Chapter 2 – Laughing Matter

“Well played, Champion…” the demon spoke as it held the conscious body of Hawke in its appendages, “With your emotions quelled, you hold no interest to me. I gain nothing from anything I do to you in your present state. I have half a mind to simply mangle your physical form and bleed you to death just to spite you. But such pettiness is beneath me. As you are now, you are beneath me. Not even worth an afterthought. Defenseless as you are, the Fade will have its way with you. I suppose it was farewell the moment you broke the surface.” It let Hawke fall. “Thank you for not killing me.” Hawke stated in a lifeless voice with a blank stare, “I would prefer to stay alive for as long as possible.” The demon did not bother to reply or even show any signs of having heard her thanks. It no longer considered her an existence to acknowledge. Hawke walked away with slow steps. She saw a shield and a sword on the ground nearby. She did not pick them up. There was no reason to. Reason was all that guided her body now. She had cast away the things that made her who she once was. There was no emotion left to wield her memories. There was no Hawke left to wield her weapon. And so lay the shield on the ground, having abandoned its purpose to protect. And so lay the Basrath-Kata on the ground, having abandoned its purpose to be. A choice worse than death.

Having come across the various spirits in the Fade, one who walks the Fade must often wonder at how many different kinds of spirits exist. If there exists one kind for each human condition, there must be one for laughter. But it must be such a sad spirit. For laughter is not always a happy feeling for everyone. Those who laugh and those who are being laughed at. Such duality has always existed in laughter. Laughter born to mask fear. Laughter birthed to instill fear. Laughter born from despair. Laughter birthed to instill despair. Laughter born from a feeling of inadequacy. Laughter birthed to instill a feeling of inadequacy. Such a fragile, fleeting existence. Far more fragile than wisdom, peace or love is the life of laughter. Far more precious. Far more painful. That is probably why no one has documented a meeting with a spirit of laughter. But not all laughter is painful. Some laughter is pure and simple. Some laughter is pried from the jaws of pain to bring happiness to a hurting soul. Some laughter is simply a brother doing a silly dance to make his sister stop crying. Such a brother once accompanied Alice and Bethany with their mother from Lothering as they fled the Blight. He did not live to see them reach safety. But he lived through them nevertheless. In their memories. And so a spirit of laughter might reach into Hawke’s memories and feel this laughter that Carver ignited in his sisters whenever they needed it. Such a spirit might identify with this emotion and be strengthened by it. Such a spirit might touch the holder of these memories and break their Tranquility. Welcome back, Champion of Kirkwall.

“Well, this isn’t right.” Hawke said with a grin, “I’m… feeling again. Carver! What are you doing here?! I didn’t die and go to heaven, did I?”

“Carver. That was his name. Your brother who made you laugh.” the spirit replied as though it were learning new information.

“I should be so lucky. Still in the Fade. So, what kind of demon are you?”

“Laugh, live, love. Take away the hurt and replace it with something funny.”

“Uh-huh… Since you haven’t attacked me yet, I’m just gonna slowly back away now.”

“Wait. You are still hurting.”

“I’m not the only one who’ll be hurting if you don’t stay back, demon.”

She instinctively reached for her sword and shield. Her hands grasped nothing. A slight panic struck her. It was soon replaced by understanding.

“It’s alright. I’m not here to hurt you. Sister, you always tried to carry everything by yourself. It is what lead to my frustration and Bethany’s guilt. I resented you for always overshadowing me and Bethany resented herself for being the cause of some of your burdens. Please let me help.”

“Ugh, more therapy? Please tell me the Fade has a Universal Healthcare policy.”

“You feel uneasy without the familiar weight of your weapon in your hand. It is the same with your other burdens. You will feel uneasy when you try to shift them to someone else. But you must. You cannot carry the world alone.”

“Okay, what’s your game here? I can’t categorize you. You’re not feeding off my fears or desires or anger. What kind of demon are you?”

“Others have called me Compassion before. But I am different. I do not make you forget. I make you remember the darkness but with a new light. I am both pain and the strength to feel that pain without breaking under it. I am the power of the powerless. And I am the one who is feared by those who fear losing their power. I am Laughter.”

“Oookay… And what do you want from me?”

“From you? Nothing. I just… wanted to be remembered. I am so quickly forgotten.”

“A depressed spirit of laughter? Actually, I’m not surprised. Anyway, if you wanted to be remembered as Carver, you certainly took the right shape but the wrong attitude. Carver wouldn’t have gone 5 seconds without whining abou-”

The spirit suddenly leaped at Hawke, who instinctively avoided him by rolling to her side. In the next instant, she saw the reason for his action. A sharp appendage had pierced him through the chest and was currently hoisting him. The spirit smiled weakly and spoke his last words, “I’m… glad that even after all this misery… you have not forgotten how to… laugh…” His glow intensified until he exploded. The appendage that had damaged him was disintegrated. “Tch… A wasted sacrifice!” came the deep voice of the Nightmare Demon, “I had wondered why I felt the slight tinge of activity here. It seems you have somehow been restored to your former state… No. Not your former state. You are… different. Shielded. If I were to explain it… I’d say your presence has the same feel to it as that Seeker from before. What have you done to yourself? Did it have something to do with that spirit I just accidentally killed?” Hawke looked down and sighed. “No rest for the wicked, huh?” she said, “Alright, let’s do it. Might as well pass the time. If you would be so kind as to find my sword and shield for me, I can dance for a little while longer.” The demon chuckled deeply. “I’m afraid… I’m not that chivalrous. If your little toys actually made a difference against me, I might just have given them to you out of pride. But that is not the case. Regardless, the fact that your mind is now shielded from my prying is an affront to me. I have elected to tear you ap-AAAAAARGHHHH!!!”

A solid wave of blue energy washed over a large area surrounding the Nightmare demon. Whatever it was, it had caused significant pain to it. Its appendages retreated far from Hawke, who frowned and scanned her vicinity for the source of this attack. And then she heard the metallic clank of footsteps on the rocky ground behind her. She turned around and slightly widened her eyes. A knight clad in massive armour. Not just a knight. Not just any armour. The insignia of the Grey Wardens was etched onto the chest of the armour. One hand held a shield while the other held an intricately crafted longsword which had glowing blue runes on its blade. Through the helm came a woman’s voice, “Are you the Champion? I am Athewen Surana. I’ve been sent by… Leliana. She thought you could use a hand.”

Next Chapter (Divine Providence)

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