This was the worst tavern in all Thedas.
The room was too cold, the beer was too warm, and the smell of rotting fish filled the air. And as for this… Was this supposed to be a sandwich? Maker knew what was in it. Cabbage and moldy cheese and maybe that was mustard? It looked too lumpy for mustard. The meat smelled like pickles and the pickles smelled like meat.
Andraste’s tits, Carver Hawke was sick of Crestwood.
Carver glared out of the storm-lashed windows. According to the locals, this tavern was just a stand-in. The ‘real’ tavern stood by the shores of the undead-infested lake, having been built into the upper floor of the dam. Who put a pub on top of a dam, Carver Hawke wanted to know? Idiots, that’s who. Served them right the place had been overrun by zombies and they’d had to retreat to this sad shack.
Outside, the rain pounded down on the mossy roofs and muddy streets of the fishing village. In the distance, one paunchy farmer stood guard by the wooden gates, armed with nothing but a crude bow and a pitchfork. Hardly a match for the corpses crawling out of the lake, Carver thought. Certainly no match for the bandits that roamed the hills. This town gave new meaning to the word ‘pathetic.’ But Carver had no time to help these people sort out their troubles. He had troubles of his own.
“Another drink, dearie?” the barkeep asked him.
Carver shook his head. The ale tasted like swill, but Carver managed to keep that fact to himself. Politeness and all that.
“You’ve scarce touched your meal,” the woman said.
Carver eyed the plate. “Not hungry,” he lied.
He hoped the barkeep didn’t hear the way his stomach growled just then. But then, the woman had ignored every question he’d asked her. Either she was deaf or difficult. How was Carver supposed to interrogate the villagers when no one would speak to him? He tried again:
“You’ve seen no strangers but us Wardens? No other travelers of any kind?”
“Yes, yes,” the woman nodded. “Fierce storms for weeks. Oft happens as winter’s comin’ on.”
Carver scowled. There she went again.
“Strangers,” he said, loudly. Probably too loudly. “Walking through the village.” He walked his fingers across the dirty bar.
”‘Course we have a heap o’ storms in spring, too,” the woman went on, as if Carver had not spoken.
Maker, he thought, glaring at the leaky ceiling. She was impossible. Carver wondered if his fellow Wardens were having better luck searching in the rain. Carver hoped not. If anyone was going to find Anders and beat the Void out of him, it would be Carver. He turned back to the woman and nearly growled:
“Apostates? Seen any?”
“No need to shout, dear. I’m registered at the local Chantry.”
Carver drew back. Was this woman saying she was a mage? Surely not. The woman grinned toothlessly and began wiping down the counter.
“You gonna eat that, dearie, or should I feed it to the dog?”
The woman pointed at his sandwich. Carver held his hands up, as if to indicate he’d given up. The woman dumped the food on the floor at her feet, where it landed with a wet ‘splat.’ Some furry thing shuffled out of the corner and gobbled it up in a flurry of slurps and snuffles.
“I’m looking for a man,” Carver tried one last time. “Slim fellow. Blond. Angry. Glowing blue eyes.”
Had the barkeeper flinched at that? Carver was fairly certain that she had. Not that it did him any good. The Maker had given Carver all the perception in the Hawke family, and his sister had gotten all of the charisma. Carver could read people well enough, but he never had any luck in getting them to open up new pages.
“If you can just tell me where he’s gone…” Carver began.
The woman ignored him. Instead, she ducked below the bar to pick the plate up off to the floor. To Carver’s disgust, she wiped the plate down with her greasy rag, then set it back on the pile of plates behind the bar. The dog-like-thing trotted back to the corner, flopped down, and snorted itself to sleep.
“Look,” Carver said, watching the woman closely. “I know that an apostate was coming this way. If you can just tell me where he’s gone…”
“Thought you Wardens only looked for darkspawn.”
Carver jerked upright at that, his hand landing on his sword. Some idiot had sneaked up behind him. Carver glared over his shoulder. It was the old man who’d been sitting in the far corner. Carver had thought the fellow was a fisherman, the way he’d been staring mournfully down at the lake. But it seemed the fellow had given up his chair by the window.
“What’s it to you?” Carver said.
“I’m the mayor of this town,” the old fellow returned. “My business to notice who comes and goes.”
