Hawke woke to dim, bluish light. She lay still, listening to the sound of her own breathing, to the sound of water dripping from a stalactite in the corner. Must be raining outside, Hawke thought. Stupid leaky cave. Hawke rubbed her eyes with the heel of her palm, rolled over…
Justice stared down at her, watching her as she slept.
Hawke gasped all this out on one breath. She windmilled out of the bedroll, but her arms and legs caught in the blankets. Hawke landed on her ass on the cave floor, scrambled back like a crab until – “Ooof!” – she hit a stalagmite. The rock pillar was covered in slime; Hawke pressed herself into the ooze. A blanket remained wrapped around her leg, a shackle trailing back toward the bed.
Glowing eyes tracked her every movement. The glowing mouth frowned, and glowing smoke curled from the corners of the lips. In the darkness, the glowing body was naked. Fissures of light ran down the skin in veins, like cracks in badly-repaired pottery.
And then there was Hawke, butt-naked and clinging to a slimy piece of rock.
“Enjoy the view?” Hawke snapped, for anger seemed a more welcome emotion than fear. Her fingers trembled as she reached out and grabbed the blanket from her ankle. Hawke pulled the blanket to her chest, the better to cover her breasts.
“Sweet Andraste, what’s wrong with you?” Hawke added with a scowl.
As soon as she said it, she realized it was a silly question. There were a whole lot of things wrong with this particular spirit.
“Sooooo… what?” Hawke asked. “What’s with the creeping and the glowing and the staring? I assume you’ve got some reason for waking me up in the middle of the night.”
Justice did not even blink. The only sound was the steady plop of droplets in the corner. Hawke licked her lips, then swallowed.
“You came here to smite me, didn’t you?” she asked. It was the only thing that made sense, really. “Well, try it. Try it and fry asshole. I don’t care if you’re in Anders’ body or not. You make one move, and I’ll blast you without thinking. I swear to the Maker I will.”
Justice remained silent. Either the spirit didn’t remember that incident back in Corypheus’ prison, or it didn’t believe Hawke would fight Anders a second time. Hawke wasn’t certain of that herself. She reached up and shoved her hair out of her face, but the fringe fell right back into her eyes.
“So no smiting, huh?” Hawke asked. She gave Justice plenty of time to answer.
Justice didn’t answer.
“And no talking either?” she probed. “No rants about vengeance and mages and bullshit like that?”
Apparently not. The spirit remained as still if it had been carved from Fade-stone.
“Or maybe you’re here to ask for a favor?” Hawke suggested. “Want me to do something justice-y? Like take out some templars or bandits or something? Well, usually that’d be right up my alley, only I don’t want to leave Anders alone just now. I’m not sure if you’d noticed, but he’s not doing so well. Always staring at the wall and humming to himself. Only time he’s really present is when he and I… Well, you know.”
Hawke cringed. Yeah, Justice probably did know. She did not want to think about what this spirit experienced from inside Anders’ body.
“Or maybe you’re bored?” Hawke suggested. “Feeling left out of the conversation? Not that Anders and I are talking all that much these days,” she added in a mutter. “But maybe you’re looking for some small-talk? A little chat? Okay, so what do you want to talk about? The weather, maybe? Been raining like a bitch out there, huh?”
Hawke tucked the blanket under her armpits and wrapped the fabric behind her butt in an approximation of a lumpy dress. Justice took no notice of her fumbling. The spirit’s eyes remained fixed on Hawke’s face. Somehow, that made Hawke feel even more exposed than her previous nudity.
“Not interested in the weather? Okay then. How about that Grand Tourney? Lots of people beating each other with sticks and stuff. Good times.”
Smoke curled from Anders’ parted lips, but Justice made no sound.
“Look, what do you want?” Hawke snapped, losing her patience. “Either say something, or fuck off or go back to sleep. Or, you know, whatever it is that you do when you’re quiet. ‘Cause I can’t have you ruining things. I have some delicate negotiations coming up, you see. Varric’s bringing these people: Inquisit-somethings. Rebel mages and former templars…”
Was that a blink? For the briefest moment, it looked like Justice flinched.
“Hey, don’t look at me,” Hawke said, holding her hands up. “They aren’t my friends. They’re Varric’s friends. That means even if they’re total shitheads, we aren’t allowed to kill them. Besides, this whole meet-and-greet is my chance to set things right. I plan to clean up that Corypheus mess and help the mage rebellion, too.”
The glowing eyes burned a brighter blue. Hawke figured that was the spirit version of acting intrigued.
“Yeah,” Hawke nodded, “Helping mages. Sounds good, right? Too bad you suck at it,” she added, savagely. “I mean you really suck at it. You might be all ‘Mage Rights!’” – Hawke pumped a fist into the air – “But you’re shit at helping any actual mage-like person. I mean, what’s the body count at again? Two-thirds of the mage population dead and counting? Yeah, nice work on that, Justice. Great job there.”
