he would have sworn they were torture devices, and the marks they left behind reinforced that feeling. Trying to push those thoughts aside, he removed his shirt and pants and slid on his sleeping clothes. Andraste's were hung next to his, and he pulled them down so he could lay them on the bed closer to where she was sitting. He remembered what her mobility was like before the braces, and it stood to reason that reliance on them could only have made that worse.

In no mood for a bath, Sebastian settled for dipping a cleaning cloth in the basin of fresh water by his bed and rubbing the stressful sweat of the day from his temples, his beard, and under his arms. He heard the clang of the second brace and the rustle of Andraste's sleeping gown before the chair legs moved across the floor again. With that ritual over, Sebastian felt it was appropriate to take his book and situate himself on his side of the bed. He rarely got more than a page or two in before the sentences started disappearing behind heavy eyelids, but the habit helped ensure he didn't stay up distracted by his thoughts.

Andraste sat before her vanity, but Sebastian didn't notice she was brushing her hair until he looked up to see what the source of the sudden music was. He'd heard Andraste sing before, but there was always something akin to a war cry in those songs. He didn't understand the language, but the tone still translated. This sound was soft and light, almost childlike in its tenderness.

Sebastian shut his book and abandoned it for the night. He watched the bristles slide their way through Andraste long, straw-gold hair. It wasn't the most vibrant color, but it had a strength and luster all the same. Being an audience to the whole display felt slightly voyeuristic, but Andraste knew full-well he was there, and she had already proven that she was the type to set her boundaries in stone. If she didn't want Sebastian to see her like that, then she would not have let him.

Even if falling asleep to what sounded like a lullaby felt childish, Sebastian didn't have much say in the matter.

***Starkhaven Castle, Militia Training Grounds***

Aveline hated few things like she hated being fussed over. If she wasn't asleep she found herself being tended to by servants, healers, Mothers and Donnic. She didn't have to try hard to avoid them in favor of rest at first, but eventually her body had its energy back and she was stuck answering the same questions over and over again. Yes, she felt fine. No, she hadn't demonstrated any other magical abilities.

“Yet,” Anders had finished for her once.

“Yet?” she asked, though she was sure she didn't want the answer.

“You're not exactly experiencing a run-of-the-mill pregnancy,” Anders explained. Under any other circumstances she would have called him out on his inappropriate tone, but something was obviously wrong with everyone who had come back from the Tevinter mission. For some of them, it was probably who didn't make it back that had them acting strange. That was certainly taking its toll on her. And Anders was somehow better and worse; more jovial and yet more anxious than ever before.

Aveline thought about talking to Varania, but she didn't know what to say, and she couldn't deny that it felt a bit like betraying Fenris. If anyone was going to trust or forgive that woman, it needed to be her brother first.

The only person who wasn't acting strange since returning was Isabela; or more accurately, Aveline didn't have any proof that Isabela was acting strange. That woman had been an absolute ghost since the moment she fell out of that mirror, which Aveline wouldn't have minded if it weren't for the non-answers she was getting from everyone she spoke to.

No one could bluff very well when asked about how the mission had gone. Yes, Aveline had been briefed on Flemeth's plans, but beyond that no one would tell her how they came to learn any of it. And when she asked anything about Isabela there was a lot of avoidant eye contract and twitchy assurance that it wasn't important for her to know.

Aveline tried the docks, the taverns, and yes, even the brothels, but no one had seen the “dusky goddess” in quite some time. She wanted to believe that Isabela had simply lost interest in duels and whores, but only an idiot would let themselves believe that. Still, she wasn't a guard captain any more, and she didn't have time for some fruitless investigation based only on her worried whims.

The healers had expressly forbid her from strenuous activities, which, to err on the safe side, included even the simplest of combat practice. With no other way to vent her frustration, Aveline figured she'd try watching the militia practice. When she arrived at the training grounds after sundown, however, she found the area silent and unoccupied. Given the moment of solitude, she couldn't help but grab a sword and swing at the closest archery target, letting loose every profanity her mind could recall hearing. Shreds of hay flew around her, but as she finally began to run out of strength she realized that hers were not the only cathartic screams hoping to be lost to the night.

There was an arcade not far from the targets, and under it were lines of sparring dummies. At the furthest post was none other than Isabela, beating the carved wood bare-handed with her old clothes back on.

“Isabela!” Aveline called from the end of the arcade, but the duelist didn't hear her.

No degree of proximity seemed to help Isabela hear the calls. Her aggressive battle cries were beginning to take on a raw, choked sound, but they weren't letting up as Isabela stepped in close and punched what was left of the dummy's face again and again and again and-

“Isabela!” Aveline shouted as she finally grabbed Isabela by her arm and made her stop. The last thing she expected to see was a prey-like fear in the pirate's eyes. She let Isabela go immediately and waited for her breathing to slow back down before asking “What's going on?”

“I...” Isabela started as she looked back to the dummy and laughed breathlessly. “I kicked his ass, that's what's going on.”

“Does this have anything to do with the Imperium?” Aveline asked plainly. She wouldn't tolerate people hiding things from her anymore. She was not a child, and she would not be treated like one. “What happened there?”

“Oh, lots,” Isabela dismissed. “Walking, some blood magic, tons of slavery.”

“Isabela...”

“Don't 'Isabela' me all right?” she snapped. “It's not important. Now drop it.”

“No,” Aveline refused. “Something happened. Just tell me.”

Isabela looked down at the ground and sighed. “Are you alright?”

“What?”

“Are you alright? Is he?” she asked, motioning to Aveline's belly.

“Yes Isabela. I- We are fine.”

“Good, that's all that matters.”

Aveline just stood there while Isabela gathered up her daggers, which were propped up on a wall, and prepared to leave. “Isabela wait-” she tried to start, but the other woman put up a hand to stop her.

“That's all that matters,” she tried to repeat with finality, but something made her falter a bit at the end.

Aveline took the first step slowly, and every step a little quicker after that until she reached out and rested her hand softly on Isabela's shoulder.

“Don't...” Isabela whispered, but made no move to shrug off the touch.

“Isabela,” Aveline tried again, this time less like a warning and more like a plea.

“You don't need to know, alright Big Momma. No, it wasn't easy. But the details... you don't need those. Just know I didn't do anything I didn't think was worth doing, okay?”

Those golden eyes weren't too ashamed to beg for Aveline to drop the subject. Deciding that she could forfeit the whole story this one time, Aveline nodded and let the truth go to Isabela's grave with a soft but heartfelt, “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

***Starkhaven Circle Construction Site***
 
“Do you think it burned down for a reason?” Anders asked as he watched a whole new Circle get built stone-by-stone from their spot overlooking the construction site.
 
“You know,” Hawke admitted, “I hadn't even realized how well that worked out; for us to come to a city that need to rebuild its Circle anyway.”
 
Anders' grip on Hawke's hand tightened, but for once the pressure was a result of excitement. Of hope. “It's going to be three floors. Storage on the top floor, classrooms and libraries on the second, and boarding on the first. Can you imagine that? No giant tower in the middle of a lake. No former prison surrounded by iron gates and statues of tortured slaves. Three stories, right in the middle of the city.”
 
“And you're sure that's safe, First Enchanter Anders?”
 
“Your brother, Merrill and I have been in talks for days,” Anders explained. “Or should I say the Knight-Commander, the Keeper and I. We still have a lot to go over, but we've been drafting laws. Blood mages, whether they live with the Dalish or in the Circle, must adhere to a strict code of conduct, and even small violations of that code can be punishable by death. Merrill will be in charge of enforcing those laws for the Dalish, and we've put a Fereldan blood mage named Jowan in charge of any in the Circle.”
 
“Jowan?” Hawke asked, surprised. “Tried-to-kill-Arl-Eamon Jowan? Aren't we trying to get the Ferelden nobility to like us?”
 
“Arl Eamon himself declared that Jowan not be sentenced to death, even if he let the Warden Commander sway him most of the way there. Who else to preach about the dangers of blood magic than someone who almost lost his life because of it? I’ve spoken to the man. He is certainly… repentant.”
 