Carver raised a brow at that. This was the mayor? No wonder this town was such a pile of shit.
“We don’t see Wardens around these parts much,” the man went on. “Not since the Blight.” When he said ‘the Blight,’ the man choked on the words like a hairball.
Carver turned away with a huff. Typical civilian. Lots of Fereldens thought they knew the horrors of the darkspawn, just because they’d fled a village way back when. Carver had been like that when he was younger. But after years of living with the Blight inside of him, after hearing the Calling singing long before it’s time, Carver had grown colder. These people knew nothing of darkness or of death.
“Look,” Carver said, his attention back on the bartender. “I need to find that mage.”
“Would like to have some tea for servin’,” the woman said. “But it’s dear these days.” She broke off in a fit of coughing. It sounded like someone letting steam out of a kettle in stops and starts.
“Better move on, son,” the mayor warned, taking a step toward Carver. “We don’t want trouble. Seen enough trouble to last us a lifetime.”
“Maker’s breath,” Carver grumbled. Was the man trying to threaten him? That fellow was no fighter. Carver could take him out with a butter knife.
“Go on then, son,” the man said. His voice quavered, and his hand shook as he made a shooing motion. Carver snorted at the display.
It occurred to him that maybe he’d taken the wrong tack with these people. His sister would have tried to flatter information out of these two. Compliment their horrible little town. Buy them a drink. Maybe seduce the… No. For all her faults, his sister had some standards.
But what was Carver supposed to do now? He’d feigned a fever, had persuaded his fellow Wardens to go out searching on their own. Carver had hoped it would give him time to question the villagers in private. Only now it looked like he’d botched the effort from the start. For either Anders wasn’t here, or Anders was here and he’d already convinced these people to lie for him.
Carver’s eyes narrowed. It wouldn’t be the first time that Anders had convinced people to lie for him.
“I’m looking for a mage named Anders,” Carver said, giving up all pretense. “I need to beat some information out of him.”
Had the barkeep flinched at that? Carver couldn’t tell. The mayor didn’t look happy though.
“Young man,” the mayor said sternly, “We do not condone brawling in this town.”
Carver snorted. If a fight broke out in this town, this fellow wouldn’t be able to stop it. The mayor would be the first to lose teeth.
“Storms have a way of movin’ on,” the barkeep said, turning around and looking right at Carver.
Wait. Was that meant to be a conspiratorial wink? Or did the woman have a facial spasm? Carver didn’t know, and by now, he was too annoyed to care. Let Anders find his own way out of his own mess, Carver thought. He shoved himself away from the bar.
“I’ve got to piss,” Carver said by way of farewell.
“Aim away from the building, love,” the barkeep called after him.
Well at least she’d heard that.
Carver tossed a few coins onto the counter, then looked back when he heard the bartender gasp. Belatedly, Carver realized he’d left a little too much money. Oh well, he thought. He couldn’t very well take it back now. It would make it look like he hadn’t intended to drop a half a sovereign on lunch. And Carver hated to appear thoughtless. He let the coins lie.
It took Carver a minute or two to find a good place to relieve himself. He walked a distance away from the village until he came to an open road. There were no travelers on it. It seemed that in Crestwood, the merchant road was the most deserted place around. Again: pathetic.
Carver crossed the road, then made his way down the embankment on the far side. He found a spot that was hidden from view of everything but the lake. Once he’d reached a level patch of ground, Carver glanced around, then yanked off his gauntlets. These he tucked into his armpit, then he flipped up the front flap of his tunic. A moment or two later, Carver had unbuckled his codpiece and unlaced his trousers. He sighed, looking out over the lake as he relieved himself. But when he went to shake himself off, Carver heard a sound behind him.
Carver whirled around, hand going to his sword. He found himself standing with a blade to his throat.
“Poor choice of toilet, Carver.”
Void take it, Carver thought. The only thing worse than being caught with your trousers down was literally being caught with your trousers down.
“Anders,” Carver growled. But really, it was hard to sound fierce when he had his dick hanging out.
There was no mistaking the man on the other end of that bladed staff. Anders’ face was pale and covered in stubble, half-hidden by his hood. But Carver would know those flickering eyes anywhere. Besides, the fool was wearing a feathered short cape over his coat. As if that didn’t give him away to every bounty hunter in Thedas.
