Hawke and Raven

Part 2, Chapter 4 of Daughters of Andraste

“And here she is folks,” Brigid Hawke announced to no one in particular. “The mighty Champion of Kirkwall. All alone on the Waking Sea in a friggin’ rowboat.”

Hawke shoved her wet bangs out of her face. As she glared out at the steel-colored waves, her own words seemed to mock her. Champion of Kirkwall, huh?

“Champion of Fuckall, more like.”

And now she was talking to herself, Hawke realized. Less than an hour at sea, and already she was going loony. Hawke clamped her mouth shut and tugged at the oars once again. Storm clouds blanketed the sky, and a fine, drizzling fog filled the air around her. Choppy waves broke upon the prow of the boat, sending little droplets of salt water into her hair and down the back of her armor. With a scowl, Hawke craned her head around to see if she was making any progress towards shore. She saw only a gray smudge on the horizon. Either that was the craggy coastline back there, or she was headed into a bank of storm clouds.

Awesome.

There had to be some sort of metaphor in all of this, Hawke thought, as she resumed her rowing. Here she was, headed blindly into uncharted waters, forced to look back at the direction she’d come from. This would be one of those ‘literary devices’ that Varric was so fond of.

At the thought of Varric, Hawke felt a bittersweet longing. If Varric were here right now, Hawke thought, he’d probably be bitching about the weather even more than Hawke was. Actually, she amended, if Varric were here right now, she’d be the one bitching. She’d be bitching him out for abandoning her all those months back.

Hawke scowled and yanked harder at the oars. She knew she shouldn’t still be pissed about that, but she was still pissed about that. ‘We need to part ways for your safety,’ her friends had said. ‘The Chantry will have a harder time finding you if you’re on your own,’ they’d said. And maybe they’d been right about that last one. But what was the point of being safe from the Chantry if Hawke had to spend the rest of her life all alone? She had stood by her friends through all sorts of dangers. So why hadn’t they done the same for her? She should have fought them on this, Hawke thought. She should have told her them that no, they didn’t need to ‘protect’ her by keeping their distance. She should have stayed in Kirkwall, at the very least.

Then again, it was hard to champion a city if you became public enemy number one.

Oh sure, no one blamed Hawke for blowing up the Chantry directly. Varric had made certain of that. With just a few pen strokes, the dwarf had convinced people that Hawke wasn’t a monster. Unfortunately, thanks to Varric’s book, people now saw Hawke as some sad, lovesick dupe. And in Hawke’s opinion, that was a whole lot worse than being seen as a psycho.

Maker, it seemed like everyone in Thedas had read The Tale of the Champion. Complete strangers now had an opinion on Hawke’s relationship with Anders, on her proficiency as a lover, her choice of friends, how good a daughter she was, how neglectful a dog owner she was, and on everything Hawke had done for the past decade. People she’d never met constantly talked like they knew her, when really, they didn’t know shit. Hawke had even overheard some merc talking about how her bisexuality was ‘totally out of character.’

Hawke had characteristically fired a lightning bolt up his ass.

It was like she wasn’t real anymore, Hawke fumed. She now understood what Carver had meant when he complained about being overshadowed by a fictional version of himself. Hawke hadn’t believed it could happen to her, but it had.

Back when Varric had started writing those stories, it was all in good fun. Hawke still remembered those nights at the Hanged Man. Hawke would buy the rounds - she always bought the rounds - and Varric would pull out this battered old box, filled to the brim with notes and scraps of paper. If Hawke bought him enough drinks, Varric would read the latest chapter aloud. Then everyone would laugh at Varric’s dead-on portrayal of Seneschal Bran’s jackassery, or they’d drunkenly shout things like, ‘Nooooo! It happened like this!’ Varric would defend his right to artistic inaccuracy, Isabela would call out his lies, and Hawke would contribute a few horrible one-liners and raunchy ideas for the steamy scenes. Hawke liked to suggest the latter because it never failed to make Anders’ nostrils flare. Varric usually excused himself at that point - probably to go find a pen. Hawke wasn’t sure because Anders would always grab her by the hand and drag her out of the pub. Sometimes they’d even make it home before she and Anders started in on their own steamy scene.