Hawke attempted a sarcastic clap, but that caused her blanket to slip. Hawke caught at the fabric and covered herself up. Justice sat perfectly still now, eyes quietly blazing.
”‘Justice,’” Hawke sneered, as if it were the dirtiest word she’d ever uttered. “Yeah right. You wouldn’t know what justice was if it crawled out of the Fade and bit you on the ass. Maker’s balls, I’d love give you a taste of justice. I’d beat it into you if I could. Only I can’t. Not without hurting Anders, and he’s been hurt enough.”
Justice’s eyes seemed to narrow ever so slightly. Hawke shot the spirit a look of pure loathing.
“See, that’s the part I can’t get over,” she said, her voice low and angry. “That’s the part I can’t forgive. You hurt Anders, and I can’t forgive that. You can tell me that the Chantry deserved it or that Kirkwall deserved it. You can tell me that the whole world deserved it. But Anders? Anders didn’t deserve this. But you used him all the same. Used him for your dirty work, used him to lie to me. Used him to prove some Fade-shit point. And you know what the kicker is? Even now,” - Hawke leaned forward, as if to impart a secret - “Even now, after everything you did to him? He still trusts you.”
Hawke fell back against the slimy stone. She felt entirely sapped of strength. But Justice didn’t seem to be shocked by this revelation. The spirit remained immovable.
“He trusted you!” Hawke said, throwing an arm wide on a hysterical laugh. “He still trusts you! He fucking defends you! To my face!” She pointed at herself. “And do you have any idea how much that pisses me off? He trusted you more than me! He chose your ‘justice’ over a life with me! I’m the one who loved him. And you? You just turned him into a…”
Hawke couldn’t bring herself to finish that sentence. She couldn’t say what Anders had become. She didn’t want to say it.
“You’re the monster,” she said, pointing right at Justice. “You’re the liar and the killer. You took Anders’ faith and you used it. You twisted it. You took a believer and you put a sword in his hand. It’s the same thing the Chantry does with the templars. Same. Fucking. Thing.”
Was that a sneer? Justice’s face suddenly looked brighter and more dangerous.
“Oh ho!” Hawke laughed. “Don’t like that, huh? Truth hurts the widdle Fade-baby? Well, fuck you! You’re not superior or pure or any of that shit. You’re as bad as the fucking templars! Trying help mages, and only hurting them. Your grand plan backfired! And what the fuck did you expect, anyway? This isn’t the Fade. You pursue some ‘greater good’ out here and you’re gonna end up screwing over everyone you cared about. Welcome to the real world, fucker!” Hawke waved her arms wide. “No pure ideals ‘round these parts! Not for you, not for me, and certainly not for And–”
But even as she tried to speak Anders’ name, Hawke choked. Her felt like she might sneeze, and her vision went blurry with… Tears? Oh fuck. Not tears. Hawke couldn’t cry in front of this asshole. Far better to get angry. Far better to get furious.
“Say something, you dick!” Hawke shouted at the spirit. “You wanna fight? Let’s fight! You want to threaten me? Then threaten me! But this? This sitting and staring? This hiding in a cave while people out there are getting hurt? This isn’t justice! This isn’t vengeance either! This isn’t shit! Fuck, do you even know what justice means? It means people getting what they deserve! It means that good people don’t suffer and the bad guys don’t get away with it. If you really cared about justice, you’d see that. You’d do something about it all.”
Another sob caught in Hawke’s throat. She swallowed it down, nearly choked on it.
“But you don’t care, do you? Like, where were you when my mom died, huh? Or when Kirkwall was on fire, when the whole world was on fire? When Anders is hurting, when I’ve been hurting, where was all your raging and shit? Nowhere! Because you don’t give a shit! All you care about is yourself! You think you’re so special and righteous, but you’re just a selfish asshole like everyone else. Like a human.“
Hawke sneered the last word, and Justice seemed to wink. Or maybe it was about to attack. Or maybe it just had Fade dust in its eyes. Hawke didn’t care anymore.
“Nah, you’re not human,” she said, shaking her head. “If you were, maybe you’d understand. You’d understand that Anders was mine. He was the one thing in my life that I chose for myself. I got the coin for my family, got the house back for my mom. But Anders? He was for me. And I tried - Maker knows I tried - to make him happy. Because that’s what you do when you love someone, right? You make them happy, no matter what.”