“And how do you feel about blood magic in your Circle?” Hawke asked, though he didn’t really know how he felt himself. He wasn’t a mage, but he tried to imagine how he’d feel if Bethany were alive.
 
Anders sighed with unhidden defeat. “Of course I'm not thrilled, but Andraste insists that blood magic was never supposed to be what it was corrupted into. Part of it makes sense, I suppose. Hurting and draining yourself does sound like a fair trade for the power it provides, but policing how that power gets used is, if you ask me, impossible.”
 
“Well if you described any of this to me a year ago I'd have called it impossible too,” Hawke admitted, gesturing to the vast plot before them. “I'd have called a lot of things impossible before they actually happened to me. I miss my innocence.”
 
“Don't we all,” Anders sighed.
 
“No no, that was supposed to be funny. You were supposed to laugh at the idea of me ever being innocent.”
 
Anders turned and gave a weak but genuine smile. It was a smile that was all love and appreciation; the one Anders smiled when he didn't think he deserved to be happy. Hawke hated it. “Everything I've ever wanted is being handed to me, but in the form of this... delicately swaddled infant who I can feel in my bones I'm going to drop. Nothing is more important than perseverance and positivity right now, but I’m just faking my way through both until the feelings become genuine.”
 
“Maybe you just need more time-” The words stupidly flew out of Hawke's mouth before he even gave them much thought, and as soon as they reached his own ears he regretted ever forming the sounds.
 
When Anders snapped at him, Hawke took the verbal beating quietly. “There is no time! The King and Queen arrive tomorrow. Construction of the Circle is going on now. The Imperium declared war a week ago. And Justice- Justice is waiting right outside my consciousness.”
 
Hawke finally stopped nervously grinding his teeth when it began to give him a headache. “Do you have any idea when?”
 
“No. I don't know how he'll think it's... time. Whatever he thinks 'time' is. It's all so empty and confusing. I haven't been alone in my own head for a long time. I don't-”
 
Hawke prayed that the answer would never come, but he couldn't just sit there saying nothing. “You don't what?”
 
“I don't feel right.”
 
Hawke gripped Anders by the shoulders, but he'd entirely forgotten that the soft feathers were long-since gone. Cold gold studs dug into the flesh of his palms, making him flinch away from the man he loved in shock. His opened and closed his fists in an attempt to shake off the feeling. “Do you... miss Justice?”
 
“Do you remember when you moved into the Amell estate?”
 
“No,” Hawke replied sarcastically, “that wasn't a pivotal turning point in my life at all.”
 
“And do you remember when Leandra died?” That question stayed Hawke's acerbic tongue for the moment, and Anders continued. “You never touched her room. You didn't donate her clothes, move out her furniture. You didn't make it a guest room or a training room or an office. It wasn't an occupied space anymore, but it was space of yours that you'd given to someone else and you felt it was wrong to take that back.”
 
“Your mind isn't a bedroom,” Hawke argued.
 
“And Justice isn't furniture, but you're judging me for feeling too attached to a spirit I share my consciousness with when you couldn't even part with a nightgown. You were so poetic that first night I spent with you. I warned you and I warned you, but when you said you loved me in spite of it all I let myself believe you. Was I wrong?”
 
It took Hawke far too long to answer, which was telling enough to make Anders leave.
 
***Carver and Merrill's Quarters, Starkhaven Castle***
 
Every newborn human. Every newborn elf. Every newborn Qunari. For Maker only knows how long. Maybe forever.
 
They left the decision of when and what to tell the Templars up to Carver. There was very little he was sure of in that moment, but he was absolutely certain that the Order wasn't ready for that kind of information yet. Not with the amount of bullshit he had to deal with in the two days since he found out.
 
Their desperate need for Knights was hard to remember when men twice Carver's age were asking him if “Dalish pussy was worth the betrayal.”
 
There were a multitude of reasons why certain Knights didn't want to follow Carver. Some didn't like him being openly in love with an elven blood mage, others were staying out of loyalty to the Vaels and Starkhaven, not the Order or their new cause. Then there were the ones still desperate for lyrium, or the prisoners Sebastian offered amnesty to if they joined either the Order or the militia. That meant Carver had a couple of confessed murderers, rapists and thieves to watch over as well. It would have been easy to dismiss the vulgar insubordination if had come from someone he conscripted, but for the most part they were grateful, if not a little stubborn, and they could not care less about who he shared his bed with. No, the worst of it came from the more experienced and well-respected knights.
 
He had no idea what he was supposed to say to the Ferelden Knight-Commander, let along King Alistair himself. The King had been a Templar after all, and Carver didn't want to come across like some corrosive acid disintegrating the honor the crest should hold; either crest, new or old.
 
Carver was relieved to see Merrill was actually in their room when he got back, but the icy rigidity of her posture told him his complicated day wasn't over.
 
She was already in a loose green robe, so he went about removing and mounting his armor, drawing it out to buy himself time to prepare. He was inching closer, however, to the inevitable moment when he was out of straps to loosen and plate to remove, and he accepted that moment with a sigh as he sat beside Merrill on the bed.
 
“Do you think I'm a person?” she asked immediately.
 
“Do I- What kind of question is that?”
 
“Just answer it,” she begged, hands gripping her own knees.
 
Carver had never heard a more pitiful question in his life, and he didn't honestly think he could convey enough sincerity to undo whatever had driven her to ask. He settle for a simple, “Yes.”
 
“That makes two of us,” she declared. And then she laughed; that new, frustrated laugh that was all she seemed to know anymore.
 
“Merrill, what's wrong?”
 
Merrill went to take a deep breath, but couldn't even seem to do that before she shook her head in disbelief. “The King and Queen arrive tomorrow, as does the Hero of Fereldan and all the Fereldan Grey Wardens with her. Since Andraste's going to be so busy, she called me in for a last-minute meeting today, to discuss my plans going forward from here. How I'm going to protect myself, what I'm going to say to Bann Shianni. She was so encouraging too. Like she's always been. She was so kind and supportive I could almost forgive her for letting the Warden Commander bring an elven slave trader inside our city walls. But then she said something just- so awful.”
 
Carver had heard plenty about the arrival of Loghain Mac Tir; it was a topic being discussed by almost everyone in the city. The Warden's decision to spare that regicidal traitor lost her the favor of the King but won her a lifetime of Queen Anora's gratitude. She'd also gained a tactician whose talent could not be denied by even his fiercest of dissenters, but all Loghain was in charge of was recruitment and some basic tactical decisions, especially in the wake of a Blight, so Carver couldn't imagine how he was involved with Merrill's plight. “What did she say?”
 
“She thanked me for my support and leadership. She thanked me for trusting in her cause. And then she wondered if the Maker wouldn't reward the elves for their service by letting us pass on elven blood to our children with other races.”
 
“That's... a bad thing?” Carver asked.
 
“I knew you wouldn't understand,” she sighed. “Yes, it's a bad thing. My people shouldn't have to prove we're useful enough to someone else's cause before we're no longer deserving of- of genocide! I shouldn't have to earn the ever-so-kind reward of a deity I don't even worship just so I don't have to devote myself to being some... broodmare, lest I watch my culture die.”
 
“No one expects you to be that,” Carver insisted. He rested his hands on her shoulders, but Merrill wouldn't look at him.
 
“Because I refuse to be,” Merrill argued. “I'm- everyone thinks of me as some object or tool. Flemeth thinks of me as little more than clothes while my own allies demean me by naming me a 'credit' to my race. I feel less like a leader and more like- like a statue in a courtyard. Just... communal property.”
 
“You're not property,” was all Carver could think to respond with.
 
Merrill shrugged off his hands and stood up. “I'll believe that when your Knights stop calling me your whore.” Before she even let him respond she was pulling on a simple black dress appropriate enough to go out in. “I have to-” She swallowed hard and started again. “I'm sorry, I can't stay here tonight.”
 
With little else to do to pass his time alone, Carver stayed up and, taking a page from Anders' book, wrote out his thoughts. He read them back to himself and tried to play out how the Knights would argue with his points. Then he'd start again, and again, and again, until he understood his own stances enough that he felt confident explaining them as a leader should.
 