Good times, Hawke thought with a sigh. Maker, how she missed those days.

This past year had been cold and empty compared to all that. Hawke hadn’t heard from her friends in months, and there had been no sex at all. And at this point, Hawke didn’t bother telling people who she was anymore. Either people wanted to sell her out to the Chantry (they didn’t usually live if they tried that route) or they would tell her that she ‘wasn’t how they pictured Hawke.’ Hawke managed not to kill the people who said that, but it was always a struggle.

Hawke had never given two shits about gossip. But that was before every person in the whole damn world had an opinion about her. And that was before her friends had abandoned her, leaving her alone to deal with all these gossiping strangers. Fame had made Hawke smug and confident. Notoriety had made her self-conscious. But being ignored by her friends? That had shattered her.

Yeah, Hawke thought, glaring into the rain. That’s what this was. This was a full-up identity crisis.

And it sucked.

Well fuck ‘em all Hawke thought, yanking on the oars with each burst of profanity. Fuck her stupid non-friends who never contacted her. Fuck Kirkwall, fuck the Chantry, and fuck Anders. Really, fuck Anders. Because of Anders, she was out here on the Waking Sea, bobbing around in this rowboat.

Bastard.

She hadn’t even heard about it from Anders himself. Instead, she gotten a letter from some shifty-eyed messenger. For a moment, Hawke had been thrilled. She’d thought one of her friends had remembered her at last. But then she’d read the letter.

And then she had wanted to hurt someone.

Dear Mistress Hawke,

My name is Stroud. You may remember me as the Senior Warden of Carver’s unit. I have some troubling news.

Rest assured that your brother was alive and well when last I saw him. But there are strange things going on in the Wardens these days. I cannot reveal all to an outsider, but I feel you ought to know this:

The mage Anders is accused of murdering two Grey Wardens. As of yesterday, your brother was dispatched to arrest him.

As you can imagine, this information is confidential to the Wardens. I would not normally inform an outsider, but I find I need your help. I have been relieved of my command and summoned to Orlais. Meanwhile, I fear your brother and his unit are headed into grave danger.

Your brother once hinted that Anders has powers far beyond those of a normal mage. Carver also explicitly asked that I not involve you in this matter. But I fear this manhunt will go poorly, and so I am writing to ask your help. Wardens’ lives hang in the balance, Mistress Hawke, and that is more important to me than shielding your feelings.

If you hold any sway with Anders at all, I ask you to assist your brother’s search. Anders was last spotted near Crestwood Village, in northern Ferelden. Carver and his unit are already en route, so I urge you to travel there in all haste.

Maker speed your travels, Champion. I am sorry it has come to this.

Hawke gritted her teeth. She was sorry it had come to this as well. She was sorry her brother was such a secretive prat, sorry Stroud couldn’t defy his orders and head to Crestwood to help Carver out. But most of all, Hawke was sorry that Anders was involved.

Because Maker help me, I still don’t know how I feel about him.

Though really, Hawke found it hard to believe that Anders had murdered a couple of Grey Wardens. Templars, sure. Anders had always been itching to fight those jerks. But Hawke hadn’t thought that Anders cared much about the Wardens one way or the other. So long as he wasn’t being dragged back into the ranks, Anders was fine with them. So what in the Void had sent Anders around the bend like that?

Better question, Hawke thought darkly, Was he ever sane in the first place?

I should never have left Anders on his own. Hawke thought, with a pang of guilt and sorrow. And then, Actually, I probably should have killed him when I had a chance. That would have been more merciful. But no, I couldn’t have done that. So I should have stayed with him. I should have kept him safe. I should have made him come with me. I should have made him set things right. I should have handed him over to the city for trial…

“Ugh,” Hawke groaned aloud.

This was another thing Hawke hated about being on her own: without company, there was nothing to do but regret the past and worry about the future. And that just wasn’t Hawke’s style. She had never been a mull-it-over kind of person before. Introspecting was for dudes - like Carver, or Fenris, or Anders. Hawke had always been the cast-first-and-consult-the-spellbook-later type. It worked for her. Most of the time. Except when it didn’t. Hawke had never been able to figure out why.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she never bothered to introspect?

