Bethany calls out to Varric as the straps on the pack rip and the dwarf slides down the steep embankment into the yawning blackness below. Tears are streaming down her face as she hangs over the ledge screaming Varric’s name.
“No,” she sobs. “No, he can’t be dead. He can’t be.”
“We need to get down there and find them,” Isabela leaps to her feet. “Where’s the map?”
“With Varric,” Fenris reminds. “If we’re going to find him we can’t just go wondering aimlessly. We need a plan.”
“Bela, you’re hurt.” Bethany points to the bloodstain on the pirate’s tunic.
“What,” she looks down. “That’s not mine.” She then remembers Isana bumping into her on the bridge. “It’s Isana’s. She must’ve gotten hurt during the fire storm.”
“So how do we get down there,” Bethany turns her gaze back to the darkness.
“First we need to know how far they’ve fallen,” Fenris points out.
“We can light a torch and drop it,” the mage suggests.
“Let’s move down a few feet,” Fenris recommends. “We don’t want to drop fire on Varric or Isana.”
Varric opens is eyes with a groan and coughs the dust from his lungs. His body aches as he moves. He looks up and can see the faint, shifting glow from Bethany’s massive fire spell. Varric looks about, but in the dimness he can barely make out his hand inches from his face. He calls out to Isana and fumbles about in the dark, his hand brushing against the familiar wooden shape of his beloved crossbow. He clutches the weapon, still calling out for his daughter until he hears her moan softly.
“I hear you,” he exclaims, making his way towards the sound.
“Varric,” she sounds groggy and confused.
“Keep talking, I’ll find you.”
“Where are we? What happened?” She gasps when something brushes her leg. “Something’s on me,” her voice is panicked and her eyes are wide desperate to make out a shape in the darkness.
“That’s just me. Are you hurt?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Hand me your pack and I’ll light a torch.”
Once he gets her pack he fumbles for a few moments until he finds a torch and the flint and steel. After a few sparks the torch flairs to life, pushing back the dark and providing the dwarves with a small, comforting and flickering glow. He pockets the flint and steel then offers his hand to help Isana to her feet, but she brushes him off and stands on her own.
“Where are we,” she looks around and finds nothing that helps her get her bearings.
“Somewhere in the Deep Roads, beyond that I have no idea.”
“Did you hear footsteps,” Isana clutches his arm and turns him to face the approaching sound. Varric passes off the torch and readies Bianca. Fearing more spiders, Isana unsheathes one of her swords and stands behind Varric. Slowly a familiar milky eyed monstrosity shambles into the dancing light.
“Darkspawn,” Varric fires a bolt into the creature’s head, killing it where it stands. More footsteps and hissing sounds come from the shadows just beyond the light.
“We need to run,” he says in a hushed tone while taking a step back. “We need to find higher ground,” another retreating step and a small handful of darkspawn begin to emerge.
“Move, Precious,” he orders. “Now!”
They turn and run deeper into the tunnel, a small group of genlocks behind them.
“It looks too steep to climb down here,” Isabela pays close attention to the ravine’s walls as the torch falls past.
“Don’t we have any rope,” Bethany does her best to remain calm, but the unknown fate of her friend is making it difficult.
“No, we don’t,” Fenris stands beside Isabela and watches the torch bounce on the ground below. “But it looks like solid ground down there, not just a ledge.”
“Then how are we going to get down there?”
“Don’t panic Sweetness,” Isabela straightens and looks about. “Let’s go a few more feet this way,” she points in the direction they’ve been heading.
“And hope it’s not too steep? What happened to not wondering aimlessly in the Deep Roads,” Bethany presses.
“What other choice do we have,” Fenris reminds, obviously not happy about the situation.
Isana and Varric run further into the Deep Roads with darkspawn close behind. One of the genlocks stops running takes aim and fires an arrow at the dwarves. The projectile soars past Varric but catches Isana in the thigh. She cries out with pain and collapses Varric slides to a stop and spins to face the enemy, placing himself between them and his daughter. He is firing bolt after bolt as fast as he can, doing his best to make every shot count.
A couple of darkspawn fall, but four remain and they are closing in. He fires three more shots and manages to take down one opponent, and injure a second; however, the third bolt bounces off the armor without causing any damage.
