Fandom: Dragon Age 2
Characters: Sebastian, Merrill, Varric, Hawke
Spoilers: Nothing overt, set during Act 3
Notes: Written for a long, long ago fic giveaway on my Tumblr. The request was "Varric, Merrill, and Sebastian get lost in a cave. Where did Hawke go?"
Pretty much what it says on the tin. :) Also posted on AO3.
"I thought dwarves were supposed to navigate underground by instinct." Sebastian laid a careful palm against the pile of boulders blocking the way forward. They did not yield under pressure; not a recent cave-in, then. "Stone sense, don't they call it?"
"Oh c'mon, Choir Boy, you know I'm only barely a dwarf, by any reasonable definition. All caves look the same to me." Varric stepped back and looked up at the ceiling. "Besides, that's the Deep Roads. This cave is natural. I'd think that's Daisy's department." He nodded at Merrill, who stood a few feet back, wandering in a small circle.
"Is it?" She turned to face them, eyes wide. "These are mines, aren't they? Dug by people? Well, slaves. Not that slaves aren't people."
"We were in the mines when we started. According to the map--" Sebastian pulled the map out of his pack and unrolled it -- "we exited the mines and entered a natural cave system yesterday."
Varric snorted. "You trust a map? In the Bone Pit?"
Sebastian shot him a sharp look. "What else do you suggest I trust?"
"I would trust Hawke, if she were here." Merrill let out a small sigh. "Oh, I do wish she hadn't wandered off like that. Do either of you even knew why she left?"
Varric shrugged, and Sebastian shook his head. "I have just as much information as you do, Merrill, which is very little. And I'm concerned." He rolled up the map and handed it to Varric. "It's not like her."
"I agree," Varric said. "This whole trip has been a little off. Why bring us all the way out to the Bone Pit without giving us a reason, then take off without a word while she's supposed to be on watch?" He scowled in the general direction of the cave-in. "I'd much rather have slept in my own bed last night, and not be lost in a cave now."
"Well, we're here regardless." Merrill closed her eyes and twirled around, arms out. "Maybe if we start looking for a way out, we'll find Hawke, too."
Sebastian glanced at Varric, who shrugged again, as if to suggest that there wasn't much else they could do. With a sigh, Sebastian heaved his pack up on his back and pulled his bow off the top. There hadn't been much trouble with deepstalkers, drakes, or giant spiders yet, but he didn't want to count on that remaining the case.
It took them an hour to reach the next crossroads, where Merrill stopped them. "All right. If the map and my memories are right, we came this way." She nodded toward the left fork. "So maybe that will lead us out." She sighed. "Navigating strange caves is not my strong point. I wish -- but never mind."
A wistful quality in her voice gave Sebastian pause, and he turned to look at her. "Everything all right?" he asked.
"Fine, fine," Merrill said, too heartily. "Just remembering something. It's not important." She straightened up and swiveled toward Varric. "What do you think?"
Varric checked the map. "I don't know why I'm even looking at this," he said, crumpling it up and sticking it back in his pack. "We're lost either way, so..." Then he frowned. "What's that noise?"
Sebastian turned around in a small circle, listening. All he could hear was his own breathing and a distant drip of water. "What noise?"
"Shh." Merrill closed her eyes and took a few steps forward. "It might be-- groaning?" Her eyes flew open. "It's Hawke! This way!" She took off running down the right fork, and Sebastian ran after her, readying an arrow to draw.
He followed her through the tunnels because he had no better idea of where to go, ducking beneath stalactites, pushing moss out of the way, slowing down to avoid slipping on loose shale pieces that covered the floor. Then Merrill skidded to a stop, so abruptly that Sebastian almost crashed into her.
"Hawke?" she called out.
"Down here!" came the muffled reply.
Merrill looked around wildly. "I don't see you. Or anywhere you could be. Keep talking so I can follow your voice."
"All right." A brief pause. "What should I say?"
"Describe your surroundings," Sebastian suggested. "That might help us find where you are."
"I would, if I could see them. It's awfully dark, I'm afraid." Hawke paused again, as if considering something. "I was walking through the cave, took a bad step, and slipped, slid down the side of a cliff or something. When I landed--" she broke off, coughing. When she continued, her voice was rough. "Landed, couldn't see anything. Like I'm buried, or fell into a pit."
"A pit in the Bone Pit," Varric muttered. He had finally caught up to them; his face was red and his breathing uneven. "What are the odds?"
"Hush," Sebastian said. "It's all right, Hawke, we'll find you. Save your breath." He lowered his torch and found footprints, then a scuff mark, heading off the side of a steep drop-off. "I think I've found where you slipped. This way, everyone."