Hawke choked back a sob, shook her head and charged on:
“He’s the person I chose. Out of all of Kirkwall, I chose him. But you didn’t care. You and the Blight crawled up inside of him and fucked him up. He could have healed himself if you’d let him! He could have been so much more. But now he’s slipping away, and it’s all your fault! And don’t think I can’t see what you’re doing! You’re whispering to him on the inside. You’re telling him that I’m a worthless - just like you did before. And how am I supposed to fight that, huh? You’re inside him, so he can’t ever leave you. He can’t…”
Hawke gritted her teeth, and spoke the next words as a sob:
“He can’t choose me. And he would! If you were just some person, I’d seduce him away from you so fast your glowing head would spin. But you didn’t play fair. You’re Justice itself, and you didn’t play fair.”
Hawke slumped against the stalagmite behind her. She wiped at her mouth, but found her lips were dry. Water dripped steadily in the corner; slime oozed down her back. Hawke sighed and ran her hand through her hair.
“You never played fair,” she said, softly.
Justice lifted its glowing head. The smoking lips parted. The mouth was glowed on the inside, too, as if Anders’ had swallowed a wisp. Hawke froze, uncertain if Justice meant to speak or scream or accuse or attack. Every one of her muscles tensed, ready to drop the blanket and fight.
The glowing faded instantly, and Hawke was plunged into darkness. Hawke gasped, summoning a ball of light into her hands. She saw Anders’ body pitch sideways into the bed.
Hawke left the light hovering at her shoulder, and lunged for Anders in the darkness. Anders’ body hit the bedroll, his face wedged between a couple pillows. Hawke clambered onto the bed, carefully rolled Anders onto his back. Anders’ head lolled to one side, his hair like spun gold against the pillow, his long lashed fanned out against his cheeks. He looked like a fairy prince, Hawke thought, just waiting to be wakened by a kiss.
Only Hawke knew better: this was no fairy tale. And Justice wasn’t really gone. That spirit was hiding inside of Anders even now. Could the spirit see her, Hawke wondered? Hear her? Was it plotting in there, or had this encounter been some sort of weird, spiritual sleep-walking? Had the spirit been threatening her? Warning her? And most importantly, was the spirit gone for good, or could she expect more one-sided conversations in the weeks to come?
“You stay gone, Justice,” Hawke whispered to Anders’ sleeping face. “And don’t you dare mess things up for us with the Inquisition. Don’t you dare mess it up.”
Anders let out a drowsy snore. It was such a normal sound, such a human sound, that Hawke let out a hysterical laugh. She then slapped a hand over her mouth.
It was no good. Panic had begun rising inside of her - panic and fury both. Pressure grew in Hawke’s chest. She felt a tinging in her fingertips, and her hair began to stand on end. She felt ready to blast a hole right through the wall. Hawke bit her lip to keep the scream inside.
What the fuck do you want, Justice?
With shaking hands, Hawke took blanket from her body and tucked it around Anders’ bare shoulders. Fingers still trembling, she picked up her clothes. It took Hawke a few tries to get her legs into the pants, to get the tunic over her head. She slipped away from the bed, and padded barefoot out of the deep-cave room. She marched down the torch-lit tunnel that led back to the cave entrance.
I just need fresh air, Hawke told herself. I just need sun. I just need company. I just need something to do with myself, some battle to fight, some problem to solve…
Light shivered down her arms, arcing out from her bare toes. She began to walk faster now, skipping every other step. Her belly seemed to burn, like she had a campfire inside. Hawke she broke into a jog – a run – then she bolted for the cave entrance. Her feet slapped the stones, her arms pumped the air. Hawke rounded a corner, and there was the mouth of the cave. The tunnel entrance looked like a rocky shore surrounding a pool of stormy sky.
Hawke dove right in. She flung herself out of the cave and into the rain. Her face was blasted by the downpour, heavy drops weighing her down until she skidded to her knees in the muddy grass. Lightning cracked, and Hawke couldn’t tell if the bolt had come from her or from the sky. It didn’t matter. Thunder rolled all around her, an echo to her rage.
Hawke began pounding the earth like a punching bag.
Damn Justice! she thought. The fucker! Asshole! Creep! Horrible, nasty little… butt! Hawke pummeled the ground now. Arcs of electricity went crackling off in every direction.
Fucking Justice and its… Fucking… Freaky-ass… Stalking… Judging… Unjust dickery!
Watching her while she was sleeping? Taking possession of Anders while he was weak? Maker damn Justice! Damn it to the Void - no! Deeper than the Void. Maker send that spirit straight to the Abyss!
It wasn’t fair! It just wasn’t FAIR.
Hawke didn’t care if that sounded like a child’s rant. It wasn’t fair! None of this was fair! And Justice was supposed to be fair! That was its job, damn it! And Justice was cheating! Stealing all the cards from the deck! Tears ran from Hawke’s eyes and snot ran from her nose and rain poured down her face and she felt like the entire world was melting around her.
