Rite of the Maleficarum: Book I

Venturing Forth

For Fenris, it always seemed to come back to blood magic. If there was a mage involved, so was the filthy practice. He had met one mage that he honestly believed would have never resorted to it, Hawke's sister Bethany. However, Fenris had watched that pure soul die in Hawke's arms in the Deep Roads, infected by the taint. It is said that the first darkspawn were created due to the sin of the blood magic-wielding Tevinter magisters. In a way, Fenris supposed, blood magic killed Bethany. Inescapable.

To be fair, this mission had it from the beginning. Fenris knew Hawke would never stand for it, she had always been adamantly against the use of such magics. But things were not always as they seemed, and this situation was leading deeper and deeper down the road of blood magic with every turn. Something dangerous hovered right below the surface, but Fenris couldn't put his finger on it. His history with the practice was… thorough, to say the least, but this situation seemed different. As he followed Hawke, Anders and Sebastian down the steps of the docks toward their exit to the Wounded Coast, he couldn't shake a feeling of unease. This was something much bigger than it appeared.

They approached the gates that lead to the Wounded Coast, and the four gave a nod to the guardsmen on post. They passed through the gates, revealing a misty late afternoon haze settling on the rocky shores of the Waking Sea. Fenris always enjoyed this view of the coast; from this high of an angle it looked far less intimidating than the reality. A series of winding sandy paths lead through sharp rocky outcroppings, behind which bandits, maleficar, and Tal-Vashoth would be lurking. An elaborate maze of tunnels and caves underneath only added to the danger and uncertainty. However, they had braved the Wounded Coast many times over the last four years, while resolving one problem or another, and in this case familiarity bred confidence. They made their way down the steep hill, a veined combination of rocky dirt and clean white sand. Beyond earshot of the guard, Hawke stopped the group.

"So, after speaking with our contacts at the Chantry, Sebastian and I were able to gather enough information to lead us here. We don't know much, at all, but the lay-brother we spoke with insisted that all he knew was that Ansor had asked if he had heard of a place called Slaver's Reach."

"He wasn't in much of a position to lie, considering the potential trouble we could cause him if we told the Grand Cleric of his gold making ventures," Sebastian pointed out, still somewhat abashed.

"What was he paying him for?" Fenris asked.

"To inform him of his mother's comings and goings from the Chantry. I don't really understand why he wanted to know, or if it's relevant, but that's the extent of what we know. And that Ansor was speaking with a one of the sisters regarding a troublesome conflict in his life, but we don't know what," Hawke said.

"Probably the whole - I'm a mage, no a templar, no a mage - thing," Anders attempted a quip.

"This man is a mage?" Sebastian exclaimed, turning to Hawke, who guilty bit her lip.

"He's a Lord's son, I was trying to keep as quite about it as possible. I wanted to wait till we were out of the city to tell you."

"So, just to be clear, this man was a brother in the Chantry for almost ten years, then became a templar, which he has been for almost another ten years?" Sebastian posed, Hawke nodded in agreement.

"And he's a mage," Anders clarified, as if the point hadn't been made.

"Hawke, that's terrible! The Chantry is supposed to be a place of refuge for those who need it, a place to heal and grow, not to hide noble-born mages! And right within a hare's breath of the circle, it's shameful," Sebastian was getting upset.

"They're an extremely faithful family, Sebastian," Fenris attempted mediation, "They weren't trying to hide him. They believed his magic was a punishment for their sins, and if they were devout enough, that the Maker would forgive them."

"It's true, Sebastian. They had themselves convinced that it would result in the Maker terminating Ansor's powers," Hawke continued. Sebastian took a deep breath and thought about the new information for a moment.

"And after almost twenty years, they still believed that this was going to work?" he asked.

"His mother did," Hawke said, "I'm not sure what Ansor thought, but his father claims the two were very close. I'm guessing that's why he was avoiding running into her at the Chantry, he was ashamed that it wasn't working and didn't want to disappoint her."

Sebastian nodded, obviously still a bit distraught, but he looked like he was convinced for now.

"Alright, chums, to Slaver's Reach? This sounds pleasant," Anders said, turning towards the coast. Hawke, Fenris and Sebastian followed. As much as he hated the mage with the fire of a thousand burning suns, Fenris did appreciate Anders' ability to bring light to dark situations. He hated to admit it, but these days, the morale was needed.

The group made their way in the waning sunlight, winding through paths and over rocky outcroppings, farther than they'd ever gone before. Fenris found himself wondering if he should have suggested that they wait until the following day, he had little interest in fighting apostates or packs of wild mabari in the dark. Hawke seemed to sense his doubt.

"We're almost there," she announced generally, "Just beyond that outcropping, it's a cave."

They made their way a few more meters, when Fenris felt a sudden sense of unease. He stopped, and noticed Anders had done the same. They exchanged a glance, then looked forward toward Hawke, leading the pack.

"Careful, Hawke," Fenris cautioned.

"The veil is thin here," Anders clarified.

But those warnings did not begin to describe what was actually going on. Truthfully Fenris had no idea what this was, he had not felt anything like it before. In his time as a slave in the Tevinter Imperium, his master had done terrible things, both utilizing blood magic, and the regular capabilities of a sinful, immoral man. This felt like both, rolled into one horrible deed, created by many. And it stunk of the death of innocents.

A rarity, Anders knitted his brow with concern and moved forward cautiously. Fenris followed suit, trying to keep the group's proximity tight. They finally arrived at the cave's entrance, the unease only intensifying as they grew closer. The stench of it was such that Fenris was starting to think that he could actually smell it. They paused to regroup, and Fenris and Anders exchanged another glance, then looked to Hawke.

"Alright, verdict seems to be that this place makes those of us susceptible to the fade a bit uneasy," she remarked somewhat wryly. She looked questioningly towards the men.

"That's an understatement," Fenris said, right as Anders spouted, "That doesn't even begin to cover it."

"Noted…" Hawke said, starting to appear uneasy herself, "Happen to know what we're going up against in there?"

The men stood in silence for a few long moments. Anders lightly kicked at some rocks in the sand.

"No idea, honestly. It just doesn't feel quite… right," Fenris said. It was all he could manage; there weren't words for what he felt. Hawke nodded slowly. She knew them both well enough by now that if Fenris was anything but brooding or perilously bold and Anders wasn't making a joke, that something very serious was happening.

"Ok, let's be careful in there then. Fenris and Anders watch our backs, Sebastian take point with me. Everyone move careful, stay quiet. Let's see if we can surprise them," Hawke instructed. It was in these moments that Fenris found himself appreciating Hawke the most. She was decisive and practical. She was going to get the job done, but would reduce risk as much as possible. She thought things through, and rarely if ever acted brashly. Not like Fenris, who could think of no better single word to describe himself than 'brash'.

Hawke turned to assist Sebastian in tightening his breastplate, and Fenris found himself watching the warm sea breeze blow pieces of Hawke's long hair that had fallen from her braid. They danced around her face, drawing attention to her jawline and the pinkness in her cheeks, likely caused by the exertion of climbing over so many rocks in her heavy armor. She was an average size for a human female, but she must be very strong to be such an effective warrior. Fenris quickly retracted from his thoughts, he wasn't sure where they were leading anyway.

Hawke finished strapping the buckle down, then lifted her greatsword off her back, prompting the other three to draw their weapons as well. Anders spun his staff in his hands nervously, and Sebastian readied an arrow. Fenris released his own greatsword from its sheath and slid it off his back. He was not looking forward to this.

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