Blood coated the walls of the small keep and ran in little streams toward a crack in the floor. Fenris stood still as stone, breath misting in the air, counting heart beats. A man lay dying at his feet, entrails steaming in the cool air. He already smelled rotted, as if dead a week, though it had only been moments since he flung himself out of hiding at the elf. His companion was nearby. Fenris was certain of it. His ears strained for proof, muscles tense with anticipation. There, on his left. He spun, his sword humming as he brought the great blade over and down in a skull splitting arc.
The man was fast. He rolled right and forward, coming up against the elf's chest. Close in, he stabbed with a small, curved dagger. It parted his armor with ease and opened the skin beneath in a wide, bloody arc. Fenris gasped and dropped his blade, tattoos growing brighter in a breath. The man, unaware of his peril, took this as a sign of triumph. He gave the elf a feral grin and drew back his arm, preparing for the final strike. Fenris returned the smile as his hand shot forward, sliding through armor and skin and bone to the beating heart of his enemy. It leapt beneath his fingers, fast as a rabbit. The elf tightened his grip, the tips of his gauntleted fingers digging into the meat of the organ.
The man gave a surprised shout and tried to pull away, but he was caught. He could abandon his heart only to lose his life. Some part of him knew there was no escape, and he slashed wildly at Fenris. The dagger opened wounds across the elf's forearms and shoulders, drawing blood across his chest. The man's movements became less coordinated, more erratic, the harder Fenris squeezed, until, with a final gasp, the heart burst. His body convulses as the elf tossed him to the ground, face twisted in disgust.
"Is that the last?" Tarun asked from the doorway.
"It should be. We'll know soon enough." Fenris turned, dizziness and exhaustion sweeping over him. "Did they find anyone?"
Tarun shook his head. "Not from our clan. Some others, though."
Fenris nodded, "They are probably all sold or dead. What will the Keeper want now?"
The Dalish boy gave a shrug. "The hunters will want to pursue. The Keeper? I cannot say. I am sure he will tell us when he knows his own mind."
That was all the answer there was, thought Fenris tiredly. He barely cared. This fight or another, whatever he could find to fill the hollow in his chest and leave his nights to black exhaustion. There was nothing else for him, not anymore. The elf paced from the room and began to sweep for hidden soldiers. Taking the keep had not been easy. Fenris had used his power to reach through the door of a side gate to lift the latch in the dark of early morning. The hunters, silent as mountain cats, had crept in behind him. The guards on the wall went down quickly, but not without warning the other men. After that, hours of fighting in tight corridors and debris strewn rooms.
The mangled bodies of the defenders lay cooling in pools of blood. It was enough to sicken, though the sight of the elves they held here in captivity made their fate seem gentle. Fenris tore down the red banner with its blindfolded skull as he passed from one hall into the courtyard. He didn't recognize their symbol and didn't care who they were. They deserved death and worse. I should be happy I could bring it to them, he thought grimly. I am the wolf again, and this time the prey I choose is my own.
It took some time to track down Ferevale. The Keeper knelt beside a dying man, his robes brushing the pool of blood that spread from a gaping wound that opened the slaver from groin to sternum. "Remember for me," the Keeper said softly. "Where were they sent, the women and girls? Dalish, you captured them only a few weeks past."
He coughed, blood flecking his lips. "I . . . please . . . it hurts . . ."
Ferevale nodded, face impassive stone. "It does. It will hurt until you answer my questions."
The slaver tried to take a breath, air bubbling through the blood seeping into his lungs. "Yes. I . . . sorry. I'm sorry!" He seized the Keeper's arm, knuckles white.
"Of course you are. Now, tell me where they were sent? The Dalish women and girls? The children?" Ferevale ignored the hand grasping at him.
"Mont-montsimmard," the man burbled, red spittle dripping down his cheek and past his ear. "Th-there's a . . . a market . . . please, make it . . . make it stop."
The Keeper patted the man's hand and then pried it off his robe. "Thank you. That is what I needed to know." He stood and turned, only then noticing Fenris.
"So we are on to Montsimmard then?" The elf motioned to the dying man. "Do we trust him?"
"Yes," Ferevale replied wearily. "To Montsimmard, though gods can only know why. The Grey Wardens and circle there never were friends to the slavers before this season. I do not trust him, but there is little else to go on."
Fenris frowned, but in his heart, he was decided. He would pursue this to the end. "And my help?"
"Still needed, if you will still gift it to us." The Keeper waited, though his eyes said he knew the warrior's answer.
"Then I am with you still," Fenris affirmed.
