Plummet into the Abyss
"We stand upon the precipice of change. The world fears the inevitable plummet into the abyss…"
The sky was becoming gray; the cloudy blue afternoon that had started so serenely had shifted into a layer of haze that made it seem like night. Illuminated by the vibrant orange-red flames of what had once been the Chantry, ash and dust was drifting down, misting like raindrops over Kirkwall. The cries of panic were already sounding throughout the city; screams of terror and pain that normally would have sent a chill down her spine barely penetrated the shock that paralyzed Xandria Hawke.
Time seemed to have slowed; all she could do was stare at the sight, horror twisting in her gut. The mage blinked and then did it again, trying to clear the scene of devastation in front of her, desperate to believe that it was some sort of nightmare, that the Chantry hadn't just been destroyed.
"There can be no peace."
She looked at Anders sharply, unable or maybe even unwilling to comprehend what he had done. His amber eyes meet her brown, holding her gaze for a single moment before bowing his head, not in shame or regret but in resignation.
"There is no compromise."
"NO!" Sebastian's wail sounded. The Starkhaven archer pushed through the dumbstruck crowd of Templars and Hawke's friends and fell to his knees, his grief almost tangibly pouring out of him. "Elthina no!"
Whatever color had remained in Xandria's face faded as she felt physically ill. How many lives had just been taken? The Grand Cleric, the Mothers, the Chantry Sisters, the Chantry devotes; how many others perished with them? Bile rose in her throat. All the innocent citizens praying or seeking help within the walls; the children fostered by the Chantry, all of them were dead.
"Why?" Orsino demanded, the First Enchanter looking at the blonde in a panic. "Why would you do such a thing?"
Anders straightened, his resolve giving him strength. "The Circle has failed us, Orsino." He repeated. "We allowed ourselves to become trapped in a cycle of abuse of power; our concessions have caused the death and abuse of hundreds of mages. The Circle needed to change, the world needed to change. So I did what I had to." The Warden declared as though his actions were something to be proud of. "I removed the chance of compromise."
"The Grand Cleric has been slain by magic." Meredith's wiry voice caused a shiver of fear to run through Xandria.
Even before the woman continued, Hawke could see what Anders' actions had done, the consequences set in motion by a desperate man.
"The Chantry destroyed."
In his attempt to change the status quo for mages, he had doomed them.
"As Knight-Commander of Kirkwall, I hereby invoke the right of annulment."
The words came like a physical blow to Xandria; knowing they were coming had made them no easier to hear.
"Every mage in the Circle is to be executed. Immediately!"
Her blood ran cold. This wasn't happening, this couldn't be happening; she was in a nightmare, a horrific nightmare and she would wake any moment. But even as she prayed that it wasn't real, she knew it was.
Orsino gasped at the proclamation. "But, but the Circle didn't even do this!" he sputtered.
A gauntleted finger thrust in her direction, Meredith's cold blue eyes boring into Hawke with hate and confidence. "And I demand you stand with us, Champion."
Xandria desperately tried to speak, object, do something other than stand there with the world spinning around her.
"Even you can see that this outrage cannot be tolerated!" Meredith spat.
"Knight-Commander Meredith please!" Orsino was surprisingly respectful in his address. The elven mage moved forward. "The Circle had nothing to do with this! Repeal the order, the mages—"
"Save your words, Orsino." Meredith interrupted. "The annulment stands."
Hawke trembled. Almost as though Aveline sensed that she could not speak, the redhead pushed forward. "Knight-Commander, there is no proof that the Circle has done anything. Killing the mages will not bring answers," She scowled, glancing over her shoulder but not actually turning. "And it certainly will not bring justice." She said pointedly.
"Why are we debating the right of annulment when the monster who did this, is right here!" Sebastian growled pointing furiously at Anders, who had made no attempt to run, as though the blonde mage had accepted that his actions would cause his death. "I swear to you, I will kill him."
Instead of arguing or at the very least moving back from the irate archer, Anders simply bowed his head. "It can't be stopped now."
Xandria's mind raced. That was exactly it, she thought. Anders wanted to die.
Anders was staring at her when he spoke, as though she was the only one he wanted to convince. "The Circle is an injustice. The world needs to see,"
Sebastian took a threatening step forward. "Elthina was not part of the Circle. She was a good woman; and you murdered her!"
