I SWEAR TO THE MAKER I’M GOING BACK
I’ve become THAT fanfic writer.
Honestly? Yes, I will get back to it. But it’s like I said in a prior post: These days I find meta a lot easier to whip up than fiction, and far more relaxing, and right now I’m under such a tremendous amount of work pressure that I need fandom projects that will alleviate my stress, not add to it. Shadows is on hiatus, yes, but it will be back, once my work life gets to a more reasonable level.
KEEP THE FAITH
This conversation wasn’t originally supposed to happen today, but I don’t care, I will never apologize for the Hawke brothers being awful to each other.
Carver leans against the craggy clinic façade, arms crossed, hooded eyes fixed on the stairwell where Merrill disappeared. Half of him wants to sprint after her, all the way to the alienage, but unlike his brother he knows when to allow a graceful exit.
Carver runs a hand through his hair, trying to ignore the lingering tickle of Merrill’s fingers playing with his bangs, and the traitorous surge of heat that pulsed briefly through him when she tucked them gently, so gently, behind his ear. He is no fool. Merrill is off-limits, he knows, especially now that his head is such an Ostwick scramble. But Maker help him, like a moth to a flame he always keeps fluttering back.
Sighing, Carver shakes his head out like a wet mabari. It doesn’t help.
Abruptly the clinic door opens, and a slightly rumpled Garrett appears. His collar is crooked, front bangs askew. Hand lingering on the door, he turns back, smiling into the room behind him. “Don’t work too late,” he says in a soft tone Carver has only ever heard him spare for Dog; then, gaze still fixed into the clinic, he lets the door swing shut.
When Garrett turns around, softness still playing on his lips, he notices Carver, finally, and, squawking, flinches several inches backward.
“You bastard,” he gasps, clutching a hand to his heart. “Maker, it’s a good thing not all Templars are as good at sneaking as you.”
Carver shrugs noncommittally.
“Thought you’d gone back to home sweet Gallows already.” Garrett drops his hand awkwardly and eyes the Amell cellar entrance like a card cheat identifying the exits. He grins, his teeth a flash of white against his carefully-clipped beard. “Did you stay to make sure I’d make it home in one piece? I’m touched.”
“So,” says Carver, unwilling to be drawn in by Garrett’s distraction. “You and Anders.”
For a moment, the muscles around Garrett’s mouth slacken. Then, like a noblewoman readjusting her party hat, the casual smirk slides back into place once more.
The two characters who appear in this installment, augh, I just love sticking Carver in a room with them. Always brightens my day. If I had infinite time, I’d write an AU sitcom of these three characters, living together in a fabulous, over-priced New York City apartment, sipping complicated coffee drinks and having adventures.
Alas, one day.
Previously: The Plot Thickens
The lantern is lit, its pale gleam like a lighthouse beacon in the evening chokedamp. Next to Carver, Merrill sighs in relief.
“Thank the Creators,” she exhales. Merrill re-adjusts his arm around her shoulders and draws him closer. Under his weight she feels like iron. “I was afraid he might’ve closed for the night.”
Merrill’s strong fingers press into his side. More heat rises to Carver’s cheeks, and he feels a little woozy, though it’s probably just from all the blood loss. He raises a hand to the bandages on his shoulder, or tries to anyway, before the effort tires him out and he drops his hand weakly back to his side.
“You didn’ ha’ ta carry me here,” Carver slurs.
“Shush.” Merrill’s voice is tight and strained. “Save your strength for the healing.”
She kicks open the door; as she does, Carver notices that the top of her foot is still stained in creature bits. He starts to giggle uncontrollably. Merrill shoots him a worried glance.
“Stay with me, Carver,” she whispers.
He wants to tell her it’ll be alright, that it’s just the tooth between her toes, but he can’t manage any response other than sagging against her.
DUM-DUM-DAAAAAHHHH! *cue scary organ music*
Previously: If It Moves We Can Kill It
Merrill wrenches open the door to her house with so much force that it slams against the outer wall, sending debris clattering off the roof tiles. She disappears inside without looking back.
Carver does not follow. He always knew that Merrill’s oh-so-confused act was mostly that: an act, a mask, a way to hold the world at arm’s length — for whatever reason, he didn’t pry. But this fury, this violence – he’s never seen her before quite like this, roaring about like a sleeping dragon awakened –although perhaps, deep down, he’s not as surprised by it as he should be.