It was obvious, now that he knew to look for it -- a scar in the earth the size of a human foot, skidding all the way down. Sebastian didn't see a path, but enough of the stones jutted out from the slopes looked stable enough to hold him if he went carefully. Leaving the pack at the top of the cliff, he started down, picking each step with care and holding out his arms for balance. Merrill followed him; Sebastian glanced up and saw that Varric waited, crossbow at the ready.
"I'm no good with this kind of terrain," he said. "Me and Bianca'll keep watch."
Sebastian nodded, then returned to his walk, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, paralleling Hawke's slide path down the hill. All the earth was loose, as though there had recently been a landslide to expose the cliff. He glanced down at the bottom of the ravine; he didn't see Hawke, but he did see several piles of dirt, and a large crack in the ground. Perhaps she was down there. "Hawke?" he called out. "Can you still hear me?"
"Loud and clear," came the reply. She was louder now, too, if still muffled.
"Keep talking," Sebastian said, angling himself toward the right to better follow her voice. "Are you all right?" He prayed she wasn't injured too badly: the stack of potions in his bag was running low, and Merrill had no healing spells, at least not as far as he'd ever seen.
Hawke laughed, weakly. "Oh, I've been better. I hit my head when I landed, I think. And I can't really feel my right leg. Though that might just be because it's been pinned beneath me for so long."
Sebastian shook his head. "Why on earth did you go off by yourself?"
"What, you didn't--" She was struck by another coughing fit, and Sebastian held up a hand in alarm.
"Tell us later," he said. "I think I have a fix on your position now." He was almost to the bottom of the cliff, approaching the edge of the crevasse. Her voice was coming up from there, all, right, and he leaned over just enough to peer down.
"Careful!" Merrill's call came from behind him. "We can't have you falling down there, either."
Sebastian looked back over his shoulder; Merrill was most of the way down the hill, holding a torch aloft. "Right, thanks."
"Can you see her?"
He shook his head. "It's too dark, too far."
"Let me help you, then," Merrill said, and a globe of light floated off the torch and toward him, flitting through the air like an enormous firefly. It bounced past his face, bathing him momentarily in light and warmth, then traveled down into the crevasse, lighting the jagged dirt walls. Sebastian knelt down to look over the edge and saw Hawke, lying awkwardly on the ground, shading her eyes from the sudden brightness. She was dirty and bruised, but didn't seem badly hurt, and Sebastian murmured a small prayer of relief.
"Hi," said Hawke, and Sebastian almost laughed. "Well, light's a good start; how about some water?"
He pulled the water skin off his belt and tossed it down into her open hand. "We'll get you out of there," he promised, then immediately wondered how. The pit was almost as deep again as the cliff wall, and he hadn't brought a rope.
Merrill had reached his side now, and the relief that flooded her face was almost painful. "I see you, lethallan," she called down to Hawke, who met her eyes with a small nod. "We'll have you out in a jiffy."
Sebastian stood up and drew Merrill back from the edge. "But how?" he asked, softly, hoping that Hawke couldn't hear. "We can't climb down safely, nor carry her out. Unless you or Varric have a rope that I didn't see in the supplies."
Merrill smiled at him. "The earth will provide all the rope we need." She tipped her head back and spoke some command in the Elven language. The room shook, and a small pile of dirt fell from the ceiling, followed by a long, thick root. It grew down from the roof, past Sebastian, and into the pit. Merrill's grin turned triumphant. "There, you see? Now you can climb down and get her." She glanced down into the pit again. "Unless you can climb up on your own?"
"I can't even stand, I'm afraid," Hawke said. "So, no."
"All right, here goes." Sebastian checked his gloves, pulling them tight against his palm, then grasped the root with both hands. After tugging it a few times, checking its strength, he jumped aboard and slid down. When his feet touched the bottom, he let go, then started to examine Hawke, starting with her leg. It was bent awkwardly beneath her, but didn't seem to be broken. "Can you climb up on my back?"
"Let's see." Hawke handed him his water skin, which he hooked back onto his belt. He turned away and knelt down, and Hawke climbed aboard, fastening her arms around his neck and her left leg around his waist. Her right leg dangled stiffly by his side; Sebastian tucked it on top of the other. "I think I have it," she said.
"Good," Sebastian said. "Hold on." He grasped the root-rope and tested it one more time. Hawke was heavier than she looked, but he thought the rope could hold them both. "Maker protect your children," he murmured, "and Andraste give me strength." Fortified, he took a deep breath and began to climb. The globe of light danced just ahead of him, lighting the way up. Possibly it should bother him to be assisted by elven magic, but right now he would take whatever aid he could get.
"Hawke? Sebastian?" He looked up and saw Merrill, peering over the side, just barely visible through the glare. "Can I help?"
