Shale can't remember what pain feels like. The golem suspects, though, that it isn't something to be missed. There is only a sensation of... lessening. Fading. The world growing dim and narrow, the skies pulling down like a cavern as a dragon's claws tear chunks out of stony hide. After a while- who knew how long? the world resolved itself again.
Wandering through the smoldering corpses, Shale is grateful. No leaking of disgusting fluids, none of the silly faces made when bones are broken. Thick, black smoke blows across the tower's top, pluming from the many fires started by the Archdemon's breath. After the Painted Elf's many complaints, Shale is also inclined to be grateful not to be subjected to a sense of smell.
After the endless cacophony of the the battle through Denerim, the silence on top of Fort Drakon is sudden and vast. And Shale... isn't sure what to do. The golem did not fully expect this moment to come to pass. It is like the moment when the Small Warden broke the control rod's paralyzing spell- where there was once an imperative, now there was an empty space.
There in Honnleath, the Warden lent Shale its purpose. Lacking anything else to do, the golem followed it. Against all odds, that purpose now lies fulfilled.
Where is the Warden now?
Among the blackened, shapeless piles, a glint of dwarven steel catches Shale's eye. Under the spattered gore and many dents and gouges, the golem recognizes the angular, complicated Aeducan glyph embossed on the large circular shield. It is good- Shale cannot easily tell one soft face from another.
But is it the Gray Warden? There are so many still figures on the tower-top. Short and shorter, clad in all manner of metal and skins.
Shale kneels by the recumbent figure and with one thick finger, lifts its visor. Underneath, the golem recognizes the royal glyph painted on its face. Not glowing like Shale's own, but still familiar. Shale frowns. Without a glow, the golem can't tell if the Warden still functions. It is limp, like when the others deactivate for the night, but it does not rouse when shaken. Surely the Elder Mage would know, though. She knows activation words that seemed to work on squishy beings.
But it is incomplete. Shale leans back and looks around, but doesn't have to cast far afield. A few feet away, the sword's black starmetal blade glimmers, reflecting the sullen clouds above. Fitful shocks of lightning play across the engraved surface. But its limp hand will not grip the hilt, so Shale slips the blade into the setting on its back. Satisfied that it is whole, Shale lifts the Warden in a clatter of metal and dragonbone plates and sets off toward the doors leading down into the Fort.
Fort Drakon is empty but for more bodies. Human and darkspawn both, they spell out the desperation of the last few hours. Barricades of furniture, siege weapons hastily erected within the corridors, and everywhere, piles of thick-bodied darkspawn creatures. Even in deactivation, their features remain twisted with unnatural hate.
Unnatural is the best description Shale could think of for the darkspawn. Something about them upset the normal flow of the world, twisting the currents of magic into darkened whorls. The Warden had never really explained why it fought against them, but it didn't really have to. The natural order shriveled and died in the darkspawns' presence. In the time that Shale had traveled with the Warden, the golem had seen the lands occupied by the darkspawn whither... and though Shale could recall no built-in impetus to stand against them, their wrongness all but demanded it.
Besides which, it is entertaining. No one complains, no matter how many darkspawn get crushed. And Shale had seen a hundred times more of the world in a few short months than in thirty years of standing immobile in that village. Than memory allowed, anyway. Memories are brief flashes in a vast, darkened sea of years.
Thaig. That word resonates deep in the golem's stone form. Home.
Shale's first thought on entering that place was that it shouldn't have been green. But where did that knowledge even come from? Half-formed images of years... centuries? past crawled over one another, but the picture never resolved itself into a coherent whole. Just a name... Shayle, and a date that meant something only to the quiet little men of the Orzammar shaperate.
Orzammar, too, should have meant something more, but it didn't. More noise, more filth, and full to bursting with squishy people who thought altogether too highly of themselves. Even the Small Warden seemed unimpressed, returning to the place of its own creation.
The endless halls finally unfurl into a courtyard. Outside, groups of weary humans are weaving through the piled dead, looking for survivors, and sliding their blades into darkspawn bodies, just to be sure. Shale walks past them and down the wide stairs, while their curious gaze turns to follow. By now, surely many of them of heard of the golem, but for some reason they still can't seem to believe the truth of it.
Barking echoes through of the smoke-choked streets. A moment later, the four-legged wall of muscle that is the Warden's mabari comes bounding up to Shale. Barks mingle with a worried whine as it shoulders up to the golem's legs, prancing and jumping up to snuffle noisily at the figure in Shale's arms. Drawn by the noise, more humans turn to look.
Other Warden wears armor taken from a deep crypt in the Brecilian Woods, guarded, poorly, by a tiresome spirit who had nothing to say past an inarticulate wail. Shale couldn't precisely read the glyphs graven into the trim, but the golem nonetheless knew, somehow, that they meant Unstoppable Step... Juggernaut. In this moment, Other Warden lends credence to those glyphs as he barrels, heedless, through the crowd of humans and skids to a clattering stop in front of Shale. Words and questions fall out of him in a torrent, but he doesn't stop to weave them into sense as he pulls Small Warden from Shale's grasp.
Light as a leaf, the Painted Elf slips through the opening Other Warden made. His expression becomes grave as he comes to their side, deftly avoiding the massive dog threading between them all, whining and insistently nosing at any available hand. The crowd parts willingly for Elder Mage, who moves quickly to Other Warden's side.
The gaggle of humans draws close, curious, murmuring among themselves. Many are staring at Shale. One of the humans, in a skin of golden metal, is doing little to hide his words. "Is that thing... safe?" He waves his naked blade in the golem's direction.
