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Varric Tethras

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#1
((8 Firstfall, 9:35; Morning; @Merrill ))

Varric hadn't gotten a lot of sleep the previous night. The events in the Chantry kept thundering through his mind: blood and screams and light and smoke. And death. Lots of death.

Varric had killed before: bandits, thugs, mercs. All had two things in common: they were criminals, and they'd been trying to kill him. He'd never given a lot of thought to templars, apart from keeping them away from Sunshine and Daisy. But in the subtext of his thoughts, they had usually been placed alongside the city guard. Inconvenient and occasionally assholes, but generally the good guys. Would they have killed them all for being in the Chantry, trying to take away that Tranqil mage, or would they just have arrested them? Varric had no idea, and the templars had been given no chance to even voice their intentions. That thing had initiated the attack, and the rest of them had followed suit.

They had killed templars. A lot of templars. No way was that going to go unnoticed, particularly since they'd left the broken bodies where they lay. Maybe they'd get lucky and everybody would think that the dead Tranquil had overwhelmed a dozen or so templars and torn them apart before slipping a knife between his own ribs -

Yeah, he didn't think so, either. So, people were going to be looking for them, and Josc was hosting an abomination in her basement.

Josc …

Fuck.

That baffled and angered him the most. Not the secrets. Everybody had secrets; there were parts of his own life that Varric kept close to the vest. But you didn't pull people onto a job while hiding something that big, and that was precisely what Josc had done. Varric knew why: Josc was loyal. She would do anything for a friend.

He'd just thought he was one of them.

Maybe that wasn't fair, but Varric was short of sleep and feeling decidedly surly as he downed a mug of strong tea laced with whiskey and set out for the Alienage. He had no intention of dragging Daisy into this clusterfuck, but she was the only other mage he knew in Kirkwall, and he had questions that he couldn't ask anyone else.

He stopped by the pastry shop for some cinnamon rolls and bread, then another shop for some cheese, salami and fruit. Keeping Merrill fed was pretty much second nature at this point, and what he had should last her a few days; he certainly didn't have much appetite.

He was a semi-regular presence in the Alienage, and as always, he gave coin to the beggars and urchins, so he didn't attract more than the usual attention. Making his way to Merrill's tiny house, he eyed the roof briefly, making a note to send somebody to check for holes before winter settled in before knocking at the door.
 

Merrill

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#2
The cheese had worked. After having spent at least two months reaching an understanding with the rat in her corner, Merrill had taken to experimenting—nearly as much as she tinkered with the eluvian—with various crumbs and offerings in order to prevent the rat from scurrying away at her slightest glance. Which was not to say that she was completely comfortable with her new roommate, but the elf didn't have the heart to chase him out with a broom like many of the other alienage dwellers did for their own rodents. After all, she didn't have a broom.

Nuts has proven a complete failure, which was shame as she rather enjoyed them personally. Fruit was more successful, although the rat had an aversion to strawberries. That was fine, as Merrill would rather give those to Hawke in the rare moments where she might have had fresh strawberries to spare. But fruit was also fairly expensive, at least if you were an elf with about three coins to your name, so it wasn't ideal. So, in spite of her stubborn sense that cheese was only something that worked in the stories, Merrill had begun placing small pieces in the corner. They' were received well but something seemed amiss. After much deliberation and a day and a half's worth of wandering, Merrill had managed to find an exceptionally smelly cheese and set it out in the corner. Her rat friend had immediately taken to it.

Merrill might have attempted to wander closer to the corner, even knowing that rats were not the cleanest of critters, if not for an unexpected knock at her door. She screwed her face in wonder; who would be calling on her this early in the morning? She moved away from the corner and lithely stepped towards the door, opening it carefully. You never know what to expect in the alienage. Unless...

"Varric!" She gave the cry before she completely registered the scene, smiling at her friend. "What are you doing here? Is something wrong? Because there's usually something wrong in Kirkwall, like mages or bandits or skeletons. Or... are you just here to see me?"
 

Varric Tethras

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#3
The door opened a crack at first, then almost immediately wider. "Varric!" Merrill beamed at him with the unfeigned delight that only she could "What are you doing here? Is something wrong? Because there's usually something wrong in Kirkwall, like mages or bandits or skeletons. Or... are you just here to see me?"

“Just visiting.” Varric felt a twinge of guilt, even though it wasn’t completely a lie. He seldom lied to Daisy, because he knew how easy it would be. She trusted him, and he would have visited her even without the impetus of his current dilemma. “No trouble at the moment.” That was true enough, even with an abomination sleeping in Josc’s cellar.

