The mage pressed onward into the forest. There could be no hesitating now, no pause in his pursuit - even if this path lead to his death.
As if death frightened him, Anders thought with a sneer. He’d seen much worse than death in his lifetime.
Anders stepped carefully around a boulder, then clambered over a fallen log. The ground was slick in the twilight, and yesterday’s snow was melting under the onslaught of falling rain. The weather had fluctuated between rain and snow for days, as if Ferelden couldn’t make up its mind if it should cling to autumn or free-fall into winter. Normally, it would be difficult to track through such weather, what with the rain wiping away all scent and the flurries of snow obscuring any footprints.
Good thing Anders needn’t rely on traditional tracking.
Instead, Anders reached inside, listening to the blighted song that hummed through his veins. Years ago, he’d joined the Wardens in a desperate bid for survival. But soon, he’d found that the Wardens were just another cage. Anders had run from them the first chance he got. Some of the Warden’s chains remained, however. The taint in Anders’ blood was like a shackle about his wrist - a constant reminder as to the cost of his freedom.
Then again, there had been times when the taint proved useful. The blight within the Wardens’ blood allowed them to sense other darkspawn - and one another. Anders had once saved a young man’s life because of that ability. And now Anders found himself using the blight-song to track Wardens once again.
Anders normally would have stayed the Void away from the Wardens. In the past, he had feared the Wardens might decide that he needed ’re-conscripting.’ But these Wardens that he hunted - they were a different story. They had conscripted two mages under Anders’ protection, and Anders - or Justice rather - would see them pay if those mages were harmed.
And here Hawke had once said that Anders never helped any mage as a person. Well, if only she could see him now. For truthfully, this was Justice’s hunt as well as Anders’. Over the past year, both man and spirit had lived a listless, desperate sort of existence. They were always on the run, always seeking the next battle for freedom. They had spent several months hunting rogue templars in the Free Marches, until word came that the Circles had voted for their freedom – and the rogue templars planned to punish them for it.
Anders ought to have been thrilled with this news, but he wasn’t. It was so typical of the enchanters to vote for freedom. As if such a thing could be decided by committee. Freedom was the right of every mage, whether they embraced it or not. And many mages had not embraced it. Scarcely more than half of the mages voted for independence. With such lackluster support, the rebellion started crumbling before it even began. The backlash from the Templars was predictable - and brutal. Anders had fled to Ferelden in the dead of night, helping a band of twenty apostates board a smuggler’s ship.
Once in Ferelden, Anders had done what he could. He helped apostates to safety whenever he encountered them. He had healed them, helped them find shelter and lodging. He had kept his ear out for safe, isolated valleys, for villages willing to take in a trained healer or two. But Anders himself kept moving. He was still wanted for crimes against the Chantry, after all, and Sebastian Vael, Prince of Starkhaven had placed a target on Anders’ back. But even if Anders had been just any other mage, he would not have joined with the other mages. They simply wanted to rest. It was pathetic how quickly the mages had flocked to the Conclave that the Divine convened in Haven. Anders was not at all surprised to hear that it had turned into a massacre.
No doubt the templars had been behind it, Anders thought. The remaining mages had holed themselves up in Redcliffe Village, hiding behind walls as they were wont to do. Anders hadn’t heard much about the mage ‘rebellion’ since. Honestly, he wasn’t quite sure what to think of those cowards anymore. Mages who could not be bothered to fight for their freedom angered him as much as the mages who actively bowed to the Chantry’s laws. The whole thing made him furious, made Justice furious. So Anders had kept his head down and done what he could. He freed his few apostates, he hunted templars, and when he could, he traveled back through familiar villages and checked in on his former apostate charges. It was on his last such visit to the farms near Amaranthine that Anders had learned that two of his charges had gone missing.
