Maybe this was it. Would it be so bad? She didn't know what came after, but whatever it was, wouldn't she find her family there? Could she truly see them again, her father and mother reunited? Bethany and Carver, happy and joking with each other again? She could almost hear them laughing. And she had got to see Fenris, at the end. To see his wry smile, feel her own heart skip a beat when she caught him enjoying a moment they shared. When he didn't think she noticed him stealing a look at her. She'd have enjoyed more time with him, but it was a blissful note to leave it on. Maybe it was her time to go. Maybe she'd done all she could to help this broken world. This new place seemed peaceful, anyway.
In one swoop, Aveline cleared the contents of Sandal's enchanting table onto the floor. She swung the heavy wooden table out away from the wall. As delicately as he could manage, Fenris lowered Hawke onto the table. He began to remove her armor, when he found himself pulled aside by Aveline. He saw Anders over her shoulder, hovering over Hawke. Fenris felt helpless, and this made him furious, and then he felt Aveline holding him back, and telling him to keep it together, that he had to listen, to save Hawke he had to listen. So he listened.
"What happened?" she implored. Such a simple question, to which Fenris had no good answer.
"There was a vial," he said, but he knew he wasn't making any sense.
"Varric is there now, he's collecting everything he can," Aveline reassured.
"I don't know," he said, feeling more powerless than he ever had before, "I've never seen anything like it. They just stepped up to us and she cast one spell, it was bright. Red. Right at her chest, and then she was down," Fenris shook his head, not believing his own words.
"Aveline!" Anders yelled, and the guard captain turned to see a look of complete disbelief on the mage's face as he stood over Hawke.
"It stopped…" his voice cracked. Fenris couldn't breathe. It was just there, he felt it. It was weak but he felt it.
"Do something!" Fenris heard himself demand. Anders eyes grew wide and after a moment he seemed to snap out of it.
"I need lyrium potions, like, yesterday," Anders said as he ripped Hawke's chestplate off and tossed it aside. He placed his hands over her heart and closed his eyes.
"I have some," Bodahn announced, and the dwarf began digging through a chest by the fire.
"I'll need more, I'm sure," Anders said, sweat beginning to pill on his brow. In his panic, Fenris was somehow still able to feel pity for the mage. He was Hawke's only hope. Certainly he was the only man in Kirkwall, if not the Free Marches or Thedas itself that could help her. Was it divinity that Hawke had him in her life?
"Alright, listen up. I'm going to get lyrium potions. Bodahn, once you've collected what you can, boil some water. Was this blood magic?" she asked.
"Yes," Fenris and Anders said in unison.
"We need to act fast, when Sebastian arrives have him help Varric chase any leads he may have from examining the bodies. We need to figure out what this is," Aveline said and then turned to Fenris.
"You know what you need to do," she said. He nodded solemnly. Of course he would do anything to save her, including that.
In an instant, Fenris found himself knocking on the meek elf's alienage door. It creaked open, and Merrill stood before him, staff in her hand defensively.
"Fenris?" she said, surprised, lowering the staff.
"It's Hawke," Fenris started.
"She's mad at me, Fenris. And I'm mad at her, she still has the Arulin'Holm," the elf protested, as if about to launch into a complete discourse on the matter. Fenris noticed his lyrium markings beginning to glow with the kind of anger he couldn't control.
"Listen, mage," he growled, calming himself. Merrill's eyes grew wide with terror but said nothing.
"Hawke's dying. It was blood magic, but… we can't fix it. Anders can't fix it."
Merrill nodded somberly, and after a moment said, "I'm going to need some time. I have the books, I think, but it will take me time to find what I need."
Fenris shook his head and said, defeat lining his voice, "There is no time, Merrill."
The mousy elf nodded gravely, "I need to see her."
They quickly made their way to Hightown, Fenris doing his best to explain the incidents of the last month to Merrill. They arrived back at Hawke's estate to find Anders, glowing with the blue light of Justice, his hands pressed to Hawke's heart. Empty bottles of lyrium littered the ground at his feet, and Aveline stood nearby emptying more out of a sack. Varric and Sebastian stood over a table that had been placed near the fire, examining the evidence they'd brought back from the maleficarum's bodies. Fenris dumped the books they'd brought onto the table as Merrill went over to examine Hawke. He watched as Anders slumped, seeming to have fully expended himself. Fenris had never seen him look so pale and sickly.
"Her pulse is back, but… it's temporary," Anders said, wiping sweat from his brow, "I can't break through it. It's like I can't… get to the essence of her. Something's blocking the way."
Fenris looked to Merrill, whose look of concerned disbelief didn't encourage him. Anders sat on a nearby chair and held his head in his hands, clearly exhausted. Merrill seemed to steel her resolve, and marched over towards the fire, Aveline following. She looked to Fenris and Sebastian and instructed them, "Check the books, they're in Elvish but you can look for the words linhalam, era'din... and irlin."
They listened, each grabbing a tome and opening it to search.
She looked to Varric, "What did you find?"