Shale is used to this reaction. It has been the same, or similar, since they emerged from the tiny village of Honnleath. Everywhere they go, stares and murmurs follow them. Sometimes, someone even challenges the Warden. But there is no more control rod. Shale could be standing, blood-spattered, over a thousand crushed mages, and none could do a thing about it. The golem simply ignores the man.
Most unexpectedly, the Painted Elf does not. His eyes flash like knives when he speaks. "'Safe'... as you are perhaps?" he gestures to the noble's gleaming armor. "Tell me, nobleman, did you send you men out to die alone, or did you all wait together, wetting your breeches, until the archdemon roared its last before emerging from your cellar?"
The golden man huffs, his face growing red. "Silence, elf trash-"
Painted Elf gestures to Shale. "Because she stood by the Warden's side and looked the dragon in the eye!"
Shale still finds the word strange. The difference between that and the other seems dreadfully important to all these people, short or shorter, pointed ears or round. Maddening. Surely, Shale had once known what the difference had really meant. And perhaps even engaged in the... moist frivolities the Painted Elf so enjoys talking about.
Painted Elf is still speaking, his voice rising, "I think you could do with a closer look of a real battlefield, hm? Perhaps a long trip off of Drakon's ramparts?"
"Ramparts. How dull," Shale comments. "Why let the ground have the pleasure of what I could do with my hands?" The fiery crystals embedded in the golem's back pulse as if hungry. Shale smiles at the man. "May I crush it, Other Warden?"
The golden man edges away, unable to meet Shale's unblinking stare. Finally, he turns and flees, taking his small herd of humans with him. Shale turns back, but the Other Warden is not listening. He is kneeling by the Elder Mage, who has spread her hands over the Small Warden's dented breastplate. Elder Mage's eyes are distant, her mouth moving in soundless invocations. The air around her pulses invisibly with the strands of magic. Other Warden hovers, face a mask of helpless anguish. He has threaded his fingers though the dog's thick collar, trying to still the agitated beast who shares his expression.
"I made sure to get all of its parts," Shale offers, uncertain what the problem is.
"Would that it were so easy..." the Painted Elf says, his usual drawl subdued.
Shale shrugs. The dwarves of Orzammar made a great deal of their supposed relation to the stone, but few of them could bear up the comparison. Small Warden, though, is almost as tough as a golem. Ogres, dragons and legions of darkspawn have tried and failed to crush it.
It activates in a sudden rush, with eyes wide and the flailing swing of an arm expecting to still be swinging a sword. Other Warden lurches forward with a low cry, sweeping it up in a rattling embrace. Their metal skins grind against each other as fluids and words both flow freely.
Shale glances away, to find the Painted elf's frank gaze, a thousand things dancing in his busy eyes. "Ah, you see my friend?" he says, risking even to pat the golem's arm. "That is life! All of the lows, and all of the highs. And what highs!"
Shale glowers at him. "Why does the Painted Elf insist on talking about what will not change?"
The elf's indolent grin is firmly back in place. "Your loss, my stony friend." He sweeps forward with an flamboyant hand and deftly helps Elder Mage to her feet, purring extravagant praises for the high magics of the Circle. The dog barks enthusiastically, trying to involve itself bodily in the two Wardens' reunion.
Having failed to save Small Warden from the slobbery assault, an odd expression suddenly crosses Other Warden's face. "Shale," he asks, looking up at the golem, "where's Morrigan?"
"Vanished." Shale replies with a shrug.
"What do you mean, vanished?" the Painted Elf interjects.
The golem glances down at the little man. "Did I say something complicated? Vanished. Disappeared. No longer accounted for."
Something happened, up there. In the moment the Warden had buried its blade in the dragon's skull, Shale had felt a tug, a disjointed lurch of energies, a heady rush not unlike had happened at the moment when the Warden had sundered the Anvil of the Void. The crystals embedded in the golem's body had throbbed, roared, as the sky filled with a pillar of white light. Then, nothing but the blowing of the wind.
Other Warden looks away, a distant frown crossing his face. Both Wardens finally stand, Other Warden helping it find its feet in the heavy armor. Whatever momentary doubt had haunted Other Warden's face has vanished, replaced by an expression of relieved devotion. Small Warden seems to be taking stock of its situation, as if somewhat surprised to still be once again active.
I must have looked like that, once.
Not a bad thing to look like, Shale supposes. Small Warden is sturdy, even if it has to sheath itself in steel. It has a sensible head, a fine taste in gemstones... and a purpose.
Awfully small, though.
"We should return to the manse," Shale suggests. "The feathered fiends are gathering. Soon they will be here in force."
The Warden laughs wearily, glancing upwards. Black shapes are wheeling through the clearing skies. Small Warden seems to find the threat of the troublesome birds, if not funny, then at least a lesser threat than the darkspawn. Shale has yet to see this proven.
Purpose- an odd notion. Once, it had seemed to Shale that all creatures must surely be given one at the moment of their creation. But the more time the golem spends among the soft people, the more it seems like they just figure everything out as they go along. Their Chantry, their Stone, their forests, they have a great deal to say about it, but it all seems to blend together into a pile of slag. Some of them have no purpose. The truth is, in the end, they decide what their purpose is.
Quite a responsibility, one that will require careful consideration. But there is plenty of time. For the moment, Shale will make sure that neither birds nor the humans and their pointless posturing will impede Small Warden further.
And past that, well... a whole world awaits. One completely and utterly devoid of mages with control rods.