Rite of the Maleficarum: Book I

Inescapable

"I'm just saying, Varric," Hawke said as she pulled a few more chairs into the dining room, "Generally when you throw a party, you inform the person whose residence you intend to host it at."

Varric shrugged, "It's always a party at the Hawke estate. Unless it's ritual blood magic."

"Perfect, thank you," Hawke said dryly, tossing a few loaves of bread on the table. Fenris appeared from the cellar, looking far better than he had in the week since they'd returned from the Wounded Coast. Apparently losing most of ones blood twice within a week was taxing on the body. He set a few bottles of wine on the table and turned toward the kitchen.

"I'll get it, love," Hawke said, kissing him lightly, "Please, just sit down."

"Is this like an engagement party?" Varric asked as Fenris took a seat at the table.

"It's your party, dwarf," Hawke called over her shoulder as she went into the kitchen. Despite being somewhat tired, Fenris had somehow been in quite a pleasant mood in the last week. After talking everything out, quite a bit, the two felt generally good about life, and were looking forward to going back to the general bandit-slaying existence of a few months ago. Fenris had all but moved in, returning to his mansion only to check that another squatter hadn't made claim to it. As well as to start transporting the wine to Hawke's cellar. Hawke definitely preferred him with her, she thought, smiling. She collected a few glasses, and by the time she returned to the dining room, Sebastian, Anders and Merrill had arrived.

Anders was sitting down at the corner of the table across from Fenris, Varric goading the two into an arm wrestling match.

"I've almost died twice in the last two weeks," was Fenris's defense.

"And I've spent all my magic healing you, twice," Anders jested, "So we're even."

"You didn't heal my first wounds, you used my blood to fuel your magic. I know mages get confused, but that's not helping someone."

"Touché, Broody," Varric said, impressed.

"No, you know what," Fenris added suddenly, "I wield a two-handed steel weapon, let's compare strength if you want to."

Anders recoiled slightly and made a pensive face. After a moment, he shrugged, "Why not?"

The two put their elbows on the table. Sebastian acted as an intermediary, making sure their elbows were equidistance, then held their gripped hands steady and announced the start of the match.

"He could break your arm, that'd be why not," Merrill pointed out, looking a bit afraid that would be the outcome.

"It's fine, I'll just heal it," Anders said, his face quickly turning red with exertion. Fenris was toying with him, Hawke knew, the elf barely seemed to acknowledge that there was pressure on his arm.

She thought about how very lucky they all were to have Anders. How many people in this world had wrongfully died because they didn't have someone like him in their life? Was there even anyone else like him? His ability to heal was remarkable, and Hawke had never met its match in her lifetime.

Aveline and Donnic entered, carrying a large basket of fruit. They set it on the table as Fenris finally put Anders out of his misery, slamming the mage's hand to the table.

"The nobles are retroactively thankful for our contribution to clearing the streets of dangerous maleficarum," Aveline said matter-of-factly, offering an explanation for the basket.

"Fruit?" Sebastian inquired.

"Fruit," she said resolutely, nodding her head.

"Better than silence, which is what we usually get," Hawke added, earning her a few chuckles as she began to pour glasses of wine. Hawke began to pass around the glasses, and everyone started making an attempt to sit down. The dining room was starting to feel cramped, and Donnic must have seen the look on her face.

"I may have also invited some guardsman," he warned. Hawke nodded.

"We'll open it up into the other room then," she said, "Let me clean up in there, we did do a little blood magic the other night." She gave Varric a pointed look.

"What? Bodahn or Orana hasn't got to that yet?" he asked.

"They generally shy away from touching my ritual blood magic stuff," Hawke explained dryly, skirting around Aveline and Donnic and heading back into the main room.

She pushed a few chairs against the wall on her way across the room toward the fire. She stacked a few of Merrill's books on the end of the table, and went to grab the tracking atlas they'd used to find the demon. It was still open to the map of Kirkwall, and she noticed the stain that had marked Slaver's Reach was now gone. She smiled and picked up the book to add it to the stack. As the book fell shut she thought she noticed something stuck in between, as if to mark a page. She opened the book back up randomly, to a page framed by the Frostback Mountains and Lake Calenhad. There was a tiny bloodstain wiped across the town of Haven. She stared at the map incredulously for a few moments, then began to flip furiously through the book. Nessum, Antiva City, another right in the middle of the Korcari Wilds. She kept flipping, finding more and more tiny stains spread all over Thedas – Tevinter, Antiva, Orlais, Rivain, Ferelden, the Anderfels. They were everywhere, all over, ten, twenty, thirty, more.

They didn't notice it before, she thought, they just had the book open to Kirkwall, they never had to flip a page. What did this mean? As she ran through the scenarios in her head, a realization struck her. They were wrong, the mages weren't consumed in the process. But they still created the demon using their own blood, all these people spread all over Thedas. But how?

Something much, much bigger was going on than they ever anticipated. She clutched the book and sat down on the lounge. Legion leapt up, resting his head delicately on her lap. She sighed, resigned. The Champion's work was truly never done.


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