Hawke was dizzy. All her life, in all her battles she had never had such a feeling of dread come upon her. The man she had protected, called a friend, had just started a war; a war she was right in the middle of.
"You fool!" Orsino exclaimed. "You've doomed us all!"
"We were already doomed!" Anders' voice cracked. "A quick death now or a slow one later. It's all the same." He shook his head. "I'd rather die fighting."
"So you made that choice for everyone?" Aveline almost shouted at him.
Meredith was in front of Xandria, the very proximity causing a thrum of fear to pulse through the mage. "You are the Champion of Kirkwall." If anything the woman spat the title as though it tasted foul in her mouth. "Do you duty." Her blue eyes narrowed; a frightening glint in their depths.
Unconsciously, Xandria took a step back, trying to distance herself from the woman she had spent seven years hiding from and another three tactfully trying to placate. It felt as though her entire time in Kirkwall had been leading to this, a choice between mages and normals. There was no way out, no diplomatic solution, Anders had seen to that. She was being forced to choose between genocide or war.
The hate written on Meredith's face was telling. If the Knight-Commander was so determined to blame the Circle mages for Anders' action, what would happen after all the mages were gone? What would happen to Merrill, to Anders…to her?
Her hands began to shake. Hawke's brown eyes darted to her allies, the friends she had known for nearly ten years. Would they stand with her if she chose to defend the mages?
Merrill, stupid naive Merrill had long ago made the decision to follow her wherever she went. No matter her choice, she knew that the Dalish elf would march into battle at Xandria's side, of that she was certain.
But that was the only certainty she felt.
Should she ask Aveline to openly defy the Knight-Commander after witnessing such a horrendous mass murder?
Could Sebastian set aside his grief and stand with her in defense of mages just as innocent as the people who perished in the Chantry?
Would Varric, who care little for the constant fights between mages and Templars that they always seemed to be in the middle of, stay at her side, no matter what she chose?
A tremble of dread thrummed through her when her gaze settled on Fenris, the white-haired elf who had stolen her heart long ago. Of all her companions, her friends, she was most afraid of his decision. Fenris hated mages, loathed magic. Would he understand? Would he fight alongside her as he had for a decade or would magic finally be the breaking point between them?
"The Circle is not responsible for this." Hawke felt like someone else was speaking; her voice far stronger than she felt. "I can't let you kill them for something they didn't do."
"You would defend these mages? After all they have done?" Fenris' voice was like a knife to her, beginning to confirm her worst fears. She looked at him, hiding a flinch at the hate that was practically etched into his face. "After all the evil magic has wrought, you would still support them?"
"Think carefully about this Champion." Meredith threatened.
Xandria clenched her hands into fists at her side, trying to hide how they were shaking. Heart pounding in her chest she slowly shook her head. Without meaning to her eyes flickered to Fenris, hoping—praying that he would understand. "I won't help you murder everyone on the delusion that they were responsible for this, Meredith."
"Thank the Maker," Orsino whispered in relief.
"No!" Fenris barked causing her to jerk, her stomach dropping with the ever growing feeling of dread taking a painful twist. The elf pushed forward, standing in front of her, fire in his green eyes. "No, I will not defend these mages."
His hand brushed hers as though he had intended to reach out and grasp her but was unable to follow through on the movement. The intensity in how he looked at her caused a shiver to go down her spine.
"Not even for you, Hawke."
The ache she felt in her heart burned. Xandria swallowed hard and then again, trying to rid herself of the lump that was growing in her throat. "The mages have had no part in this. Do not condemn them for something they haven't done."
Fenris scowled. "Mages have betrayed you at every turn. They have plotted, schemed, and killed all from behind the walls." He leaned in closer to her as though it would emphasize his point. "Blood mages dog this city and you would save them? The plague of magic on this city should be wiped clean. What has magic touched that it hasn't spoiled?"
Taking a step back, Xandria tried to hide the pain on her face as the words dug deeper into her than any blade ever could. "Meredith won't stop, Fenris. After she slaughters the Circle here she will turn on the only remaining mage in all of Kirkwall," Hawke glanced at Meredith who made no attempts to deny her assessment. "Me."
The elf scoffed at the statement. "You are making mistake, Hawke." Fenris shook his head taking a step back. "This is one battle I cannot follow you into."
"I understand." Her heart was breaking but she did understand. He was going to leave and at the moment there was nothing she could do to stop him save joining Meredith's revenge. She could never force him or anyone else into a battle they did not wish to fight.