***Council Chambers, Starkhaven Castle***
 
Sebastian hadn't been prepared for how much he missed the pomp and circumstance of a royal visit. Like the wedding, it was a festive distraction with red and black banners lining every main road in the city and music playing within earshot at all times. Unlike the wedding, Sebastian was in his wheelhouse entirely. He hated the public relations lessons he'd been forced to endure as a young man, but that didn't mean it didn't sink in. Andraste was a stirring orator and fierce in battle, but her lexicon contained very little of the diplomatic vocabulary needed in this situation. Sebastian knew every nuance regarding eye contact, handshakes, sitting, standing, eating, countering, and a plethora of other subtleties that could make or break negotiations. Without Ferelden on their side, there was no way they stood a chance in the coming war... or the one after it.
 
Andraste had been entirely indifferent and uninvolved in the planning process. When asked, she said it was bound to be a “short and easy conversation” and left it at that. Sebastian figured she was right, considering the liberal policies the King and Queen had enacted since taking the throne together. Empress Celene called their treatment of mages “too casual to be anything but barbaric.”
 
The Warden was his other reason for being so optimistic. Having a Paragon on their side would hopefully prove to be as easy as it would be beneficial. Commander Aeducan was no Andrastian, nor would she or her people be affected by the coming Dawn, so there was no need to convince her of the legitimacy of Andraste's claims. They were all simply people of noble bloodlines coming together to discuss their support of the mage cause and end to slavery across Thedas.
 
Everything from the Commander of the Grey's past suggested she wouldn't require much effort to sway. In what had to be a painfully difficult decision, she placed her own fratricidal brother on the throne because she knew his plan to uplift the low-born “Dusters” of her city was the only way to prevent her culture from stagnating. That, combined with her endorsement of surface trading and her hand in starting the Orzammar Circle, made her seem like a natural ally to their cause.
 
The only thing that had him worried was having King Alistair and Commander Loghain together in the same city. Sebastian had no idea how a man could be so genuinely in love with the daughter of man he despised, and somehow Queen Anora tolerated it despite her husband's complete refusal to keep his feelings to himself. In his time since his conscription, however, Loghain had proven quite good at recruitment despite having been given the job as a punishment. Rumor had it the King was none too happy that the traitor had not only been given a job similar to the former Warden Duncan, but was also heavily praised for his talent. Sebastian was not pleased by the presence of the man either, but Loghain would not be attending at any meetings important enough to warrant a Prince's presence.
 
Sebastian was so confident in his station that he didn't think it too bold to grasp his wife by the hand as they watched the royal caravan approach the gate. They waved politely with their free hands at the entourage of guards and waited with proper but open posture as the King and Queen were helped out of their carriage.
 
They were wearing clothing and not armor, which was always a good sign.
 
As soon as his feet hit the ground King Alistair stretched his limbs so thoroughly that the popping of his joints was audible to those around him. The Queen swatted him in the stomach.
 
“This isn't your bedroom,” she chastised, albeit sweetly, before turning to proceed toward Sebastian and Andraste. “Your Highnesses,” she greeted. Her walk was so effortless it made Sebastian feel quite clumsy and undignified by comparison. “Thank you for inviting us to your lovely city. I am sorry I never got to see it before now. It is quite remarkable.” She exchanged the proper gestures with Sebastian, but stopped in front of Andraste. For all her storied excellence with tact, even she could not hide her surprise at the build of the Princess. “Tradition would dictate we embrace lightly and kiss each other on the cheek. Might I be so bold as to guess to you prefer the same greeting as your lord husband?”
 
Andraste smiled, obviously impressed. “You are astute, Your Majesty, and kind to keep my comfort in mind.”
 
As was the custom, the King and Queen were allowed a day of rest before being expected to appear for talks. They were shown to the finest guest chamber the place had to offer, and while their servants moved in their things, the monarchs were given a tour of the grounds. Anora immediately expressed interest in the court gardens, and Andraste was happy to show them to her.
 
King Alistair clasped a good-natured hand on Sebastian's shoulder. “It's good to be here, truly. Thank you for your hospitality.”
 
“You are most welcome, Your Majesty.”
 
“Oh please,” he scoffed, “Alistair is fine. I am hardly majestic, I assure you.”
 
“Alistair then,” Sebastian corrected. “Was there someplace in particular you wanted to see?”
 
“The larder,” he joked, though Sebastian could tell he was at least partly serious. “But honestly, I'm just glad to be anywhere but Ferelden.”
 
“Your Maj-” Sebastian went to exclaim, but he caught himself and started again, this time far more calm. “Alistair, you grow tired of Denerim?”
 
The King paused for a moment and realized the implications of his words. “No, no, I love Ferelden. I'd gladly fight til my last breath to see it safe and thriving. Or more, I'd much rather be fighting. Certainly not as a Warden anymore, but a sword in my hand feels far more like loyalty than meetings and tax debates ever could.”
 
“Then you are lucky to have a wife who excels in such fields.”
 
“Am I ever,” Alistair whole-heartedly agreed. “I have my own opinions here and there, don't get me wrong. I had no interest in being ignorant, I only sometimes pretend to be to annoy the Missus.”
 
Sebastian eyed the hallway they were walking down and noted that they had a decent radius of privacy before they continued. “If you do not mind my prying, you and your wife were an arranged marriage of sorts, yes?”
 
“Well that's a polite word for it,” the King replied, and even he dropped his voice, given the topic. “Honestly, especially looking back at it now, I married her out of spite. Maker, I was such a tit back then. Anything that took power away from Loghain, I was willing to do- I insisted on doing. It didn't matter how much Anora had helped us, I still didn't trust her. And when she wanted her father alive I trusted her even less. I faulted a woman for not watching to watch her father die in front of her; can you believe it?”
 
“While we are being frank,” Sebastian lead in, “Have you rectified some of your issues with Loghain then?”
 
“Not at all,” the king laughed. “I hate him. But you know what, Anora's not all that proud of him either. For the longest time after the wedding I wouldn't even share a room with her, so I never knew what she was up to until we were forced to have meetings. Know what she was working on all that time? Reparations to the elves, rebuilding Denerim, rebuilding Redcliffe. Know what I did? Kissed babies and waved at nobles who were just so happy to see a Theirin back on the throne.”
 
The remainder of the day revealed to the two of them that they had a great deal to talk about, to the point where they even dined together in private. They compared and contrasted their less-than-royal upbringings and their less-than-romantic weddings. It was nothing like any conversation he had ever watched his grandfather or father have with another leader. Perhaps that was because they happened over private dinners and on walks through the training grounds, but something made him doubt that was entirely the case.
 
They eventually parted ways to return to their chambers, and Sebastian found his wife already getting ready for bed. The first time he'd walked in and found her bathing had been incredibly awkward, even if he couldn't see anything behind the curtains. The second time he faked his way through pretending it didn't bother him. Eventually, however, the farce became reality, and the only thought he felt upon returning to hear the water sloshing against the stone was an appreciation for her nightly bathing habits, as he preferred to wash in the morning before starting his day.
 
“I assume your time with Her Majesty was enjoyable,” Sebastian mused. Whether Anora believed Andraste's claims or not, their personalities guaranteed a close and immediate friendship; that much was obvious.
 
“Your assumptions are correct,” she spoke light-heartedly from behind the thick red curtains. “Anora is...the greatest vengeance our sex could enact on the world. She is, herself, a great weapon hidden in silk and smiles.”
 
“Writing poetry about her already?” Sebastian laughed.
 
“It is difficult not to. Perhaps one of the features I admired most about her was her incredulity. I wonder if she does not still doubt my claims, and I respect that greatly.” An arm reached out and grasped the robe by the bath and Sebastian focused politely on his own buttons. “Regardless, I think she believes we are two ambitious women trying to overcome some shameful aspects of our bloodlines, and that will suffice for now.”
 
“Do you think she will be amenable in discussions tomorrow? To be honest King Alistair and I had... less serious conversations during our time together today.”
 
