Chapter Twenty: Fade To Grey Pt One:
Large, disfigured, misshapen things poured out of the open doorway in the long, curving corridor of the Circle Tower's first floor. The creatures had tapering clawed hands and gangly arms, there skin cracked and red, mouths distended in grimaces of rage and pain and madness.
'Right someone ordered more killing!' Alistair, oddly chipper in combat when there were no moral quandaries to negotiate, brandished his shield and sword and readied a charge. He slammed into the first of the abominations with enough force to send the thing staggering back into its comrades. Mahahlia, already sliding along the wall to get into position, levelled a savage kick at the closest abomination with the intention of buckling its knee (assuming these things had legs under the tattered remnants of magi robes). The thing stumbled and Alistair was ready, cleaving the fiend's head clean off its shoulders.
'Watch out for exploding corpses,' Alistair called as the abomination dropped to the already scorched stone floor of the corridor. Heeding his warning Mahahlia nimbly jumped back out of the way as the abomination's corpse burned up in a noisy hiss of sulphur. Eventually the two wardens managed to dispatch the remaining abominations working surprisingly well together considering they had barely spoken a civil word to one another in twenty-four hours. In the aftermath of the skirmish the corridor stank of greasy ash and rotten eggs. Alistair and Mahahlia stood facing each other, leaning on the curving tower walls for support, as they caught their breath.
'How many more of these things do you think we'll have to face?' Alistair asked conversationally as he wiped encrusted ash and filth from the face of his dinted shield. Mahahlia arched an eyebrow at him dryly and tucked an errant strand of hair that had escaped from her single braid behind one pointed ear.
'That depends; how many floors does this tower have?'
'Four I think.' Alistair could feel a slight smile touching his lips, one answered in the bright sky blue glint in his fellow warden's eyes.
'In that case, shemlen, I would say……a lot.' Alistair laughed, a much by the wry certainty that chaos would find them as for the words. Mahahlia smiled broadly, dimpling her cheeks. Then keeping her dar'misu in hand Mahahlia straightened up and stepped over the blackened husk of one of the abominations before passing Alistair to disappear around the curve of the corridor. A moment later she returned with the assassin in tow and Alistair felt his mood darken.
It was bad enough that they were sealed into the tower, which just so happened to be besieged by demons and abominations, but oh yes, Mahahlia had to insist on taking her pet assassin with them. What's more, considering it was just the two of them against a tower full of fiends Alistair could tell his fellow grey warden was going to suggest untying the assassin's hands and letting him have a weapon so he could fight. The really galling thing about it all was that, given the circumstances and the fact that the assassin was just as trapped as they were, Alistair couldn't think of a good reason not to let him fight.
Alistair glared at the assassin who stood docile and patient just behind Mahahlia a disarmingly mild expression on his smug face. The assassin met his glare with a blade smile and then surveyed the charred remnants on the ground at their feet.
'You have had fun I see.' If the sight of genuine abominations bothered the assassin he did not show it. 'Is being a grey warden usually this exciting?'
'Shut up.' Alistair gritted his teeth. 'You're not allowed to talk.'
This had been a unanimous decree of the party decided within an hour of Mahahlia's decision to keep the assassin with them. This also meant that they had all been subjected to an hour of the slimy bastard's innuendo, sly barbs, and strangely probing questions and by the end of that hour Morrigan wanted to chop out his tongue and feed it to the birds and even Leliana was notably lacking in objection to this suggestion. As a compromise the assassin had been ordered to keep silent except when spoken to. Oddly right up to this moment the elf had actually kept to that order.
'Shemlen,' Mahahlia frowned at him in quiet warning before tugging gently on the loose end of the rope used to bind the Antivan's wrists and hands. As he was pulled along in her wake the damned bastard actually had the audacity to wink at him.
'Ah my friend, you appear to have……demon on your face.'
Instantly Alistair's hand went to his cheek, where a large smudge of congealing abomination muck flaked off his skin under his fingers. Blushing furiously Alistair gritted his teeth and glared at the utter bastard. 'It's an abomination, not a demon.'