An apprentice named Simon and his mentor, Lewis, had been nearly dead when Anders found them hiding in a cave along the Storm Coast. Anders had healed them, fed them, then convinced an Amaranthine farmer and her husband to take the mages in. Being Fereldens, the couple were suspicious of strangers, but compassionate and practical. They needed the help with the harvest coming in, and mages would do as well as anyone else, they supposed. The boy was strong, and the older mage could brew a good ale. So the farmers had agreed to help. The mages had a home, and Anders had gone on his way. But when Anders stopped back through, the farmers had grim news. Less than a week ago, Simon and Lewis had been conscripted by Wardens.
‘Strange Wardens,’ the farmers had said. One of them smelled funny, like iron and storms.
Bloodmagic, Anders had thought. But the farmer hadn’t been able to confirm that. All the farmer knew was that the funny-smelling fellow had been whispering to Simon and Lewis. The two mages had looked terrified and had gone off with the Wardens that very night. The Wardens didn’t wait for dawn. The mages took no extra clothes, no spellbooks, no bedrolls, no supplies and no food. Strangest of all, the lot of them had headed west. And yet, the farmer had heard rumors of darkspawn on the coast to the north. It didn’t add up, the farmer had said. It didn’t add up at all. The farmer would have gone after those Wardens, if she’d thought it would help. But what good was one person against three Wardens?
Anders could see her point. But Anders was more than just one person. So Anders and Justice had set out immediately.
It had taken Anders two days to pick up on the Wardens’ trail. He tracked the Wardens by the blight in their blood, even though weather had pushed back against him at every turn. He was deep in the heart of Ferelden now, a day’s ride from the coast, not far from the smuggler’s country of Crestwood. And now, it seemed, Anders had found those ‘strange’ Wardens at last. There was a clearing ahead, and a fire burning within it. Most telling of all, the song of the taint hummed loudly in Anders’ blood, mingled with the harmony of those other Wardens. The blight-song was like a funeral dirge, melancholy and reedy.
The trouble was, the Wardens would be able to hear him as surely as he heard them. Though at the moment, Anders could scarcely hear the blight-song for the distant pulse of the Calling with him. The Calling felt like a stumbling heartbeat, or the flapping of ancient wings. It seemed Anders’ time had come at last, and a lot more quickly than he would have expected. He would die of the blight before long, and the taint would at last poison him.
So he was dying, Anders thought. Well, that wasn’t exactly news. He’d been living on borrowed time for a while now. And Justice took up so much space in his head that Anders felt stretched thin these days. For that reason, Anders meant to help what mages that he could for the rest of his miserable lifetime - however long or short it may be. And right now, the mages that needed helping were poor Simon and Lewis.
Anders crept slowly along the tree line until he was right at the outskirts of the camp. They’d pitched no tents, had no shelter at all. A smoking campfire burned in the drizzling rain - strange sight, really. Its light flickered red-gold against the yawning darkness of the forest. A short distance from the trees, a standing stone poked out of the earth like a gnarled finger. And there, huddled against the stone was Anders quarry: fifteen year old Simon, and Lewis, back-to-back with his apprentice. Simon clutched his hands together at his belly. His clothes were muddy, his face pale, but he had no outward injuries. Lewis, however, had a bruise upon his face and shadowed eyes. They both looked petrified.
Anders felt the burn of Justice within him, felt the hot, blue light build behind his eyes. Anders coaxed the spirit back - and his temper with it. Instead of charging in, Anders listened with his magic, listened with his blood as well. He did not sense taint around Lewis or Simon, so they must not have gone through the Joining ritual yet. But there was strange smell all through the clearing. The stone reeked of it.
Bloodmagic. Justice whispered within him. Anders felt a flare of anger, but still he remained cautious, watching.
Why did the Wardens not sense him, Anders wondered? Was the bloodmagic interfering somehow? Or perhaps Justice blocked Anders from their senses? Whatever the reason, the Wardens did not call out to him, did not seem to notice his approach. So Anders decided to take advantage of their lapse. He crept forward, straining his ears to hear what the Wardens were saying.
“Clarice wants us at the meeting point as soon as possible,” a gruff voice said. It belonged to a barrel-chested man, the kind who made up the bulk of the Wardens. No doubt this fellow was a former foot soldier, stronger than most and conscripted young. He looked worn and weary from his many years of service. “So I guess we’d better do the Joining on these recruits so we can get a move on,” the fellow said, hiking a thumb at Simon and Lewis.