“You look like shit,” Carver said, glaring at him.
“And you look…” Anders glanced down, then grimaced. “For the love of the Maker, Carver. Lace up.”
“Didn’t ask for you to sneak up on me while I took a piss,” Carver returned. But when Anders lowered his staff, Carver put himself away as quickly as he could.
“Might as well have,” Anders said, his eyes turning swiftly back to their usual brown. “You were careless. What do you mean asking after me like that?” He jerked a thumb back toward the tavern. “And stumbling off by yourself? That’s just asking for trouble.”
“Didn’t ask for your advice either,” Carver said. He flushed, both from anger and from knowing Anders was right. He grabbed his gauntlets and shoved them back on.
“So where were you?” Carver asked, unable to keep a sneer from his voice. “Hiding out in that old woman’s attic?”
“Yes,” Anders said.
“I’ve got a camp set up a bit further in, but I needed supplies.”
“A bit further where?” Carver wanted to know. Anders didn’t answer that. He was looking around, as if checking the air for signs of an ambush.
“So you heard the whole thing back there?” Carver asked. “Just listening in on me?”
“Saw you drop a lot of coin to find me,” Anders said, turning back in Carver’s direction. “What was that about? The Wardens never had deep pockets before.”
“Er, yes, well…” Carver didn’t want to get into that. “Hang on, how come I couldn’t sense you? Ought to have been able to, what with the Blight in our blood and all.”
“I don’t know,” Anders said. “Maybe Justice hides the song. Or perhaps your taint is stronger than my taint.”
Carver cringed. He’d never liked that term. The ‘tainted’ blood of the Wardens made for all sorts of awkward conversations.
“Why didn’t you just say that I’d sent for you?” Anders asked. “Would have saved you a lot of trouble - and the coin.”
“Because I’ve got two Wardens with me,” Carver returned. “Couldn’t risk someone telling them that I was looking for you all friendly-like, now could I?”
“Orders to kill me on sight, is it?” Anders’s eyes flickered again, and for a moment, his voice deepened unnaturally. Carver wanted to take a step back, but he’d be damned if he let Anders knew how much Justice unnerved him.
“Who are they?” Anders said.
“Orlesians. No one you know.” Carver didn’t have to elaborate. They both knew that the Orlesian wardens were conservative, rule-following, and not terribly fond of Fereldens.
“So tell me,” Carver said. “Why is it that I get a cryptic letter from you - unsigned, no less - just days before my unit gets the order to hunt you down? What’s going on?”
“Hunt me?” Anders stiffened. “They’ve actually sent Wardens to hunt me?”
“Don’t think that makes you special,” Carver said. “They’ve locked up anyone who questions orders these days. That’s why I’m keeping my mouth shut around the others. Took lot of work to convince them to let me come along on this mission. Had to make a good show of hating you.”
Anders raised a blond brow. “I’m sure that wasn’t difficult.”
“It wasn’t,” Carver assured him.
They stared at each other, the rain pouring down around them. Carver waited a moment more, until Anders’ watchful silence became too much to bear.
“So what’s going on, Anders? Dangers to the Wardens? Some secret evil? You’re as bad as Varric with your vague foreshadowing.”
“I ran into a magister on the way here,” Anders said, his eyes flickering once again.
“Magister?” Carver jerked his chin back. “As in, a Tevinter mage?”
“He was in the company of Wardens,” Anders said, watching Carver closely.
Carver frowned. That sounded unlikely, but then, a lot of unlikely things had been happening lately.
“Explain,” he said.
Anders did. Quickly and brutally, he told Carver of the mage named Erimond, and what he’d done to a couple of Wardens and their recruits. Carver’s gut churned with every word - though that may have been the sandwich.
“Erimond is working for someone,” Anders finished. “Someone who’s trying to trap the Wardens, get them to… I don’t know. Something to do with raising demons. Lots of them. And the Warden-Commander knows about it. She ordered it. Not the Hero of Ferelden,” he added. “Some other one. Orlesian name.”
“Warden-Commander Clarel?” Carver asked. The churning in his gut grew choppier.
“I’m not sure,” Anders said. “Might be. I don’t remember the details too well. Justice was screaming in my head the entire time.”
Well that was helpful, Carver thought.
