Stars blazed in the summer night's sky.
"How do I let you talk me into these things, Hawke?"
"Because you love me, Varric," Hawke quipped, loosening her daggers in their sheaths. "Besides, I know you can't resist helping the poor and benighted citizens of Kirkwall…"
"You clearly have me confused with someone else. Choir Boy, for example."
"You're right. I should have brought Sebastian. Sebastian loves me. And he has such lovely blue eyes."
"Hawke, it's midnight in the docks. You can't see the color of anyone's eyes. Besides, my eyes are much prettier."
Hawke sighed. "Humor me, Varric. You have no idea how boring my life has become in Hightown."
The dwarf chuckled. "That's what you get for becoming a lady, Hawke. Now you see why I prefer to remain one of the common people."
"Says the man wielding the might of House Tethras in the Merchant's Guild."
"Nah," Varric flipped a hand dismissively, "I leave that to my cousin, Archibald."
Hawke stopped. "I don't remember you having a cousin called Archibald."
Shadows moved in the darkness ahead, gathered like vultures around a corpse.
Varric unshipped Bianca from his back. "Grab something sharp and pointy, Hawke. We have company."
"I see them," Hawke answered, sliding her daggers free. With a practiced kick she sent a stoppered glass globe spinning into the shadows, launching herself after it with abandon.
It was not much of a fight, and what little there was of it was soon over. Hawke moved among the bodies of the fallen, searching for anything of interest. Not that she needed to rifle the pockets of the dead, not anymore, but some habits die hard. And maybe some are born in the bone.
"Hawke! Over here," called Varric.
There was urgency in the dwarf's voice. Curious, Hawke strode to his side.
Varric was kneeling by the battered and bloody body of a woman. "Maker! What did they do to her?"
Hawke dropped to one knee. "Andraste's tits… Is she still alive?"
"Looking like that?"
With a shocking suddenness, the woman took a broken gasp of air.
This first thing Shepard was aware of was the stench.
Her eyes cracked open slowly. Various shades of mud swam giddily in her vision before resolving into a squared off earthen ceiling.
Confusion. She'd been on the Citadel…
"Am I on Earth?" she wondered aloud. Her voice was raspy, hoarse.
"No. You're on a cot," answered a pleasant male voice, with a hint of humor. "Although I admit, the earth may be cleaner."
Shepard's vision swam again as she turned her head. As she blinked and squinted, the wavering lines became the figure of a human sitting on a low stool maybe half a meter away. His features were handsome, but haggard, his cheeks and chin stubbled. She blinked again. There was something odd about the clothes he was wearing.
"I know it's cliche, but where the hell am I?" Shepard wrinkled her nose. "And why does it smell worse than Omega?"
The man smiled. He had a charming smile that almost erased the haunted look in his eyes. "Darktown, I'm afraid."
Shepard frowned. "I should be dead."
"You came very close."
She closed her eyes. Why won't they just let me rest? Sorry, Thane. I wanted to be with you…
Her eyes snapped back open. Wait… Darktown?!
She squinted again. Were those feathers?
Careful, Shepard. Something's wrong here…
"How… how did I get here?" That should be a safe enough question.
"Some friends of mine found you on the docks. You'd been very badly injured. They brought you here, to me."
"The… Darktown… docks?" The name sounded wrong on her tongue.
The man laughed. "Darktown doesn't have docks. It has holes that the sewage drains through."
"That explains the smell."
Okay, Shepard. Think. You were in the middle of a god-knows-how-big explosion of dark energy that happened inside what is essentially a giant mass relay.
You could be anywhere.
She took a measured breath. Suddenly, she wished she knew more… okay, anything… about dark energy and theoretical physics.
Humans. Speaking English, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. That narrowed things a bit, didn't it? And, hey, at least she hadn't ended up in Batarian space. That would have been fun.
"What colony is this?"
The man's brow furrowed. "Colony? This is Kirkwall, in the Free Marches," he sounded as confused as Shepard felt. "Wait… are you from Tevinter?"
Kirkwall? Free Marches? Tevinter?
"I don't… What world am I on?" Shepard demanded.
His blond brows arched. "Well, as far as I know, we're still in Thedas."
