Varric’s stomach rumbles as he watches Isana sleep in the flickering glow of the torch light. Right now, she reminds him so much her mother that it almost hurts. She had eaten nearly two-thirds of the food he had prepared and then promptly passed out; between her injury and emotional outburst he understands her exhaustion. She’s been resting for several hours now; at least it feels like it was several hours. Time is difficult to track underground.
He’s tired, but the threat of darkspawn keeps him awake. The familiar and faint clicking is another thing that keeps him alert. Somewhere further in the Deep Roads the low dangerous rumbling of a cave in reminds him that not all dangers here are from living things. He pulls a piece of dried meat from her pack and munches on it in effort to silence his belly. They’ll have to get moving soon; backtrack in hopes of meeting up with the rest of the group. Her injury will slow them down, and deepstalkers will smell the blood.
Tenderly Varric’s fingers prod his stab wound, sharp wave of pain moves through his side. He curses under his breath when he sees traces of red on his fingers, the injury is still bleeding. He looks at the wrappings on her leg and can see a few specks of blood seeping through the fabric; he will have to change her bandages before they start moving. He has to save those bandages for her. He takes a sip from the water skin and holds the liquid in his mouth, hoping it will stem is growing thirst.
They will also need to conserve their food until they meet up with the others, which will hopefully be soon. They can cut back to the two of them sharing one meal once or twice a day. He had to use a quarter of the water to clean Isana’s injury, so they’ll have to be just as careful with the remaining water.
To compound their situation even further Bianca is down to her last eight bolts, he has to make every shot count and start salvaging his ammo. Things are bad for the duo, but there’s no need to worry Isana about that now. He lets her sleep with the blissful ignorance that everything will be fine.
He thinks back to the ledge they fell down and realizes that it’s too steep for them to climb up or for the party to climb down, and there’s no telling how far in either direction they would have to travel before they could find a place to safely descend. He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out two pieces of paper. One is Bianca’s letter, which he kisses and returns to its pocket. The second is the map. He carefully folds the paper and begins studying it, trying to determine their location and the best direction in which to travel.
The trio continues their trek through the poorly lit cavern until just ahead of them they can see the shape of a small, stocky body.
“No,” Bethany gasps fearing the worse. She rushes towards the form and stops when she sees the second body. These aren’t the dwarves their looking for, these are darkspawn corpses.
“Keep a look out,” Isabela tells the mage when she and Fenris catch up with the dark haired human. Bethany nods and takes a few steps away in order to keep an eye out for approaching danger but she is cautious enough to stay close enough that her friends can see by her mage light.
“Varric got this one,” Isabela crouches down beside the genlock with a bolt protruding from its head.
“I think Isana killed this one,” Fenris pokes the decapitated body with his two handed sword.
“It looks like they were chased this way,” the pirate points at the hurried footprints in the dust.
“How far ahead do you think they are?” Bethany asks.
“Given the amount of time it took us to find a safe passage down here, I’d say nearly a full day,” the white haired elf answers. “At some point we are going to need to stop for rest and food,” he shifts the weight of his and Varric’s pack.
“Can we go a few more hours,” the young woman wrings her hands, obviously concerned for her friends. “I mean, we obviously can’t rest here,” she gestures to the dead genlocks.
“She has a point,” the Rivaini woman rises to her feet.
When Isana wakes up, Varric changes her bandages and explains that they need to ration their supplies. He also tells her that He only has a few shots left as he ties off the fabric.
“Is there any good news?”
“I’ve been studying the map,” he pulls out the paper in question and opens it to show her. “It looks like we are in this area,” he points to a spot marked by a few dwarven runes. “And we need to go here,” he points to a second spot marked with more runes. “It looks like that little fall might have actually saved us three days travel.”
“That is good news. What does this say,” she points to the first group of runes.
“It’s a warning,” he returns the map to his inner coat pocket.
“About what,” she presses, accepting his help to get her up onto her feet.
“Spiders, but luckily we should be able to hear them coming. The webbing could be a sign too.”
“I hate spiders,” she growls. “And after the other day, I feel totally justified in my fear of the bastards.”
“Spiders larger than a Mabari, yes I can understand your fear. Spiders the size of your fingernail, I can’t see being afraid of.”
“Some of those fuckers jump you know,” she holds the torch and hangs her other arm around his neck. “And they’re poisonous.”