“Warden-Commander Clarel ordered us all to western Orlais,” he said.
“Western Orlais?” Anders frowned. “Why?”
Carver paused for a moment before admitting: “Because we hear the Calling. All of us. Every Warden in the world.”
Anders’ eyes went wide. “Maker save us,” he murmured.
“You hear it, too?” Carver asked.
“Like an itch,” Anders said, scowling. “But if every Warden is dying at once… If they all died…”
“No more Wardens, no more protection against the Blights,” Carver said with brutal efficiency.
“Are they trying to make Wardens immortal with that demon ritual?” Anders stared into the rain with unfocused eyes, as if he’d find answers in the mist. “Stave off the Calling? Maybe the blood magic can stop the…” His eyes flashed blue, and he ducked his head as if in pain. “No, no,” he muttered. “That makes no sense.”
“Nothing in the Wardens makes sense,” Carver said. “All I know is that we were supposed to look for you and kill you. Then we’re supposed to sail to Val Firmin and head west along the Abyssal Road. No final destination given. ‘They’ll find you,’ was what Stroud said. Cagey emphasis and all.”
“Who are ‘they’?” Anders wanted to know. “More Wardens? Or magisters?”
Carver shuddered at the thought. “I don’t know. They don’t tell me anything.”
“The Abyssal Road?” Anders murmured. “There’s nothing out there but…” His eyes went wide as he answered his own question: “Blightlands. He wanted a place where the Veil was thinner.”
“Dunno why a cold desert would make the Veil thin,” Carver said.
“There must be some ruins out there.”
“There’s ruins everywhere in Thedas,” Carver said, waving a hand at the statue of Maferath that stood on a nearby hill. “Take your pick.”
“No. Erimond wanted something older… Something with more blood spilt on the stones. When he summoned the demons, he… Ergh!” With a grunt, Anders grabbed his skull. Carver drew back, his hand straying to his sword.
“Justice?” Carver asked.
“Eternally,” Anders huffed. But when he looked up, his eyes were brown.
“We have to warn the Wardens,” Anders said.
“We?” Carver snorted. “What ‘we’? You and me? The rebel apostate and the Ferelden refugee? In case you’d forgotten, you and I aren’t exactly respected in the Wardens. Especially not after I broke ranks to help my sister at the Battle of Kirkwall. I’m lucky they keep me around to swing a sword at darkspawn. And as for you…”
“We have to try,” Anders pressed.
“Try and convince every Warden in the world to ignore the Calling and worry about some ruddy magister?” Carver asked, incredulous. “You’ve got to be joking. They won’t listen to us. We haven’t got the clout. I couldn’t even convince Stroud to keep my sister out of this.”
Anders froze. His eyes went fully blue as he ground out: “What do you mean?” It was Justice’s voice that spoke.
“S-stroud sent for her,” Carver said, embarrassed by his own stammering. “I saw the letter.”
“You would put her in danger?” Suddenly, the bladed staff was at Carver’s throat again. Carver took a step back, his heel slipping, and he nearly fell into the mud.
“It wasn’t my idea!” Carver said, holding his hands out wide. “But it’s too late now. She’s already on her way.”
Anders jerked back at that. His eyes flashed brightly for a moment, and then the light went out of them. He let the bladed end of his staff fall to the ground with a ‘squish.’ The rain poured down around them, like melting twilight.
“Hawke’s coming here?” Anders gaped.
Carver might have felt pleased by how dumbfounded Anders looked just now. But instead, he frowned. Carver didn’t like Anders. He really didn’t like Anders. But he still owed the man for his life. And in a way, Anders had been like a brother-in-law to him for years. An annoying, overbearing, trouble-making, possessed brother-in-law maybe. But then, family was family. Out of foolish pity, Carver reached into his pocket.
“Here,” Carver said. “Have a look at this.”
He handed Anders a scrap of paper. Anders latched onto it as if it was a lifeline. His lips moved as he read the words. Carver had no need to check the letter again. He’d memorized it by now:
Heard about crazy uncle A. Poor slob. On my way to help you sort him out. Meet you in Crestwood. Bringing some friends to the reunion.
“Poor slob?” Anders said, looking up from the letter.
“Have you looked in a mirror lately?” Carver returned. He snatched the paper away and returned it to his pocket. Stupid mage had gotten it wet. It was rather foolish of him, but Carver didn’t want any of the messages from his sister to get ruined. There weren’t that many letters in his pocket, after all.