Just to remind the smarmy elf who was in charge here Alistair shoved him in the back with his shield causing the smaller, lighter man to stumble. The elf righted his balance within a second and when he looked over his shoulder flashed Alistair a brilliantly grin somewhat reminiscent of a wolf's snarl, but thankfully didn't say anything as he followed a few steps behind Mahahlia like a puppy on a lead.
The three of them trudged on in silence for a few more feet of endless corridor and every time they passed one of the many, many statues of Andraste lining the walls Alistair fought back a flinch of claustrophobia; he kept thinking that the damned statues were moving, or worse – watching him. It was eerie and unsettling, as was the near perfect silence of the tower around them. Alistair was beginning to feel they were here on a fool's errand, surely no one could have survived all this.
Keeping to the rear so he could keep an eye on the damned assassin while Mahahlia took her usual position on point Alistair was just passing one of the many wooden doors leading into the long apprentice dormitories, when said door suddenly flew open, smacking him in the face.
Staggering back Alistair's training snapped into focus and he had his shield up to protect his head and sword half upraised when the abomination slammed him into the opposing wall, knocking all the air from his lungs. The smell of sulphur was almost unbearable, filling his nose as he thrashed wildly to break the creature's grip on him. He stared into a twisted face and single wild eye; flesh raw and sickly pink looked like melted candle-wax as it dribbled in fleshy runnels, sagging from once human bones. The abomination opened his mouth and howled; a monstrous inhuman sound.
Alistair managed to twist to the side slightly, which gave him the leverage he needed to swing his arm and bat the abomination away with his trusty shield. As he did so, shoving groggily away from the wall he saw that the three of them had stumbled into an ambush; a small horde of creatures poured through out into the corridor from both directions converging on them.
Mahahlia was caught between an abomination and two strange wraith-like things with glowing burned coal eyes and almost serpentine head. These new horrors looked almost as though they were on fire and could only be some sort of demon. Mahahlia ducked under the lunging reach of one of the demon-things and dived under its legs only to be slapped about a foot across the floor of the corridor by a lucky swipe from the abomination. Alistair lurched forward, intent on helping his fellow warden, and was promptly smashed into the wall again as one of the demons seeped up from the very flagstones of the floor beside him and belted him with the force of a sack of bricks.
'I can feel your rage mortal!'
Alistair had never seen a true demon before, let alone heard one speak, and now that he had both seen and heard one he rather wished he could return to a state of ignorance. Shoved up against the wall cheek first with the demon's hand gripping the back of his skull Alistair hissed as the demon's touch burned against his scalp. He wondered how long it would take for his head to pop like a grape between the stone wall and the demon's brute strength. He tried to swipe behind him with his sword but the angle was all wrong and his shield was caught, pinioned like his other arm, between his torso and the wall.
'Feed me! Fight me! Rage against me!' If pure mindless aggression had a voice, it would sound like this demon. As Alistair struggled he could feel something like fire and acid seeping into his pores, making him see red as he fought to be free. Through clouded vision he could see Mahahlia on the floor of the tower corridor, kicking out at the fiends menacing her. She released a furious piercing cry, like that of an eagle, when one of the monsters reached down to yank on a huge fistful of her hair, dragging her half upright and then tossing her into the wall.
Roaring his rage Alistair pushed away from the wall with his free hand, letting his sword drop to the floor. Shoving backwards with all his weight he dislodged the rage demon's grip on him, twisted smoothly around, grabbed the scalding hot and oddly rubbery flesh of the demon and slammed the vile creature into the opposing wall.
'Two can play at that game!' Savage red hot anger infused Alistair with a bitter sort of strength as he repeatedly slammed the monster's head into the wall until the Fade fiend began to dissolve into motes of black and acrid dust. Not waiting to watch the demon completely disintegrate Alistair turned back to retrieve his sword……only to find it wasn't where he'd dropped it.