Nah.

Well, at least she had a plan now, Hawke thought. She was off to save her brother. The ungrateful punk would probably chew her out for her interference, but Hawke wasn’t about to lose Carver on top of everything else. And if that meant she had to kill Anders to save Carver…

Hawke frowned. Okay, maybe she could avoid killing Anders. Because Hawke didn’t know if she could kill her ex. Scream at him, yeah. Toss his ass a half a mile down the road, sure. That would be cathartic. Fun, even. But to actually kill him? Her stomach hurt just thinking of it.

And this would be why introspection was bad, Hawke thought. Denial was much better. So Hawke decided to ignore the whole messy problem until she found Anders. Then she’d decide what to do.

“You just gotta find Anders before the Wardens do, Hawke,” she muttered.

And there she went, talking to herself again. How long had she been out here anyhow?

Hawke tried to glance over her shoulder to check her progress, but just got a facefull of sea-spray for her efforts. She shook her head and turned back around. The Siren’s Booty had long since disappeared into the mist, leaving Hawke without any landmark. No surprise there, really. The pirates hadn’t wanted to take her on board in the first place. What kind of fool sailed to the Storm Coast in the dead of winter anyway, they’d asked her? Besides, they’d added, there were rumors of a high dragons living on one of these islands. It had taken Hawke a good deal of charm to get them to allow her on board.

Actually, it had taken a bag of gold, name-dropping Admiral Isabela, and a minor lightning-bolt show. That had gained Hawke a ride. The pirates had taken Hawke within sight of the shore and even given her a boat to row the rest of the way. Of course, they’d neglected to mention it was a lot further than it looked. And that was before the fog had rolled in. For all she knew, she might be rowing herself out to sea.

CRAAWWWW!!

A dark shadow swooped overhead with a piercing cry. Hawke gasped and ducked – then she scowled. For a second there, she’d thought it was the rumored dragon, but it was just a raven. A very large raven, Hawke added with a frown. It’s dark wings sliced through the mist and for a moment, Hawke thought she saw a flicker of green shimmer over it’s body. It looked like the bird was circling her boat. Maybe it thought that Hawke would die out here and then it would make a meal out of her?

“Try it, bird,” Hawke snarled at the creature. “Try it and fry.”

And now she’d gone from talking to herself to talking to the wildlife. Lovely.

Once again the raven swooped by, shrieking and flapping its wings right over Hawke’s head. If Hawke hadn’t knows any better, it was like the bird wanted to get her attention.

Son of a bitch! There it went again! The raven made as if to dive-bomb Hawke’s head, but then pulled up at the last minute.

“Alright,” Hawke snarled, whirling after the creature. “You asked for… Oh shit!”

Right behind the boat was a large rock. Hawke’s jaw dropped and she lunged for the oars.

“Shit!” Hawke hissed. “Shit, shit, shit!”

With a jolting WHAM, the boat rammed into the rock, and Hawke felt her teeth clatter together. Thankfully, the boat didn’t break, but lurched drunkenly out onto the waves again. Hawke steadied herself, then glanced up at the lone rock she’d run into. It jutted out of the sea like a jagged pedestal. On top stood the remains of a dwarven statue. The water-worn paragon held a massive hammer in its one remaining fist, but its other arm and its head had been lost to time and tides. As Hawke watched, the large raven circled around the statue, then landed upon the statue’s stumpy neck. The raven gave a great, self-satisfied screech, as if to say I did try to warn you.

Hawke frowned. No, she thought. No, that was too much. It was one thing to talk to the evil-looking bird. It was another thing entirely to imagine that it was talking back. Besides, perched up there like that, it looked like a tiny feathered head on a massive stone body. Creepy, really.