He stepped inside, wrinkling his nose slightly at the pungent scent in the air and catching sight of a pink tail whisking out of sight from the corner of his eye. “I know a fellow that builds pretty good rat traps,” he offered as he set the food on the table, feeling the surface wobble; the shim he’d placed beneath the short leg had slipped out, and he crouched down to search for it on the floor. “How have you been?”
 

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#4
“Just visiting.” Merrill raised an eyebrow at that, although it wasn't meant to be rude. She simply knew that no one "just visited," even if their most sinister motives were usually to make sure she was eating enough. She didn't mind but she also didn't believe this was just a visit. “No trouble at the moment.”

Merrill smiled, gesturing for Varric to enter. "It's the morning," she said plainly. "Give it a few hours and I'm sure half the city will be on fire." She gave a sniff, even over the cheese she could smell fresh cinnamon rolls and she did not hesitate in rummaging through Varric's supplies until she found one, digging in with dainty bites. "We'd be very comfortable here though."

A quick flash of movement caught Varric's eyes. “I know a fellow that builds pretty good rat traps,” he said and Merrill immediately shook her head. The rat was as close to a constant companion as she had. Otherwise, she'd be back to days spent without anyone or anything around.

"No traps," she said. "They're a friend now, although I haven't thought of a name. You're good that those! What about Mister Scribbles or Charles?"

“How have you been?” Varric had already moved on to fixing her wobbling table and as Merrill took another bite of her cinnamon roll, she turned away to hide a frown.

The truth was that in the aftermath of her bungled attempt to confess her feeling to Hawke, the elf had spent an exceptional amount of time working on the eluvian and keeping herself all but literally locked away from the rest of the world. She didn't want to lie to Varric but she didn't want to talk much about it either.

"Um.. I'm fine," she said with a voice that betrayed her thoughts. "I've just been busy. Varric, have you come to just fuss or... is there something else going on? I know I've here mostly but I promise that I really am fine and mostly eating."
 

Varric Tethras

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#5
The look that Merrill gave him made it clear that she wasn’t buying the ‘just dropped in’ story, but as always, she let it slide. “It’s the morning,” she responded to his claim of no trouble. "Give it a few hours and I'm sure half the city will be on fire." Spoken with the matter-of-fact composure that only a true resident of the rolling clusterfuck known as Kirkwall could summon. Qunari at the docks, templars wandering the streets, blood mages popping out of random pieces of woodwork just to keep things interesting … and hey, let’s not forget the sodding abominations in the Chantry!

He’d really like to forget that part, to be honest.

She dug into the basket he’d brought and came up with a cinnamon roll, nibbling at it in that neat way that she had. "We'd be very comfortable here though."

“That we would,” he agreed. For all her indifference to details like leaks in the roof, holes in the windows and the absence of little luxuries like food and firewood, Daisy kept her little house neat. Varric, Hawke and Aveline took care of the rest, keeping the roof patched, fresh waxed paper over the windows (glass windows in the alienage were asking for trouble, either from guards suspecting thievery or thugs with rocks), arranging regular delivery of firewood and bringing food.

Varric was already mentally adding pest control to his to-do list at the sight of the rat, but Daisy shook her head when he suggested rat traps.

"No traps," she told him firmly. "They're a friend now, although I haven't thought of a name. You're good that those! What about Mister Scribbles or Charles?"

“Nicodemus? Templeton? Ben?” He shook his head. He was less than enthused at the idea of a pet rat. Crazy cat ladies tended to get shrugged off as eccentric; he suspected that crazy rat ladies would not be accorded the same tolerance. Besides, the thought of her here with only a rat for company bugged him, but he didn’t want to upset her. “I’ll think of something,” he promised. “I need to get to know him better to come up with the right name.” Since the current top contender of Sneaky Little Disease Carrying Vermin likely wouldn’t go over well.

She needed to get out more, and he’d seen even less of her than usual the last couple of weeks. He'd been meaning to go check on her, but helping helping Coins and Mama Bear with their investigation had distracted him, and then Josc had approached him to assist in springing a mage from the chantry.

Note to self: unless the mage in question is Daisy or Sunshine, the answer to further such invitations should not simply be 'No', but 'Fuck, no'. What he'd seen had been potent proof that some mages didn't need to be wandering around loose, and that the templars served a purpose beyond standing around looking serious and shiny.

