Rite of the Maleficarum: Book I

Informing the Crew

Unfortunately, rest had not found any of them, as Sebastian was the last to rap on Hawke's Hightown estate door late that night. Fenris let him in, Bodahn having gone to bed hours before. Varric had found a comfortable spot half-snoozing on the lounge, having arrived with a head start on the others in regards to ale consumption. Aveline paced near the stairs, her mood hovering just below the level of frantic. Anders lounged by the fire, staring longingly at the Mabari hound, Legion. Fenris knew him well enough to know he was far more likely to be daydreaming about kittens than dogs. Aveline almost plowed straight into Hawke as the latter emerged from the cellar with a bottle of wine. Hawke immediately poured Aveline a glass and passed it to her in a way that did not suggest consumption. Fenris took the bottle from Hawke as Aveline downed her glass, and made the rounds to offer refills. Sebastian leaned against the wall near the fire, lost in thought. It was likely he had been at the Chantry praying since their return.

"Merrill's not coming, I'm guessing?" Varric asked as Hawke joined him on the lounge. Hawke shook her head, gratefully accepting the refill as Fenris passed with the wine bottle. He thought he'd never seen Hawke look so tired, except maybe the night her mother died. As completely awful as that situation had been, Hawke had handled it with a surprising amount of resilience. He recalled wondering at the time if it seemed like old hat to her by then. He knew it was an awful thing to think, but truly Fenris could not put himself in her shoes. He often thought of going to her in the days following the incident, but when he imagined what he would say, nothing came to him. He could not imagine having a mother to start with, nevertheless what it would be like to lose one in such a traumatic way. Did it benefit Hawke to hear condolences from someone who could not even begin to empathize with her situation? Sure, Fenris had lost everything, memories of an entire lifetime before he was branded with these markings. But if he had no recollection of what he'd lost, was it really the same? By the time he had himself convinced that Hawke would like to know he was thinking of her, whether or not he could understand her plight, she seemed to have bounced back.

"Can blood that isn't… fresh… even be used in blood magic?" Hawke interrupted his thoughts, offended by her own question.

"Not that I've ever heard of," Anders responded.

Fenris agreed, shaking his head. Something wasn't right about all this, he knew. The apostates must have known that gathering blood in such a way would be useless to them, so why do it?

Aveline somehow made the act of sitting down look restless and said, "This is a terrible injustice. I am ashamed that something like this could happen so close to Kirkwall. I will triple patrols along the Wounded Coast."

"That's not necessary Aveline. You can't possibly think this was the fault of the guard?" Hawke asked.

"The Wounded Coast is our responsibility."

"This cave was a great distance off the paths, most of the people we spoke with had never even heard of it. We were lucky that Varric knows some pretty shady, and quite old, people," Anders said.

"Yeah," Fenris scoffed, "Lucky." Anders gave him a look.

"I understand. I still intend to do everything in my power to help work towards righting this wrong," Aveline was staunch.

"Thank you, Aveline," Hawke said sincerely.

"Do we know where they…" Varric seemed like he was being careful, "…got them?"

Hawke shook her head, "No, they were mostly elves. I didn't… attempt a better look."

"Patrols near the alienage have been busy over the last year, maybe they've been accumulating them slowly over time, as not to draw attention?" Aveline suggested.

Hawke shook her head, "Maybe, but Ansor said he was at the cave two days prior and there was no sign of them."

Fenris nodded, "Maybe they intercepted a shipment of slaves headed for Tevinter?"

"That would make sense," Hawke said, "I don't know how we'd find someone with a line on slaver shipments though."

The other four turned to look at Varric. He scowled, "Come on, guys, you think I'd associate with people who deal in slavery?"

"Maybe an acquaintance, or a friend of a friend of an acquaintance?" Anders suggested.

"Not that I know about, and I'd like to keep it that way, thank you," Varric said, still a bit annoyed by the assumption.

"Maybe it isn't essential that we find out more about the situation," Sebastian suggested, "After all, if we wait too long they could move again and the trail could go cold." He spoke with the same absolute resolve he did when he was bent on avenging his family a few years ago.

They all hated to admit it, but he was right. It was too risky to let this opportunity pass, despite how enormously dangerous it would be. They had to raid the undercity retreat. The group sat in silence for a few moments, some staring into the fire, some off into nothing. Fenris threw back the last of the wine, straight from the bottle. This was one of the Antivan wines he'd found in his cellar. He'd have to bring another over to replace it. Fenris found himself keeping Hawke stocked with wine and ale often lately. He knew it was just an excuse to leave his mansion. Even if Hawke was out, there was always something going on at the former Amell Estate. The dwarves, the dog, that meek blonde elf that Hawke saved from Hadriana's evil grasp. And until a few months ago, Leandra. She always had something pleasant to say to him, even if it was just small talk. He mostly enjoyed his solitude, but wasn't actually used to spending a great deal of time alone.

"We should all get some rest," Sebastian voiced with an air of certainty that spurred the others out of their trance. Fenris knew it was his princely upbringing that allowed Sebastian this command over a room, but he also wondered if his time spent in prayer didn't help him recharge. It was starting to sound like not such a bad idea.

"We go tomorrow night. Let's meet at Anders' clinic at dusk," Hawke instructed as the others made their way toward the door.

"Want me to tell Daisy?" Varric asked.

Hawke shook her head, "No, Varric. We had another disagreement. I don't think she'd want to hear from me right now."

Varric nodded his drunken understanding and headed toward the door. The poor dwarf had been attempting to facilitate reconciliation between the Hawke and Merrill for weeks, but neither party was having it.

"You'll make it back to the Hanged Man alright?" she called after him.

"I'll go with him, Hawke," Anders said, following the dwarf out. He called back, "Good night."

"See you tomorrow Hawke, again, I'm sorry," Aveline said, nodding her goodbye to Fenris and leaving. He began to collect the wine glasses to return to the kitchen.

"Hawke, I have to apologize," Fenris overheard Sebastian saying as Hawke followed him through the front hall. He watched the archer stop and turn in the doorway, "I'm sorry, about what I said about Ansor. The Chantry is a refuge for those in need, which he very much was. I should not have judged him so harshly."

"It's all right, Sebastian, you hardly had all the facts," Hawke assured, patting his arm in a comforting gesture. Sebastian smiled, returning the gesture, which, Fenris thought, lingered a bit too long. He found himself questioning Sebastian's motives, and felt a kind of ire within him he did not remember existing.

Before he knew it, Sebastian was gone and Hawke was standing at the foot of the steps, giving Fenris a questioning look.

"Orana will get that, Fenris, you can leave it," Hawke smirked. Fenris nodded, setting the glasses down on the table.

"Of course, sorry. My mansion didn't come stocked with servants, so I'm just used to cleaning up," he said. Hawke looked a little abashed, and he realized his mistake.

"Sorry, Hawke, I didn't mean that to come off so… brash." There was that word again. She looked down. She didn't seem angry or even hurt. It was her lonely look, the one she got more and more often since her mother died, and certainly more often when she was reminded of what she'd lost.

"I know you've earned all this, Hawke. More than earned it. I don't know anyone more deserving-" the word caught in his throat, and he suddenly felt he had too much wine.

"I'll let myself out," he said, and headed straight for the door.

"I'll see you tomorrow night, Fenris?" she called to him, and he turned.

"Of course, Hawke," he inclined his head and left.


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