Hawke shuddered and turned around, sizing up the foggy cove that she’d blindly rowed herself into. Behind her was a cliff of columnal rock, looking rather like a palisade wall made of stone logs. There were two more pedestal-like formations as well, with mist curling around them. Each pedestal was topped with a crumbling paragon. These statues, however, had fared less well than the first. One had only a torso and one appeared to be nothing more than a pair of feet. But Hawke didn’t pay them much mind. Instead, she squinted at the cave set into the cliff’s face.

The cavern looked rather like a yawning mouth, open wide as if to drink the entire ocean. A slick flight of stairs hung from it’s jaw, leading down to the spit of sand. Hawke could see solid dwarven columns and a shadowy great hall, but the rest of the cavern swiftly tunneled back into darkness.

Whelp, Hawke thought. This was the place. The old raider outpost that might or might not be inhabited. The pirates told her she was welcome to whatever gear she found there. They’d also told her that if there were monsters inside, she’d be clearing them out herself.

Fair enough, Hawke had thought. Monsters she could handle. If she had to choose between monsters and rowing alone, Hawke would take monsters any day of the week.

Still, no reason to rush in stupid-like. Hawke rowed more slowly now, watching the cave carefully. She thought she saw a red glow within. A fire, maybe? But there were no boats moored here, which suggested that no one was using the place for smuggling. Either way, there was something weird about this place. Hawke didn’t like it.

The raven didn’t seem to like it either. The bird gave a short croak and swept off of its perch. With outstretched wings, the raven circled Hawke’s boat, then landed insolently upon the prow. It gave a low, disapproving cluck in the back of its throat and cocked its head at the cave.

Was the raven trying to scout for her, Hawke wondered? She supposed she could use the help. She rowed cautiously, glancing back every few strokes to make sure she was headed in the right direction. Soon she felt a soft resistance under the boat as the hull hit the small spit of sandy beach. Hawke saw no footprints, no garbage, no sign that anyone had been here in a long time. The beach held nothing but driftwood and a few shells.

Alright then, Hawke thought. Wasn’t attacked right away. Always a good start.

Hawke jumped out of the boat, the toes of her boots sloshing in the shallows. She reached into the boat and grabbed a bit of rope, then put her back to the cave as she dragged the boat further up the shore. As she did this, the raven kept its beady eyes fixed on the cave. Hawke found that oddly comforting. Once she’d tied the boat to a crumbling pier, Hawke turned to consider the cave for herself.

“Atmospheric,” she remarked. “Got to give the Paragons credit for the decor.” The raven gave a small croak of assent.

And Hawke supposed that was a line crossed: both talking to the raven and thinking it talked back. Well what the Void, Hawke figured? She’d been going nuts without company. Having a creepy, feathered sidekick was way better than going it alone.

Hawke swept her wet hair out of her eyes, then drew her pack out of the boat. She threaded her arms through the straps, then reached into the boat once more for her weapon. It looked like an old fashioned poleaxe, but it was really a mage’s staff, enchanted to transfer all of Hawke’s considerable magic power into phantom blows that punched enemies from across a battlefield. And if that didn’t work, there was also the slicey end. Hawke always made sure the blade was sharp, and she wielded the heavy weapon with ease. The staff was part of her cover, actually. Everyone assumed that mages were tall, willowy, and pale. So Hawke - short, farm-girl strong, and sun-browned - always took them by surprise. No one ever guessed Hawke was an apostate, since she looked like she could bench-press a druffalo.

Hawke hooked the weapon onto a holster on her pack, then strutted up the steps two at a time. Her boots made an echoing clank on the stone, and the waves outside continued to crash against the rocks. Hawke came to a halt at the top of the stairs and cocked her head. The cave was squarish, like any dwarven hall, but lit with a strange light. She’d seen that red glow from outside, but here it was brighter, weirder, and it seemed to… hum?

Hawke felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She wasn’t easily spooked. She’d gone toe-to-toe with dragons without flinching. Call it the upside that whole not-introspecting thing, but because Hawke didn’t think things through much, she didn’t psych herself out much, either. She typically found herself in the middle of dangerous situations before she had time to worry about them. And by then, her survival instincts were far stronger than fear.

