Marian Hawke trusts her instincts, and discovers her laundry thieves are much more interesting than she expected.
Previous Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 2: Not in Kansas)
Growing up with two illegal mages in the family, forever hiding from the mage-hunting Templars, and moving all across the country whenever neighbors grew too suspicious, Marian Hawke had seen a pretty broad range of odd things. But the two strangers she’d found, dressed in what looked like underwear, pillaging her laundry, were rapidly climbing the list.
They hadn’t tried to run when she caught them, which was weird enough on its own. She’d thought about getting the jump on them, but killing random people in a small town like Lothering was a fabulous way of drawing unwanted attention. Instead, she’d just let herself be seen to find out how they’d react.
And the female of the two proceeded to politely introduce herself like she was a duchess arriving to dine with the empress of Orlais. Marian couldn’t help but admire her nerve, to try bluffing out of getting caught half-naked and mid-theft, so the only natural response was to invite the pair in for tea. Obviously.
The fact that the male of the pair…Rob, was it?…was fun to look at was just an added bonus.
“Welcome to our humble abode,” she said grandly, gesturing around the cottage’s main room with a flourish. “Please, make yourself comfortable. I’d ask if you wanted to dress for the occasion, but that seems rather unlikely.” The woman, Raven, met her smirk with a small huff of surprised laughter, but her brother still looked confused and suspicious. Marian felt a sudden burst of kinship; maybe her little brother Carver wasn’t unique in his inability to follow his sister’s lead or carry on polite conversation.
“You’re too kind,” said Raven. “Especially because you just met us rifling through your belongings. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you brought us inside to end us where there wouldn’t be witnesses.” Her lips twisted with humor, even as her brother gritted his teeth and gave her a look that shouted, ‘what are you doing?!?’ Interesting.
“Oh? And how do you know better, exactly? In any case, you’re correct. I’d never bring someone in the house to kill them. The blood is just so difficult to get out of the floorboards.”
Raven laughed again, as Marian rummaged through the cupboards, pulling out cider and some bread. It was plain fare, but she wasn’t going to fuss about what to serve her thieves. “Help yourselves…again,” she told them with a quirk of her lips. “I’ll be right back.” She ducked into her mother’s workroom and closed the door, then put her ear to the door to listen.
As expected, she heard Rob’s urgent hiss. “What the hell are we doing here, Rae? This chick caught us trying to rip her off and she clearly knows what to do with a knife. I could hold my own if shit hits the fan, but what are you going to do, chat her to death?”
“Relax, Rob. She’s not going to hurt us. She’s Hawke. If she wanted to kill us, we’d be dead already. God, it just figures that of all the houses around Lothering, we’d end up at hers. Though, if she’s still here, it does narrow down the time frame a bit, at least.”
“I take it the name is supposed to mean something?”
“She’s the main character of the second game in the series. She saves a whole city of people several times over.” The woman’s voice grew quieter, pondering. “I just don’t know how much we can tell her without making her think we’re nuts…or taking the chance of screwing up the plotline.” A gasp, followed by a string of curses. “And I’m an idiot. It’s Hawke. She probably just listened to this whole conversation.”
Marian’s eyes were afire with interest, and it took her a moment to notice that her mother and sister were looking at her in total bewilderment. “Oh, hey Mum, hey Beth. Funny story. I found some strangers in their underwear trying to steal our laundry, so I invited them in for tea. They’ve got some kind of big secret I want to figure out, so just stay in here for a bit and don’t come out until I give the all-clear, okay?”
The incredulous looks she got in response indicated that it was not, in fact, okay, and they felt she might possibly be insane. “I can see how that might have sounded a little crazy, but just trust me. I’ve got a feeling about this. I need to get back out there, but it’ll be fine, I promise.” She ducked out the door before they could protest.
Admittedly, her decision may have been influenced by the fact that she was painfully bored. Mother and Bethany had been toiling away making potions to send south to the army, which was very admirable, but utterly dull. And her brother Carver, the prat, had just left to join up with the king’s forces, so she couldn’t even pick a fight for entertainment…a circumstance she found highly unfair, since everyone knew she was better in a fight. But with all the soldiers coming and going, someone had to stay and watch out for Bethy, and Carver had whined so much that she’d finally sent him off out of sheer self-preservation.
Bethany, of course, protested she was perfectly capable of protecting herself. Marian had observed irritably that Bethy’s method of self-defense was magic, the very thing they’d all bent over backward to keep hidden for years. This resulted in Bethany bursting into tears and storming off, wailing about how everyone blamed her for everything.
The twins had just turned eighteen, and though Marian was only a handful of years older, sometimes it felt like decades. She loved her siblings dearly. That’s why most of the time, she only wanted to slightly throttle them.