“Precious, you’re thousands of times bigger than they are. Step on them trust me it will kill them,” he hooks an arm about her waist and supports most of her weight as they walk. He does his best to ignore the shooting pain in his side.
“Did you miss that some of them jump. I hate the jumpers,” she hisses with pain when she tries to move her damaged leg.
“I doubt they can jump from the ground to your face. Maybe from a wall,” he teases.
“Ok, we can stop talking about spiders now,” she’s done with topic and her tone makes that clear.
“A swarm of thousands of little spiders that was pretty terrifying,” he’s enjoying this turn of events. After days of her pressing his buttons he’s taking advantage of the payback.
“Enough on the spiders,” she growls, her body breaking out into goose bumps. They are finally starting to get a rhythm down for walking.
“Antivans fry them up and serve them with honey,” he lies.
“Stop,” she grumbles turning a touch green from the idea.
“You know I hear in Tevinter spiders are a sign of good luck,” another falsehood, but he’s confident she doesn’t know that.
“Seriously, let’s talk about something else,” there’s no humor in her voice.
“Scorpions! How do you feel about scorpions?”
“Maker, I hate you.”
His laughter echoes in the darkness of the Deep Roads.
“It looks like this is where they made a stand,” Isabela steps over the corpses of darkspawn. “I wonder why, there’s no advantage to this spot over any other.”
“It would have left them vulnerable here,” Fenris looks at the bodies and the surrounding area with several passages. “It makes no sense.”
“Unless one of them was hurt,” Bethany points to pool of coagulating blood.
“Shit,” Isabela crouches down beside the puddle of gore. “This doesn’t look good.”
“But it could be to our advantage. With such an injury they will be traveling slower. We’ll have a better chance of catching up to them,” Fenris says.
“That’s horrible,” the mage exclaims.
“But true,” the pirate is quick to add. “Look, there’s an alcove over there. Let’s take a break, eat something and then figure out our next move.”
“What do you mean,” the young woman puts a touch more mana into her floating mage light, making it a little brighter.
“We don’t know which way they went. There are footprints going several directions and if we follow the wrong set we’re all done for,” the dark skinned woman explained.
“Bethany, you said you know a tracking spell,” Fenris recalls, leading the trio towards the alcove in question.
“Yes, but I need something of the person I’m to track. And I don’t think we have anything.”
“We have blood,” Isabela points to small body of crimson liquid in the alcove.
“No!” She raises her hands defensively and backs away from the alcove. “My Father warned me to never to take that risk.”
“Sweetness,” Isabela hazards a step towards the mage who retreats as if the pirate were going to attack. “If there were another way you know we’d take it.”
“No,” subconsciously her mage light flickers brighter with her emotions. “That’s blood magic,” she looks to Fenris to back her up on this decision. Fenris meets her troubled gaze, but keeps silent the Rivaini woman makes an excellent point. He averts his eyes as her expression changes from pleading to betrayal.
“It has to be done,” the pirate presses. “You’ve seen the blood; you know one of them is hurt. Your magic can help us find them.”
“To weave blood magic I have to barter with a demon. I won’t do it. We’ll have to find another way.”
“And what if they die,” she is losing her patience with the stubborn mage and raises her voice.
“Isabela, stop,” Fenris places himself between the two women. “We’re tired and hungry. Let’s take a break. Eat something and approach this with calmer heads.”
A slew of curses only those of the sea would use escape the pirate’s lips as she finds a spot to sit and rest. Fenris turns his attention to Bethany; she glares angrily at him before heading off in the opposite direction. He knows why she’s upset with him, and he cannot fault her for her emotions, but there are multiple paths the group can take and if they take the wrong one it would be nothing but disastrous to them, to Varric and Isana, and to Bianca. He’s hoping that in the time it takes them to eat, one of them will have come up with a solution that doesn’t involve blood magic.
“I need to stop,” Isana’s leg is throbbing and the pain is evident in her voice.
“Ok, let’s make it to those rocks.” He helps her sit and hands her the water skin. “I’m going to take a leak,” he gestures to a tall pile of rock just behind her.
“How much further?”
“At the rate we’re traveling two days,” while he’s out of her line of site he lifts his shirt and peeks at his own injury. It’s been a steady dull pain, and from the looks of it, it’s still seeping blood. When he touches the wound he can feel the fever in it as pain shoots through his side. He curses as he resituates his clothing to hide the bandage and blood. The wound is starting to get infected, and all he can do is pray that he doesn’t come down with the blight.
