Rite of the Maleficarum: Book I

Plan of Action

Hawke couldn't tell for sure, because the two were so, very drunk, but as Fenris and Anders practically giggled their way through her front door, she couldn't help but wonder if it'd worked.

"Did you know that Fenris can knit?" Anders announced proudly.

"No, I did not. But thank you, so much for telling me," Hawke laughed, filing that away for future use. Anders stumbled a bit, so she helped the mage onto the lounge by the fire. He all but fell asleep on the way down. She stood up and turned to find Fenris hovering close behind her. He took her hands to pull her closer and kissed her.

"Hi," he said, reaching up to brush a loose piece of hair out of her face, "You're pretty."

Hawke did everything she could to keep from bursting out in laughter. She had never seen Fenris so drunk. At least, so happy drunk; his drunk was usually one derived from anger, hatred or self-loathing.

"Get a room," Anders managed, as he rolled over into a very uncomfortable looking face-first position. Hawke smiled as she helped Fenris up the stairs and into bed. She tried to remove some of his armor, at least the pieces that would cause soreness come morning. He fought her though, sitting up occasionally to try and kiss her. He was asleep by the time the process was done however, and Hawke laid her head down on his chest and listened to his soft snoring.

She didn't know what happened to the two that afternoon, but she was happy it seemed to have done some good. At least the last words they spoke to each other weren't sneers and growls, which was an improvement. More than an improvement, she thought as she remembered the way the two were laughing and patting each other on the back. She only hoped they remembered it, come morning.

And then it was morning, sunlight trickling in through the slats on the windows. She kissed Fenris on the forehead and rose, donning her leather armor and making her way downstairs to the kitchen. When she came back out, Anders had woken up and was holding his head in his hands. She smiled and walked over to offer him the drink she'd prepared for Fenris, she could make another after all.

"It'll help," she said, gesturing with the glass. He looked up gratefully and took it, gulping half down in one go.

"Thanks Hawke," he said, his voice gravely. He stood wearily, smiling at her.

"Good man," he said, and Hawke smiled in agreement. Anders gulped the rest down and handed her back the glass. He smiled, inclined his head to her and turned to go, looking quite chipper. Hawke felt a burden lift off her heart. Seeing Anders smile like that wasn't her intention, but it was quite a rewarding, if unexpected, side effect. She started to turn to go back upstairs only to find Fenris standing behind her. He kissed her lightly on the neck, then took her hand and spun her toward him.

"Why hello," she said.

"Good morning, love," he said, giving her another light kiss and keeping her close to him.

"I… made you a drink," she said, gesturing with the empty glass she held in her other hand.

"I see how it is," he jested lightly, then resigned, "Looked like he needed it more than I do."

She smiled at him, "So, am I going to have to fight Anders for your affections now?"

He grinned fiercely and pulled her closer, "Maybe, I'm awfully alluring."

"Yes," she smiled and kissed him deeply. Before she knew it, the elf had scooped her up in his arms and was carrying her back upstairs.

When Hawke woke the next day, her patience had worn out. She needed to talk to Merrill, make a plan, gather the group and slay the demon. All in a days work, she thought, careful to not wake Fenris as she climbed out of bed. Though she knew she wouldn't get to the slaying demon part of the scenario, she needed to start the process. She was feeling restless.

After eating a quick meal, she spent the morning going around town asking her friends to meet at her estate that evening. She tried to spend some time with each of them, to get a read on where their heads were at. Aveline was stressed, the lack of a viscount made her job much more difficult. She was determined as always, however, and seemed more than ready to climb out of her pile of paper work and take arms again. Sebastian was at peace, as always. She took a minute while she was there to have a discussion with the Maker. She never liked calling it 'praying', the term felt so futilely one-sided. Anders was healing a young boy when she arrived. He seemed fulfilled and happy to see her, which was a relief beyond all measure. Varric was contented, though a little bored. He insisted Bianca was furious with him for not getting to kill anything for weeks. Merrill was… Merrill. Pacing about, apparently trying to explain everything she'd learned about the demon to Hawke in the shortest, most disjointed sentences she could muster.

"I think we're ready, Merrill," Hawke announced once the elf seemed to wind down a bit.

"Excellent," Merrill seemed surprised, but pleased.

Hawke clarified, "We'll meet tonight at my estate, explain things to everyone. And bring the book and… phylactery. If everyone agrees, we'll find its location and go from there."

Merrill agreed and Hawke returned to her estate, Fenris and most of the staff missing. She took the time to enjoy a long bath, a nap, a game of hide and seek with Legion, and a meal that consisted mostly of grabbing randomly at things in the cupboards and consuming them one at a time. She'd never been much of a cook. Fenris returned just before nightfall.

"Go to see Sebastian?" she asked, sitting down on the lounge by the fire and offering him a piece of bread. He sat next to her but only nodded in response and sat quietly.

"Everything ok?" she asked. He had been so… generous… with his affections of late, she didn't expect silent, brooding Fenris anymore.

"Yes," he said reassuringly, then turned and took both of Hawke's hands into his. Her heart about leapt out of her chest at the look he gave her then, so serious and apologetic.

"What is it, Fenris?" she asked, concern growing in her voice.