Closing the door behind her, Marian sauntered over to the table and took a seat, helping herself to a mug of cider and serenely pouring one for each of her (for lack of a better word) guests. Then, she sliced a piece of the thick, chewy bread, and proceeded to butter hers generously…and slowly. Curiosity was killing her, but their growing nervousness as they waited to see what she’d do was, to be honest, pretty amusing.
Finally, as they’d both hesitantly begun to join her in eating, she smiled at Raven. “So, I’m the savior of a whole city, hmm? Strange; that really seems like the sort of thing I’d remember.”
Rob choked and spluttered a bit on his drink, but Raven only muttered a heartfelt curse under her breath. “See, I told you,” she told him grumpily, pushing her odd black-rimmed spectacles further up on her nose, before turning to Marian with a sigh. “Okay, umm…let me think how to explain this.”
“The truth is generally a good starting place.”
“Well yes, but this is…well, it’s complicated.”
“Somehow I don’t think Facebook relationship statuses are going to do the trick here, Rae,” said Rob.
Hawke blinked. “…what?” Maker, they were bizarre.
“Never mind,” said Raven, with an irritated glare at her brother. Again, Marian thought briefly of Carver, wondering if he’d reached the king’s army in Ostagar yet, and what obnoxious remarks he’d have made about these siblings if he were still here.
Raven spoke again after a moment. “So, maybe the easiest way to start is by thinking of the Fade…the realm where people go when they dream, and where mages get their magic from,” she elaborated, looking at her brother. It seemed an unnecessary explanation, Marian thought, because everyone knew what the Fade was, but Rob tilted his head slightly, listening. “The Fade and the waking world are separate, and yet they…overlap, right? People travel between them, mentally, under certain circumstances.”
“As much as I appreciate this lovely review of natural history, I’m not sure how it relates,” Hawke drawled.
“I’m getting to that,” Raven snapped, fidgeting. “Imagine there are other realms like that…overlapping, maybe just barely touching, but connected.” Marian looked skeptical, but nodded. “Okay, now think of how dreams in the Fade seem after you’re awake…vaguely remembered, maybe, almost like a story you’ve read rather than something that really happened, right? What if, in one of these other realms, people experience your world the same way you experience the Fade? That their minds travel here to be with you as you fight your battles, face your fears, and celebrate your victories. And that afterward, when they…wake up, so to speak…they remember all of that like a story, a dream of another world.”
“…ohhhkaaaay….” Marian raised a brow, sort of hoping Bethany’s usual nosiness had kicked in. If she was eavesdropping on all this, a mage’s perspective could come in handy later.
“Right, so…that’s the normal order of things. But then you have mages, and the way they travel to the Fade is different. They can go there awake, and they’re…I dunno, more there, I guess you could say.” Hawke nodded again, and Raven went on hesitantly, watching her expression. “In fact, if you believe in the literal truth of the Chant of Light, there has been at least one occasion where mages travelled to the Fade in physical form. And being as that was not how things are meant to be, they blundered around and managed to wreak a devastating amount of havoc.”
“Wow, natural history and Chantry doctrine, all in one lesson! I hope I’m not getting a tutoring bill at the end of all this.” It wasn’t the first time Hawke used snark to cover uneasiness, but in this case it felt necessary. Because she was starting to get a bad feeling they were headed straight for next-level crazy.
She shot a quick glance at Rob to see how he was responding to his sister’s speech, and got a jolt when she found his intensely blue gaze meeting her own. Hawke swallowed hard, reminding herself that he was most certainly just trying to gauge her reaction, and her stomach had absolutely no business flipping about in such a ridiculous fashion around a virtual stranger. Even if said stranger was unnecessarily attractive and wearing little more than an undershirt and smallclothes, which did very little to conceal his tall, athletic frame and its broad-shouldered strength…
Maker’s breath, Raven was still talking, and Marian realized she’d missed the last sentence and a half.
“…would obviously, then, want to be extremely cautious if they somehow…maybe accidentally, even…entered this realm, the way the magisters entered the Fade. So they didn’t, you know, destroy the world or something.”
Hawke let the silence stretch out while she digested what she’d heard. “Okay, tell me if I’m putting this together right. You’re expecting me to believe the two of you came here from some other realm by mistake, and you’re trying to figure out how to avoid causing the next darkspawn plague or something. And step one was stealing our laundry, because you had this dream where I save a city, and figured I’d be fine with it.”
Raven opened her mouth, blinked, and closed it again. “Well…yes. Sort of. Except we didn’t know it was your laundry when we got here; that part was an accident.”
Marian’s eyes narrowed. She gave the pair full marks for originality, but they were either trying to con her, or they were completely insane. And she didn’t want any of that around Mother or Bethy, so…
And then Rob said, “Darkspawn plague? What’s that; is there some kind of sickness here, Rae?”