“If they survive it,” the other Warden put in pitilessly. She was a sharp, weasel-faced elven woman, and she crouched by the fire, sharpening her dagger with a whetstone. “Dunno why you let that Vint talk you into takin’ ‘em.”
Vint? Anders thought, perking up at the word. What did a citizen of Tevinter have to do with the recruiting of Wardens?
“We ought to be conscripting everyone we see,” the gruff Warden replied. “Those farmers back there - that woodcutter we passed, too. Gonna need all of ‘em, what with the song so loud.”
The weasel-faced woman frowned and continued sharpening with a vengeance. “Don’t see how those two are gonna help us with any of that,” she said, angrily. “The old one is slowin’ us down and the boy can scarce use his magic. But no. The Vint had to have mages. Mages. Pah.” Here she spat upon the ground.
“I know you don’t like ‘em, but we’re all on the same side once we’re Joined,” returned the gruff one. “So let’s get ‘em through the ritual and be done with it.”
They weren’t being very considerate of their recruits, Anders thought. Not that Wardens had a reputation for kindness, but these seemed more calloused than most. They didn’t seem to even notice that the mages were listening. Young Simon sat shivering. Lewis reached over to him, touched his shoulder and gave the boy a knowing look. It seemed to say, Soon.
Anders stiffened in surprise. Were the two of them been planning their escape? If so, they were more daring than most - or more desperate. The Wardens didn’t usually let anyone leave a Joining ceremony. They didn’t usually let anyone leave at all.
“Fine then,” the weasel-faced woman sighed, stopping in her sharpening. “Hey Vint!” she shouted, “You got that blood-mix ready?”
“Nearly,” came the silky reply.
With that, Anders realized that there was a third person in the clearing. A sour-faced, dark-haired man had been standing by the stone, hidden by shadow and rain. He wore long robes - mage robes - but they were not from any Circle that Anders know of. This must be the Tevinter, Anders supposed. But he was a mage. Did that make him one of those infamous magisters? The fellow wasn’t a Warden, that was for certain. His blood was not tainted - yet. Perhaps he was another recruit.
“Get on with it, Vint,” the elf-woman said.
“I have a name, you know,” the Tevinter mage drawled, as Anders crept right up to the edge of the clearing and crouched in the bushes there. “Lord Livius Erimond of Vyrantium, Magister of…”
“Come off it,” the elf said, sheathing her blades. “We weren’t impressed by your title the first time you said it, and we’re not impressed now. You’re here to help, so help.”
So this fellow was some sort of advisor, Anders mused? That made no sense. The Wardens kept their own council, usually.
“Of course, madam,” Lord Erimond said, with just the faintest sneer. Anders was willing to bet he’d never been spoken to in such a manner by an elf before. He turned back to the stone, but then did the strangest thing. He looked right at Lewis and pressed his finger to his lips. Lewis nodded, and Simon went deadly pale.
Now what was that about? Was the Tevinter helping Simon and Lewis escape? Perhaps Anders’ rescue was unnecessary.
“Still sore that we lost Hannoth,” the elven woman grumbled to the gruff warrior. “Wouldn’t have to resort to usin’ an outsider’s help if we had him with us.”
She spoke low, but Anders was willing to bet the Tevinter mage still heard her. “Or if you’d ever bothered to learn the mixin’ of the Joining draught.”
“Don’t look at me,” the warrior said with a shudder. “I touched it once. That was enough.”
Anders blinked - both in surprise and from the rain pouring into his face. Lord Erimond was making the Joining draught? How did a Tevinter magister know a Warden secret like that? Even Anders had no idea how it was done. Though Anders recalled that the Seneschal of Vigil’s Keep had done mixing honors in Anders’ Joining, and that fellow hadn’t been a Warden either. Still, for a Tevinter mage to be involved in such secrets?
Anders didn’t like it. Neither did Justice. Together, they crept closer.