But this was enough to rattle even Hawke. The last time she’d heard that hum, it was in a dwarven thaig, deep in a dark tunnel. Wait no, the last time she’d heard that hum was when Knight-Commander Meredith of Kirkwall had up and turned into a red-lyrium zombie-lady. And if that stuff up there was red and glowing and humming…

Even I can put two and two together.

It occurred to Hawke that if this had been in one of Varric’s stories, he would have written that she walked toward the red light like she was in a trance, stretching out her trembling fingers and all those dramatic-tension-y-building things. But Hawke wasn’t a tool. She had her staff in her hands and she kept glancing from side to side as she crept down the line of columns to where the humming grew loudest. Then she lunged out of the shadows, bladed staff at the ready and lightning flickering in her hand.

Hawke stopped short, stared, then let the blunt end of her staff thunk to the ground.

“Aw, shit. Are you kidding me?” she groaned.

It was lyrium. Red lyrium. A whole pile of it, as if crazy old Meredith had taken a giant crap right there on the floor. It smelled just as rank as she remembered, too - sort of like sulfur and the nasty parts of the Fade. But what was it doing here in Ferelden?

Not sure I really want to know the answer.

As Hawke stood there staring, the raven fluttered over to the ground at Hawke’s feet. The bird hopped along the floor on one leg, back and forth in front of the lyrium.

“Don’t touch that shit,” Hawke told the raven. “It gets into every crack.”

The raven croaked back and continued hopping about right in front of her. If Hawke didn’t know any better, she would have thought that the bird needed to use the toilet.

“Well,” Hawke sighed. “Nothing I can do about it now. If I blast it with lightning, I might make it worse. Better to get a move on and then…”

“CRAAWWK!!”

The raven flapped up into the air and landed right on Hawke’s shoulder. Hawke swore loudly and only just kept herself from blasting the bird with lightning.

“Get off me, you stupid thing!” Hawke said, shoving it gently with her open palm. For some reason, she didn’t want to kill her company, but the raven was seriously creeping her out now. Its little claws scrabbled along her fur ruff, just inches from her neck.

“Get off me. Anders was the one who liked feathers on his shoulders, not…”

But here Hawke stopped short. Because as she shoved at the raven, she realized that it was only holding onto her shoulder with one clawed foot. It held its other leg out, and tied to that leg was a bit of red ribbon and a rolled piece of parchment. Hawke’s jaw dropped.

“Wait, you’re a messenger pigeon?”

The bird clicked its beak at her.

“Messenger raven, sorry,” Hawke corrected. “But that message isn’t… That’s not for me, is it?”

The raven cocked it’s head at her. Maybe it had been surprised by the eagerness in Hawke’s voice. Hawke certainly was. She didn’t realize she’d been this desperate for more mail. In order to cover for it, Hawke snorted and feigned nonchalance.

“Oh, come on,” she snorted. “Do you really expect me to believe that a messenger raven just happened to find me out on the Waking Sea in a rowboat? That’s ridiculous. That’s…”

Something flickered over the raven’s feathers just then - a kind of ghostly green sheen that sent an answering hum through Hawke’s mind.

“Enchanted ravens,” Hawke murmured. “Huh. Whose pet are you, I wonder? That’s old-as-balls magic, right there.”

The raven gave her what could only be called a superior look.

“Sure are a clever bird though,” Hawke mused. “Is it the spell that makes you so intelligent? Or were you a smart bird to begin with?”

The raven preened at that, ruffling it’s feathers and clicking it’s beak.

“You’re certainly a vain thing,” Hawke said. “Come on then, let’s have the letter.”

The raven stayed remarkably still as Hawke untied the ribbon, like an Orlesian show dog at a contest. It seemed to be holding it’s breath, as if it knew how very important this part of the job was. Hawke chuckled as she unwounded the message from it’s moorings.