"I don't want you to think that…" he set his jaw as he searched for the words, "This isn't… like that."

After a moment, Hawke could only manage, "I'm not certain that was actually a complete thought. Can you clarify?"

"It has come to my attention that this is not in fact the proper way to court someone," Fenris said, deadly serious. Hawke fought the smile that pulled at her lips.

"You mean… offering your blood to be used in ritual magic in order to save them?"

"No," he said dryly, having already caught on to her shtick.

"So, the making out in front of our friends part?" He shook his head.

"…is it because I'm human?" Even Fenris had to break his glower for a moment at that one.

"No," he said, and she thought he was blushing now, "I've been… spending the night."

"Fenris, it's ok. That was kind of my point, we aren't exactly normal to start with, why would we care about being proper?"

"It's important that you understand my intentions," he said seriously, "That if you'll have me, I intend to stay with you forever."

Sebastian and Varric burst through the door then, arguing about the best route to Tantervale. Hawke was in shock, was she just proposed to? She looked over to the pair as they approached, oblivious.

"Hawke, seriously," Varric said, "Tell the man that taking the river north would be madness. Wildervale is perfectly safe, and far more direct."

"Oh you know me, Varric," Hawke said, "I've never been farther north than the Viscount's Keep."

"Let's find out where the thing is first before we bother arguing about how to get every place in Thedas," Fenris pointed out diplomatically. Moving on, then, Hawke thought, still a bit stunned.

"I'm just saying, I'd take that route back to Starkhaven," Sebastian continued anyway.

"That's great, you should do that with your fleet of ships when you storm your own castle to take it back, but Tantervale is up river once you hit the Minanter, so you'd have to get out and walk anyway."

Aveline, Anders and Merrill trickled in as their pointless discussion continued, and Hawke decided to call the meeting to order.

"Alright," Hawke announced, "Information dump, ready? Just jump in if you have questions."

The group quieted a bit and found places to sit around the fire. Hawke exchanged a look with Merrill, then gave her a nod.

The elf started, "The Belhim'irsa was likely created by magisters or other extremely powerful mages, and their bodies and essences were likely consumed in the process."

This gained a few ill looks from the group, and Hawke continued, "There could have been as few as two, and an infinite maximum number of mages that participated in the ritual, each one would have made it more powerful."

"So depending on how many it consumed, it will be comparatively as powerful as that number of mages?" Sebastian asked.

"Yes, quite literally actually," Merrill said, "And this is something new I discovered, Hawke. As a result it seems that it will be able to use magic, whatever abilities those mages possessed, it has now. Fire, Ice, Lightning, you name it."

Aveline sighed, "Wonderful."

Merrill continued, "It appears from the texts that the creature will be quite large, likely over four meters tall. This might be good however, as it means it may not have travelled far. It'll be hiding in a cave or abandoned building."

"Do we think it still has followers?" Anders asked.

"What Blondie means is, will we have to kill its friends, too?" Varric clarified.

"No way to know for sure," Hawke said, "Although we haven't caught wind of any flocks in Kirkwall since the prophet died, so it may not have anyone left."

"I'm going to laugh when we find out that the prophet was just some charismatic lunatic, and there's no beast at all," Varric said. He gained some eye rolls but was largely ignored.

"And this 'trick' we have to find it, what is it exactly?" Fenris asked.

"We can find it using the prophet's vials like a phylactery. It's blood magic, but it's our only way of finding it," Hawke said, looking around the room to gauge their reaction.

"It can't really be worse than last time, right guys?" Anders joked, gaining nods of assent from the others.

"Fighting this creature is going to be very dangerous, and I completely understand if anyone doesn't want to participate," Hawke offered. They just looked at her.

"Ok, so just to be clear, I would lay my life down for every single one of you. And I need you all to be able to say the same thing about everyone else," she eyed Merrill, Anders and Fenris, "We need complete trust going into this."

"Is this the part where we all close our eyes, fall off something, and hope the others catch us?" Varric joked.

"No I think we join arms around a fire, sway, and sing upbeat, yet poignant spiritual songs," Anders clarified.

"I don't sing," Fenris grumbled. Hawke leveled a look at the three of them.

"Hawke, we're at our best when we're in battle," Aveline pointed out, "We may have our differences in life, but in war we're cohesive."

"We're ready, Hawke," Sebastian announced in his princely manner. Hawke gave him a grateful smile.

"One last thing I should mention," Merrill started suddenly, "This afternoon I found another reason this creature is so powerful. Well more an explanation than a reason, I guess," she said, a ghostly look on her face.

"Great, we needed more. Maybe we do need to revisit the 'too dangerous' part of this discussion again," Anders remarked.

"This demon exists both here and in the Fade simultaneously," she said, looking like she was bracing herself for impact.

"You're kidding," Aveline managed.

"No, afraid not. It's able to feed and direct its conscious, corporeal form from the Fade. It's incredible, really," she started as if about to explain why, but gathered from the reactions of the others that it may not be needed. Anders looked concerned, the others just looked shocked. It sometimes felt like they didn't know anything about demons or magic at all.

So they will need two teams, Hawke realized. One to fight the demon, and one to fight the demon in the Fade.

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