Seneschal Bran rubbed his temples. The letter before him was the source of his headache. It was delivered by a raven. He had immediately recognised the bird as one belonging to the woman once known as Sister Nightingale. That the Divine would choose to contact the authorities of the city-state of Kirkwall in this highly irregular manner was deeply troubling. It had immediately set off all kinds of alarm bells in Bran. He was hesitant to even read it. But his own feelings on the matter were secondary. The very fact that this highly unconventional means of communication was chosen meant the matter at hand was likely of utmost urgency. The letter was addressed to “Varric”. Not “Varric Tethras”. Not “The Viscount of Kirkwall”. Just Varric. It seemed everything about this letter was troublesome. Regardless, he took the liberty of reading the letter. That dwarf had a peculiar habit of ignoring letters. Surely, he wouldn’t dare ignore a letter from the Divine herself. But Bran did not want to take that chance.
“Hawke is alive in the Fade. Rift at the Grand Cathedral. Lavellan has entered.”
Almost immediately, Bran wished he hadn’t read the letter. This was perhaps the worst possible news Kirkwall could have received. This would tear apart their entire structure. “Maker’s breath…” he cursed, “Just when the city is finally rebuilt and seeing some peace…” But such is life. He composed himself and took the letter to Varric. One might be wondering how a dwarf had become Viscount of a human city-state. Varric was a close friend of Hawke. He was with her through thick and thin. He was a rather famous author whose most infamous work was the Tale of the Champion; a biography of Hawke’s journey to becoming the Champion of Kirkwall. He had taken several creative liberties while writing it, of course. His talent for bullshitting rivalled his skill with his special mechanical crossbow, Bianca. Yes. He named his crossbow Bianca. Don’t ask. He’ll never tell you why. All you need to know is Bianca is one of a kind. No smith in all of Orzammar can reproduce the model. Those who are familiar with the customs of dwarves in Thedas know that a dwarf who lives on the surface would not be considered a “real” dwarf at all. The moment the sun shines on a dwarf, they are considered lost to the Stone. However, Varric did not care much for tradition. He was a proud “surfacer” and Kirkwall was more his home than Orzammar could ever be. As a dwarf of the Merchant caste, he still had connections in Orzammar, as well as the vast wealth of his family. When Kirkwall was ravaged by… well, how to summarise this? Basically, Kirkwall is always being ravaged by something. There was always some chaos. The murder of the previous Viscount Dumar. A Qunari invasion. A bomb that destroyed the Chantry building in a massive explosion that hurled debris all over the city. The ensuing battle between Hawke and the then Knight Commander Meredith who had been driven insane by Red Lyrium. The mage rebellion that occurred after that.
What’s Red Lyrium? Why was Knight Commander Meredith driven insane by it? Unfortunately, going down that rabbit hole will simply bloat this story. Red Lyrium is not an important plot item for this story. So you shall have to take my word for it when I say it’s bad. Think radioactive cocaine. Actually, that’s just regular lyrium. Red Lyrium is radioactive cocaine that also has the Blight corruption. Well, I’m sure you get the point by now. Kirkwall was just a really unfortunate place to be in. However, after the defeat of Corypheus at the hands of the Inquisitor, Kirkwall had actually seen some peace. During the fight against Corypheus, Varric was actually a core member of the Inquisition. He had fought alongside the Inquisitor to put an end to the ancient Magister. After that, he had returned to Kirkwall. With his wealth, he had funded the reconstruction of the city. As a result, the higher-ups in the city decided to make him their ruler. And that is the story of how a dwarf, of all people, became the Viscount of a predominantly human city-state. Of all the people he came across, Hawke was perhaps his closest friend. Had he been present when Hawke chose to stay behind in the Fade, he would have never allowed it to happen. At the very least, he would not have allowed her to be the only one staying behind. As one can imagine, this new development was something that would make him abandon everything and jump to Hawke’s side. That was partly why Bran was grumbling as he walked to the throne hall. But as much as he loathed allowing Varric to leave the city, Bran understood that this was not something he could, in good conscience, keep hidden.
Varric read the contents of the telegram and looked to Bran.
“Have you told Aveline about this?”
“Tell her to get the Kirkwall Guard ready. We’re marching to the Winter Palace. Now.”
“I must protest-”
“I don’t wanna hear it!”
“But! Taking all of the city guard will lead to chaos!”