“You remind me of my old mabari,” she told the raven. “Fluffy passed on shortly after mother died, but he was just as determined to do every task right. Now who wrote to me…”

Hawke opened the letter, and she didn’t speak for a few minutes after. For first, it was hard to read by the dull, reddish light of the lyrium. And secondly, Hawke recognized the handwriting at once. That was Varric’s writing, and Hawke felt a sort of bitter tenderness as she imagined his voice saying:

Hey Hawke,

Okay, so look. I’ve got some bad news and some worse news…

Hawke read on. And on. And then her brows furrowed. She walked back to the mouth of the cave, and stood at the edge of the drizzling rain as she read the letter again. Then she read it again. Then…

“The Void!” Hawke snapped, glaring out at the waves. She turned her head to find the raven hadn’t moved from its perch on her shoulder.

“Corypheus is still alive?” she asked the bird. “How did that happen?” The raven fluttered its wings in what looked like a shrug.

“Maybe someone resurrected him?” Hawke mused. The raven settled its wings and cocked its head.

“Yeah, I don’t know either,” Hawke muttered, looking back to the letter. “Blast you, Varric. Captured by Seekers and you still didn’t send for my help? Jerk. And now he’s working with a Seeker? And the entire mage rebellion has joined with the Inquisition? And what the Void is an Inquisition anyway? Maker’s arse! I missed a ton! Let’s see here… Blah, blah, blah… Red lyrium has spread… Ahead of you on that one, Varric. And something about red templars. Red templars? Now they’re color coded or something? Fucking templars. Always so pretentious.”

Hawke sighed, then turned to the raven. “Why am I always the last one to know anything?”

The raven met Hawke’s stare. And maybe Hawke was just completely loosing it, because the bird seemed to have dog-like sympathy in it’s beady little black eyes.

“Well then,” Hawke sighed. “Never let it be said that Brigid Hawke did not clean up her own messes. Actually, people say that all the time because of Anders and… Never mind. Yes, of course I’ll come help with Corypheus. But first I have to I deal with my insane ex boyfriend. I’m sure you understand.”

The raven made a kind of guttural sound and bobbed it’s head, pointing it’s beak toward the letter in Hawke’s hands.

“What, send a reply? Oh yeah, good idea. I ought to tell Varric where I’m going, in case… Oh!” Hawke brightened. “Yeah! Varric can come with me to Crestwood! The more the merrier when hunting former friends, right? That is, if he’s not too busy with this Inquisition of his.”

Huh? Had that sounded a bit jealous? Hawke hadn’t realized it until she spoke, but she was feeling a bit peeved at being left out of this Inquisition-thingy. Varric could have invited Hawke to his wild Ferelden party months ago.

But even though she felt annoyed, Hawke felt a spark of good humor rising within her. One of her friends had remembered her. He’d sent a friendly little bird to keep her company, if only for an afternoon. And okay, Varric had only reached out to Hawke because he needed her to kill something. But really, what was new there? That was simply how Hawke met people and made friends. Someone needed something dead, and she was the girl to do it. That was how she’d met Anders, for example.

And now Stroud needed Anders dead.

Now that’s what Varric would call a ‘plot twist.’

Hawke chewed her lower lip. Right, killing Anders. Not something she wanted to do if she could help it. Well, she’d blow up that bridge when she came to it, Hawke figured. No need to worry about that when it would just ruin her mood.

“Alright then!” Hawke said, turning to the raven. “Baroness Plucky, is it? If you just let me find a bit of pencil, I’ll send you back to…”

The raven shrieked right in Hawke’s ear and began flapping it’s wings wildly.

“Son of a bitch, Pluck!” Hawke shouted, reaching up to grab her ears. “What the Void was that for?”

But ‘Pluck’ zoomed off of Hawke shoulder, wings flapping wildly. Hawke whirled around just in time to see something red and glowing rushing at her. The raven shrieked as it swooped over Hawke’s attacker. The red thing shrieked right back, and Hawke added to chaos by shouting:

“Holy shit!”

Hawke didn’t have time to think, and that was probably a good thing. Thinking would have gotten her killed. She saw something rushing her, saw a raised sword, and smelled the bitter tang of bloodmagic in the air. Her hands came up of their own accord and Hawke blasted that whatever-it-was across the cave.