“And there we are,” Lord Erimond called out into the darkness. He was picking up a heavy-looking chalice now, and turned slowly. “If this works, I shall present myself to your Warden-Commander with news of my triumph.”
“Not sure she’d care about two more runty Wardens recruits,” the elven woman told him. “Don’t start braggin’ about nothings.”
“Oh, but she is quite desperate for a solution to your problem, isn’t she?” Erimond replied. “More pawns for the chessboard,” he murmured, half to himself. “Strategy for the game. Oh, and yes, your ritual is ready.”
“Bout time,” the elf began, but then she gaped. “Don’t pour it out!”
For Erminod held out the goblet, then slowly turned it upside down.
“Hey! Stop…!” the gruff Warden began, but then he stopped. Nothing came out of the goblet after all. The cup was empty.
“What the…?” the warrior said, looking about, as if he could spot the missing liquid somewhere in the mud surrounding them. “But I thought you said…”
“I lied,” Erimod sneered.
It happened so fast that Anders couldn’t have stopped it if he’d tried. As it was, he was too stunned to move.
One moment, Simon and Lewis were crouched against the standing stone. The next, they launched themselves at the Wardens with unnatural speed. Simon tackled the elf woman to the ground, and Lewis slipped right up behind the warrior. Before Anders could blink, Lewis had slit the warrior’s throat. Blood spilled from the wound like split wine. Lewis shoved the warrior, and the Warden fell face-down on the ground. At Lewis’ side, Simon stood. His hands were perfectly still, dripping blood mixed with rain. On the ground lay the elf-woman. A knife was stuck deep in her heart.
Anders surged to his feet. Rain poured around him, Justice burned within him. But the three mages in the clearing did not seem to notice him. That bastard Erimond was grinning at the bodies. Lewis and Simon stood still as if they had become statues.
Anders ran into the clearing. As he ran, he shouted something - something stupid like ‘Stop!’ or ‘Wait!’ but no one heard him. For in that moment, the small campfire suddenly burst into a bonfire. It turned red - a deep blood red that no natural fire could even duplicate. Then a demon - no, two demons, crawled out of the embers of that bloodfire. They were rage demons. They looked like upright slugs made of lava, but gifted with long, apish arms. The demons roared into the clearing, right toward Simon and Lewis. But the mages did not move.
“Simon!” Anders shouted, not caring that he’d completely given himself away by now. “Lewis! Get behind me!”
But they did not answer. They stood still, their eyes dead, as the rage demons slid right up beside them. But instead of eating them, the demons stopped. The demons turned around and stared at Anders. Simon and Lewis did the same. They all stood there, as if in ranks, staring straight into the storm. The rain pattered down on the rage demons, leaving scorching little ash marks in their glowing hide. The ground beneath the demons steamed. At last, the Tevinter mage looked at Anders, and his cruel eyes narrowed.
“I thought I sensed a glimmer of magic out there,” he said. He looked Anders up and down, taking in the torn clothes and worn staff. “I thought you were a demon at first, but it seems I was mistaken. Are you another mage come to join my army? I’m so sorry, but I’m fresh out of sacrifices at present.”
“What have you done to them?” Anders demanded.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Erimond asked, as if Anders was quite simple. “A clever mage can bind a demon to his will, but they become more difficult to manage the more you bind. Yet in my genius, I have found a way to bind mages to my will. Simple concept, tricky execution.”
“You did this as an experiment?” Anders gaped at the man.
“You haven’t any proper research facilities in this Maker-forsaken country, now do you?” Erimond sniffed. “So I’ve had to make do. And it seems my tenacity has finally payed off. A pity that those doubters in the Magisterium aren’t in attendance to my triumph. Still, a passing vagabond apostate makes a decent audience as well.”
“So this is just some game to you?” Anders spat. “You prey upon your own kind?”
“My kind?” Erimond said, as if tasting the word and finding it unpalatable. “No, no. I’m far superior to these base-born Laetans. It’s only you southern mages who dream of equality. Like these Wardens, with no proper ranks.” Here he sneered, and kicked the body of the dead elf.