“When did you get that?” Anders wanted to know.
“A few days ago. We were camping up the coast a ways. Woke to a shout in my ear. Or a croak, more like. This letter was by my bedroll, but I never saw a messenger. Maybe she sent it by magic? At least the others didn’t see it.”
“So Hawke is coming…”
“With friends,” Carver added.
“Isabela, no doubt,” Anders said, his eyes flashing blue. Carver snorted at that display of jealousy.
“We could use all the allies we can get,” Carver told Anders. “On our own, we aren’t going to get very far. Much as I hate to say it, we need my sister’s help.”
“And what can Hawke do? Besides put herself in danger for my sake?”
Carver gave Anders a withering look. “I dare you to say that to her face,” Carver said. “No, go on. I dare you. See what she says. Because most likely she’ll say…”
“ROCK OUT WITH YOUR COCKS OUT!” A voice shouted from the road above. “You undead wanna shake your rotting dicks at me? Just gives me a better target for my LIGHTNING!!!”
This last word was half-sung, the note rising on a crescendo. Anders’ head whipped around. His eyes flashed blue and his nostrils flared. Carver groaned.
“And there she is. Like a punchline. How does she always manage to do that?”
“Hawke,” Anders whispered. His voice took on a desperate edge. Could he be more dramatic, Carver wondered? Honestly.
“Anders, wait,” Carver said, reaching for him. “If she’s fighting the undead in front of the village…”
But of course, Anders didn’t listen. He took off at a run, and Carver had no choice but to follow.
There was truism for you: Carver had never had any choice but to follow.
Carver went running up the hill, slip-sliding every other step. How Anders had managed to run in this mud, Carver didn’t know. By the time Carver had scrambled up the slope and crossed the road, he was several yards behind the mage. He dashed up the road, rounded a corner, and found a battle going on before the village gates.
Actually, it wasn’t much a battle. It was a light-show. The paunchy gatekeeper was no use - just shooting arrows at corpses and not hitting a single one. But in the center of the scene was Hawke, facing off against two dozen shuffling zombies.
Unfair odds, Carver thought distantly. Like zapping fish in a barrel.
His sister looked exactly as Carver remembered her. Her armor was that same spiky mess of metal and leather that she favored in Kirkwall. You’d think she would go for something less distinctive, but no, not Hawke. She was accompanied by an entourage of lightning bolts, which shivered in the air around her like a bunch of back-up dancers. Hawke’s hair stood on end, her hands were stretched wide, and as Carver watched, she whipped her arms around and then shot her hands out at an advancing line of zombies. A beam of pure light slammed into the mass of them, burning everything to ash and making the mud bubble underfoot. Hawke shouted in triumph, but it was drowned out by the loud CRACK! that split the air. An answering BOOM of thunder rumbled out over the road.
Carver stuck his fingers in his ears to try and stop the ringing. Damn it. He’d forgotten how his sister’s magic took a toll on his eardrums.
As Carver had been standing there, Anders rushed right in to the battle. Fool, Carver thought. He was likely to get himself…
Or no, Anders had put an arcane barrier on himself. That was lucky for him. He merely got thrown back onto his ass in the mud.
“Oh, shit!” Carver heard his sister yell. Then: “Anders, you stupid prick! Don’t run up behind me like that when I’m fighting. Only you deserved that! You totally deserved that. And you… Carver! Baby brother! Behind you!”
Hawke’s greeting was cut short as she shot her hand in Carver’s direction. Carver knew his sister well enough to know what came next. He dove for the ground, belly to the mud, as a bolt of lightning fired over his head.
The CRACK and BOOM of Hawke’s lightning shattered the air in a single blast. Maker, Carver thought, shaking his head. He should have packed earplugs. Anders had managed to get himself back on his feet. He started shooting fire from his fingertips, burning up all the nearby corpses. His fire was less noisy than Hawke’s lightning, but it was also less precise. To avoid damage to flesh or ears, Carver got out of casting distance and began hacking up the shambling creatures with his greatsword.
The battle only lasted a minute or two more, but it reminded Carver of all those old times. His sister and Anders fell into step at once: backs together, fighting in perfect synchronization. Carver sped around the perimeter, picking off the stragglers. If only that gatekeeper could actually fire an arrow, he might have stood in for Varric.