“Oh,” Andraste almost laughed, as if the question was so ridiculous that it had surprised her. “Ah, yes,” she went one with more composure, “I am confident that she will support our efforts. And it is good to hear you have established a rapport with the King. He seems the type to be more responsive to the word 'friend' than 'ally'. What did you discuss, if it was not too private a set of topics?”
 
It took Sebastian a moment to respond. He stared across the room at the woman who was supposedly his wife, her mocking tone and vague answers making it clear that her abrupt change of topics was a ploy to keep him from meddling in her business.

Even with the odd circumstances of their union, Sebastian had always wanted to consider their relationship a partnership. That was how she seemed to present it at first, but since her return he felt further away from her with each passing day. She was excellent at being evasive; almost as talented at that as she was at pretending he was anything more than a pawn to her. A pawn she was slightly fond of, but a pawn none-the-less.
 
“Yes?” she asked when his staring went on for too long.
 
He considered saying something, but he knew it would have been futile to try and change whatever course Andraste had set. She was the winds; as she always had been and always would be.

“Nothing,” he finally lied.
 
***Feynriel and Varania’s Quarters***
 
Aveline had never known much about Andrasteism or the Chantry, and attempts to learn were frustrating at best. It was hard to choke down the volumes of texts that had been left in her room, especially when she knew it was mostly lies, but it was probably a good idea to learn what kind of beliefs the people who would worship her son had held in the past.
 
She was supposed to have a meeting with them; the ambassadors from Ferelden, once an alliance was formed with the King and Queen and Aveline's holy status was officially declared. She felt guilty for hoping it all failed and no one ever came to learn her name, but no alliance meant not help in the war, and noo help in the war meant no take down of abusive Chantry practices, no end to the slavery in Tevinter, and no hope of ever seeing Fenris again.
 
She knew she'd miss Fenris and blame herself for getting him trapped in the last place he'd ever want to see again, but she wasn't prepared for the nightmares about him being tortured for information or brainwashed all over again and returning to the battlefield on the wrong side of the war. She awoke from a mid-day nap screaming because she swore Fenris was standing blank-eyed and battle-ready above her, sent to assassinate her in the way that they knew would hurt most.
 
With no hope of getting any rest, she paced the halls and practiced her polite smiles to the people who bowed humbly upon seeing her. When she found herself outside the guarded door housing Feynriel and Varania she was unsurprised. Her bitterness over which sibling returned to Starkhaven wasn't something she hid from herself.
 
Hawke had told Donnic about Fenris' confession regarding his past, and Donnic in turn told Aveline, but the added complexity didn't make her any more accepting of the situation. Still, Feynriel had worked hard to protect her, so she owed his judgment the benefit of the doubt. He insisted Varania was not much different from her brother; bitter and hardened, but worth the effort of unlocking.
 
“Your Grace,” the guard greeted her.
 
Aveline shook her head at the honorific, but said nothing. “Stand aside Guardsman. I wish to speak with Feynriel and Varania”
 
The guard faltered for a moment. “There's no... the Prince and Princess haven't decided yet-”
 
“So no rules explicitly stating that I can't?” Aveline could hear Isabela laughing in the back of her mind at the noble guard-captain playing the technically-this-isn't-illegal game, but as much as she hated exploiting her supposed status, she knew she outranked the young recruit for a whole host of different reasons.
 
As the heavy double doors were pushed open Aveline was met first with Varania's wide green eyes looking panicked as she moved to get out of bed. At first Aveline scolded herself for not realizing what a young, recently-reunited couple under house arrest would most likely be up to, but she soon realized that both of them were fully clothed. Feynriel barely moved, but Varania rushed to stand at the foot of the bed, and as Aveline took a step forward the sound of her shoes on the marble floors made Varania flinch.
 
“I'm here to talk,” Aveline said, not sure how to ease Varania out of such an engrained response.
 
Feynriel put down his book and, in crumpled robes that he probably hadn’t gotten to take off since arriving, moved slowly to Varania’s side. “It’s alright,” he comforted as he very delicately rested his hands on her shoulders. She looked at him first, and held his gaze for a few deep breaths before finally bringing herself to acknowledge Aveline as a visitor and not a villain.
 
“Would you… like to sit then?” she forced out, doing her best, most heartbreaking impression of a calm person.
 
“Yes, that would be lovely,” Aveline groaned. Her son still had plenty of growing to do and already her ankles were constantly throbbing. “I’ll have the staff bring us something to eat, and then we can talk. Is that alright?”
 
Aveline had the guards send her request to the kitchen, and it wasn’t long before trays of roasted meat and potatoes were brought alongside an herbal tea which the head of the kitchen insisted had been served to the pregnant princesses of Starkhaven for generations. Regardless of what was in it, Aveline couldn’t deny that she could feel it soothing its way down on the first sip; a needed respite considering how tight her chest had been with stress and worry.
 
Everyone ate in silence, Varania’s pace noticeably slower than everyone else’s and her portions much smaller. Trying to start the conversation reminded Aveline of her times as a child talking herself into jumping into the lake with the other children. The shock of the cold water had to come eventually if there was ever going to be any relief.
 
“Who is Fenris with?” she finally asked, and she could feel the cold tingle across her skin once she did.
 
“I… I cannot be certain,” Varania admitted. “There are many possible things that may have happened to him.”
 
“Well, we’re going to run with the assumption that he and the people you sent with him fought their way out. Who are the members of this resistance you put together?”
 
There was a palpable switch in Varania’s demeanor. It was funny how the simplest shifts in tone unveiled whole new layers of people. Lock a former slave in a room for days and she’ll fall over herself to avoid the fear of not pleasing you. Ask her about how she and others like her have been fighting back and she’ll hold her head high as she looks you dead in the eyes. Moments like this did much to sway Aveline against the doctrines of the old Chantry, and were responsible for much of her successes as Guard-Captain.
 
“You are probably right,” Varania agreed, “It is safe to assume they escaped. Whether he could ever love me or not, I would not endanger the last of my family by sending him out with anything less than the most trusted and talented people I could find. Leto is strong, and the others with him swift and cunning.”
 
“Like who,” Aveline pressed. “I want to know about them.”
 
“Like Raegan, who it would seem my brother also does not remember. He was the runner up in the tournament for the privilege of lyrium markings. Leto…” Varania paused for a moment to laugh, but even as a hint of joy tugged at the sides of her mouth, her eyes were too full of aching to match. “I would pick up a stick and say it was my staff, and he’d stumble around with a log trying to learn to swing it like a sword. Mother told him to play with something smaller, but he refused. During the tournament Raegan must have nicked Leto twenty times. He was so slow, but it only took one blow from a stone hammer to win. His robes were stained red all over, but he was the victor. It would seem not everything about him is gone.”
 
“And you think Raegan would fight beside him?”
 
Feynriel swallowed his water thickly. “The ‘Tale of Fenris’ is popular all over the Imperium, and only grew more widespread after Danarius’ death. Among the magisters it’s a cautionary tale that warns against giving slaves too much power. They’d say things like ‘Power is power. Never allow your slave to be stronger than you, even if you think you’ve brainwashed him enough. Any animal will kill you and escape if it thinks it can.’ The slaves use it as a battle cry to prove that there is nothing for them in Imperial society. Fenris and Varania were both promised safety and station if they were ‘good slaves,’ but until the magisters are dead the cost of those basic rights will always be impossibly high. They are either gained by extreme sacrifice or they’re simply lies.”
 
“They will follow him,” Varania assured. “And I am proud to have him in my place. You and your companions seem to have given him a new family of sorts, and I am sure he is grateful for that, but I can’t image a day went by when he chose what path he would walk without knowing that thousands of us didn’t escape. Danarius or no Danarius, it does not matter. My brother was a slave to a system as much as he ever was to a man. It all has to burn.”
 
“Andraste will be glad to hear you say that,” Aveline laughed. “And I am as well. I’ll see who I can talk to about getting you both active in the war effort. You’ll be invaluable assets.”
 
“We’d both like to return to the elves,” Feynriel requested. “I want to fill in the missing lore on the somniari, and Varania-” He stopped suddenly, and, for some reason, was obviously fishing for a new end to his statement.
 