Panic seared through him and Alistair whipped his head around to where Mahahlia was grappling with the abomination. The creature had caught her from behind and had literally lifted her off her feet. She looked like a child dangling from the cage of the fiend's overlong arms, her legs kicking in a futile attempt to get free. Mahahlia had lost her dar'misu, one of the daggers was still lodged in the back of the rapidly disintegrating body of a fallen demon, the other glinted dully in the torchlight from a doorway. Alistair moved forward, even without a sword, and as he did so Mahahlia bit back another cry of rage and pain as the abomination ducked its foul head and bit deep into her shoulder.
Alistair was tackled from the side by another rage demon, but he was ready for such an attack and slammed his shield into the creature's head, pounding the riveted steel into the fiend's face three times; each blow hard enough to wrench the muscles of his arms. Mahahlia was still caught in the abomination's clutches kicking and struggling but unable to break free. Her shoulder bled freely. Alistair sidestepped considering the best position to launch a shield attack. Then suddenly the abomination reared back again. The creature staggered, head thrown back at an unnatural angle. Mahahlia kicked with both legs and managed finally to fight out of the abomination's clutches.
It was only then, as Alistair pulled Mahahlia to her feet, that he saw the length of rope strung across the abomination's throat forcing the fiend's spine to bow backward at what could only be called a decidedly painful angle. Still, Alistair figured that the bad angle was probably less painful than the sword point that erupted out of the abomination's chest a moment before it released an evil howl, writhed like a fish, twisted around, lunged for its attacker, and ended up with a dar'misu wedged into its one remaining eye.
'Ah now that was exhilarating!' A melodious yet somehow cawing laugh offended Alistair's ears and then, watching the abomination fall, Alistair caught his first glimpse of their "rescuer".
'Hey!' Alistair wasn't sure what he'd planned to say exactly as the damned assassin calmly wrenched the dar'misu out of the fiend's skull, jumped over the crumpled corpse, and oozed over to the two wardens as the creature blew up messily behind him. Smug smirk firmly in place the Antivan held Mahahlia's dagger out to her laid across the bed of his palms as if offering her the greatest of Rivaini gemstones, 'For you, dear warden.'
Rolling her shoulder, the one the abomination had taken a bite out of, Mahahlia took back the weapon quite calmly. 'Thank you.'
Alistair stared from the remains of the abomination to the now completely unbound assassin. 'You -!' His eyes narrowed as he recognised his sword sitting amid the smouldering ashes. 'You stole my sword!'
'I did not.' The slimy bastard had the gall to sound affronted. 'You dropped it.'
Tatters of the rope still clung to one dark skinned wrist and Alistair noticed that the cords had appeared to have been hacked away roughly instead of smoothly cut; rope burns were also clearly evident on the assassin's skin. Alistair scowled, 'Oh great, now how are we going to tie you up?'
The assassin's entire face broke out in a huge, lascivious grin at that but before he could say something that would no doubt make Alistair want to kill him before dying of mortification himself, Mahahlia returned from looting the remains of the fallen abomination. She had retrieved her other dar'misu and Alistair's long sword. She handed Alistair his sword and then, to Alistair's extreme annoyance, handed one of her dar'misu to the Antivan. 'Now he's free he can fight. We'll need him.'
'You can't give him a blade!' Alistair goggled. 'He'll stab us both in the back.'
'No he won't.' Mahahlia did not look at Alistair and instead kept her steady gaze on the other elf. Smiling inscrutably the bastard Crow accepted the dar'misu without a word and waited for Mahahlia to speak again. 'He's trapped here just like we are. Even if he planned to turn on us, it would be stupid to do so now when his chances of survival alone against a tower of monsters are next to none.'
'Fine,' Alistair grumbled deliberately not looking at the butter bland but still smug expression on the Antivan bastard's face. 'But he takes point – I'm not letting him out of my sight.'
The assassin chuckled, 'Ah I do so enjoy being ogled by a handsome man.'