"And one I cannot walk away from."
It felt as though someone had thrown a bucket of ice water over her. Xandria almost forgot how to breathe; her knees felt weak as she watched Fenris break away from her group, going to stand by the Templars. Her mind was unwilling to comprehend that the man she loved just joined a woman hell-bent on not only killing every mage in Kirkwall but her as well.
Meredith had the audacity to smirk at her, as though she somehow knew how much Fenris meant to Hawke. Maybe she did. "You've done the right thing, Serah."
"Broody, you can't be serious!" Varric objected for her.
"Any of the rest of you have the choice." Meredith addressed to the rest of her friends, daring them to do what Fenris had done. "Join me now, or share their fate."
Xandria clenched her hands into fists, digging her fingernails into her palm to avoid looking weak when she saw that Aveline stepped forward. Instead of confirming her fears, the Guard-Captain stood beside the raven-haired mage. "The culling of innocence will not deliver justice, Knight-Commander. So long as that is your decision, my place is with Hawke."
Varric shook his head and stood on the other side of Xandria. "Woman, I wouldn't join you if you offered an ogre's weight in gold."
Merrill darted forward, half hiding behind Varric and Hawke, her hand brushing Xandria's arm comfortingly. "We can do this."
Sebastian didn't move, his turquoise eyes still glowering at Anders but his inaction gave Meredith the answer she sought.
"Very well." The Knight-Commander pivoted. "Serah Fenris with me. The rest of you," she glanced over her shoulder at her Templars as she walked away. "Kill them; I will rouse the rest of the order."
Fenris hesitated and for one brief moment his eyes flickered to Hawke. Xandria's heart soared and sank at the same time, shattering the already small pieces even further when she realized that he had slowly begun to turn away.
As though to twist the knife in Xandria's heart, Meredith continued. "Bring the Champion to me," her blue eyes narrowed at Xandria, an unnerving smirk was stretched on Meredith's lips when Fenris took his place beside her. "Alive."
Horrid thoughts flooded Xandria of what the woman might have planned for her but none of them felt as devastating as watching Fenris walk away with Meredith, not even sparing a glance over his shoulder to the people he had once called his friends.
Suddenly she was tackled to the ground, Anders shoving her out of the way as the first of the Templars attacked. Rolling off of her, the blonde froze the Templar in a solid block of ice, emotions fueling the strength of his spells.
Hawke scrambled to her feet, a blue-violet shield automatically flickering to life around her, blocking the two Templars who thought to attack her with blades. Electricity shot off her fingertips, splitting and striking both of the men simultaneously. They staggered back, stunned just long enough for Xandria to sweep her staff around, the sword-tip slicing through their throats, killing them instantly.
It was a slaughter; six Templars against her group and the First Enchanter. As the last Templar fell, Xandria wondered how the Knight-Commander justified leaving them. The woman had to have known they would be no match for the same group that managed to beat back the Qunari.
"So it's come to this," Orsino said quietly. His dull green eyes looked at her. "I don't know if we can win this war, Champion, but thank you. We would have no chance without you at our side."
Xandria shifted, a small voice in the back of her mind that sounded entirely too much like her late brother darkly reminded her that they wouldn't even have been in this situation if she hadn't spared the life of a mage who had melded with a spirit that had obviously been slowly driving him mad.
"I will leave you to deal with your…friend." Orsino hesitated at the word. "I must return to the Gallows." He held her gaze. "Meet me there as soon as you can," the elf said before hurrying away, desperate to make it back to the Tower before Meredith began to murder everyone within its walls.
Hawke turned her attention toward Anders. He was sitting on the steps leading toward Hightown, his elbows resting on his knees and head in his hands. Because of him, her world had shattered around her; because of him she, an apostate, was about to battle the Knight-Commander of Kirkwall; because of him, she was about to take sides in a war.
She walked toward him, clenching and unclenching her hands at her side, trying to hide how they shook. Anders looked up when she stood near him only to bow his head; it was not shame or grief that was written on his face but resignation.
Abruptly he got to his feet, his back to her. "There is nothing you can say that I haven't already said to myself." Slowly he turned to face her, his shoulders heavy. "I changed myself forever when I took a spirit into my soul." His amber eyes that, when she had met him had been filled with conviction and a teasing laughter, now were consumed with acceptance and relief. "But this is the justice all mages have awaited."