Varric can hear Isana moving behind him, but doesn’t dare take his gaze from the approaching danger. He takes aim and fires, fires, taking out the one he had wounded earlier. Another shot, but this time the monstrosity dodges and the bolt sails harmlessly through the air and lands somewhere in the dark. He only has time for one more shot before he’s forced to use the crossbow’s bayonet to block an incoming blow. The bolt buries itself in the shoulder of the second genlock. It staggers back, dropping its second blade as its damaged arm hangs limply by its side.
Varric parries another blow, but doesn’t have room to backup as Isana is close by. He kicks the genlock in the chest and sends it careening back into its bleeding comrade. As the two darkspawn struggle to keep their feet Varric manages to shoot another bolt which becomes embedded in the left eye of his first attacker. The hurt genlock rushes over the dead body of its fallen companion and slashes at the dwarf with its one good arm. Varric parries the first block but is caught off guard when it uses its weight to throw his stout body off balance. The storyteller wobbles and falls to the ground in a floundering effort to avoid the chipped and rusty blade. The milky-eyed beast roars as brings it sword down in an effort to kill its opponent. Varric rolls to one side, but the blade pins his coat to the ground. The skilled rogue swings his weapon around but the genlock knocks the crossbow from his grasp, sending Bianca skittering across the floor. The frightful monster screeches, pulls it blade free and raises the weapon high, but before it can deliver the killing blow a small dagger flies through the air and lodges in the genlock’s temple. Varric backs away and looks at the beast and then at Isana, who is still holding her hand out from having thrown the weapon.
He quickly pushes aside the ‘what ifs’ flooding his brain to retrieve his crossbow and to check on his daughter.
“Are you ok,” he then realizes how stupid that question is when he looks at her injury. The arrow had pierced the back of her thigh and was now protruding through the front of her leg. Blood flows freely from the wound and is collecting in a sizeable puddle beneath her. He swallows the obscenity he’s thinking and remains calm in the hopes of preventing her from panicking.
“I’ve seen worse,” he lies.
“Really,” she can’t hide the optimism or pain from her voice.
“Oh sure,” he conveniently ‘forgets’ about the sailor who broke his leg on the trip over. “Let me get that bandaged and then we’ll start looking for a way back to the others.” He briefly looks about for her bag before remembering that it was left behind.
“Ah shit,” he grumbles. “Your pack is back where we landed. I need to go back and get it.”
“Take me with you,” she’s frantic and grabs his arm.
“Isana, you’re injured. You can’t travel like this.”
“Yes I can!” she makes an effort to get to her feet only to collapse in pain.
“There’s a small recess over there that I’m going to drag you to,” he hands her the fallen torch and grabs her under the arms and hauls her towards the relative safety of the shallow cave.
“You can’t leave me here,” fear elevates her voice.
“I’m not leaving you,” he gets her situated. “I’m going to get your supplies and then I’ll be back.”
“You’re leaving me here defenseless.”
She has a point, with her injury she cannot stand up and fight, which means she has to wait until her attacker is on top her. And if it’s more than a couple she could be easily overwhelmed.
“Let me introduce you to someone,” he pulls his beloved crossbow from her sheath. “This is Bianca,” he takes the torch from her hands and sets it on the ground.
“Yeah, there’s a story about that,” he puts the weapon in the teenager’s hands. “Hold the stock against your shoulder, and with both eyes open look here,” he moves her arms as he instructs her in the use of his crossbow. “Once you have your target sited,” he taps the gap between the risers, “squeeze the trigger. Don’t pull it, squeeze it. Give it a go.” He moves back and watches as she takes aim at a small pile of rocks a few feet from the cave. As instructed she squeezes the trigger, the bolt flies through the air and topples her target.
He beams proudly, “Bianca has never let me down she’ll take care of you. Remember to aim for center mass, you’ll have a better chance of hitting your target.”
“This is only good until you take the light away,” fear was creeping back into her voice.
“Do you see those blue veins in the stone,” he’s points to the thin blue lines in the alcoves walls and in the rocks outside. “That’s lyrium, it glows blue. When I leave the light will be dim, and it will take your eyes a few moments to adjust, but you will be able to see,” he picks up the torch. “I’ll be back soon,” he assures.
At the sudden realization that she going to be left behind her mind instantly plays a scenario in which Varric does not return. The nightmarish images of more giant spiders and darkspawn play with her deepest fears.