“If it must burn, then fire will be fought with fire,” Varania finished for him. “I hear the whispers in the halls. I know the elves have experienced blood mages who could teach me their spells.”
 
“Varania,” Aveline said with a shake of her head. “Don’t you think your brother has sacrificed enough chasing power?”
 
“I do, and it is time I sacrifice as much as he did; as he is continuing to sacrifice as we speak.”
 
At the end of the day Varania was a grown woman, and the regulations surrounding blood magic were strict enough that harm to others was becoming less of a concern with each passing day. They had their own training areas miles from civilization, and an obscene number of guards required at all practices. Still, Aveline felt wrong condoning Fenris’ last living relative turning to blood magic.
 
“My brother may never come to love me again,” Varania stated, “but if I am not strong enough he may not survive to continue hating me.”
 
As noble as Aveline thought the sentiment was, she couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable with how many people in her life she could hear saying those exact same words.

Chapter Text

Hawke always waited a few hours after they fought before he'd go apologize. He didn't like the way confrontation could flavor the air for months when it came to Anders, so he often just apologized and took his stern talking to like a champ. The less time Anders spent stewing and frowning, the better, and their fights were rarely over matters the Hawke cared much about defending.

He always gave it a few hours, telling himself he was letting them both cool off when really Hawke was just practicing what to say in his head, or sometimes in front of a non-judgmental alley wall. Sincerity took practice in order to not sound practiced, he'd discovered.

When he thought he had it down, Hawke headed back to their room, as it had gotten far too dark for Anders to be overseeing Circle construction. He stopped, however, when he felt the gruesomely familiar shift in the air; the feeling that enveloped him every time he went to the Fade. Something had brought that feeling with it, and Hawke hated admitting he knew exactly what.

It was standing by the open window closest to the bed, lighting up the room all on its own and staring off into the twinkling city below. Hawke imagined it didn't quite “see” with its eyes like people did, but whatever it was doing, he hoped it hadn't sensed him opening the door.

“Champion.”

Of course it had.

At least all signs of Anders were completely gone. Hawke always hated the sound of their mingled voices. It always made Anders sound like a puppet whose cries were echoing from an isolated cell deep within his own body. “Come in. We should speak.”

“What's the occasion?” Hawke asked, trying not to sound desperate to hear if he was the catalyst for the change.

“Are you... inquiring if it is a holiday?” Justice asked.

Hawke took a deep breath and already felt the pangs of a headache coming on. “Why the switch? Why now?”

“The General has arrived,” Justice answered as if it were obvious. “Is this not known to you yet?”

“What General? The King?”

“No,” Justice balked, “Not a leader chosen by mortals. The Maker's chosen General is here. I must find this person and speak with them, though I understand enough of mortal etiquette to know that it would be best to let them rest first. I shall spend the evening devising possible plans for coordinating our efforts.”

Hawke contemplated leaving right then and there with a curt 'Okay, have fun with that' but he couldn't help but be curious as to who Justice was talking about. “So far all this General has is a title. Do you know their name? Man or woman? Human, elf, dwarf? Are they bigger than a breadbox?”

“I am not sure of the first two, and certainly yes to the last one.”

Hawke would have given anything to have someone to shoot an exasperated look to in that moment. “And how are you supposed to find this person? You can't exactly go around surveying every person you pass in the streets.”

“Of course,” Justice remembered. “You cannot hear it.”

“I wish,” Hawke mumbled bitterly.

“What?”

“Nothing. Tell me about this thing I'm not hearing.”

“Spirits can hear all manner of energy. I recall the day the Hero of Ferelden, as you call her, gave me a ring made of pure lyrium. She told of how it is a source of power for Templars, but at a terrible cost. Her people mine it, and too much exposure makes even them 'addled.' I cannot imagine what it would be like to be made of flesh and have so much power singing through your veins. Could you humans hear it, it would deafen you.”

“Anders doesn't wear a lyrium ring,” Hawke said.

“Anders is too... alive to wear such a thing. It was buried with my last host.”

Hawke couldn't believe he was having a run-of-the-mill conversation with the spirit that once was so misguided and hateful that he tried to kill a mage girl for daring to fear him. For a moment he was forced to wonder how much of that was Anders.

“Is this General hopped up on lyrium then?”

“No, my apologies for the tangent. I have not been this aware of your world since I first met Anders. My first host was deceased, so his mind was silent. After that I experienced years of dual thoughts and pushes against my consciousness. It is hard not to have two sets of thoughts at once. It's almost too focused.”

“I honestly don't feel bad for you,” Hawke had to say.

“But I am not here for your approval,” Justice pointed out. “I am here to win a war, alongside the General.”

“Yes, about the General, can you hurry up with the suspense so I can go about ignoring you until you give my beloved his body back?”

“You have very little respect for the decisions of someone you supposedly love. And I am not cultivating false suspense; I have not met this person yet so I cannot tell you their name. All I know is they were not chosen for glory. They are not a herald of virtue. They feel like... sin and betrayal, and they are being punished with this role. They have unbalanced your world and must atone.”

“Wonderful,” Hawke sighed sarcastically as he reached for the door. He knew slamming it behind him was immature, but it made him feel better in the moment. If he didn't need to speak with Justice anymore, he wasn't going to.

Hawke didn't want to go to war, and he certainly didn't want to go to war under the leadership of an embodiment of Vengeance and someone who spiritually reeked of betrayal. He saw the havoc leaders could cause when they harbored sin in their hearts. He saw what trusting the wrong man did to Cail-

“Shit.”

Hawke knew exactly who 'the General' was.

***Templar Training Grounds***

Carver didn't like being misleading, but the only way to get Merrill back into the city was to insist it was to address important, official business, and technically it was. It didn't stop her from standing motionless at the center of the training grounds though, glaring at him like she did every other Templar surrounding her. It was an adversarial way to present the situation, but that was his intention. Either this was going to work beautifully or things were going to stay horrible, so what did he really have to lose?

He'd hand-picked them from the worst of the worst. He even caught one sneaking into the mage barracks to pee on their beds. The other had drawn crude stick figures portraying Merrill... fellating him while he throw what he guessed what was supposed to be money at a bunch of stick figure elves. Carver waited a few moments to let them all build up their antagonistic, self-satisfied opinions. Maybe they were picking which idiotic vitriol to spew first, and practicing it so it'd sound extra smug when said aloud. Maker, he hoped so. He hoped they were feeling more and more confident by the second. After all, there were more than a dozen of them and only one Merrill.

That, to Carver, sounded about fair.

“Knights,” he addressed, and on nothing but reflex they straightened to attention. “We are here today because blood magic is our greatest weakness. It strikes quickly and painfully. It knows no limits. It cares not about your armor and it was barely hindered by the lyrium you are no longer taking. It leaches into you, burns its way through you and leaves you a husk of a being. It can take you as quickly or as slowly as the practitioner wishes,” he announced, motioning to Merrill. She eyed him with suspicion and inched her hand closer to her staff. “And you best pray they choose to dispatch you quickly. We've all heard it, the screams of fellow Knights dying in agony as their energy is harvested from them, or when their body is torn apart from the inside.”

A Knight swallowed nervously, and the sound was loud enough to get all of the dissenters to begin shifting. It was slight, but still incredibly awkward.

Carver smiled. “I do not wish these deaths upon you or any of the Knights under my command. That is why I've arranged some practice sparring with the most powerful blood mage I've ever encountered.”

Merrill gave him such a look that he was worried she would take off running, but all she did was continue to warn him with her stare.

Carver asked himself who among his charges had behaved the worst. Odhrana? No, he understood that the elves faced such horrible stigma that her actions, though still inappropriate, were coming from a desire to enact discrimination upon others before it could be enacted upon her. “Ziek,” he called. “Step forward.”

“I thought you were sweet on this tramp,” Ziek laughed. “Sounds more like you're getting us primed and ready to 'accidentally' kill her. Getting bored are we?”

“Well, I'm sure if someone dies today it'll be in the name of learning,” Carver told him, and it was all he could do not to laugh at the jolt of worry he saw in those eyes. “Are you prepared, Ser Ziek?”