Eventually Merrill returns, two objects in hand. One is her staff. The other – “Is this one of your table legs?”
Merrill nods, offering Carver the ill-carved block of wood. “Sorry it’s not a sword. It’s the best I could do, given the circumstances.”
Carver thinks of the heavy oak table he and Garrett once secreted from the trash heap outside The Hanged Man—the one they’d chosen for Merrill’s new home specifically because its legs had looked so solid. “But how did you…“
Merrill shrugs unapologetically. “I broke it off.”
Carver’s eyes widen. “Ah.”
If she notices his surprise, Merrill is too preoccupied to register it. “Ready?”
Carver nods silently, and together, they walk back to the alleyway.
When they arrive at the sewer grate, however, Carver’s heart skips. The rusty iron grate is wide open, the unlatched lock sitting primly on a crate a few feet away.
Merrill spits something foul-sounding in Elven.
“I don’t understand,” says Carver, voice rising. He tugs at his hair. “We locked it from the outside. I remember locking it. You saw me lock it.”
“Well, someone unlocked it,” she grumbles. “Obviously.”
Without hesitation, Merrill starts down the narrow staircase. But she hasn’t descended more than two steps when something scrabbles against the roof tiles above.
They both freeze. Meeting Merrill’s eyes, Carver points a finger upward. She nods. Slowly she raises her staff, the dimly glowing talisman at the top casting pale illumination on the rooftops.
In the feeble light, a set of sharp teeth gleam.
So here’s a cool thing about writing every day: Sometimes you fuck up. Gloriously so. You reveal too much too soon, or too little too late, or your characters have the wrong conversation at the wrong time—really, a thousand different mistakes are possible when you’re flying by the seat of your pants. And of course, you only realize you’ve fucked up after everyone’s seen you fall on your butt.
That’s okay, of course: Such is the nature of real-time, unbeta’ed storytelling like “Shadows”, and learning how to cover it up when you fall is just as important as not falling in the first place. And usually I just write around my fuck-ups. This time, however, I’d actually written myself into a corner I couldn’t get out of.
So unfortunately, I had to actually scrap Monday’s update. I saved as much as I could, but I still needed to rewrite about 75% of it, and as a result the thrust of the scene is much different. So give this one a stab, even if you’ve already read the previously posted version.
And, uh, forget what you saw two days ago. It never happened. Ssh.
Previously: The Abomination
“Merrill.” Carver scrabbles against the dirt to haul himself up, the fading adrenaline making his limbs stiff and ungainly. He wobbles on his legs, scared, spent. “Merrill, wait. Please. Merrill.”
But the elf is already turning the corner, her scarf fluttering out of the alleyway. Carver sprints after her.
“Stop,” he pleads, grabbing her arm.
Merrill whirls around. Tear-tracks stain her grimy face; more unshed tears glisten in her eyes.
“Let me go,” she commands. She jerks against his grip for emphasis.
“Merrill,” he says softly. His voice breaks. “Stop. We need to—“
Carver’s voice falters. To what exactly? To run and hide and never look back? Suddenly, Carver remembers squatting in the forest undergrowth with his father, sunshine in his eyes, a twig in his father’s beard, red clay smeared across Malcolm’s nose. How easy chasing rabbits now seems, how child-like and innocent; a too-simple training for the reality of predators and prey. Even the long night at Ostagar offered no adequate preparation for this.
“—to keep our heads about this,” he finishes in a deeper, stronger voice.
I’d originally planned to hold off on finishing this until tomorrow, but I’ll actually be heading out of town earlier than I thought tomorrow morning, so I’mma just post it now.
Also, a head’s up: I am planning on moving to a Mon-Wed-Fri posting schedule for “Shadows” from here on out. But I’ll still be posting something every day—Tuesday is Knickerweasels day and I think I might start doing ‘Meta Thursday’ or something, just to kind of mix it up.
Anyway, enough programming talk. On with the story!
Previously: The Dead End
Covering his mouth with his hand, Carver takes a step inside the open room. It’s almost like Ostagar in here—the bodies and their pieces strewn in haphazard angles like directionless compasses – but the stench, Maker, now that is something entirely different. Rot, mixed with something sickly sweet, almost like lilies. And is that… tobacco smoke?
Carver thought nothing could smell worse than the darkspawn horde. He was wrong.
Suddenly Merrill’s eyes widen, and she chokes out a noise halfway between a gasp and a sob. Her hand begins to shake, which sets the light and shadows cast from her spirit fire dancing along the prone bodies.