Thedas… Thedas… Shepard couldn't place that name, either.
"System? What do you mean?"
Panic clutched at Shepard's gut. No. This can't be happening.
Shepard cast her eyes around the room, noting for the first time the lack of familiar sights. Lights. Computers. Plastic…
"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto…" she whispered.
"Kansas?" The man frowned. "I don't think I've heard that name before. Is that where you're from, originally?"
Shepard almost laughed. No, LA. But I might as well be from Oz…
"Let's just say that I'm from someplace a long, long way from here."
"Anders! How's my most favorite apostate today?" The voice was female, attractive, and amused.
The man scowled and stood up. "You know I hate it when you call me that, Hawke."
A laugh. "You know, that's probably why I keep doing it. And how's our friend?"
The man lowered his voice. "Awake. Confused. Odd. She called me Toto."
"Toto? That is odd. But no odder than the Arishok asking for me by name."
"It's just that sort of day, I suppose."
Unsurprisingly, the owner of the new voice did indeed appear to be female, attractive, and amused. She scooped up the recently vacated stool and settled herself on it at the edge of the cot.
"You know, it's not a terribly good idea to go wandering the docks at night. Especially when you've got the kind of enemies that can mash you into a bloody pulp," the woman said lightly. "And I should know."
Shepard tried to sit up and groaned as a wave of nausea broke over her. She eased back down.
"Look," she said to the ceiling, "I'm just going to get this over with. Have you ever heard the words, "Prothean", "mass effect", or (oh, please god) "electricity"?"
The woman put her head on one side. "No," she said thoughtfully, ticking them off on her fingers, "no, and yes."
The man came over with a mug of something that smelled like dirt and old socks. "Here," he said to Shepard. "Drink this. It will help with the nausea and vertigo."
He helped her into a sitting position. Making a face and hoping that it wouldn't come right back up, Shepard drained as much of the mug as she could in a single swig.
"Gently," the man admonished.
Shepard fought with the foul liquid and won. It stayed down.
"Technology," she panted. "Ever heard of it?" Some kind of terrible, dark, manic humor had seized her.
"N-n-n-no, I don't think so," the woman answered, and glanced up at the man. "Anders?"
At his minute head shake, she turned her attention back to Shepard. "Should I have?"
Shepard gave a hollow laugh. "Fire? The wheel? Particle accelerators?"
The woman eased the stool back a little. "Do you know what happened to you?" she asked carefully.
"Well, as far as we can tell, somebody - probably a whole lot of somebodies, actually - attacked and nearly killed you on the docks two nights ago."
Shepard put her face in her hands and began massaging her temples for whatever small relief it could provide. "This is…" She stopped. She started again. "You're probably going to think I'm crazy, but here goes. The last thing I remember is being caught in a… in a giant… explosion of… of… energy. And then I woke up here."
I wasn't supposed to wake up at all! And if I did, it was supposed to be on some beach 'across the sea' somewhere, with Thane. Or at least on the Normandy… Earth… somewhere rational.
"That would account for the way you looked, certainly," said the woman, with far more calmness than Shepard herself was feeling. Once again, there was a glance up to the man. "Sound like anything you know, Anders?"
The man shrugged. "Could be anything, I suppose. Although for something that powerful…" he trailed off.
The man grimaced. "Probably, yes." He squinted at Shepard. "Are you sure you're not from Tevinter?"
"Pretty sure, yes."
"Where are you from?"
Shepard groaned and dropped her head back in her hands.
"You said Kansas, right?" That was the man again.
"Kansas?" said the woman. "I've never heard of it. Is it one of the Qunari lands?"
Shepard's response was muffled. "I don't know, but probably not."
"Not big on geography?"
"Oh, I don't know, give me a star chart, some astrometrics, and about fifty years and maybe I could figure it out." Shepard raised her head and gave them a look that anyone on the Normandy world have recognized. It was the look she got shortly before something exploded. "Listen. I honestly have no idea where I am, or how I managed to get here. All I know is that here is a long, long, long way from where I belong."
"And the Maker dropped you in Kirkwall," the woman smiled ferally. "See, Anders? The Maker does have a sense of humor."
"And he's a bastard."