“Of course,” the Knight bumbled. The muttered curse words that followed showed just how disappointed he was in how that statement had come out.

“Would you rather Ser Theos take your place? I'll understand if you're afraid. I mean, how many of your comrades in arms have died at the hands o-

“I am not afraid!” Ser Ziek insisted, though he still wasn't able to get much authenticity into his voice. Ser Theos looked ready to wet himself. It was one thing to charge into battle against a powerful enemy, it was another to stand there across from them just waiting to be attacked.

“Good,” Carver approved. “Merrill, can you demonstrate one of your armor-bypassing spells? Ser Ziek, try to reduce the effects.”

“How?” the man all but screeched. “You can't just expect me to stand here and let her eviscerate me.”

“I'm not. I told you to limit the effects. If you can't even do this when you completely anticipate the attack, how are you going to survive in the battlefield against Tevinter blood mages?”

“Do what? You haven't told me anything!”

Checkmate. “But I have,” he corrected as he walked toward Ser Ziek, feigning confusion. “Merrill has given twenty- no, closer to thirty, different lessons on combating the effects of blood magic. New recruits who earned their crest a month ago can face her without fear, and yet here you are, whining about a one-on-one sparring match against someone almost a third your weight. Where were you during these lessons, Knight?”

“You may want to pretend your knife-eared whore is of value,” Zeik said, less afraid of Carver than he seemed to be of Merrill, “but I see her for what she really is, and I will not attend lessons just so you can feel better about keeping her around.”

Carver couldn't help it, and he broke into a grin. “Then fight her. And you better win, because if you don't, you are going to die.”

“I'm not risking my life for a demonstration of your whore's demon powers. If you want to find a practice dummy, the militia has them. If you want someone to be impressed with her, go join the Magisters.”

“Ser Ziek concedes defeat then,” Carver announced. “Shall we take bets then on how long he lasts against the army of thousands of blood mages coming to slaughter him? Five minutes? Seven? Will anyone be generous enough to go to ten?”

“You're embarrassing yourself!” Ser Zeik shouted.

“Well then, at least you'll have your pride while you're looking down at your insides resting in the palms of your hands. You won't have to worry about being 'embarrassed' when the Magisters fuel their magic with the blood from your dying body, and with it slaughter all the rest of the men and women you call your fellow Knights. At least when you find yourself useless on the day of battle, you can fade away into obscurity knowing you didn't do anything as dishonorable as respect your Commander or study your enemy.” He turned to address the rest of the dissenters. “I will not strip you of your crest for not heeding my warning. I will still let you call yourselves Templars even as you remain willfully ignorant of how to combat magic. You can charge to your death in the name of your pride. You can weigh down the bladed staves of the Magisters and distract the Qunari's Sarebaas long enough for those of us with proper training to kill them. If fodder is all you strive to be, than fodder you shall be treated as.”

“Or,” Merrill posited with sarcastic cheerfulness, “you could not die. I'd like to help you all not die, if that's alright with you.”

Ser Zeik turned back to Carver and spit right in the Knight Commander's face before turning to leave what he obviously believed was a mockery of a training session.

Carver was pleased to see that no one followed him. He'd hate for Varric's spies to have to kill too many Templars. He needed every one he could get.

"Next lesson in an hour. Dismissed." 

***Starkhaven Castle – Counsel Chambers***

Sebastian had a bad feeling about the meeting as soon as the King and Queen arrived to join him. He know Andraste was a calm and confident woman, but something about her demeanor that day was too self-assured for his liking.

“Quit looking so awkward,” Queen Anora chastised.

“I've explained to you how complicated this is,” King Alistair retorted. “I-” He paused and lowered his voice, which was pointless considering there were only four people in the room. “I'm glad she formed our... alliance, but you know how I feel about how she treats your father.”

“Like a person? I am not thrilled with my father's actions either, but he's the only reason there's a Ferelden for us to be the rulers of. You cannot spend the rest of your life fantasizing that he be punished by... being eaten alive by rats or whatever gruesome torture you think he deserves. He is serving Ferelden, and in turn serving us. He will die in the Deep Roads, alone but for the hundreds of dead darkspawn around him. I think that is proper atonement.”

“A Grey Warden's death is an honor,” Alistair insisted. “An honor Duncan didn't even receive.”

Andraste's folded her hands politely on the table, but her white knuckles betrayed her frustration to Sebastian. “I do not believe Loghain killed your mentor, Your Majesty. You saw the horde. You knew Cailan's songs of valor would never be sung. If anyone killed Duncan, you must be able to see that it was your brother.”

Sebastian could scarcely believe she opened with something so bold and insulting. He had no clue what to say to begin to backtrack a comment like that.

“How dare you,” Alistair breathed. “King Cailan may have-”

He didn't get to finish his thought, as the doors opened and he quickly became too preoccupied with avoiding eye contact to remember what he was going to say.

Sebastian had heard plenty about dwarven nobility from Varric, and while none of it was meant to sound positive, Sebastian was respectfully intimidated by the lore. “They all live their lives in fear of friendliness,” Varric had told him. “Gifts are more threat than thoughtfulness, and an invitation to a feast is liable to kill you from panicking about the intent before you even make it there. Going is suicide, and not going is social suicide. Ask a noble which is worse and they'll tell you 'both'.”

The Hero of Ferelden somehow walked with importance while still appearing open and friendly, just as Varric warned him she'd be. The other dwarven woman, identified as Sigrun by his advisers, was more quixotic than self-important. She gave everyone casual, friendly greetings, which was surprising given the way her face markings made her look like a corpse. Apparently she had “died” already due to a pledge to protect her people from the Darkspawn, which she didn't see as all that different from the role of the Grey Wardens.

The Hero of Ferelden had wanted to bring Loghain to the negotiations, but when that got unanimously vetoed she decided to bring her lover instead. Sebastian found himself envying the Warden Commander's ability to ignore her personal feelings for the sake of the greater good. She was not a private person, so her disdain for her right-hand-man was common knowledge, as was her hatred for her brother. “I'd have killed him to drag Orzammar out of the past too,” was her go-to response when faced with people's incredulity.

Her hair was fluffed and dulled by what Sebastian guessed was dust, but it was still rich in its dark hue. She had bright blue eyes contrasted by her warm skin tone, and her face told a dual tale of noble blood and a hard life. Her nose had defined points and her jaw filled out the strength in her face. It was impossible not to feel honored to meet the woman who had ended a civil war, defeated the Archdemon and assembled such a multi-talented and powerful new Warden Order. The Wardens had never been especially picky, but Commander Aeducan set up highly effective recruitment and training programs that rivaled even the outposts at Weisshaupt. She didn't want to die on the battlefield, and she made sure her soldiers had the same goals. Focusing on victory and survival successfully distracted the Wardens from any especially repugnant discretions of the past. So yes, the head of recruitment and training was a bitter, regicidal old man, but he was amazing at his job and spending the rest of his life serving the greater good; much more useful to his country alive than dead. Sebastian tried his best to see it that way.

After growing up with brothers who were promised everything, Sebastian's time in the Chantry saw him morph from jealous to obstinate to, if he was being honest with himself, self-righteous. When he finally found himself on his path to the Maker's favor and genuinely not interested in the crownanymore, he couldn't help but pity his brothers for their willingness and eagerness to have their turn. Poor Mathis, shuffled from lesson to lesson like a dog, learning to sit and shake hands and speak until it became reflex instead of obligation. And Charon, a spare part who would either become no one or the most important man in all of Starkhaven. Sebastian, however, always assumed he had the luxury of assured unimportance. It freed him in all the wrong ways as a child, and was stripped away just as he had come to peace with it as an adult.

“Awkward,” Sigrun sang, and Sebastian worried for a moment that she was bringing attention to the blank stare no doubt gracing his countenance. He was surprised, however to find she was reacting to Leliana's arrival, which Sebastian had not been expecting.

The Warden Commander seemed panicked, though Sebastian couldn't think why. “Where is this 'Holy Mother' you-?”

“Ill,” Leliana cut in. “And I am as much a Chantry representative as she is.”