"Um.. I'm fine," she replied to his query in a tone that indicated that she very much was not. "I've just been busy. Varric, have you come to just fuss or... is there something else going on? I know I've here mostly but I promise that I really am fine and mostly eating."

He found the strip of wood, wedged it beneath the wonky leg and stood. “You first, Daisy,” he told her kindly as he took a chair. “I need some advice on magic, but first I want to know what’s bothering you.” He still didn’t feel like eating, but to keep her from worrying more, he took out a cinnamon roll from the basket and took a bite.
 

Merrill

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#6
“Nicodemus? Templeton? Ben?” Varric names were as verbose as his prose, with the exception of Ben. Merrill giggles but shook her head. None of the seemed to really fit. The dwarf seemed to notice her disagreement. “I’ll think of something," Varric added. His voice's gravel sounded even more coarse than usual. “I need to get to know him better to come up with the right name.”

Merrill nibbled at her food moving to sit at the table as she did so. "He's rather fussy but seems a hard worker," she said. "A bit like you! You complain about lots of things: clouds, rain, cobblestones. And he's picky about plenty of things too."

She had hoped to keep the chatter light, but Varric could tell something was wrong. “I need some advice on magic, but first I want to know what’s bothering you.”

The elf stopped eating and sat in thought for some time, her mind flickering back to her time with Hawke on the coast. It hurt, and she could hardly believe how foolish she'd been. How she'd dared to dream and how silly that desire had been. Elf. Mage. Blood Mage, even. Of course it was never going to go how she wanted.

Still, she smiled. Because that was what she did. "It's nothing," she insisted. "I told Hawke. Or tried to tell Hawke, is all." Let it pass. Don't explain and don't dwell. If you do, you'll crumble in to dust. Wilt like a flower. Push forward instead and focus on Varric. "You said you needed help with magic?"
 

Varric Tethras

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#7
"He's rather fussy but seems a hard worker," Merrill remarked of her furry housemate as she sat. "A bit like you! You complain about lots of things: clouds, rain, cobblestones. And he's picky about plenty of things too."

Only Daisy could make getting compared to a rat seem like a compliment. “We could call him Bartrand, I suppose,” Varric mused, “but that wouldn’t really be fair to the rat.” He’d think of something, if only to make her happy; right now, she was quite plainly anything but, and before he got around to his own questions, he wanted to know what was weighing on her.

"It's nothing," she assured him with that fragile smile that made his heart hurt. "I told Hawke. Or tried to tell Hawke, is all."

“Ah.” Thus saith the great communicator, but it was better than ‘Aw, fuck’, which was what he was thinking. He should have told Josc, given her a heads-up, but how could she not have known? Daisy couldn’t hide her feelings to save her life, and she lit up like the sun whenever she was around Hawke.

And he had absolutely no words of comfort or wisdom to make it better. ‘Give her time, she’ll come around,’ would be unfair, with Josc as close to smitten as she’d ever seen her with Addie. ‘You’ll find someone else,’ was better, but was nothing she’d want to hear right now. ‘Sometimes you can’t have what you want and it sucks,’ was honest, but nothing he would say to her when she was looking so brittle.

“I’m sorry, Daisy,” he told her gently, and meant it … not that it was going to help much.

"You said you needed help with magic?" she asked, resolutely pushing past the hurt.

Suddenly, his idea didn’t seem all that great … not that it had seemed good to begin with. But Merrill was still the only mage that he knew in Kirkwall. “How much do you know about abominations?” he asked cautiously.
 

Merrill

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#8
“I’m sorry, Daisy." Varric's words meant more than Merrill could ever really express but they didn't stop her lasting embarrassment and pain. The elf care so much, in all things, and her recent debacle had left her reeling. It had taken everything to put herself out there and speak her mind. It had taken even more to realize that Hawke did not care for her in that way.

Her solution had been to hide, unsure if she could muster the emotional courage to maintain her cheer around everyone else. It was a doubt that was mostly proven correct once she confided in Varric. Taking a breath, the elf called upon a cheer that she didn't really have. There was no need to worry her friend, and there was no point in discussing things further. She'd made a mistake and it would follow her for, well, possibly forever. Better to keep smiling and ignore it. So she did. Merrill smiled and waved her hand dismissively.

"It was my mistake," Merrill said. A more polite way of saying she'd been stupid. "And really Hawke deserves better so it's just as well."