The sound of her slap echoed. Anders looked at her in surprise, as though he hadn't expected her to physically strike him. Breathing heavily they looked at each other, a world tension between them.
"Don't call this justice." She whispered. "Don't you dare."
"The world needs to see this, Hawke." Anders said, almost as though he was trying to convince her. "Then we can all stop pretending the Circle is a solution." He took a step back, holding his hands out palms up. "And if I pay for that with my life," Hope flickered in his eyes when he spoke. "Then I pay."
Hawke shook her head. "I won't make you a martyr, Anders." He jerked, startled at her statement. "I won't make you or that thing inside you a rallying call for every mage in Thedas as though this action was something to be proud of."
Sebastian stormed forward. "You condone this?" he demanded. "That…that mage," Xandria shivered at his tone. "Brutally murdered Elthina, an innocent woman of faith. Someone you knew. Someone who trusted you." His aqua eyes raked over her as though seeing her for the first time. "And if I had been in the Chantry today, would you be waffling? Would you have dismissed my death as easily as you do hers?"
"It's not that simple." Hawke whispered.
"It is that simple." Sebastian roared, reaching for the dagger on his belt. "That mage, that thing deserves to die for what he has done."
The Starkhaven noble started forward. Xandria immediately tried to stop him, not because disagreed but because she realized Anders' death would only cause mages to believe him to be their savior.
"Sebastian, you can't—" Hawke objected. Roughly he backhanded her across the face, knocking her to the side and out of his path. Her cheek burned and she could feel that his gauntlets had made a small cut on her face.
Blue cracks instantly erupted on Anders' face, the mage growling at Sebastian. The telltale clink of Varric aiming Bianca caused Sebastian to stall and look back. Merrill held a spell in her palm, ready to cast; Aveline had already begun to move forward, her weapons at the ready; not because they cared what happened to Anders but because Sebastian had physically struck Hawke.
Ignoring the stinging sensation on her cheek, Xandria leveled her gaze at Sebastian. "You will accomplish nothing with his death other than to feed your need for revenge, Sebastian. Elthina wouldn't want that, she wouldn't want you to turn into a murderer."
Rage flared on his face and he took a step toward her. Xandria's eyes darted to the dagger in his hand, wondering if his hate would make him attack her just to get the satisfaction of seeing Anders dead.
Suddenly he cried out, falling to one knee, his hand grabbing at his thigh. An arrow protruded from it. Sebastian and Hawke looked sharply at Varric who nonchalantly loaded another bolt.
"Make one more move toward her, Choir Boy, and I'll aim higher with this next one." Varric threatened.
"You cannot mean to let this abomination live!" Sebastian exclaimed. "He dies!"
Varric shook his head. "I don't really give a damn about what happens to Blondie." The dwarf nodded toward Xandria. "I've trusted Hawke's choices for the last ten years, I'm not about to stop now."
Sebastian looked to Aveline, seeking an ally. "Captain, that man is a murderer. Do not tell me that you can accept that."
Aveline glanced from Sebastian to Anders and then to Hawke. "Belief and conviction does not justify his actions." Hope sparked in Sebastian's eyes. "But I stand with Hawke." She said firmly. "Either join us or leave."
The man drew in a sharp breath. Breaking the edge of the arrow off he ripped it from his leg, throwing it to the ground. Sebastian tied a cloth over the bleeding wound and then straightened. He glared at all of them, the most hate filling his face when it settled on Hawke and Anders.
"I will return to Starkhaven," he sneered. "And I will bring such an army with me upon my return that there'd be nothing left of Kirkwall for these maleficarum to rule." He leaned toward Xandria, oblivious to her recoil, hate marring his face. "Do not doubt this Hawke, I will come back and find you and your precious Anders. I will teach you both what true justice is." Sebastian stormed away.
Varric glanced at her. "He's going to be trouble if does that, Hawke."
Xandria swallowed hard, understanding what he was implying. For a moment, to her shame, she considered it; considered killing Sebastian just to insure he could not do what he threatened.
Slowly she shook her head. Despite it all, he had still been her friend. It would take him months to rally that sort of support from Starkhaven, if the country even did accept him back. No, she had other things to worry about than the hot-headed archer.
Anders looked at her, confusion written across his features. "You…you're going to let me live?"
"You dead or gone will do nobody any good at this moment." Hawke said shaking her head. "We need your heals and experience if any of us are going to make it out of this damned city alive tonight."