“Well, I'm out,” Sigrun relented, “You can fill me in later. Tonight. In our room.”

Sebastian tried to look composed as Sigrun excused herself, and he knew better than to look to Andraste. She wouldn't be confused. She was never confused, and seeing that would only upset him further.

With the door shut and all the needed representatives in attendance, Sebastian motioned to the table only to find Andraste already sitting at the head. He took the seat to her right, and everyone filed in without fuss.

“The Tevinter army has been prepared with both their forces and the Qunari forces at the ready for Maker only knows how long,” Andraste opened. “We are not Orlais, and I say that for a wide variety of reasons. For one, we are not yet forged. Truly, we are not even melted, so have the potential to become whatever is needed. We are not Orlais in that we do not have time for games and pretty words and dramatic reveals. Let me be plain with you all so that I may ignite your resolve enough to finally form something worthwhile. Something strong and victorious.”

“Wow,” Alistair said, perhaps unintentionally. “Sorry I just, how long did it take you to write that? Is it from a book, or do you just spout poetry all the time?”

“Hush Alistair,” Anora tried to say politely. “Let her present her case.”

“Case?” Andraste asked. “You will not choose that word again when reflecting on this conversation, I assure you. I have no case, only promises and demands.”

“Then let's hear them,” the Warden Commander pushed. “Though this Chantry angle isn't doing you any favors, that I can assure you.”

“For the hundredth time,” Leliana snapped angrily, “It's not an 'angle,' it's real. Andraste is real and speaking to you-”

“She doesn't look very on fire to me,” the dwarf joked.

When Leliana went to continue the argument, Andraste motioned for her to stop. “That is fair,” the Princess relented. When she went to lift up her skirts King Alistair looked away in embarrassed shock, but Sebastian knew what she was planning. Normally he'd object to such a display in the Council Chambers, but if Andraste said this was going to be a plain and honest talk, it was going to be just that.

Andraste had gotten accustomed to taking the braces on and off, so she had one on the table in a matter of seconds. She was shaky with only her left leg supported, but it was enough to clearly demonstrate to the Hero of Fereldan that she didn't have to be burning before them all to give credence to her claims.

“Alright,” the Warden Commander said, nodding, “So either you're telling the truth or willing to go very far for a lie.”

“I understand your incredulity,” Queen Anora spoke, “and still feel much of it myself. This woman, however, is an intelligent leader who now has the right surname to achieve something great.”

“Darling,” Alistair addressed with saccharine over-embellishment, “You flatter yourself.”

Anora eyed him angrily but could not argue.

Sebastian finally felt ready to add to the conversation himself, though it was hard not to feel silly speaking from what was once his mother's seat. “While we are all being forthright, let me admit to you all that I once arrested this woman and tried to have her executed in Orlais. She has shown me enough proof and enough prowess that she now sits before you as my wife and the leader of my armies.”

“That's great for you,” the Warden Commander congratulated dismissively, “but I honestly don't care. If you could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she is Blessed Andraste herself I still would not give a nug's shit worth of a care about it, except maybe I'd feel bad about healing people with burnt remains of your body. That's a little creepy and I guess I'm sorry about that, if you really are Andraste.”

“Then what do you need out of this meeting?” Sebastian asked.

“I need a good reason to pit Warden against Warden, because I honestly don't think the Darkspawn blood tea party we all shared is gonna work every time I have to convince an Orlesian Warden to turn his sword on his actual sister or the Chantry Sister who... blessed him as a child or whatever they do in those places. Not to mention the fact that Weisshaupt is surrounded by stone walls and the harshest environments any of us has ever seen. It's an absolute fortress and they don't need to leave if they don't want to. I need you to tell me why they want to. Because for every Warden I have that would love to take out the Chantry and bash in magister skulls, I have four of five ready to turn on us at the slightest provocation.”

Everyone turned to Andraste, and Sebastian was very unnerved to find her looking almost rabid. She was breathing heavily and he swore he could see her heart pounding from where he sat, pulsing across her skin while her eyes appeared almost excited to be challenged. “I am sure you will think of something.”

“This isn't my insane holy war,” the Warden Commander spoke, her voice beginning to rise in volume.

“As much as it pains me to agree with her,” Alistair added, “You are awful at asking for favors.”

Leliana was obviously getting nervous too, and she looked as confused as Sebastian felt. “Rest assured that Her Highness has a- a myriad of reasons why this war should be fought and how it can be won. Reasons she is, perhaps, a bit tired of repeating?”

“No,” Andraste said simply, “I am, on the contrary, eager to finally state my arguments. But in short: the Warden Commander will do what she must to rally her people, the Ferelden monarchy will grant me any support I feel I need, and they will do it all under the leadership of myself and my second-in-command, General Loghain.”

The King and the Warden Commander's outrage overlapped, while the Queen remained seated and calmer than Sebastian trusted. 'I am confident that she will support our efforts,' he remembered Andraste saying. Of course Anora wasn't surprised.

The Warden Commander got her voice just loud enough to rise above Alistair's and proclaim, “You can't ask me to win you a war and take away my General.”

“Win her a war?” Alistair repeated. “You're not the only one in the room with a formidable army at their disposal. You’re not the only person whose decisions will win or lose this war before it starts.”

Andraste slammed her hands on the table so hard Anora pushed her seat a full foot away in shock. “Says the man who caused this entire war in the first place!”

Sebastian felt so stupid, resigned to sitting there silently, probably gawking if he had to guess what uncontrollable reactions were displayed on his face. He had no idea what she was talking about, but even if it made him look completely undignified he couldn't help but hang on to every word Andraste said and greatly anticipate her explanation.

Alistair was on the verge of laughing. “What in the Maker's name makes you think that is remotely true?”

“Because,” Andraste hissed, “Flemeth only feels confident enough to start this war because her grandson is beginning to get old enough.”

“Flemeth?” Leliana asked in disbelief, “With a male heir? She would never. I know I have been briefed on the realities versus the fables but-”

“He was not Flemeth's idea,” Andraste interrupted. “He was the Morrigan's.”

The Warden Commander swallowed hard and looked at the King like a true and genuine friend worried about someone she cared for. “You didn't. Tell me you didn't.”

“Didn't what?” Anora asked, finally as confused and outraged as everyone else.

“The Holy Mother,” Andraste began, “is not holding a gift, she is holding an answer; a reply to the first assault against us. She was not chosen just so the world could have a leader as it enters an age of magic. No, her son,” she said, turning to Alistair, “was born to fight yours.”

Before anyone had time to react the once-Princess of Orzammar was running across the table to punch the King right in the face. “You idiot! How did you even find out? Ancestors, will that bitch stop at nothing to get what she wants?”

Sebastian could not fathom how the discussion could be knocked so far off course so fast, or why Andraste would think he need not be prepared for it.

“What did you do?” Anora demanded again, not at all upset about her husband's bleeding nose.

“Yes,” Leliana agreed, “I would like an answer as well.”

Alistair didn't even try to offer an explanation or protest his treatment, so the Warden Commander answered instead. “The night before the Battle of Denerim, Morrigan... she knew how Archdemons are defeated. She knew that, once slain, they try to inhabit the nearest tainted creature. We Grey Wardens, we can trap that essence, and make sure it dies with us. Morrigan offered a way out of that cycle.”

“Something from her mother's Grimoire?” Leliana guessed. “I knew that book would lead to nothing but trouble. I wanted to think Morrigan was like a sister to us, but I was never so naive to believe she could be trusted with that thing.”

“Well I don't like to punish people for mistakes they haven't made yet, and to be completely honest, I tried to go along with her plan, but Loghain wasn't having it. Hear that Alistair? Loghain was noble enough to die with honor rather than live on knowing he'd brought an Old God to our world to save his own ass.”

“Why would you even try to arrange something like that?” Leliana asked, sounding disgusted and disappointed.

“Because I thought I had you to come home to!" the dwarf snapped. Embarrassment hit almost immediately, and she re-took her seat. "I didn't know yet that nothing would ever be more important to you then your precious Chantry.”

