“You think this slave would choose you over his freedom?”
Garrett Hawke stared at the glowing eyes of Wyrme, the Pride Demon of Feynriel’s haunted dreams, and gripped his staff all the harder. He could sense Fenris stiffen beside him, hear the elf’s breath quicken as he not only realized that he was the center of attention but that the demon was about to propose an offer.
“I would certainly hope so,” Hawke replied, nonplussed.
“Cast your eyes elsewhere, demon,” Fenris called out, stepping boldly forward. “The man you so insult is my freedom.”
The response took Wyrme by surprise. His gaping maw hung open, rows of teeth gleaming in the fadelight, a trail of saliva coursing along what would have been a lip on any other being. His mind churned to come up with some response that would not allow the mortals to see how he’d been taken aback.
“You trade one master for another and call that freedom,” he returned, laughing slowly and deeply, reaching his massive arms overhead in a great show of triumph. “Why, with my strength, there would be none that could hold you in their thrall!”
Hawke threw out his arm and clapped a hand to Fenris’ chest. He would not lose him here. Not now. Not in this way.
“You cannot have him, demon!” he spat, moving forward and setting the butt of his staff firmly on the ground. Lightning crackled along its length as the mage’s eyes flared threateningly. “I would kill you before—”
“Kill, kill…what is it with you mortals and killing things?” Wyrme exclaimed, his upper body rushing downward until his large, alien face was barely an inch away from Hawke’s. “Did you ever once consider—just once—that we demons make deals because we have ulterior motives?”
Hawke’s expression flattened. “No,” he deadpanned. “No, I never considered anything of the sort.”
“It’s true!” Wyrme went on, moving away and beginning to pace, his heavy steps shaking the ground of the courtyard. “You think we represent something so foul…so untouchable…and all we want,” he spun back around to face the mage, “all some of us want…is just to be loved!”
Hawke glanced back to his companions, to Varric and Anders where they both stood observing this whole exchange. The dwarf merely shrugged back helplessly. And Anders, the man with a spirit of Justice burning behind his eyes, blinked silently, emotionlessly, before he managed to formulate a reply.
“Being a spirit of the Fade is a very lonely existence,” he said in that unfamiliarly deep voice of Justice. “I knew a spirit of Joy, once. All she wanted was a hug but had hundreds of apprentice mages running in terror…not realizing they were undergoing their Harrowings.”
“A hug! A hug, yes….” Wyrme couldn’t help that he hissed naturally. He hoped this wouldn’t ultimately affect anyone’s decision. “I will let the boy go free—and the rest of you—for a hug.”
Fenris, already partially in thrall to the creature from the earlier temptation, walked purposefully forward and wrapped his armored arms around one of Wyrme’s great, stony legs. Hawke dashed forward in shock and alarm.
“But…it only makes sense,” the elf replied almost dreamily as he nuzzled the demon’s knee.
Varric came padding over, Bianca replaced in her holster on his back. His gloved hands were out before him, a dreamy expression on his face. “Hugs,” he sighed. “It’s been…so long. I can’t even remember the last hug I had.” He flung himself forward, swan-like, upon Wyrme’s foot, hunkering down like it was no different than his bed back at the Hanged Man. “Ah…you remind me of Meera…I can…barely remember…but you remind me of…Meera….”
Bianca, Hawke found himself fuming. Why couldn’t you remind him of Bianca? Maybe then we could get some answers! He shook his head quickly when he realized he was beginning to fall into a trance, himself, Wyrme’s pleased purring rumbling through the air. It was hypnotic, uncharacteristically gentle, soothing…it reminded him…reminded him of the way his father would hum when Bethany had nightmares. In fact, that’s exactly what he saw before him, his father with Carver and Bethany both at his feet, smiling and waving over to Garrett.
“Yes, come and join us, my boy,” Malcolm Hawke said brightly. “I was just beginning your favorite story. You know the one—”
“The Black Fox and the White Knight!” Garrett called out gleefully, his body suddenly in the form of his boyhood self. Without giving it a second thought, he leaped forward and tackled his father in a huge bear hug, snuggling down into his lap and waiting eagerly for his father’s gentle tenor to pick up the tale for the three of them.
Anders…merely stood there, staring, horrified. His three companions had tackled the pride demon in…cuddles…warm, fuzzy, loving…cuddles. And the massive creature appeared to be enjoying every moment of it. The spirit of Justice inside him pounded against the confines of his skull, raging that they were all in horrible peril. But it actually seemed that Wyrme was in for the worst of it.
The great beast eventually fell backwards, purring and writhing under all the unprecedented love, the three men on top of him cooing strange things that it was probably a best they would never remember later. As Anders watched, the had chitin of Wyrme’s body began to crack, a bright glowing light seeping forth from within. The more furious the love, the bigger the cracks…and bigger and bigger as he purred louder and louder, and suddenly—
His body blasted apart, flinging Hawke, Fenris, and Varric to the far reaches of the courtyard. After a minute or two, they all gradually got back onto their feet, each holding their heads and stumbling back over to where Anders stood just by the entryway.
“What…what happened?” Hawke asked his mage friend, his brown eyes dilated and unable to focus. “I…I thought…” he looked around quickly. “I thought I saw my father…only for a moment.”
“You saw no such thing,” Anders replied tersely. “But I’m proud of you, Hawke. You defeated a dangerous demon of pride.”
“I did? Oh! Of course I did!” Hawke quickly picked up his staff and nodded to each of his companions. “How could I not with such camaraderie?”
“A brilliant camaraderie,” Fenris added with a rare but warm smile. He grasped his companion firmly by the hand. “Come, we must leave this place. I have…an uneasy feeling…that something very wrong happened here.”