“Please don’t leave me in the dark,” she lunges and grabs his arm as he turns to leave. “Please, Daddy.” It’s the first time she called referred to him as her father. Part of him is thrilled, but another part of him realizes she’s only saying it because she terrified. He knows that whether she recognizes it or not she’s using that phrase to manipulate him.
Despite his efforts to ease her fear her she continues her pleas on the verge of hysteria as tears of terror stream down her face. She clutches his arm with bruising strength as she continues to beg him not to abandon her. It pains him to see her in such a state. He cups her face and says her name sternly several times until she stops speaking. Her bottom lip is quivering as she softly whimpers while tears cascade down her cheeks.
“I am coming back for you. Do you understand?”
Isana can’t stop the small mewling sounds escaping her throat, nor can she hide the terror in her eyes as she nods.
“You are my daughter, whether you call me Varric or Daddy it doesn’t matter. You’re my little girl and I will not leave you in the Deep Roads. Do you believe me?”
She nods frantically, but that isn’t good enough for him. He makes her repeat that he is coming back. Hearing herself say the words had a calming effect on her, while there was still fear; it isn’t the soul numbing hysteria she had experienced earlier.
“That’s my girl,” he kisses her forehead and takes one of her swords. “I’ll be back before you know it.” He grabs the torch and leaves the recess. Isana swallows hard, tightens her grip on the crossbow and gathers the waning shreds her courage as the flickering torchlight fades, leaving her in the dim glow of lyrium.
Varric slips through the dim, dry tunnels following their hurried footsteps they left in the dust when trying to outrun the darkspawn. As they were the only imperfections in the fine layer of dirt the trail is easy to follow. He pauses at the sound of lightly armored feet scurrying about further ahead, and once he is certain the way is safe he continues his trek keeping a careful eye and a keen ear out for potential dangers. At one point he has to hide and extinguish the torch as a small band of darkspawn passed him and disappeared down an adjacent corridor. He’s about to light the torch when he hears the soft familiar clicking sound of cave spiders.
The lyrium veins this far away from Isana are dim and barely provide enough light for him to see by. He can only make out a vague shape the size of a small house. As the shape travels it makes the odd, soft clicking noises as it glides through the darkness. When the huge shadow pauses he finds himself holding his breath and praying that the spider will not notice him. He then begins pleading to anyone listening, his ancestors, the Maker, Andraste, he even prays to the Qun that the beast will not find his daughter. His lungs burn with the need for air, but he is afraid that if he catches his breath the spider will hear him. At long last the beast moves on and the dwarf can finally breathe again. The storyteller continues his prayers that the spider will not come across his golden haired child.
Convinced the danger had passed he relit the torch and hurried on his mission. Luck is finally on his side and he sees the dead darkspawn and Isana’s pack, but it looks as if it had been trampled upon and even worse he thinks he sees a wet spot in the canvas. He takes a few moments to take stock of her provisions. His feelings are mixed when he sees her food and water are intact; however, it looks as if all but one of her one of health tonics is broken.
“Shit,” he shakes his head as he pulls out shard after shard of broken vial. He sighs, and tries to convince himself that at least one potion is better than none. He swings the bag onto his back and turns to return to the injured Isana only to run into the waiting blade of a stealthy genlock.
Isabela, Bethany and Fenris finally manage to find an area safe enough to descend down to Varric’s level. Fenris is the first one down, and once he deems the area safe from immediate danger he signaled for the women to follow him. The instant her feet are on solid ground Bethany casts her mage light spell and peers deep into the dimness. The elf watches the mage for a couple of seconds before turning to help the pirate.
Bethany barely waits for Isabela to finish her climb before she takes the lead back the way they came in an eager effort to reach their friend. Fenris rushes ahead and grabs the mage.
“Bethany stop,” he spins her to face him. “I know you want to get to Varric as fast as possible, but there are dangers here that we need to be mindful of. We can’t help him if we’re dead or hurt ourselves.”
“But he may not have much time,” she doesn’t pull free of his grasp. Despite her complex feelings she feels safe in his arms, and finds that there is no other place she’d rather be.
“We will get to him as fast as we can, but we have to stay together.”
She nods, and he finally releases her.
“Come on,” Fenris draws his sword and begins leading the way with Bethany and Isabela following behind.
“Sweetness,” the pirate speaks in low hushed tones. “What’s going on between you two?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she plays innocent.
“Yes you do. One minute you two are making googly eyes at each other, you hook up at the brothel and now you’re barely talking to each other.”