“What’s next?” Erimond laughed. “Destroying distinctions between the upper and lower classes? Allowing elves freedoms? Making nice with the dwarves? Remove the traditions of rank and the superiority of race and you destroy everything.”
Anders shook his head angrily. “Is that why you did this to them? Because they dared to seek freedom?”
“What? Not at all. Really, there is no need for me to keep the lower elements in their places when your Chantry had been doing an excellent job at it. Surely they’ll restore things to order soon enough. No, I have a bigger goal.”
“And what is that?” Anders wanted to know.
“I could tell you,” Erimond said, glancing at the skies. “But then, predictably, I’d have to kill you. Actually, I’ll have to kill you regardless. But I’ll tell you what. I can be sporting. Help me find another sacrifice, and I’ll bind you and use you in my master plan. Resist me, and I’ll let these demons torture you slowly. It will be a good test for them - see how well they perform under orders.”
“I will not be possessed by your paltry pets,” Anders said, glaring at the man.
“Oh, but my pet is not paltry,” the mage said. “My minion is Fear. Fear did this, you see. The mages were terrified of the Joining. They only wanted to stay at the farm. And I may have played up the danger of the Joining more than was necessary. And then, of course, the Wardens fear their Calling. It’s singing to all of them, you see.”
“All of them?” Anders blinked. These Wardens had heard the Calling as well? He’d thought it had just been him who was dying.
“Oh yes,” Erimond grinned. “And how they fear it. With fear as my whip, I drive them to do anything. I can make these mages murder. I can feed the Wardens worry. And they do worry so much - about their small numbers, the impending Blight, the darkspawn, their limited days. So I encouraged these Wardens to recruit these two fool mages, then encouraged the mages to fight for their freedom. Really now, once Fear has taken root, all you have to do is stand back and let terror grow.”
“You lied to them.”
“Truth is rarely as frightening as lies,” the mage said. “Once you face up to it, truth loses it’s sting so quickly. As it was, this situation was easy to orchestrate. I’ve done something similar several times now, to many other Wardens and apostates. This is just the first time the binding actually worked.”
“You’ve done this before?” Anders gaped.
“I said that, did I not? By the Black City, you southern barbarians are thick. But then, that’s what makes you all so charming. You never seem to see a genius’ plan in the making. The Wardens least of all.”
“The Wardens will never fall for a charlatan like you,” Anders spat.
“Of course they will,” Erimond laughed, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “They already have done. The Warden-Commander herself bade me continue my ‘research.’ Though I doubt she realized I’d be using her own people as the subjects of my experiments. Ah well. What she doesn’t know won’t haunt her, eh?”
“Who are you?” Anders demanded. “Who are you working for?”
“The name’s Erimond,” the man said, inspecting his fingernails. “Lord Livius Erimond, Magister of Tevinter, etcetera, etcetera. As for who I’m working for…”
Erimond paused there, then cocked his head at the blood on the ground. “Do you know,” he said conversationally, “I think I need a stronger bloodfire next time. And older ruins. Much older ruins. The sacrificial stone worked - casting near a shard of ancient evil was a brilliant stroke on my part. But the Veil is still too strong in this part of the world. Something thinner. Somewhere more blighted, perhaps.”
Erimond said this while tapping his chin. At his side, Simon and Lewis continued to stare into the rain. The demons remained rooted and still.
“Unbind them,” Anders commanded, pointing at the two silent mages. “Unbind them now. Or I will kill you. You’re not an abomination or spirit, so you’ll die easily. You’re only human,” he added in a sneer.
“Only human?” Erimond said, turning back to Anders as if he were a rare curiosity. “Why, my dear fellow, how you underestimate our race. The strongest creature in this world was once ‘only’ human. But his magic…” Erimond turned to the fire and his eyes brightened.