Carver snorted. You knew the Wardens were a rough gig when you sometimes missed being a desperate refugee, scrounging for a living in Kirkwall’s Lowtown. And sometimes, Carver did miss it. Not that he’d ever admit that to his sister, of course.
The last zombie fell. It was Hawke who killed it. She finished it off with her knife, which seemed silly to Carver. But she often did that. A bit of showing off, he suspected. Then, slowly - dramatically - Hawke turned to Anders.
The moment her eyes met his, Anders stood straighter. He’d thrown his hood back in the fighting and rain streamed down his face. His hair gleamed a dark, burnished gold, and he’d managed to tear his jacket open somehow. Also, he’d managed to tear off the shirt beneath. Or no, Carver realized. Anders wasn’t wearing a shirt beneath. He just had on leather pants, leather boots, and a long leather jacket with feathers on the shoulders. What kind of man dressed like that? Anders, apparently. His chest was white as bone, as was his face. He looked half-dead, in Carver’s opinion.
But his sister must have seen a different man. Her eyes went wide. Her lips trembled. Hawke’s chest rose and fell to the same tempo as Anders’ chest. They seemed to be breathing to the same rhythm. Anders took a step closer. Hawke lifted her chin. Anders opened his mouth. Hawke’s lips parted and she said…
She turned on her heel and walked away.
“Hawke?” Anders looked utterly dumbfounded. “Hawke!” he called after her.
Hawke kept walking. She held up her right hand, middle finger pointed at the sky. Carver laughed out loud.
“Serves you right, you bastard,” he told Anders.
“That was for you, too, brother,” Hawke shouted. She still didn’t turn around.
“Oh thanks for that,” Carver shouted back at her. Anders, however, stared after Hawke, his bare chest still heaving. Entirely too dramatic, Carver thought with a sneer. Maker, what a fool.
“Hawke!” Anders called.
This time, Hawke stopped. She didn’t turn around, but stood at the corner where the path met the merchant road. Anders ran down the slope, and Carver followed at more leisurely stroll. Anders reached Hawke’s side and grabbed her shoulder. Hawke whirled around. She had lighting gathered in her palms and her hair stood on end in a sudden cloud of static.
“Don’t touch me,” she snarled.
“Hawke…” Anders backed away, his hands out wide.
“Next time you touch me,” Hawke warned. “You… Just… Shouldn’t…” With each of these starts and stops, Hawke shook a sparking finger in his face.
“Don’t touch me,” she concluded, but it didn’t sound like she meant it.
Carver frowned. If Hawke couldn’t deliver a good comeback, then she wasn’t taking this well. And while Carver didn’t always agree with his sister, he wanted her to handle this well. Handle Anders into the lake, preferably.
“Hawke…” Anders said, his brows drawn together. “Maker. I’ve dreamed about seeing you again. About what I’d say. But you… At the sight of you…”
Hawke swallowed hard.
“Leave her alone, you,” Carver growled at Anders. Anders ignored Carver. Of course he did.
“Hawke, I understand that you’re angry…” Anders began.
“You understand that I’m angry?” Hawke said, eyebrows raised.
“Wrong move,” Carver put in. Still Anders ignored him.
“Hawke. Love,” Anders said. He reached out and rested his hand on her arm. “Dearest, please.”
Hawke cocked her head and looked down at Anders’ hand. Carver smirked. He folded his arms over his chest, ready to watch his sister let loose. But to Carver’s dismay, his sister placed her hand on top of Anders’ hand and she whimpered.
Maker’s breath. She actually whimpered.
“You’re not supposed to be so cute,” Hawke said.
Anders blinked. “What?”
Carver groaned. “Maker’s sake, sister. Have you no pride?”
“Shut up, Carver.” But Hawke didn’t look at Carver as she said this. She looked back up at Anders’ face.
“I mean, look at you, Anders,” Hawke went on. “You’re spattered in mud. You’re soaked in rain. Justice is flickering in your eyes every other second, and it’s clear you’re not eating and you’ve caught a cold. And yet, you’re sexier than ever. How is that even possible?”
