Rite of the Maleficarum: Book I

A Message for the Champion

Hightown at night, Hawke thought listlessly as she walked down the moonlit stone street, was much like the waters of the Amaranthine Ocean. On the surface it was calm and beautiful, but lurking in the darkness was any number of dangerous foe. So, as she walked to Fenris's, unarmored, with only a pair of daggers sheathed in her belt, she felt much happier to be escorted by the fully clad Captain of the Guard. Aveline had been there from the beginning of Hawke's new life, and she felt more like a sister she'd always had than someone she met less than five years ago. So much had happened in those five years, so much more than altogether in the more than twenty years prior that they seemed like two different lives entirely. Or even not her own, at times, like that life was something Hawke had read about in a book and remembered fondly.

They arrived at Fenris's doorstep and Hawke rapped quickly on the door.

"You know," Aveline said, "I do quite a lot to keep things quiet in regards to Fenris's squatting situation, Hawke."

"I know, Aveline," Hawke smiled, "It is appreciated."

"By you, maybe," she replied, "Not by Fenris."

"He does appreciate it, believe it or not. I think he just finds it hard to accept help from others."

Aveline pursed her lips, "Men."

Hawke laughed as the door opened, revealing Fenris. He almost looked surprised to see them.

"Ladies," he said, and stepped aside to let them pass. They made their way up to the study. Hawke took her usual spot on the lounge by the fire; Aveline sat in a chair nearby. Hawke often wondered why Fenris chose to stay in this mansion, it had to have some bad memories associated with it. Better than the alternative, she supposed, the Alienage. She scoffed at the thought, as if Hawke would let Fenris move to the Alienage. She had extra rooms, many extra rooms, too many extra rooms. She often wondered why she didn't just invite everyone to move in, it'd save them all a great deal of time running around to find one another. Fenris returned from the cellar and grabbed a few glasses off the table on his way across the room.

"Anyone else coming by, Fenris?" Aveline asked.

"Ah, no, Aveline, afraid it's just the three of us this evening," Fenris said, pouring them each a glass. Aveline took a careful swig from hers.

"You're right, Hawke, it's really good," she said.

"I wasn't sure the taste even hit your tongue the last time you gulped a glass down," Hawke joked. Aveline gave her a level look and continued drinking. Fenris finished pouring himself a glass and sat down across from Aveline, who raised her glass in a toast towards the other two.

"I'm proud of what we've accomplished in the last two weeks," she announced, "Three flocks down, more than fifty blood mages off the streets of Kirkwall."

"But no false prophet," Fenris pointed out.

"No false prophet – yet," Aveline corrected.

Hawke smiled, "To finding, and promptly killing, the Prophet Malefica." The three clinked their glasses and took a drink of the dry, dark wine.

"I call dibs," Hawke said.

"Oh no, Hawke, you can't call dibs without the target in sight, those are the rules," Aveline insisted. Hawke laughed and looked to Fenris, who smiled pleasantly. True, this in itself was a rarity, but Hawke wished she could see him laugh more. Isabela had seemed to be able to make Fenris laugh occasionally, mostly just from how ridiculous he found her, but it was something at least.

"I can't help but be curious about this 'religion' though – what exactly are they worshipping?" Aveline questioned.

Hawke shook her head, "A specific demon, maybe? Perhaps whoever this prophet is was possessed by a… pride demon… like a tactful, organized pride demon who is excellent at long-term planning?" The suggestion fell apart as it came out of her mouth, and Hawke took a swig as the others looked on.

She shook her head, "I don't know, I thought it'd become more clear as we found more flocks, but we really haven't found any information."

"The way they named their prophet- " Fenris started.

"-or how she named herself," Hawke interjected. Fenris nodded.

"Indeed, or how she named herself, indicates to me that they're just worshipping blood magic. As if practically every mage doesn't already," he said grumpily and took a drink.

"Blood magic as a higher power? Or as a being?" Hawke questioned.

"Are the mutually exclusive?" he said.

"I suppose not," Hawke thought on this for a moment, "But how do you form a religion around something like that, that would be like worshipping helms, or… daggers."

"Varric worships Bianca," Fenris pointed out.

"Fair point," she conceded.

"So Malefica is some kind of bride of blood magic?" Aveline mused, the implications seemed to make her take her next drink of wine deeper.

"Or daughter? Some prophets claim to be the direct creations of those they worship," Fenris suggested.

"Yeah, maybe she has them convinced that blood magic itself has taken on a corporeal form?" Hawke said. No sooner were the words out of her mouth than she wanted to shovel them back in. Such a vile thought, and the mental images it produced were inescapable. Hawke just stared into the fire, Fenris swished his wine around slowly in his glass, and Aveline looked like she may need to step outside and kill something as a result of the mere suggestion of such a thing.

"Time to change the subject, I think!" Aveline declared. She delved into a long tale of her most recent dealings with Knight-Commander Meredith. Hawke's mind wandered and she settled on watching Fenris as he listened, sipping his wine and nodding along at interesting moments. His lyrium markings glowed through even his dark woolen tunic, and Hawke wondered if there was any fabric that would hide the markings from view. Not that she thought he should hide them, if anything the opposite. They were what made Fenris, Fenris. Despite how much he may despise them and where they came from and the magister that gave them to him, they had been what created the man that sat before her today, who she would trade for nothing else.

