We see so much of Malcolm in Hawke, but I think there must be a lot of him in Carver too—in his fascination with mercenaries, his desire to protect and have purpose, his inability to express emotional trauma in words. I have a feeling that Malcolm wasn’t always the lion of a father that Leandra and Hawke’s example might suggest, and that it’s only through careful examination of the twins’ behavior that the real human behind the legend begins to peek out.
Previous: What Goes Bump In The Dark
Carver stares down the dark alley way, heart skipping in his chest, the familiar frustration setting in. Carver knows there’s nothing innately dangerous about darkness: Everything else held equal, it is merely the absence of light. That’s all. He knows this, of course he does; and yet still he here he stands, rooted to the spot, sweaty fingers twisting against the strap of his trash satchel, chasing a breath that refuses to escape the back of his throat.
If Merrill notices his struggle, she makes no sign. “We may not have weapons,” she says mildly as she tugs off one glove, “but at least we can have light.”
Grunting, she sets her hand alight in spirit fire, small sparks arcing up and down the bones of her hand. Carver’s reminded suddenly, oddly, of his father; how in his final days Malcolm would turn his fingers to ice, ostensibly to suck on his frozen joints for relief but mostly to prove a point.
It worked when you kids were teething, he had gasped, his breath labored, and if there were more explanation, Malcolm was too fatigued to offer it.
Carver is suddenly glad for her, glad for her strength and her power, and for being here with him at the threshold of darkness.
“Thanks,” he says, his voice cracking.
Tilting her head at him, she regards him as if he’d just confessed a penchant for the Remigold. “It’s just spirit light, Carver,” she replies.
“I know,” he says, swallowing. “But thanks anyway.”
She smiles with unconcealed tenderness. “You’re welcome, I suppose. Well, shall we?”
Carver nods and together they walk down the alley way, the shadows thick and dancing but remaining outside the range of Merrill’s spirit fire.
Despite the wound Carver had inflicted, the creature left no convenient trail of blood to follow, but that doesn’t matter, for Carver is nothing if not a good hunter. As a child, he and his father would track small game together, rabbit and squirrels mostly, and to Carver’s eternal gratitude Malcolm refused to use his magic on those ventures, hunting with only his “skill and piss”, as he used to say. Father was the one who taught Carver to search for signs, to listen to the dirt, to notice broken sticks and fluttering leaves. Father also taught Carver how to spit, and swear, and piss with the wind—skills Carver found no less useful in the years to come.
He wonders what Father would think of the terrifying, bloodless creature, if he would’ve had any insight into its origins or how to kill it. Before the Circle caught him, or maybe it was after—Father was always vague about the details—Malcolm lived for a time as a dockside mercenary; and Carver remembers from his stories that his father saw and encountered many horrible creatures and creations, usually blood magic related. Perhaps he would’ve known what this thing was, too.
Father was a good teacher, if an often absent one (though Carver told himself he never blamed anyone for that), and as he picks his way through the alley, Carver is very aware that if he hadn’t had such good training, he’d never be able to spot the trail now. The alienage, like the rest of Kirkwall, is a chaotic landscape of tumbled crates and rotting sacks, all alike in their ruin. Only by through his familiarity with the neighborhood and the grace of his upbringing – and, of course, Merrill’s fire – can Carver spot the splintered corners of boxes, the shredded banner hems, the crates disturbed an inch out of place.
At his side, Merrill is quiet, very quiet. As he crouches to examine a manhole, he shoots her a worried glance, but she is too lost in thought, brow crinkled, hooded gaze somewhere in the middle distance and unseeing.
He clears his throat. “You okay?”
“No.” When she looks at him, she bites down on her lip, as if trying not to shout in pain. “Carver, we’ve fought darkspawn, and arcane horrors, and the raised dead. But never anything like, like that.” She wrinkles her nose. “And the smell—not like a corpse, not like rot… Carver, what kind of thing could smell like… like…”
Carver’s chest tightens, fear sucking the air from his lungs. “Like dying itself?”
“Yes,” she gasps. Involuntarily, she shivers. “It’s awful.”
“I don’t know. But brace yourself. It’s about to get more awful.” He stands up and brushes his hands on his trousers. “Looks like he went downtown.”
“Into the sewers?” At Carver’s nod, she sighs. “How come the creepy things never go run and hide somewhere pleasant?”
Carver shrugs. “Name me a pleasant place in Kirkwall.”
Merrill thinks for a moment, then nods. “Fair point.”
Carver pulls back the manhole cover, and reels back against the stink of excrement and other waste. Behind the cover is a narrow stairwell, the footing slick and treacherous.
“Maker,” he gags, testing the first step. “At least our friend knows where to go to blend in.” The edge of Carver’s mouth curls up in a humorless smirk. “Well, shall we?”
Carver holds out his hand to her, and Merrill stares at it strangely, as if his hand were disconnected from his arm. Feeling foolish, he’s about to retract his hand when suddenly she takes it; her palm rests cold and clammy against his, a heavy weight to carry, but comforting nonetheless. She squeezes his fingers, and together they descend into the sewers.