“I…” Anders looked baffled. “Hawke, I don’t… I’m not trying to…”
“Of course you’re not. If you were trying to be sexy, it wouldn’t work. But it is working. It always works.”
Carver smacked his forehead. Maker save him. His sister was an idiot. And Anders was an idiot. Those villagers were idiots, too. For even now, Carver could see them up by the gate, pointing down the hill at where he and his sister stood. Morons, every one of them.
“I won’t kill you yet,” Hawke said tenderly, patting Anders on the arm. “But I’m going to get answers from you. And believe me, love. I. Will. Get. Answers.” She squeezed Anders’ arm with her clawed gauntlet. Anders didn’t even flinch.
“Whatever you wish,” he said, staring right back at her.
Ugh. Carver thought. You could cut the sexual tension between these two with a knife. And seeing as how this was his sister, Carver wished he had such a proverbial blade about him.
“We don’t have time for this,” Carver told them. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve got an audience up at the top of the hill.”
“We do?” Hawke looked up eagerly.
“The villagers are staring,” Carver warned her. “And any minute now, they’re going to figure out who you are…”
“The barkeep already knows who I am,” Anders said. “She’s Circle rebel. I helped her escape to this place. So’s the elf living just outside the gate.”
“The elf I’m staying with?” Carver said, incredulously. “She’s the one who told Michel and Chernoff to go looking for you up north. Maker’s breath. So you were playing us for fools!”
“It’s not that hard,” Hawke said, patting Carver’s arm. “Anyhow, who are Mitch and Turnov?”
“Michel and Chernoff,” Carver said. “My fellow Wardens.”
“I can explain everything once we’re safely in hiding,” Anders told Hawke.
“Excuse me,” Hawke sniffed. “Who said I was going anywhere with you?”
“You did,” Carver said. “Said you were going to interrogate him.”
“Oh,” Hawke said. “So I did. Wait. Where are we going?”
“There’s a cave near here…” Anders began.
“A cave?” Hawke groaned. “I was promised a tavern. Alright maybe I wasn’t. But I’d prefer a tavern.”
“Not that one, you don’t,” Carver said, pointing up the hill.
“I can’t stay in the village,” Anders told Hawke. “The Wardens want to kill me on sight.”
Hawke didn’t sound surprised to hear it. “What’s the reason this time? Because you ran away from the Wardens or because you blew up the Chantry or because you’re an abomination or…?”
“Because I know too much,” Anders said.
“That’s a new one,” Hawke said with a snort. Just then, a voice called “You there! Young people!” Carver recognized that as the mayor.
“Blast,” he hissed, glancing over his shoulder. “You two need to get going.”
“Oh, look at them,” Hawke cooed. “Awed, nervous, curious. Afraid to approach, but unable to stay away for long. My favorite kind of crowd. Look, can’t we just reason with them? Talk to your Wardens, maybe?”
“No,” Carver said.
“Okay then, we’ll all hide out in the cave together. The usual escape route. I’ll call down some fog, we run for the caves, and then we…”
“No,” Anders said.
“Fine, then I’ll go with Carver and his Wardens and I can charm them into…”
“No!” both Anders and Carver snapped.
“Alright,” Hawke said, clearly miffed.
“I’ve got to stay with the Wardens,” Carver told her. “Find out what’s going on. If either of you show up, it changes everything.”
“But you’re terrible at playing the mole, Carver. You know that.”
Carver glared at his sister. This was why he never missed her for long.
“So then we’ve got to split up,” Hawke concluded. “Balls. I hate splitting up. And how are we supposed to meet up with Varric is what I’d like to know?”
“Varric?” Anders asked. Carver did not fail to notice the tension in his voice. “He’s the friend that you’re bringing along?”
“Varric wrote to me,” Hawke shot back. “Unlike some people.”
“We don’t have time for this,” Carver told them, with another glance over his shoulder. The mayor had given up on shouting at them and had started making his way down the corpse-strewn hill.
“Right then,” Hawke said, clapping her gloves together. “Anders, I’m coming with you, and Carver, see if you can stall your Wardens until Varric shows up.”
“Pretend to search for us. But, you know. Don’t actually find us.”
Carver gritted his teeth. He didn’t like this arrangement, but he couldn’t think of a better one.
“You there!” the mayor called.
“Too bad my bird isn’t here yet,” Hawke pouted.