Sebastian shook his head. "Unless you have some way to make us both lighter or send us flying through the air? Probably not."
Merrill muttered something in Dalish. "I knew I should have taken Bethany up on her offer of lessons in Force Magic. I could have reverse-engineered it into--"
"All right, that's a no then. Let me save my breath for the climb." Sebastian continued up the root, slowly, hand over hand, using his feet for balance.
"Sorry about this," Hawke said. "I didn't mean to get into so much trouble, or to drag the rest of you into it."
"You never mean to," Sebastian muttered.
He felt Hawke wince before she chuckled. "I guess I earned that. And it sounds like you didn't find the note I left, so I owe you an explanation. When we get to the top, yeah?"
"Yeah." They made the rest of the climb in silence, slow and steady; as Sebastian neared the top, a thick hand appeared, and he grabbed it, allowing Varric to pull him the rest of the way out of the crevasse. Hawke slid off his back, and he rolled over, panting. First he pulled off his gloves, and then he stretched out his aching arms, pressing them into the cool earth, flexing his fingers with each breath, thanking the Maker that his strength hadn't given out.
"Here, let me help." Merrill wrapped her fingers around his left shoulder and began rubbing the sore muscles. Sebastian started to object, but her touch was both soothing and professional, and so he let his concerns for propriety go. It was as good as a poultice, or a healing spell, the kinks vanishing from his upper arms and shoulders as she worked them over.
Within a few minutes, he'd recovered enough strength to speak again. "Shouldn't you be healing Hawke first?"
Merrill glanced over her shoulder. "I can't do any more than Varric with the potions," she said. "Now turn over, I'll get your back." Sebastian obeyed, and she straddled his waist, then leaned into him, pressing her palms into the back of his neck. He couldn't help but let out a small groan of relief. "Good thing you're an archer," she said. "I don't know that anyone else could have carried Hawke out like that."
"I'm sure you would have -- oof! Careful, there -- found a way." Sebastian half sat up. "Thank you Merrill, that'll be fine."
"Of course." Merrill patted his shoulder and stood up; he rolled up on his hands and knees and pulled himself into a sitting position, legs crossed. "Now." She looked over at Hawke, who sat against the cave wall, Varric at her side. "You can't walk, can you?" Hawke started to speak, but Merrill shushed her with a shake of her head. "No, don't try to pretend. That knee's wrenched at best, broken at worst, and you've had no food or water in nearly a day. We can camp here tonight, then decide what to do in the morning."
Hawke nodded. "All right. And I am truly sorry about all this."
Varric got up to gather the scraps of root into a stack, then pulled out his flint, striking it over some of the smaller tendrils. "Care to tell us the purpose of your little jaunt?" he asked.
"Well..." Hawke sat up. "I'd heard a rumor of some mineral deposits in these caves. Someone-- We were going to-- it doesn't matter now. At first I thought I wanted help, which is why I asked you all here. But last night I realized I didn't want anyone else mixed up in it, so I struck out on my own." She spread her arms and bared her teeth in a false grin. "And now you see how that worked out." Then she deflated, arms tight around herself, slumping back against the boulder.
Merrill walked over to Hawke and rested a hand on her shoulder. "It's all right, Hawke. You did what you thought was best."
"I do wonder what happened to the note I left," Hawke said. "Didn't you check the map?"
"Dozens of times." Varric pulled the half-crumpled scroll out of his bag and unrolled it. "You sure you wrote it on the right... oh." He turned the map over, then held it up so the others could see. "Yep, there it is. 'Went to check on some things on my own. I'll be okay here -- head back to town and I'll see you tomorrow.'" He turned a glare on her. "Good thing we didn't see it. You'd still be in the bottom of that pit."
"The Maker works in mysterious ways," Sebastian said. "All that matters is that you're safe now."
"Yes." Merrill pulled a cloth from her pack and folded it up behind Hawke's head. "Now rest, lethallan." She placed her fingers on Hawke's forehead and murmured a few words in Dalish; when she removed her hand, Hawke was leaning back against the cloth, eyes closed, already breathing in a light sleep.
Merrill backed away. "There," she said, softly. "Sleep will help. So will food. Do you have any of that dried venison left? We could make it into a stew."
"Of course," said Sebastian, rocking up to his feet. "You did well, Merrill, taking charge of everyone like that."
She smiled. "I was my clan's First," she reminded him. "It wasn't all lore-keeping and spells. Much of what I learned from Marethari was about leadership, and managing trouble in a crisis. This isn't the worst thing to ever happen to me. It's not even the worst thing to happen in a cave." She glanced over at Hawke, her shoulders rising and falling in the gentle breathing of sleep. "And Creators willing, we can keep it that way."
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