Hawke dreamed of Fenris every night, never two dreams the same. By day, she saw him from the corners of her eyes, a shifting, pale haired shadow that evaporated as soon as she turned her head. He was gone. No, not gone. He was where she left him. The finality of the act still surprised Riese, sharp as a knife and hard as stone; his absence took her breath away. The mage wondered where he was, and found herself staring off to the south, the mountains and valleys she could not see, where those Dalish had planned to go. Was he still alive? Did he miss her as much as she did him? Was he still angry? These questions and more ate up her quiet moments, and so she did her best to stay busy.
Sebastian, for his part, was a great help. He was happy to talk about the old times, and ask her advice on his plans for the future. They talked for hours about Kirkwall and his siege, arguing tactics and swapping Aveline stories. It didn't help much with her seasickness but it did wonders for her state of mind.
"Do you remember the time Varric stuck that nug in his chair? Put his coat on it and everything?" Sebastian asked, laughing.
Hawke nodded, "Aveline had to look three times before it sunk in. And then she fell out of her chair."
"I thought Donnic was going to die, holding that laughter in," the prince grinned. "Takes a wise man to humor his wife."
"When your wife is your boss and a warrior besides, I don't know what choice you've got," Riese smiled back. "It's hard to imagine them now. Do you think they're ok?"
Sebastian grew sober and quiet. After a long breath he answered, "I do. My army hasn't made any advances without me, and Aveline is too smart to sally from the gate. When this -" he waved his arm to encompass the whole trip and their intent, "- is done, I plan to apologize. I wanted ta help. I did. But . . . I went about it the wrong way."
"She knows you and your temper," Hawke told him, reaching over to pat his hand. Outside, the waves were high and the sky was cloudy. A strong wind from the east sped them toward their port, a gift, Riese supposed. She tried to reassure her stomach that it was a blessing to be in motion, but it wasn't in agreement.
"You look like you need another of those teas." Sebastian squeezed her hand and stood. "I'll go fetch it for you. I don't guess you're hungry?"
"Not a bit," Riese replied with a sickly grin. "Thanks."
"Sure. Take a look at those coastal maps while I'm at it? I had thought about a seawatch. For pirates. I'll tell you more when I get back." The prince ducked out of the cabin and stomped down the hall. He seemed almost like his old self, but it was impossible to ignore the hardness that had settled in him. Sebastian was less naive than he'd been, and the guilt of his actions wore heavily on him. Hawke wondered how she must seem to him after all they had been through.
The maps he'd left did little to distract Riese as the ship began to creak and shift in the troubled sea. The mage tried to focus on the places Sebastian marked as best for his watch towers, but her eyes kept drifting to the Dales, tracing paths through the Frostback Mountains. Fenris was there, someplace near Montsimmard. A fort, unimportant to the mapmaker. Her nail tapped lightly on the page, a nervous scratching sound that echoed her unease.
Hawke blinked back a tear, refusing to give in. She would not cry about this again. There was a choice, it was made, and that was an end to it. Anders had to be put to rest, for his sake and the sake of the mage rebellion. Too many lives rested on this to let it fall, even if that meant her heart was the sacrifice. Riese wondered if her father had ever felt this way, that duty was tearing him in two. Sebastian arrived just in time with a smile and her tea.
"Are my plans that bad," he asked, seeing her face.
"No," she sniffed, stomach lurching at the sight of the steaming mug. "They - they're just fine. I was thinking, that's all."
"Worst thing you can do on an upset stomach." The prince sat down beside her, pushing the tea into her hands.
"Yeah. I just -" she gestured to the map, not sure how to express her worries.
"Fenris is just fine. He ran through half o' the world before you. He can make it a few leagues in spring. And you said he's with friends."
Riese nodded, "I'm just not sure I did the right thing."
"And neither is he. It's the human condition, Hawke. You won't know til it's done. Elthina told me once, you can only act from the heart and have faith it will turn out right. If it doesn't, the Maker gives us strength to keep going and try again." Sebastian put an arm around her, hugging her against him.
"And what if we aren't sure what our heart is saying?"
He shrugged, "Then as my father said, you do what you must and pay the toll at the end. I don't have any easy answers, Riese. I can tell you I think it's the right thing, to finish this with Anders or whatever he's become. I can tell you all the people counting on us - the templars, the chantry, and the apostates. The people whose lives'll be turned inside out if we don't. But I know it won't settle your spirit. You just have to know."
Hawke gave a miserable sigh. "I already made the choice to come. I don't know why I can't let it rest."
"Because you still worry. You're not a hard woman, and it hurts you to let someone down. Especially someone you love as much as Fenris. He counted on you, and you left. The reasons matter less than the act. It'll vex you til he forgives you."
Riese wanted to tell him he was wrong, but couldn't. Sebastian was right, of course. And Fenris was not the forgiving sort. If she ever saw him again, he would hate her as did all those that betrayed him. It left her cold inside, that knowledge.
"So . . . about those towers," the prince nudged her.