Sebastion finally realized why Sigrun had left as soon as Leliana entered.

“You-” Anora started, trying to get her thoughts straight. “You tried to get my father to lay with a witch and give her a child?” she asked before turning to her husband to add, “And you actually did it?”

Alistair pinched the bridge of his nose to stop the bleeding and wiped what had already trickled down with the back of his sleeve. “He would have died a hero. Ender of the Blight that would have ended with Cailan had your father not-”

“Enough!” Sebastian heard himself shouting before he'd even admitted his own frustration to himself. “None of you should have needed to be guilted or blackmailed in the first place.” He felt like he was chastising children; like Andraste was playing the angry parent and he was playing the 'disappointed' one. “This entire meeting was completely unnecessary until you all started pretending you had no reason to join our cause. You all could have looked like noble heroes, and you will, in history books. But now you'll have to die knowing your own secrets and everyone else's, when you could have very will pretended you were helping the mages, slaves, elves and all combinations of the three find freedom from oppression within not just your borders, but all of Thedas.”

Andraste took a deep breath and calmed herself before adding “And by comparison, this war is nothing. It is a preliminary bout to test each others' military strength so we can all know how to better prepare for the real war. If we cannot even survive this- this practice round, what hope can any of us have for the future, when Flemeth's heir comes into his own?”

Sebastian returned to his seat and everyone quietly followed suit until the table looked like a place of civil discussion again. It was the Warden Commander who finally restarted the dialog. “What exactly happened during the ritual?”

Alistair laughed. “Do you need me to tell you how babies are made?”

“Alistair,” Anora chastised, “You need to be honest.”

“Well, the 'usual' things happened, and even though I didn't have anything to compare it to at the time, I knew it wasn't supposed to feel so dark and cold, and I'm not talking about the light or the temperature. I didn't even like her, and I thought that would be what made it feel so wrong, but that was at the bottom of list.”

The Hero of Ferelden shook her head. “Just so Loghain wouldn't die a hero?”

“Yes,” the King answered plainly. “Morrigan knew how to word her argument. She knew how to paint a picture of a future where the man who left my brother to die and sent assassins after me was a noble hero in one possible version of events, and in the other you died thinking I hated you and I never got the chance to... We were the last Grey Wardens and you carried the burden of defeating the Blight almost single-handedly. We may have reached a point in our lives where friendship is no longer an option, but that doesn't mean I forgot everything you did for me and everyone else in Thedas.”

Leliana's face fell into a cautious smile. “It is good to hear you say that. I was worried you'd completely lost your way. It would be hypocritical of me to judge you because of your strong devotion to your convictions, but we have all been through too much to forget what we once meant to each other. But an Old God is... Maker, what are we going to do?”

“Win,” Andraste answered as if it were that simple. “Win the first battle and every one after that. Win the first war and every one after that. That is our only option now.”

When Andraste rose from her seat, Sebastian gladly rose with her. He was beyond ready to end the conversation, as the coming days promised to be difficult enough; not just with the war, but with trying to understand where he was ever going to fit into his wife's grans plans for them all.

***Starkhaven Chantry, Holy Mother's Rectory***

Aveline was used to having a title and an office. She was used to people treating her with respect and valuing her opinion. She kept trying to compare being the 'Holy Mother' to being Guard Captain, but it simply was not translating. So while her desk in the rectory wasn't any different than her desk in the Keep, it felt too awkward for her to even try to sit behind it.

When someone knocked she felt equal parts dread and relief. The longer she stood there alone, the more awkward she felt, but she had no way of knowing what this person wanted from her.

“Come in,” she said on reflex even before she was done deciding if she was 'in' or not. The door opened and a grotesquely decorated dwarven woman entered, wearing full plate. She, somehow, portrayed a look of childlike wonder while still appearing dead; like she was half-way to becoming a darkspawn.

“Hey, so are you, like, the resident advice person around here?” she asked.

“Since long before anyone ever gave me a title to go with it,” Aveline admitted affectionately. She looked around the room and tried to guess how she was supposed to use it. “Come, sit down. Tell me your name.”

The woman laughed. “Not to sound cocky, but you don't know who I am?”

“You'll have to forgive my ignorance of dwarven culture, but there weren't a lot of your people in the Ferelden army or the Kirkwall Guard, and those who were were surfacers. If you're famous in Orzammar, it didn't reach me.”

Now she was in full-blown hysterics. “Ancestors, I think I'm crying a little,” she howled. “I'm-” she tried to start before needing a few more deep breaths, “I'm infamous in Orzammar at best. Most people don't come back from their own funeral. It's considered pretty rude.”

That was the missing piece of context Aveline needed to explain her appearance. “Too poor to matter but able enough to serve?”

“Now you're getting it. Name's Sigrun. Corpse of the Legion of the Dead, semi-darkspawn of the Grey Wardens and proud bunk-mate of the woman you call the Hero of Ferelden. At your service.”

“What brings you to the Chantry of all places?” Aveline wondered.

“I heard you all vow not to tell people the stuff you hear. Confessions or whatever, right?”

Aveline hadn't taken any such vow officially, but it was one of the only things she felt needed to transfer over form the old Chantry complete unchanged. It had surprised Donnic at first when she told him that, but she wouldn't be a very good Guard Captain if she didn't believe in repentance and change. As a person she wanted people to rise to their potential, and as a protector she wanted them to stop committing crimes. It really wasn't that hard to grasp, in her opinion. “Something like that. Anyone who confesses within a Chantry's walls should feel safe. Protected.” It felt odd to know she had the authority to make such a thing a rule just by saying it.

“So you really won't tell anyone anything I tell you?”

Aveline tried not to show the growing level of worry she was feeling. Stalling tactics and repeated questions were often a sign of something very hard to confess, and she'd heard plenty of rumors about the lengths Grey Wardens were willing to go to ensure victory. But if this is what the Maker had tagged her for, so be it. If she could build a better Chantry, one she didn't loathe, than she'd do it. “Correct. I won't tell a soul. Now come. Sit.” She sat behind her desk for the first time, and yet not for the first time at all.

Sigrun barely sat, teetering on the edge of her seat and looking at the decoration in the room with obviously feigned interest. “Nice office. You're obviously really important. You know, you don't have to listen to some dead girl from Dust Town if you have better things to do.”

“I don't,” Aveline stated plainly. “If you need to talk, then you're my priority.”

Sigrun swallow hard and nodded, but still won't hold still. “You'll make a good mom.”

No one had said that to her yet, not even Donnic, at least not so plainly. Isabela had said much less touching versions in the past, but Aveline had to focus for a moment to stay composed. “Thank you.”

“Just so you know, being famous is rough. It's your kid whose gonna be the super famous one, right? Not that I think you don't deserve attention or anything, but the focus is gonna shift later, isn't it?”

“It is. All this will be his, but I want to make sure it's worth having when I give it to him.”

Sigrun seemed to understand the sentiment. “Wish I could have done that. You know I used to watch her fight? The great Princess Sereda Aeducan, warrior of the ages. She could kick anyone's ass, and I didn't know if I wanted her or I wanted to be her. And then she just comes and rescues me one day like one of those Hard in Hightown novels and I was... Ancestors it was so embarrassing. I was just like, 'Ah, you're so amazing. It's really you. I can't believe it.' She was surprisingly okay with it.”

The empathy Aveline felt was quite strong. “This discussion is not about me, but know that my interactions with my now-husband began as flirting while covered in blood and eventually involved to having Hawke deliver childish messages to him while I researched dowry traditions.”

Sigrun finally looked up at her, eyes wide and obviously taken aback. She gave a long, disbelieving “Wow, that's rough buddy” before settling enough to let her back touch the chair. “Listen, being in love with a household name makes you feel like a constant burden. The people who completely ignore you are easier to deal with in the long run, but I've spent too much of my life fighting to be seen to be okay with that kinda treatment, ya know? I'm beginning to get it, though. I know when my voice is needed, or when I deserve to have an opinion too. I was just starting to get the hang of being in love with one of the most famous people in Thedas when suddenly this... bomb got dropped. Oh shit. Wait, should I not say that in a Chantry?”