“I have seen my god rip the skies to tatters,” he murmured, all in a rush. “His magic made the Anchor - I saw the glory of it burst the sky before it was stolen. Now, while my god recovers his powers, he allows me to test his dark magics on the unwitting. I am to hone, to craft, to build. I am the artificer of his will. I, a human - ‘only’ human, as you say - I know what it is to hold a god’s power in my hand. And when my master reclaims heaven,” he added now grinning up into the rain, “will he not leave his servants the earth in recompense?”
“You’re mad,” Anders said, shaking his head.
“I’m a visionary,” Erimond replied, looking down and sounding perfectly conversational once again. “Though the one is easily mistaken for the other by simpletons.”
Anders growled. He was done being lectured by this monster who killed Wardens and enslaved mages and summoned demons. Justice demanded his due, and so Anders unleashed him. Justice roared through Anders’ throat, shone through Anders’ eyes. Anders felt himself carried aloft, as if floating on a hot current of rage. Everything burned, roared, as if he was underwater - as if he was far away.
“You will never cast such magics again,” Justice roared.
“Well now!” Erimond cried, his surprise distant to Anders’ mind. “This is new. A coherent abomination? How rare. And you hid it so well. I do wish I’d saved a sacrifice for you after all.”
Anders - or Justice, rather - stalked toward the mages, blue fire in his palms, black smoke pouring from him.
You will die, Justice leered. I will end all of you.
“Ah…” Erimond said, taking a step back. “Then again, maybe I was hasty in my victory speech. Discretion is the better part of valor, after all. And I am far more useful to my master alive. So…”
So the bastard ran. He dashed off past the standing stone, flicking his fingers behind him. The fire went out, leaving a glowing Anders alone in the dark.
Not alone, Anders realized. The two bound mages and the rage demons had been unleashed. As Erimond fled, they attacked.
Anders dodged the first demon’s blow just as it came for his head. He shot back ice from his finger tips, freezing the rage demon’s magma body, then striking the demon with his staff. The other demon slashed at Anders just as Simon threw fire. Anders ducked around the standing stone, narrowly missing the blast. Lewis lunged around the stone, a knife in his hand that was aimed at Anders’ throat. In his other hand, the old man had begun to summon lightning. Anders lunged at Lewis faster than a human body should be able to go. His muscles were being pushed by Justice, sped up by Justice. Anders felt his senses sharpening, his anger boiling. Justice gathered up that power and slammed it outward.
The standing stone exploded, shooting debris out in a circle across the clearing. A chunk of it slammed Lewis’s head, crushing the man’s skull. He fell to the ground, his face destroyed. Still Justice whirled around, aiming for the remaining mage and the demons. Justice drew even more deeply upon Anders’ reserves.
Too much! Anders thought wildly, You’re burning me down too quickly, Justice! I haven’t the mana to sustain this!
But Justice wasn’t listening. Simon lunged at Anders, hands swirls of fire, his demon roaring like a rabid dog behind him. Anders didn’t bother with magic for this one. The boy was a sloppy fighter, had never trained in his life. Ander slashed at Simon with the bladed end of his staff. An arc of red blood spurted from the boy’s face. He didn’t even bother to clutch at his shredded eyes. A second slash slit Simon’s throat, and he fell into the mud. Still the demons remained.
Slow down! Anders cried to Justice. He didn’t bother to regret what he’d just done. Killing Lewis and Simon was a mercy, and Anders knew it. Still, If we use all our magic, we can’t track that magister!
Justice, however, would not be stopped. The spirit of righteous anger would not permit the survival of these blood-hungry impostors, these lower denizens of the Fade. Anders felt Justice reach deep inside, drawing up all of Anders’ power. Then Justice clawed further back - into the Fade itself. Wisps of healing always lingered near Anders, just beyond the Veil. No matter where he went, Anders could find them, could reach for them to help him cast spells of revival and regeneration. Even when he’d been turned into an abomination, those wisps had not abandoned him.