“Carver,” she moans. In the juddering fire, the corpses seem to move. “Th-their ears.”
Carver peers down at the body closest to him—many, but not all, of the corpses still have their heads attached—and behind the sticky, grime-soaked hair is a pair of gracefully sloping ears. He looks at another. That one too.
Elves. All of them.
“Fuck,” he gags.
So apparently I just needed to take a few days off from “Shadows” to recharge my batteries, because I think today’s installment turned out pretty well. Amazing what some rest will do for you. :)
To that end, I think I might switch to a Mon-Wed-Fri update schedule for “Shadows” — that way I’m not stressing about updating on a Knickerweasels day or on the weekend, and I can focus on making the days I do update really count.
Anyway, enough blather. Onto the plot!
Previously: Old Skills
Before Carver came to Kirkwall, he’d never given much thought to sewers: Lothering didn’t have any, and he’d always assumed one reeking cesspit was the same as another. But Maker, how wrong he was. For in Kirkwall there are sewers large enough for men and elves to live in, a foul warren where even fouler men could build shops and hospitals and homes. He thinks of what Thrash and Willis, his old chantry-yard friends, would say about Darktown—of the looks on their faces when he’d tell them of a city so large and rich that people actually sleep in its sewers.
He grins, and for once he doesn’t chastise himself for surviving when they did not.
Like a lily pad floating above its tangled root system, Kirkwall sits atop so many crawling passageways that connect muck and grime to muck and grime, but this particular one is even more disgusting than the usual Darktown fare. Dark, cramped, the passageway is thick with chokedamp and the aftertaste of the Foundry district’s belched fumes. The harsh grind of gears and chains churns just beyond the stone walls. At least, Carver thinks, there aren’t any children begging in here. Small comforts.
But then Carver steps in something disturbingly soft, and he thinks of what an apt metaphor this place is for what his life’s become, and that if he wanted to spend so much of his adult life literally running around in shit, he should’ve stayed in Gwaren and shacked up with that pretty goatherd who propositioned him behind the Yellow Wyvern Inn.
From behind him echoes a wet squelch. Merrill groans, and Carver smiles again, fondly.
“Bet you wish you had shoes now,” he calls back to her.
“Why?” Her voice is genuinely curious. “Running around down here would just ruin the leather.”
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.
I’m headcanoning a little here, as I can’t remember whether or not these creatures are immune to blood magic in game (I wasn’t a blood mage in Origins, and I never took Merrill to this battle). So for the purposes of “Shadows”, you can assume that they are.
Previously: The New Assignment
The lines of Carver’s face soften. “Spiders? You must be joking, Merrill.”
“What? They eat the crawly things in my house.” She winks at him. “Plus, they’re fuzzy. I like fuzzy.”
“I swear,” he chuckles, shaking his head and grinning. “You can find anything cute.”
“There it is,” she says, nudging his shoulder with her own. Her eyes gleam in triumph. “You do remember how to smile.”
Cheeks slackening, Carver clutches the strap of his trash satchel and stares down the dark alienage alley. The shadows are impenetrable, almost solid. “Not much to smile about these days,” he grunts.
“Pfft. There’s always something to smile about,” she says, her voice still light, lilting. “Even if you have to make it up yourself.”
Carver starts, his heart flopping into his stomach. For the hundredth time, he debates telling her about his time in the hole: about the thirty-six bites, about blue sky days and his dreams and counting veins in the leaf. But then he shakes his head.
“What is it?” she murmurs, her green eyes flicking to his mouth and back again. Her lips part, as if tasting the air between them.
“N-nothing.” Swallowing, Carver tries not to notice how wet her lips are, how inviting the flash of pink tongue and white teeth. “It’s just—you’re right. As always.”
The corners of Merrill’s mouth twitch. She licks her lips, and he stares, fascinated.
Down the alley something skitters. Carver jerks back from her. Merrill sighs irritably.
“What was that?” he grunts.
I figure that the Order probably had a MUCH different perspective on what went on in Act 2 than Hawke did, lots of rumors and loose ends and dead leads. So whose perspective do you trust? Well, it all comes back to who’s telling the story, doesn’t it?
Previously: Like Old Times
“Ser Hawke,” says Cullen in an icy voice, his brows crashing together like twin continents. “You did not answer my summons.”