Hawke didn't care much about his seawatch at the moment, but it was as good as anything to take her mind off her sorrows. She gave him a weak, lopsided smile. "Right."
Things were getting out of control, thought Orson. He watched from his precarious perch in the corner, cursing the narrow stool he'd commandeered from the crowd. In the tavern, mages from the circle of Montsimmard mixed with those from Tevinter, allies Orson had neither requested nor expected. He didn't trust them one small bit. Worse, he was losing control of Anders. The mage - the demon - obeyed him only by the letter of his commands, so much that each request had to be carefully worded so as not to end in disaster.
For instance, only a fortnight ago, Orson had asked the mage to deliver a speech to some of the newest arrivals, refugees from some mess in the east. Anders had delivered the speech, as requested, but instead of the usual assembly style, the demon had infected them all with a mad lust, and then given the speech amidst carnal insanity. When they woke from their bloody orgy, some of the mages took their own lives rather than face the atrocities committed under Rapacia's sway. Others had run, and the ones that stayed were hardly reliable.
Orson was unsure what to do. Everything was coming undone, and his spies in Tevinter had gone silent. Some nonsense about the return of an old god, then nothing. Nothing! He could turn to Ahriman, but that would be to admit failure. Orson shivered, imagining whatever the old magister had in store for him. It was nothing good. The whole situation left a sour taste in the Tevinter's mouth that no amount of wine would wash away.
Tonight, the tavern was crowded and busy, the air as full of plots as spells. It would be nice, Orson reflected, if at least a few of those plots were his own. Thankfully, Anders was locked away in his room and silent as a wraith. It would do too much damage to be seen by his peers with a disobedient demon on his leash. Besides, technically such summoning and binding was still against the laws of Tevinter. These new allies from Minrathous would be happy enough to enforce them if it meant they could take credit for his successes. And there were a few, though right now they all seemed very distant.
Really, there was only one option left to Orson. He needed to destroy Anders and banish Rapacia. The best would be to use one of these new 'friends' from home to do the deed. Then, he need not break his pact with the demon . . . He'd promised her a new body, but that deal seemed less and less a good idea. Even if he fed one of these pathetic circle mages to her, he had a feeling Rapacia would still haunt him.
Of course, he would need a new face to lead these southern idiots. He'd planned on simply bringing them to Ahriman, but there were too many to dispose of that way now. If they all arrived on the magister's doorstep, someone was sure to notice. Then the Magisterium would get involved, politics would take over, and where would that leave him? With no credit, no wealth, and a sack of trouble.
Orson let the babble of the crowd was over him, listening with an open mind. He picked up on repeated names, themes in conversation. It was a simple tool, but a good one to get a feel for what was on the hearts and minds of a group. After an hour or so, Orson had the beginnings of a new plan in mind. Grand Enchanter Fiona was on the lips of their southern cousins, what she was saying, doing. It was she that declared the mages would no longer follow chantry rule, a bold move. Bold, but stupid. She would probably be easy to manipulate, once met. She was enroute to some meeting with the Orlesian Divine though.
The Tevinter gave hefty sigh, staring into his wine for answers. A name was just a name if the person behind it was unreachable.
"You don't look like one of the Venatori." The voice was smooth as velvet, cold as silk. Orson managed to keep his surprise hidden as he turned to face the speaker.
The man was well dressed, dark hair loose about his face pallid face, a small patch of struggling hair attempting to form a goatee on his chin. "Venatori?" Orson raised an eyebrow. His tone was one of mild condescension.
"Surely you know who you are serving here? Or are you just a pawn . . . it's so hard to tell sometimes." The man grimaced and it took Orson a moment to realize the expression was meant as a smile.
"I'm here at the behest of Magister Ahriman. If I am a pawn, then I can only hope I am useful to him. Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?" Orson decided it was best to play the part of the servile fool for now, though it turned his stomach to do it. All his hard work, all his efforts, and still he had to bow and scrape!
"Livius Erimond. I'm sure you've heard of me. Anyone in the right circles has." His grin widened. "You are in the right circles, I trust?"
Orson had no idea what the man was talking about, but it seemed best to play along. There were enough secret societies in Tevinter that it was nigh impossible to keep up. These Venatori must be a new one, perhaps one on an upswing of influence. "What brings you here, Livius?"
"Diplomacy." He gestured to the gathering. "You've gotten me off to a good start. These will make excellent fodder."
It was hard to keep his expression smooth but Orson managed an oily smile. "I live to provide. It's been sometime since my last communication with Ahriman. I was under the impression our cousins were needed at home."
Livius nodded thoughtfully, pulling up a chair to sit opposite Orson. "They may be. But we serve a greater cause now. Slave labor is only just so useful . . . only just so." He leaned forward, eyes narrowing. "I have so much to tell you."