None of this was right, Hawke thought on a sob. None of this. All she wanted was for Anders to be okay. And for Corypheus to be dead. And for the mage rebellion to be over. And for Varric to show up and take her the Void away from here.
Hawke’s fists stuttered. She paused mid-swing. Rain dripped from her muddy fingers as she knelt there, breathing hard.
Fucking Varric, Hawke thought, her heart constricting with fondness and frustration. Maker damn that dwarf, where the Void was he? She was waiting on him, desperate for his company and his stories. She didn’t know how much longer she would last without him. Anders and Justice were slowly driving her mad.
Hawke sighed, gave the ground one last half-hearted thwack, then sat back on her butt. It seemed Varric had predicted this years ago, Hawke thought. When Varric had expressed concern over her romance with a possessed apostate, Hawke had laughed Varric off.
“Come on, Varric,” she’d slurred between shots. “Since when have I ever been turned off by crazy?”
Ah fuck, Hawke thought, running her hands through her soaked hair. Leave it to Varric to point out the obvious: People didn’t screw around with possessions for a reason. Justice wasn’t some kind of indoor pet that Anders could keep on a leash. In fact, it seemed like Anders was the one in a collar here. So maybe Varric was right. Maybe there was no way to fix this. Maybe Anders had been a lost cause from the beginning.
Hawke stared out into the storm. A scorched patch of mud how stretched before her. It was a weird sight. Mud and fire didn’t usually go together.
Suddenly, Hawke suddenly sat up taller.
Wait a minute. What the Void was she doing? She was the Champion of Kirkwall, not some sad-sap damsel in distress. She was a mage. She was a healer. She could fucking burn mud. But most of all, Hawke was Ferelden. She was a survivor born and bred, and she was not about to give up just because some stupid Fade spirit had freaked her out.
Anders was hers, Hawke thought fiercely. And yeah, she might be a little frustrated with her man right now, but that didn’t matter. If only out of spite, Hawke would not lose this battle to Justice. And it was a battle, make no mistake. Anders was under siege here. And Hawke needed to liberate him.
Alright then, Hawke thought, pounding the ground one last time. That was that. She’d had her little freak-out, and she was done with it. No more crying. It was time for fighting. And now that her eyes were empty of tears, Hawke saw the solution clear as day:
All she needed to do was free Anders from Justice and the Blight, and then everything would be fine.
Oh, is that all?
Hm, yeah, Hawke thought, tapping a muddy finger to her lips. Easier said than done. She’d considered this battleplan before. The problem was, there weren’t any cures for possessions or for the taint - at least none that Hawke knew of. In fact, Hawke had bought every tome she could find on those subjects, and hadn’t found jack. The smugglers in Lowtown knew all about her weird book obsession. So it seemed that she didn’t have much hope of…
Hang on! An idea flashed through Hawke’s mind like lightning, as all her best ideas did. A smile rolled across her lips in answering thunder:
What if I asked the rebel mages for help?
That’s was it! That was the game-changer! Hawke had never been able to speak freely with Circle mages before. Her past visits to the Gallows had been as short as she could make them. But if she could join the mage rebellion, she’d have access to every single freaking mage in all of Thedas! Yes!
Hawke’s belly felt like it was tying itself into knots with excitement. This was it! This had to be the solution! Everyone knew that Circle mages were like walking libraries, every last one of them! And hadn’t Carver once said that there was some mage who used to be a Grey Warden? As in, used to have the taint – and now didn’t? Carver had been drunk at the time, and complaining as usual (‘You mages have all the luck,’ he’d whined). But right there, that was one half of Anders’ problem solved! As for undoing spirit possessions, some senior enchant-whatever ought to know something about that, right? Those Circle nerds had to know more than Hawke did, anyhow.
Hawke bit her lip. Yeah, the Circle mages would know more than her. They’d know lot more than her. Suddenly, the knots in Hawke’s stomach pulled tight. Because if there was one thing that Hawke was self-conscious about, it was how little formal education she’d had. Oh, she’d done her best. She’d learned everything she could from her parents and she’d read a shit-ton of books on her own. Her library back in Kirkwall had been as big as the rest of the house. But erratic homeschooling-while-on-the-run plus adventuring-for-coin did not a robust education make. Hawke just hoped the Circle mages wouldn’t be too snobby toward a self-taught apostate. Otherwise, asking for their help was going to be a real bitch.
But she would ask for help, Hawke vowed. Because if there was anyone who knew how to get rid of the Blight and possessions and shit, it would be the Circle mages. True, the idea might be a little bit crazy…
But when have I ever been turned off by crazy?
Hawke grinned. Alright then, she thought. She had her battleplan. She knew where to get ammunition. And once she was loaded up with enough missiles, she was ready to win this fight. Now all she had to do was find herself a rebellion.