“Hmm.” Carver shrugs, turning back to his bunk and taking out his mess apron. He sees no point in any of this, in the pretense and the posturing, but especially in explaining that he had, in fact, gone to Cullen’s new office; but he’d taken one look at the windowsill, the one that overlooked the apprentice courtyards, and left before he smashed the furniture to pieces with his bare hands. Alrik’s office should’ve been burnt, he thinks, scrubbed clean with fire; or perhaps sealed up like a tomb.
Cullen’s frown deepens. “That’s insubordination.”
“Hmm,” offers Carver, looping the apron around his neck.
New week, new story arc! Yay! I’ve been looking forward to getting Carver and Merrill back in proximity to each other for some time now; after the heartache that was “No Light”, it’s just nice to play around with UST again, rather than, y’know, breaking my characters in half like twigs :) Enjoy!
Previously: A Chin Like That
“Carver?” Her voice lilts like a nightingale’s. “Is that you?”
He meets her eyes briefly, once, before he can stop himself, and then quickly busies himself with the straps of his mostly-empty trash satchel. Blood rushes in his ears. Breath becomes a struggle. He cannot answer her, for she is beautiful, far more so than he remembers; and terrible too, because she is no longer just a memory or an abstraction, a prayer to which he clings to get through a day—she is solid, she is real: bone and flesh and dirt, breath and body, everything smaller and larger than recollection allows—and this is too much, far too much for Carver to take.
Three weeks he’s been coming here. He should’ve known this would happen eventually. Perhaps he didn’t allow himself the hope.
“It is you,” she says, taking a step forward.
“Merrill,” he mumbles. He desperately wishes he’d been allowed to dress in plate, to hide behind the safety and security of a helmet slit.
“What are you doing here?” She sounds scandalized—hurt, even—and Carver supposes it was too much to expect her to be pleased to see him. And why should she be? The last time they’d spoken, she was very clear: Stay away from me, Carver Hawke.
As heat rushes to his cheeks, Carver has the desperate urge to take her by the shoulders and tell her that he’d never had any intention of doing differently.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” He shrugs, lifting his gaze but not quite meeting her eyes. Against his ankle, the leaf itches, and he forces himself not to bend down and scratch it. “Picking up trash.”
Merrill crosses her arms. “But why?”
“Court orders. Thousand hours of ‘community service’.” Carver gestures to the satchel that sags against his hip. “Guess they figured cleaning up after elves would teach me my place better than running food to Darktowners.”
Merrill makes a face, but does not reply immediately. Instead she shifts her weight from foot to foot, like a deer about to flee.
Yesterday there was an Act I banter making the rounds about Isabela catching Carver at The Blooming Rose. To be honest, I’d completely forgotten about it until I saw the banter, and realized I’d been missing out out on quite the opportunity. I mean, who doesn’t love a good whorehouse scene? It’s almost a shame “Shadows” started after Act I wraps up, because wouldn’t it have been fun to see Carver and Faith in action? After all, you know 19-year-old Carver is the kind of idiot boy who’d go about earnestly romancing prostitutes he’s paying to sleep with.
Maker, I love that doof.
Previous: The Final Sacrifice
Like its namesake, the Blooming Rose smells lurid, intoxicating—it’s a scent undefinable, and one that begs to be followed. But what Carver hadn’t noticed the last time he was here was how stifling the air was too. The incense must be strong, of course, to cover up the spilled liquor and sweat and other, less savory aromas. But it is a smell that Carver now finds just the wrong side of pleasant.
The lobby is both bigger and smaller than he remembers. Draped across tables and chairs are brightly-colored whores in conversation with potential johns and, lacking that, each other; nobody pays one more out-of-dress Templar any mind. Quintus, the bartender, chats mildly with Madame Lusine, whose eyes flick briefly to him, while Viveka flits about the tables, her tray laden with beer.
Across the room, a tiny, beautiful creature breaks away from conversation with a few elves and bounds over to him. She has dark hair and pale skin, and large, liquid eyes the color of a forest floor.
“Carver!” She grins at him appreciatively. “Well, slap my ass and call me a horse. How are you, honey?”
“Faith,” he says, managing a smile. The years have been kind to her, although she doesn’t look quite as young and innocent as she once did. He supposes the same could be said about him. “You remember me.”
“Like I could forget a chin like that,” she says, beaming at him. Almost surreptitiously, she slides a hand along his naked bicep. “Where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you in here for forever.”