“Fine. Then I’ll head there myself. With Bianca.”
“But you are the Viscount! You have a duty to Kirkwall!”
“Kirkwall has a duty to Hawke! She gave this place everything and got only pain and suffering in return! What’s the point of giving her a fancy title like Champion of Kirkwall if Kirkwall doesn’t stand with her now?! There won’t be any further debate about this.”
Aveline was the commander of Kirkwall’s guards. She wasn’t always the commander. She was one of the several Fereldan refugees who had fled their homeland during the Fifth Blight. Hawke and Aveline had arrived in Kirkwall together. Aveline had joined the city guard while Hawke had joined a group of smugglers. After Hawke had returned from her first Deep Roads expedition and made herself a proper home in Kirkwall, Aveline had become the Guard Captain. Strong. Outspoken. No nonsense. A woman of unwavering integrity. A fierce friend. If anyone wished to touch any of Aveline’s friends, they would find themselves being stared down by an immovable wall. That immovable wall was Aveline Vallen. With a little help from Hawke, Aveline was instrumental in rooting out corruption within the Kirkwall Guard; a feat that earned her the post of Guard Captain. Under her leadership, the Kirkwall Guard, which used to be a rat hole where the corrupt prospered and the honourable were actively discouraged from their duties, was well on its way to becoming a shining beacon of discipline, justice, and efficiency. The city guards had become an actual figure of authority, rivalling the Templars stationed there. It was Varric’s professional opinion that if Aveline ever left Krikwall, the entire place would sink into the sea. But she was going to leave. The moment she learned of Hawke, she would leave without question.
Let us now turn our attention to somewhere near the border of Tevinter. Where, exactly? That information is best left vague. It makes sense. If you’re a slaver, you wouldn’t exactly pick a well-known landmark to hide away your “merchandise”. But let it also be said that if you’re a slaver in this particular area of the Tevinter border, today is not going to be a good day for you. Chances are high that a glowing hand will burst out from your chest, grasping your beating heart. You might stay alive long enough to turn your head and have a look at your killer: an elf with white hair and broody, angry eyes. You might even recognise him. Slavery was profitable in Tevinter. But Fenris had made it his life’s mission to vastly increase the hazards of the occupation. He used to be a slave himself. Magister Danarius, his former owner, was long dead thanks to Hawke. During his time under Danarius, Fenris had been tattooed with Lyrium. The markings on his skin gave him peculiar abilities, one of which we have witnessed now. His hand glows as he thrusts it into the back of his unfortunate target. It exits out of the chest, with the heart in its grasp, which he then crushes with no small amount of satisfaction. He holds a greatsword in his other hand. A rather ironically named Blade of Mercy. The irony is not lost on him, of course. Blades of Mercy are given by the Archon as badges of honor within the Tevinter Imperium. That in itself is an irony. What empire that promotes slavery can claim to have any honor? Nevertheless, in his hands, it is being used to hunt down slavers. Any who wish to harm Hawke will also find themselves at the wrong end of this blade.
As Fenris pulled his hand out of the dead slaver, he heard a man’s voice from behind.
“That’s a neat trick. Where’d you learn that?”
“You’re Fenris, right?”
“Well, if you are, you’re going to want to come with me.”
“If you want to stay alive, you’ll go away now.”
“Look, buddy, I’m not your enemy.”
“Why should I believe anything you say?”
“Well, for starters, turn around and have a good look at me.”
Fenris turned around and widened his eyes at the sight: a man who was too large to be a human. He had horns. This was a Qunari. But finding a Qunari near Tevinter was like finding a live whale in the sand in the middle of a desert. It made no sense.
“What’s a Qunari doing around here?”
“Oh, I’m not Qunari anymore.”
“Tal-vashoth? You’re not making yourself look good by revealing that.”
“Does it matter what I am if I can take you to Hawke?”
Fenris closed his eyes and exhaled broodily.
“Very well. My name is Fenris. What’s yours?”
“The Iron Bull. Pleased to meet you. I’d love to stick around and meet my friends here but we have to hurry.”
“Huh. A Qunari with friends in Tevinter? That’s a first.”
“I told you, I’m not Qunari anymore. And I’ve got more than just friends in Tevinter…”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“We’ve got a long journey ahead of us. I’ll tell you my story along the way. And then maybe you can tell me how your glowy hand trick works.”