Hawke stared, mouth agape. “You…but…what??” Even for criminals or lunatics, feigning ignorance of darkspawn while the armies gathered to fight them seemed to be taking it a bit far. But Rob’s confusion and alarm seemed distressingly real.
Raven ignored her incredulous sputtering, and explained to her brother that the darkspawn were a type of misshapen and corrupted monster that usually lived deep underground, but that periodically they would discover and contaminate a sleeping dragon, said to be an old god from the distant depths of this world’s history. The corrupted dragon would become an Archdemon, and lead the monsters swarming to the surface where they would destroy everyone and everything in their path, until defeated by a group called Grey Wardens, sort of a Special Forces unit made for that purpose.
“When that happens, it’s called a Blight. There have been four in the past, and,” she added grimly, “if this is when I think it is, the fifth one is about to begin.”
That grabbed all of Marian’s attention. “No, they don’t think it’s a Blight. The king’s men just passed through on their way to Ostagar, and they told everyone that it’s just a large raid. That they’ll put down the monsters coming up through the Korcari Wilds and everything will go back to normal.” She ignored that her voice was less certain than she would’ve liked.
“No,” the shorter woman said softly, her voice heavy with sorrow. “I’m sorry, Hawke. It’s not just a raid. And nothing is going to be normal for a very long time.”
In the end, even after Bethany and their mother, Leandra, had joined them (Beth’s curiosity having gotten the better of her), and Raven had carefully answered dozens of questions, looking more nervous at each one…it was Rob who’d convinced them. In exasperation, he’d reached into the pocket of his breeches (Marian pointedly did not think about his breeches) and pulled out a small, flat rectangular object. His finger brushed over a spot near the bottom, and the whole thing lit up with tiny words and pictures.
He only chuckled a little when all three Hawke women recoiled, then leaned closer, entranced. “It’s a cell phone. On our world we use them for lots of things…to talk to each other, send messages, take photos – um, that’s like…painting a picture, I guess, except faster? – read books, play games…all kinds of stuff. A lot of it won’t work here, because it needs, uh, a kind of building that you don’t have. But I can still show you some of it.”
“Enjoy it while it lasts,” said Raven. “I doubt they’ll have any outlets handy when the battery dies.”
“You’re probably right. Good thing your oh-so-clever brother knows your technology addiction, and brought a solar-powered lantern with a USB charging port.”
Raven’s eyes lit up nearly as bright as the small flat thing. Marian had no idea what most of that meant, but apparently it was good news, since Raven quickly brought a similar item out of her own pocket, and started showing it to Bethany and Leandra.
Marian watched as Rob pressed a spot on the object, and it filled up with an image, as clear as if she were looking through a window. She gasped. The tiny painting showed Rob and Raven, looking a bit younger, with an older woman who resembled them…their mother, maybe? They were smiling broadly, and Rob was wearing some kind of uniform. Gingerly, Marian stroked the image with one fingertip. It felt cool and smooth, like glass, but she gasped; her touch had caused the first painting to be replaced with another. Horrified, she looked up at Rob. “I’m so sorry…I didn’t mean to make it go away! Did I ruin it?”
He laughed. “No, it’s okay. The photo is…” He glanced up to meet her eyes, and only then did they both realize how close they’d gotten. “Ah…fine; it’s fine.” A small smile caught the corner of his mouth. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Marian. See?” He gently took her hand and brushed her finger over the picture in the other direction, and the image changed back. That was great and all, but it paled in comparison to the fact that her hand in his was as warm as the sun and covered in lightning. But, you know…in a good way.
His grin widened. “Actually, here…let me show you something.” He picked up the…what had he called it? A phone?…and poked it a few times, then pointed the back of it at her. “Look at me and smile,” he said, and not entirely sure why, she obeyed. He placed the thing back on the table a moment later, looking expectant.
She glanced at it, and then back at him in shock. “It’s…me! How did you…are you sure it’s not magic?”
“No, just a machine,” he smiled at her, his eyes warm. “But it’s useful for helping me remember when I’ve seen something beautiful.” He glanced down at her picture and back, and her disobedient stomach did that little flutter again.
“Hmm…interesting. I can see how that could be useful. Maybe you can show me more neat tricks later.”
“Anytime,” he replied with a low chuckle.
And then his sister cleared her throat, rolled her eyes, gave her brother a sardonic shake of her head, and said, “At any rate…now that we’ve got that out of the way, we just have to figure out how to avoid wrecking the world.”
“Oh, is that all?” Bethany raised a sarcastic eyebrow. “And here I thought you were going to bring up a really difficult problem.”
Next Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 4: When a Plan Comes Together)