"Not much I'm afraid. The one with the tattoos on her face – I'm assuming she was our prophet - had three of these bottles on her, and another one that was crushed in her hand," the dwarf said, offering a vial to Merrill.
"I saw her holding one before she cast the spell on Hawke," Fenris clarified.
"Strange," Merrill said, "It's almost like she was using it to augment her powers, like lyrium..." She held up one of the vials of dark red liquid to examine it in the light.
"Wait…" she said after a few moments, "You said they were collecting blood?"
"A lot of it," Aveline said gravely.
She set the vial down, grabbed one of the tomes and opened it. After sifting through the pages for a few seconds, she settled on a passage.
"Here – nadas lin'himsa – it's an ancient rite of blood magic," Merrill turned the book toward the others, revealing a depiction of an ancient symbol. Sebastian and Fenris exchanged a look, then Sebastian said, "We've seen that symbol before – they use it to mark their meeting places."
Merrill sighed heavily.
"What's the rite?" Varric asked.
"It literally means… inevitably, blood becomes one. But it's… complex… but basically they used blood magic and creation magic to augment blood with powerful spells," she said, "But… it can't be created by just anyone, I can't remember what it was."
Merrill sat now, turning the book back toward her and burying her face in it. She gripped the sides of her head, trying to remember what she knew.
"Belhim – that's it," she said, flipping through the same book until she found what she was looking for, "Here – belhim'irsa elgar. It says it bound the souls of many into one… spirit… the translation isn't perfect. But this nadas lin'himsa – the potion - is linked to it. It can only be created by this Belhim'irsa. It's rough, but… 'the one of many'… or… 'the power of many is one'?"
She trailed off as she focused on the words, frustrated by her inability to get a clear translation. Fenris slowly shut his book as the implications of what Merrill was saying became more clear.
"It's a summoning ritual?" he asked.
"Yes, I think. It's different though, it requires many people."
"Many willing people?" Varric asked, thinking about the same thing Fenris was – all the poor souls they'd found at the cave and in the sewers.
"Yes… well, no," Merrill said as she continued to read the text, "Ok, yes. To summon the 'one of many' required many powerful mages. All using blood magic and creation magic, so, they'd have to be willing I suppose. Then this 'one of many' – the Belhim'irsa - was able to make the potions."
She skimmed a few pages, then pointed to the text as she read along, "It required the… blood of those… of pure … oh, of innocents!" Merrill was happy to have the right translation, but then had to repeat herself solemnly, "The blood of innocents. Lots of it. It gets concentrated down…" she said, giving the vials of blood that sat on the table a cautious look.
"You think this is what it is?" Aveline asked.
"Maybe… but, I can't imagine how they even knew about the rite, nevertheless collected mages powerful enough to actually do it," Merrill replied.
"They were recruiting from the circle," Varric pointed out.
Merrill protested, "It's… so complicated though. The 'one of many' couldn't even create the potions in this world – it had to be done in the Fade."
"How do you mix a potion in the Fade and then bring it back with you?" Aveline asked, clearly troubled.
"The same way you bring a demon," Fenris said.
"So it's like a concentrated bottle of blood magic?" Sebastian asked.
"No, it's not magic in and of itself – it's a tool… to augment your power. To… very extreme degrees," Merrill clarified.
"Why creation magic as well as blood magic?" Aveline asked.
"I suppose… creation magic has a way of affecting the body that the other, more destructive magics don't," Merrill explained.
"So they were able to warp creation magic to be used destructively?" Sebastian asked, incredulous.
"That could be why Anders can't get through," Fenris pointed out.
"Ok, if this is what it really is, how can we fix it? Reverse it, undo it, whatever?" Varric asked, starting to sound worried, a trait Fenris did not often see in the dwarf. Merrill shook her head slowly as she thought.
"I need to speak with Anders for a few moments."
She grabbed the book and went over to the mage, who sat stoically on his chair near Hawke, staring at the lifeless body, his brow knitted in frustration. She talked quietly with him, and he stood up, following her into the kitchen.
Suddenly, the mansion seemed preternaturally still. Was life really going on outside these walls? Were babies being born, were trade deals being made, were mages and templars starting a war? Would the sun come up, let the clouds wisp across the sky, and then sink again the next day? It felt like hours were ticking by, though Fenris knew it to be only minutes. He noticed Legion now, curled up under Hawke's table. He was whimpering lightly, and he suddenly felt an extreme sadness for the dog. How frustrating to understand everything that went on around you, and have absolutely no ability to help. This wasn't a pack of bandits he could help them kill, or even a scent he could follow to lead them to the cure. He couldn't do anything, except lay under the table and whimper. Fenris sighed, realizing that was about all the good he was doing at the moment as well.
The kitchen door squeaked open and the mages walked back toward where Hawke lay.
"I think we know what to do," Merrill announced. Relief seemed to flood the air in the room, and Fenris felt like he could breathe again.
"It's… dangerous, though," Merrill said.
"Anything, what is it?" Fenris demanded.
"You're not going to like it," Anders said.
"Try me, mage," Fenris growled.
Anders sighed, then looked up to address the whole room, "We need to use blood magic to save Hawke."