“It’s something, you’re hardly eating, you’re withdrawn and I’ve heard you tossing and turning at night. Talk to me Sweetness.”
“I hardly think this is the place for a heart to heart Bela,” the dark haired girl snarls.
“Don’t think we won’t be talking later,” the Rivaini promised.
Varric slaps his hands over the stab wound and staggers back from the recently decapitated darkspawn who had stabbed him. He sets down his bag and strips off his coat, sash and shirt to examine the extent of the damage. The stab wound doesn’t look deep, but it is bleeding a lot. Isana has plenty of bandages that he can use to stop the flow of blood, but chooses the save the health potion for his daughter. Once he’s bandaged himself up he pulls on his shirts and ties his signature sash about his waist. Not wanting to frighten Isana he takes a moment to adjust the cloth so it’s covering much of the blood stain. He examines his coat and is grateful that both the knife and blood had missed this garment. With grunts and groans of pain he slips into his coat, gathers the knapsack and borrowed weapons. He takes a few deep breaths, and steadies himself for the return trip. He’s determined to keep his injury a secret. He doesn’t want her to worry about him.
Isana’s waits in the dim the blue glow of the lyrium with trembling hands. Her blood is roaring through her ears as her imagination plays cruel and sadistic tricks on her. At first she thinks she hears Varric voice, but she can’t make out any words. Despite her efforts to the contrary, tears slowly leak from her eyes and drip down her cheeks. She sniffles and viciously and repeatedly tells her mind to shut up. But then her blood runs cold and her muscles lock up when she hears the all too familiar clicking sound.
Her eyes are wide and her breathing is shaky. She’s gripping Bianca so tightly that her knuckles were turning white and her hands are violently shaking. The trickle of tears had become soft sobs.
It felt like she’s been there for hours, and her mind went into overdrive. Were the clicking sounds still there? Had the spider heard her? Was it searching for her? Did she just hear footsteps? Were the walls really closing in? What if there’s a cave in and Varric can’t get back to her?
There’s a sudden shadow at the alcove entrance. She shrieks and pulls the trigger. The shot goes wild and hits stone somewhere in the darkness. The shape jerks back and disappears around the bend. She chokes on her sobs and blinks quickly, trying to clear her vision.
“Isana,” Varric’s voice seems to echo in the cavern. He presses his back flat against the wall in case she fires a second shot.
“Varric,” her voice is soft and weak, on the verge of tears.
“Yes, it’s me. Don’t shoot,” he creeps back into the shallow cave and gingerly takes the crossbow from the terrified girl.
“You came back. You came back,” she sobs. He wraps his arms about her and pulls her close.
“I told you I would. You’re my little girl and I’m not leaving you down here.”
“But you left us. Why did you leave us,” she clings to him and sobs uncontrollably into his shoulder. Suddenly he knows why she’s been pressing for one story in particular.
“The night I…I shot Bianca, part of me died,” he says once the teen’s weeping slows. His voice is low and he has to work to form the words. “I wasn’t an archer at that time, but the Guild forced me to use the crossbow,” he continues to hold her and subconsciously begins to rock gently. “I knew I had to shoot her, if I didn’t someone else would have and they would have killed her. I remember watching her fall,” he squeezes his eyes shut, trying to purge the memory from his mind as he continues to recant the tale of that night. “The Merchants Guild found out that they had a leak and they thought Bianca was the leak’s contact. The Guild wanted me to find her. We knew they’d find out about us eventually, and we had a plan but… the mole got to her first. He tried to make her talk,” his words fade, even after all these years it still pains him. He’s very factual but it’s obvious the events left deep scars. He tells her about his plan to purchase Bianca’s and Gerav’s freedom from the Carta before meeting up with them. He tells her of the agonizing days without news of his beloved only to receive word that she had succumbed to her wounds. His own tears begin to trickle down his cheeks as he talks about his grief and Gerav’s betrayal. He tells her about the crossbow, and how it came to be called Bianca. She only has a few questions and Varric answers them all, holding her a little tighter with each answer.
“I always swore that Bianca was the only woman I have ever wanted and the only I will ever love. And then I learned I had a daughter. Isana, no matter what you think of me, I am your father and I want to be in your life. If you will allow me to be.”
Still holding onto him she sniffles and blinks away more tears. “You…you can call me Precious, you know if you want to.”
Varric smiles and kisses her temple. “Thank you, Precious.”