At times like this, however, Anders almost wished they had. The healing spirits granted Anders a burst of power - but Justice took hold of that gift. Justice sent the blast right through Anders, out his fingertips. A burning blue fire engulfed the clearing. Everything burned, blazed with with blue light: the standing stone, the embers of the bloodmagic fire, the trees, the drizzling rain, the dark underbelly of the clouds. As Anders looked, everything - even he - was shining with unholy Fade-light, burning on and on into the darkness…
Anders woke shivering.
He was soaked to the skin, face down in mud. Justice had gone quiet within him. All the world had gone quiet around him. Anders lifted his head, brushing back his muddy hair from his face.
The clearing was empty - of grass, of stone, of bodies. It was bigger, too, a perfect ring of even ground. Perhaps his fire had scorched it dry, but overnight, it had filled with rain. Still pools lay here and there in the mud, trembling in the early morning breeze. The sky overhead was gray and close, as if Anders could reach up and touch the heavy clouds. For a moment, Anders could not recall what he was doing here.
Then, quite suddenly, he remembered…
The bloodmage. The Wardens. Poor, stupid Simon and Lewis. Their bodies were all gone - burned to ash and sunk in the mud and rain.
Those fools, Anders thought angrily. The Wardens should have left the mages alone. They should have realized their traveling companion was no meek, ‘helpful’ mage, but a rogue magister, sent to prey upon them. And Simon and Lewis should have known better than to turn to bloodmagic. It never fixed anything. It only made everything worse. And to trust a magister…
A magister, Anders thought. What would a magister want with the Wardens? Who was the ‘master’ he’d mentioned? Was this simply Tevinter politics? And to think that Anders had once considered heading to that country, to live among those jackals. If this was an indication of what Tevinter mages were like, Anders would much rather remain hunted and hungry.
Anders pulled himself up to his knees. His every muscle hurt, his bones felt like they were all grinding in his joints. Justice took over with greater force every time. The spirit summoned deeper, harsher magic now, and it was breaking Anders’ body to hold it. Not that Justice cared, Anders thought with a scowl. Justice had never cared about Anders’ humanity, about his needs or his weaknesses.
An image flashed through Anders’ mind - a woman’s smile, freckles on a bare shoulder, laughter as sunlight came streaming in through the windows…
Anders winced at the memory.
Hawke was gone, he reminded himself. He let the words whip over him, a lash to his mind. He was on his own. Another lash.
And he would have to figure this out for himself. Because if this Lord Livius Erimond was targeting both Wardens and mages, Anders must do something. He didn’t owe the Wardens much loyalty, but he ought to warn them at the very least. They could fight darkspawn well enough, but bloodmagic and trickery was clearly something that had blindsided them.
But then again, if what Erimond said was true, then the Wardens had sanctioned his ‘research.’ They had allowed this man into their ranks in the first place, and they might fight anyone who tried to remove him from their cause. Anders would have to be careful in his warning. He couldn’t very well just walk up to a Warden outpost and march in the front door, not with the current price on his head.
A letter then, Anders thought. He would send a letter to… To…
To whom? He hadn’t seen a Warden in months. Old Stroud, perhaps? No, Stroud was likely still in the Free Marches. The local Wardens? That was no good. These Wardens - the now-dead gruff soldier and the elf - were the first Wardens that Anders had seen in months. He knew that Vigil’s Keep stood empty, and even if the Wardens had remained there, Anders didn’t know the new faces. Some fellow had taken charge of the place - Loghain? Was that his name? No, surely not. Loghain was the name of a traitor to the crown. So who was in charge now? Anders couldn’t recall. For the first time, he wished he’d kept up with his Warden contacts, because he could think of no allies at all. He knew no one in the Wardens except…
The name came to him suddenly, and Anders groaned aloud.
Oh blight it all. This would get thorny. Because even if Anders could get hold of that Warden, the surly ass was likely to punch Anders in the face on sight.
Anders shook his head and hauled himself to his feet. His legs nearly buckled under him.
It didn’t matter, Anders thought, as he leaned on his staff. He’d send a letter anyhow. More things were at stake than pride or personal history. If the Wardens were compromised, it might be that the whole world was compromised.
And if Carver Hawke couldn’t see that, then he deserved whatever fate lay in store for him.