She left it at that, although she knew Varric might pry further. For now though, he seemed to move on to another topic and it was one that surprised her. Of all the people to ask her about magic, Varric was not even on the list. Even more so considering it was a question about more dire matters than mere fireballs.

“How much do you know about abominations?” he asked cautiously.

The elf turned serious, raising an eyebrow. He was either about to give her a lecture about her magic or something serious had happened. "Spiritual possession," said as something of a correction. The term abomination had become a very broad one. "Mostly when demons dominate the will of a mage. It's a concern we all have, but not as common as you'd think living in Kirkwall." The city seemed to attract the worst kinds of spirits.

"In some cases, it's not about domination," she noted carefully. "Mages interact with spirits regularly, especially in the case of spirit healers. Some mages might allow spirits to guide them or surrender themselves to their influences for a small time. It's not true possession for them but close enough that the human Chantry might not care to distinguish. And it's not irreversible: there are ways to convince a spirit to leave their host or to to enter the Fade and deal with the demon there."

That done, she gave voice to her own concern. "Why are you asking about this Varric? Has something happened?"
 

Varric Tethras

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#9
"It was my mistake.” Daisy tried to put on a brave face, but her smile broke Varric’s heart a little. "And really Hawke deserves better so it's just as well."

“She couldn’t do better than you,” Varric said quietly, “but people … feel what they feel.” Happy endings were easy to write: pair up seemingly star-crossed lovers, throw in just enough twists and turns to put matters in doubt, then pull it out of the fire at the last minute and send them off into the sunset together. Real life … well, it sucked sometimes.

Like now, for example. And all he had by way of a distraction was the abomination in Hawke’s basement.

"Spiritual possession," she corrected him primly. "Mostly when demons dominate the will of a mage. It's a concern we all have, but not as common as you'd think living in Kirkwall."

“How does it happen?” he wanted to know.

"In some cases, it's not about domination," she went on. "Mages interact with spirits regularly, especially in the case of spirit healers. Some mages might allow spirits to guide them or surrender themselves to their influences for a small time. It's not true possession for them but close enough that the human Chantry might not care to distinguish. And it's not irreversible: there are ways to convince a spirit to leave their host or to to enter the Fade and deal with the demon there."

“Are they more vulnerable in the Fade?” Not that he could go there, as far as he knew, but -

Her hazel eyes locked in on him, clear and piercing, with no sign of the absent-minded and slightly eccentric friend that needed a ball of twine to find her way around town. "Why are you asking about this Varric? Has something happened?"

The half-formed notion of claiming that he was doing research for a new book skulked away. She needed to know. “It’s Anders,” he admitted heavily, then went on to tell her what had happened in the Chantry the night before. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he concluded, shaking his head, feeling the unease crawling down his spine anew. “It slaughtered those templars like stepping on ants; they never had a chance, and if we had tried to stop it, it would have done the same to us … it nearly did. And Josc knew.” The words burned in his gut. “She knew that thing was there, inside Anders, and she didn’t tell us.”

He looked down, forced his fists to unclench, lifted his head to meet her gaze. “How do I kill it?”
 

Merrill

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#10
“She couldn’t do better than you,” Varric said. If it was supposed to help her, it only made the pain in her heart swell again. Merrill asked herself one question more often than any other: what is so wrong with me? She never could figure out the answer because in spite of comments like Varric's, good things never really happened to her in that way that good things were supposed to happen to nice people. Clearly she'd done something wrong. Whatever it was, she didn't want to focus on it. Talking about Josc was the last thing that she wanted to do. So, she didn't say anything.

Instead, there was the matter of demons and possessions to consider. For a moment, Merrill wondered if this was simple idle curiosity or research for one of Varric's books. “How does it happen?”

Merrill gave something of a shrug, although she most certainly an answer. "Lots of reasons," she started. "If a mage isn't careful, a demon can take a foothold in their mind and use that to bridge the distance between this world and the Fade. Sometimes, it's a matter of making a bad bargain with a spirit. You have to be very particular with the language of any deals you make," she noted. That was something she wished the friends understood about her own dealings with spirits. She was always careful to leave no loopholes in any agreements.

"There's also the possibility that it's a mutually decided condition," she noted, shifting a bit to grab some of the food that Varric brought and munching on yet another cinnamon roll. "It's rare but a mage and a spirit might agree to such a union. Spirit Healers are a very good example. It's not common but it isn't unheard of."

“Are they more vulnerable in the Fade?”