"So this 'dangerous apostate' was no more than an eight-year-old child who'd found out about her powers less than a week prior. I understand diligence, but Meredith is taking it to a whole new level," Aveline said, finishing her glass. Fenris rose to pour her more.

"So, speaking of children, what about it, any little Aveline's or Donnic's in your future?" Hawke asked, attempting to steer the subject away from templars and mages, a topic she wasn't totally sure Aveline and Fenris would agree on.

"Oh Hawke, I don't think so. Can you imagine bringing a child into the world right now, with this political climate? It might seem terrible to say, but I certainly hope not," she said, taking another drink. Hawke sighed, it always came back to templars and mages, it seemed.

There was a sudden commotion in the hall, and they looked to Fenris questioningly. He shrugged and rose from his seat to walk toward the door to the study, only to have Varric whip the door open and reel in.

"Feel free to let yourself in, Dwarf," Fenris said dryly as Varric sped past him.

"I've got a lead on another flock. A patron at the Hanged Man was talking about an underground mage church he heard of that shirked the Maker. They'd invited his sister who's in the circle," Varric announced.

"Did you get a location?" Hawke asked, standing. Varric smiled and waved a piece of paper in the air, "We should probably hurry, there's a list of dates written along the side, looks like they move every other night, but not sure what time. I already sent Anders for Sebastian, they'll meet us there."

Hawke nodded, and walked to Varric, taking a look at the map, "I should run home for my armor and sword – I'll meet you all there as well?" The three nodded and Hawke made her way out of the mansion and quickly home to her estate. This was certainly good news. The more quickly they could act, the more they thinned their ranks; the apostates weren't able to recruit as fast as they'd been able to track them down. Hawke felt strongly that they would be able to discover the identity of the false prophet soon, maybe even tonight. She had to show up eventually, right?

After donning her armor and greatsword, Hawke made her way through the winding streets near the docks to the sewer entrance. Her five companions waited there, looking like they'd only arrived moments prior.

"Ok, same drill?" she asked, and they nodded. Sebastian reached down and lifted the heavy sewer grate open, "Ladies first." He motioned to Aveline with a graceful hand gesture. She smirked and made her way down into the sewers.

"Blondie, that's you," Varric signaled. Anders gave him a scowl that could have rivaled Fenris's and followed the Guard Captain down, followed by Varric and Fenris.

"Oh I'm not a lady anymore, guys, I see how it is," Hawke called after them, following the men down. Sebastian stepped down and closed the hatch above him. As the stench hit Hawke's nose she was reminded why the docks were her least favorite place in Kirkwall. Not only did the sewers reek of the bodily waste that culminated here after being funneled down from as high as the Viscount's Keep, but food waste of all kinds were dumped here to decompose, mostly diseased fish.

"Ok, let's make this quick," she encouraged, and led the way. It didn't take long to come upon the doorway, again marked with the bloody symbol of a maleficar.

Hawke signaled to Fenris who lead his group around to the side entrance.

"Careful Hawke," Anders whispered as he followed Fenris, both of whom looked a bit uneasy.

"Always," she said and gave him a smile. She waited a few moments and then pushed the door open.

Hawke found herself thankful for the stench of filth and rotten fish, as she now realized the smell it was overpowering. Aveline gasped, having never seen its likes before, and Sebastian hung his head in defeat.

"No need, Fenris," Hawke managed, "Don't come in." She stepped inside and gave the room a sweeping glance, almost twenty bodies? And more barrels of blood, more than these bodies could have supplied. She felt an immense anger well up inside her.

"Maker, save us," she heard Varric's stunned voice as he entered through the door behind her, the others stood silently in the doorway, mostly looking away or down. Hawke was finding it difficult to breath. She wanted nothing more than to find the person responsible, nothing including breathing. She didn't deserve a breath she took if it wasn't actively involved in hunting down this filth of Thedas. She felt a gentle hand rest lightly on her neck and through the blurry, furious wetness in the corners of her eyes, she saw a form step next to her.

"Hawke," it said, but it sounded so very far away. She felt the muscles in her forehead cramp from the scowl she had formed, her teeth ached from clenching her jaw too tight.

"Aralynn," Fenris all but whispered. Since her mother's death, there was no one left that called her that. She turned and looked him in the eye, which seemed to ground her, remind her how to be human. She took a breath and gave Fenris a nod to indicate she was all right. When she turned back to the scene, she saw it. Stuck into a barrel with a bloody dagger. She ripped the note down and read it frantically:

Dear Messere Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall,

Though we are delighted you have taken an interest in our faith, we regret to inform you that we are not currently recruiting new members. When we're able to open our ranks to the public again, you will certainly be the first to know.

The note was signed only with a scribbled rendition of the maleficar symbol.

"Is this a trap?" Anders asked, checking over his shoulder.

"No," Hawke shook her head as she crumpled the note in her fist, "It's a warning."

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