“What was that,” Isana calls upon hearing his voice but not the words.
“Nothing, just drowning a spider for you,” he quickly relieves himself and returns to his daughter.
“I don’t know if I should be flattered or disgusted.”
“Be flattered, I don’t drown enemies in urine for just anyone you know.”
“I feel so ‘warm’ and loved,” her words drip with sarcasm. “Just keep the warm on that side of the rocks.”
He chuckles and sits down next to her. He’s grateful she needed the break because he too is hurting and could use a short rest.
“Where do you think your friends are?”
“Probably looking for us,” Varric has been trying not to think too much about the trio left behind.
“You don’t sound too worried.”
For that he was grateful, but nothing could be further from the truth. “Bethany knows a tracking spell. I’m sure they’re using it to find us.”
“What are the odds that we’ll save Mom?”
“We have the element of surprise on our side. So we should be able set a few traps and position ourselves for an ambush.”
“You didn’t answer the question,” she comments.
“I think the odds are pretty good.”
“Don’t bullshit me.”
“The odds would be better if the others were here.”
“You know Zinaga will try to kill Mom once they reach the thaig.”
“Not if I can help it,” his tone dangerous. He won’t lose Bianca again.
“Dad,” his heart swells; it’s the first time she’s called him that because she wanted to, not because she feels she as to. “I don’t wanna die down here.”
“Precious, I’m not going to let that happen. We’re all going to get out of here.”
Bethany looks at the rations in her pack; it’s been at least a day since she’s last ate anything but this recent turn of events has put her off her appetite. She stares into her bag with glassy eyes, her mind and emotions are in violent turmoil with her morals.
She doesn’t like this. Does she betray everything she’s believed and use blood magic to find her friends? Or does she let her friends die and keep her honor intact. Could she live with the knowledge that her friends died because of her principles? Could she live with being a blood mage in order to save her friends? Regardless of her decision she’s damned and she knows it.
So lost in thought is she that she doesn’t notice Fenris sitting next to her.
“Bethany,” his words are soft but she jumps upon hearing them.
She doesn’t look at him. “Please,” she begs, tears welling in her eyes. “Please don’t ask me to do this.” She pulls part of her blanket from her bag and uses it to wipe away the tears. “If anyone were on my side against blood magic I thought it would be you, but you just stood there. You didn’t even say anything.” The tears continued to fall. Fenris removes the red cloth from his gauntlet and hands it to her.
“I’ve been through Varric’s bag. I was looking for his comb, but I think it’s with him. I couldn’t find anything to help you,” it causes him physical pain to see her like this and to know that there is nothing he can do to help her.
“Please don’t make me do this.” She sobs softly, holding the cloth to her face. He does not envy the decision she has to make.
“You are the strongest and finest mage I have ever met, and I want you to know that whatever you decide, I will back your decision.”
“Even if that decision makes me a blood mage,” there was anger and fear in her words. “Even if that choice leads to all of our deaths?”
He gentle grasps her chin and places a tender kiss upon her lips. The kiss is sweet, loving and sincere, she finds herself falling into the kiss. “Nothing you do down here will change who you are, or my feelings for you.”
He stands up. “Whatever you decide, I won’t stand by silently again.” She gives him a small, uncertain smile before he leaves her to her thoughts.
The elf walks over to the pirate in order to give the mage her privacy. He can tell by the look on the dark skinned woman’s face that he isn’t going like the oncoming conversation.
“Did you talk sense into her,” Isabela places her hands on her hips.
“I’ll not force her into blood magic.”
“It’s the only way we’ll find them and you know it.”
“You’re asking her to betray everything she’s lived by.”
“I’m asking her to use her Maker given talents to save lives,” she protests.
“In a manner she feels the Maker has forbidden,” he’s careful to keep himself between the two women. He can’t make this decision for Bethany, but he can keep the pirate at bay until a choice has been made.
“That’s bollocks and you know it.”
“I know of no such thing. If she agrees, she’ll be opening herself to demons, and that is a battle that neither of us can help her with. Whatever she decides, I will stand by her.”
“Then you’d better hope she makes the right decision, otherwise we’re all going to die down here.”