“Your bird?” Carver shook his head. Never mind. He wasn’t going to try to make sense of that.
“The Wardens will be suspicious if Carver lets us go,” Anders pointed out. “And if the villagers tell him we were chatting…”
“Good point,” Hawke agreed. “Better not give Carver a choice in the matter…”
Carver understood their meaning at once. He tensed. This was going to hurt.
“Better make it look good,” was all he said.
“Don’t I always?” his sister replied.
Hawke grinned and stepped back. Lightning began crackling in her palms, growing brighter, growing more dense until it formed a ball of white-hot light. Out of the corner of his eye, Carver saw the mayor stop short. The man might be a fool, but at least he knew to stay out of the way when a mage held a storm in her fist.
“You… Young lady,” he called, his voice quavering. “If you’ll just settle down…”
“Dear brother,” Hawke said, her lips curling in a smile. “I’m going to kick your ass and save my boyfriend from your clutches. All of these villagers are going to watch me spank you. Then you’re going to be so angry, you’ll join your Warden friends and try to hunt us down. But you won’t find us. Got it?”
Maker, Carver thought. Could she be more obvious? But apparently, her acting fooled the mayor. The old man gulped and backed away. Lightning coiled between Hawke’s palms.
“When a raven brings a message from our dear Aunt Revka,” Hawke told Carver. “Follow her advice to the letter.”
“It’s alliterative! Easy to remember.”
“Young woman!” the mayor shouted.
“Hawke…” Carver warned.
“Trust your big sister, Carver.”
Carver closed his eyes.
The world exploded in sound. Carver managed to shield his eyes, but not his ears. He went flying backward into the mud, landed on his shoulder, flipped over to his side, then skidded to a stop in a pile of zombies. Carver sat up, head ringing. A corpse lay before him, its mouth open on a bloodless scream. Carver glared at it.
“She hit me harder than you, I swear,” he told it.
He shook his head hard, then looked around. Mist enveloped him, as if someone had set off half-a-dozen smoke-bombs at once. Carver wasn’t certain if that was Hawke’s magic, or a little something she’d been carrying in her pockets. Carver tried to wipe the mud off of his face, and only succeeded in smearing it through his hair.
“Warden!” Carver heard someone call. “I say, Warden! Are you alright?”
“No,” he called back. The paunchy gatekeeper appeared, and held out a hand, but Carver was already clambering to his feet. The mayor came trotting up, bow-legged and scowling.
“What happened?” the mayor demanded, pointing all around them. It looked like he was trying to poke the air. “What happened here?”
“Family feud, that’s what happened,” Carver said. But neither of the others were listening. The farmer looked at the mist in awe.
“Was that…? Was that Hawke? The Champion of Kirkwall? And Anders? She saved him. Just like in the stories. Wish a woman would save me like that,” he added, wistfully.
Maker, Carver thought. The man said his sister’s name with such reverence. Of course, no one in this town had recognized Carver. He knew he should be grateful for that, but it was hard to feel thankful with a face full of slime.
“The Champion of Kirkwall?” the mayor snorted. “Oh come now! She’s a myth! Made up by apostates to frighten you into giving them a bed for the night. ‘If you don’t help us, Hawke will get you’ and all that rubbish.”
Carver’s gaze slid over to the mayor.
“Well isn’t she a myth?” the mayor asked. He did not sound so confident as before.
“She’s a myth alright,” Carver said. “A mythological pain in my ass.”
And even when she pulled her punches, his sister hit too hard. All the muscles in his shoulder ached.
“I’d better go search for her,” Carver announced to no one in particular. The world ‘search’ came out as a sneer. Yeah, he’d search all right. He’d wander down to the lake for a while, pretend to look for Hawke, and then go back to his fellow Wardens with word of his defeat at the hands of his sister. With any luck, they’d believe him.
Who was he kidding? Of course they’d believe that Hawke had trounced him.
And now Carver had to wait for word from his sister, and she was waiting for a bird. Whatever that meant. Maker’s breath, what a mess. This entire plan was stupid. All of Hawke’s plans were stupid. The only thing stupider was that Carver never had any plans of his own.
Carver stumbled down the road, not caring what the villagers thought of his performance just now. As he walked, Carver heard the Calling in his head. The funeral dirge fit his limp perfectly.