The made Merrill raise an eyebrow, although she did not pry further. Instead, she simply gave him an answer. "Not always," she explained. "The Fade is a spirit's home. Sometimes, they're stronger." Still, that question was proof that something was wrong.

"It’s Anders,” finally admitted. “I’ve never seen anything like it It slaughtered those templars like stepping on ants; they never had a chance, and if we had tried to stop it, it would have done the same to us … it nearly did. And Josc knew.” The statement was colored with... something. Varric wasn't angry perhaps, but Merrill could tell he wasn't pleased. “She knew that thing was there, inside Anders, and she didn’t tell us.”

For her own part, Merrill took the information in fair stride. She was not a Wicked Grace player but her face was mostly serene. Anders' communions weren't here business and she couldn't judge him for consorting with a spirit. Not given her own blood-based ministrations. But the elf's face turned to something of a frown thinking of how dangerous the situation may have been for her friends and especially Hawke.

And then Varric said something she hadn't expected. Something that nearly scared her. “How do I kill it?”

Merrill turned serious. "You can't," she said. An answer with multiple meanings. "If the spirit is bonded to him, then tearing it away could kill him., even if you had the proper means. That spirit could be sustaining him for all we know," she offered carefully. "Even if you could kill it, it might simply reform one day in the Fade."

She paused. There was one option. "You'd have to convince the spirits and maybe even Anders that their bond wasn't beneficial," she said. "If neither of them wanted to consider an arrangement, then the spirit might simple leave. But... I don't know if Anders is the sort of person who would listen to us. To say nothing of the spirit."

One last thought crossed her mind. "If the spirit had some kind of purpose, you could maybe help it with that. It might leave afterwards," she posited. "Do you know what kind of spirit it was?"
 

Varric Tethras

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#11
Varric knew that Merrill was a mage - and a blood mage, at that. It was the reason he’d sought out her advice on the situation, after all. But the contrast between the wide-eyed and slightly absent-minded innocent that she seemed to be where just about everything else was concerned and the matter-of-fact way that she spoke of things that made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end was still disconcerting.

"If a mage isn't careful, a demon can take a foothold in their mind and use that to bridge the distance between this world and the Fade,” she told him. “Sometimes, it's a matter of making a bad bargain with a spirit. You have to be very particular with the language of any deals you make.”

“Why make deals with them at all?” he wanted to know. He hadn’t talked with Daisy about her magic much, because he didn’t know enough to know what to ask or say. He knew that Josc worried about the blood magic aspect, but the elf had always seemed quite comfortable with it, but having gotten a hellish glimpse of just how wrong things could go, the specter of a demon taking up residence in Daisy had sprouted in Varric’s always-fertile imagination.

"There's also the possibility that it's a mutually decided condition," she went on, claiming another pastry, her appetite unaffected by the subject matter. "It's rare but a mage and a spirit might agree to such a union. Spirit Healers are a very good example. It's not common but it isn't unheard of."

Varric frowned. “Spirit … healers?” he asked turning the term over in his head. “They heal spirits?” That sounded odd, but raised the possibility that spirits could need healing, which maybe meant that they could be hurt … or killed.

Asking if they were more vulnerable in the Fade got him a very pointed look. "The Fade is a spirit's home,” she explained to him. “Sometimes, they're stronger." Then she asked him straight up what was behind his line of questioning.

So he told her … and she didn’t bat an eye until he asked how to kill the thing.

“You can’t,” she said without a trace of doubt, her expression as serious as he’d ever seen. "If the spirit is bonded to him, then tearing it away could kill him., even if you had the proper means. That spirit could be sustaining him for all we know," she mused. "Even if you could kill it, it might simply reform one day in the Fade."

“As long as it’s back in the Fade and not here,” he grumbled. Given what he’d seen, killing Anders seemed like a justified measure, if it would get rid of his murdering sidekick. The mage hadn't seemed a bad sort once he'd had a bath, but -

"If the spirit had some kind of purpose, you could maybe help it with that. It might leave afterwards," Merrill suggested thoughtfully. "Do you know what kind of spirit it was?"

“It called itself Justice,” he reported grimly, “but it slaughtered twelve templars without a trial. I know some of them are assholes, Daisy.” And any of them who tried to take Merrill would be having heart to heart with Bianca. “But -” He shook his head, trying to find the words to explain, “they can’t all deserve to die like that. If that's what it wants, I'm not going to be part of it." Any more than he already was, anyway.
 
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