Or at least she should have. The spell she’d cast should have dropped three men, but as it was, it merely tossed the armored attacker back on his ass. The creature began to stagger to it’s feet, and that was Hawke’s cue to rush in. She raised her hand and and turned her palm over. A clang echoed through the cavern as the armored glowing guy slammed into the ground. But before she could slice head from neck (was there a neck in there? It was hard to tell), two shards of red lyrium came slashing out from the creature’s body.

Holy Maker, those are it’s hands! Hawke thought - and that thought almost cost her her ankles. Hawke leaped back, and the creature gave a low hissing sound that might have been a laugh.

Wrong move, asshole.

Hawke was pissed now. The thing had both startled her and laughed at her. It needed to die. Hawke slashed up with her halberd, then right back down. The mage-staff channeled her blows and the blade sliced off the creature’s pointy arms. It screamed, but Hawke didn’t stop there. She kept whacking off things that looked arm-like and head-like until the screaming stopped and the body no longer moved. Hawke gave the creature one last whack for good measure, then stopped.

As suddenly as it had begun, the battle-madness wore off of her. Hawke shuddered and came back to herself, just as she always did.

“What the fuck is that?”

The sound of her own voice startled her. She sounded as scared and squeaky as a child. But that was red lyrium on that guy’s body, and that meant…

Red templars, Hawke thought, shuddering as she wiped the blood from her face. Surely Varric didn’t mean…

Hawke kicked the body over, then felt her stomach knot in disgust. Her handiwork was pretty gruesome, but far worse was the sight of red lyrium growing out of a templar’s breastplate - and red lyrium circling what was left of the man’s face.

“I think I’m going to be sick…”

But before Hawke could vomit all over the red templar’s body, she heard a weak cry. It was more like a peep - like a baby bird who’d fallen from its nest. Hawke whirled around at once.

“Pluck!” she cried.

The poor thing was a mere flutter of wings on the floor of the cave. All thoughts of the attack were forgotten as Hawke dashed for the bird. She slipped a little in the pool of templar blood, then skidded to her knees beside the bird.

“Hey, hey,” Hawke crooned, reaching for the raven. “You’re not allowed to die yet, Pluck. You’ve got to take my message to Varric.”

The raven looked up at her, a wounded, watery expression in its beady eye. Hawke flinched to see its wing was bent at an odd angle.

“S’okay,” Hawke murmured, reaching a hand out and hoping to the Maker that healing worked as well on birds as it did on humans and elves and dwarves. Blue light filled her palms, and she settled her hands over the raven.

“Varric never bothered to tell anyone this,” she murmured, “but I’m pretty good at healing. Slaughter looks better on paper, though, so Varric played up the lightning and the punching and stuff. But rain comes from storms, too, right? Destruction is the flip side of life and all that shit.”

With this, Hawke raised her hand. The raven flapped its wings, and then, finding that it was not dead, fluttered to the air with a echoing cry. It did a victory lap around a nearby pillar and came back to land on Hawke’s shoulder. Then, to Hawke’s surprise and delight, it nuzzled its shiny black head against Hawke’s cheek.

“Aw, you’re welcome,” Hawke said, grinning like an idiot. “And nice work with the warning, Pluck. I didn’t even see that guy coming.”

Pluck responded with a low croak, but it was not a cheerful sound. Rather, the raven sharply turned and ducked its head as if pointing with its beak. Hawke turned, dreading what she would see.

And yep, those would be the monsters. Three of ‘em. All red templars, and all of them crawling out of a hole in the wall.

Well there’s the exit, Hawke thought. Now I just need to fight my way out of here real strategic like.

Hawke’s smiled turned dangerous.

“Hey Pluck,” she said, speaking low since the templars still hadn’t spotted them. “Wanna help me drop some color-coded assholes?”

The raven made a small noise in it’s throat.

“Come on,” Hawke murmured. “It’ll be fun. You be the distraction, and I’ll fry ‘em up and hack ‘em to bits. And tell you what: if you manage not to get yourself killed, I’ll find you a nice nug for dinner before I send you back to Varric with my letter. You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten lightning-fricasseed nug, a la Hawke. What do you say?”

The raven looked at her, and Hawke could swear that its beady eyes said, You’re on.