Alright. My first Dragon Age story. Now, I'll try to explain some things: Yes, I know that a story trying to fit all the origins isn't so original. It's telling the same story, in your own and unique perspective that nobody else has, is my goal. While that has helped in some cases, I'm not entirely sure of what will become of this story. Second, I'm aware that I recycled a bunch of dialogue from the original game, but as I continue the story along, I can mix it up and try to keep up the fresh new content, while maintaining what some people love about the actual game itself. Third, this does contain a lot of OCs. I know. In the past, I've been able to actually create generally likeable OCs, and I try my best to flesh them out and develop them, so that the reader actually gives a damn about them. Fourth, this does contain character death. Some of the companions may die when they're not supposed to during the storyline, including origin OCs and the canon characters themselves. This is just to show, that characters don't exactly get back up when all the enemies die in an area. You may be Grey Wardens, but you're not invincible. Otherwise, Ostagar would have been an epic victory, and BAM! No game. Anyway, enough of my rambling. To give a taste, I posted 2 chapters at once. I hope you enjoy, and don't forget to review!
The Chantry teaches us that it is the hubris of men that brought the darkspawn into our world. The mages had sought to usurp Heave… but instead, they destroyed it. They were cast out, twisted and cursed by their own corruption. They returned as monsters; the first of the darkspawn. They became a Blight upon the lands, unstoppable, and relentless. The dwarven kingdoms were the first to fall, and from the Deep Roads, the darkspawn drove at us, again and again, until finally we neared annihilation... until the Grey Wardens came. Men and women from every race, warriors and mages, barbarians and kings… The Grey Wardens sacrificed everything to stem the tide of darkness… and prevailed.
It has been four centuries since that victory and we have kept our vigil. We have watched and waited for the darkspawn to return. But those who once called us heroes have forgotten. We are few now, and our warnings have been ignored for too long now. It may even be too late. For I have seen with my own eyes what lies on the horizon.
Maker help us all…
Duncan walked across the halls of Castle Cousland. As he eyed the portraits, high ceilings, and magnificent halls, the grizzled Grey Warden knew that this was indeed one of the more beautiful places he had the pleasure of visiting, and Duncan had traveled throughout much of Thedas. Highever seemed like such a beautiful place. It hadn't changed that much since he had left it and a lot was as he remembered it just before he even became a Warden. However, despite the nostalgia and memories to see, Duncan did come to Highever for a reason. The Blight was coming. And the Grey Wardens were too few.
Escorted by two of the Teyrn's guardsmen, Duncan was guided to the main hall, truly a splendor to see. At the center of the hall, lied several people dressed in fine silk garbs. Among them were two aged gentlemen, and a younger, beautiful woman. One of the men nodded in acknowledgement to Duncan's presence and turned to face the girl.
"There's also someone I want you to meet, Pup. Please… show Duncan in."
The guards guided Duncan towards the end of the hall, and he was greeted with smiling faces. One of the other men gave a rather skeptical look, though the expression was quickly shrugged off.
"It is an honor to be a guest within your hall, Teyrn Cousland," Duncan politely said, finished off with a respectful bow.
"Your Lordship, you didn't mention that a Grey Warden would be present," the other main said, curiously observing the warrior's every move.
"Well, Howe, we rarely have the pleasure of seeing one in person, that's true. Cassandra, Brother Aldous taught you who the Grey Wardens are, I hope?"
The attention was focused on the youngest of the group, a young woman wearing a green silk dress, adorned with chestnut hair, smooth and tanned, almost faintly yellowish skin. a certain look in her blue eyes, reminiscent of that of her father, and a rather charming smile were the finishing touches that added a bit of grace and confidence to her. Cassandra put a hand on her chin and looked toward the ground, deep in thought. Tapping her foot as she delved into the memories of her lessons, she enthusiastically snapped her fingers at her remembrance.
"Oh, yes! They are the fabled warriors who saved Fereldan from the brink of desctruction! Warriors without peer, riding upon the griffons to save the day and defeat the darkspawn! The very ones who-"
"That's enough, Pup…" Bryce interrupted, chuckling a bit. "Heh, it seems you get the general gist of it. Ah, Cassandra's always been a sucker for all the tales she's been told at bedtime. She's still just my little girl on the inside…"
"Daddy!" Cassandra interrupted. She playfully punched her father's arm, prompting him only to laugh at bit more. "I'm hardly a little girl anymore!"
"Indeed. I've heard many things about your prowess as a warrior. She can look after herself, you know. You needn't antagonize the woman, Bryce," Howe commented.
"Right. She'll be heading the castle while Fergus and I leave for Ostagar. That's a big step. But, she'll always be my little girl. No matter what."
"Well, it is good to see that someone still admires the Grey Wardens for what they were," Duncan said, seeing a degree of fascination in the Teyrn's daughter. "However, we are far from the glory days you describe. The darkspawn were not defeated permanently, and an entire horde awaits, And our numbers are too few," he continued, in a rather foreboding tone.
"Ah, yes. That's right. Without the warning of the darkspawn rising now, half the nation could have been overrun before we'd have a chance to react. Which is why Duncan is looking for recruits before joining us and his fellow Wardens in the south. I believe he's got his eye on Ser Gilmore," the Teyrn of Highever explained.
"If I might be so bold, I would suggest that your daughter is also an excellent candidate," Duncan stated.
Cassandra, who was staring off into space and not paying attention, quickly turned her head in a confused expression. "Wha… huh?" she asked absent-mindedly.
"Honor that may be, this is my daughter we're talking about," Bryce responded quickly.
"Me? A Grey Warden…? I'm, not so sure that I…" Cassandra mumbled, her mind trailing off to all the possible scenarios of joining the Wardens. However exciting it sounded, it seemed a bit of a hard concept to grasp, the thought coming in so spontaneously.
"I'm not so sure either, Pup. Duncan, I have my doubts about this. I do not want my only daughter out fighting a war. I need her here, safe. Should… should Fergus and I not make it, Highever needs a future leader to guide her through the tough times, and I have no doubt that Cassandra would make a better Teyrna," Bryce said, protectively standing in from of her daughter. "Unless… you with to invoke the Right of Conscription…?" he asked, with a furrowed brow.
"Have no fear. While we need as many good recruits as we can find, I've no intention on forcing the issue."
Cassandra looked at her father in complete shock. "Daddy, you think I'm going to be the… next Teyrna? Don't think like that, you and Fergus will make it through!" she exclaimed, almost pleading that they'll return home safely.
"Please Cassandra, don't make this any harder on me. You might have to accept that soon enough. You and your mother might have to lead Highever yourselves. But don't worry. Have faith. I'm sure in the end the Maker will guide us to victory. Now, then… can you ensure that Duncan's requests are seen to while I'm gone, Pup?"
Her mood lightened up a bit, as she nodded cheerfully. "Of course!"
"In the meantime, go find Fergus and tell him to lead the troops to Ostagar ahead of me," the Teyrn said, turning his attention back to his guests.
"If you say so, Daddy…" she said, walking off outside the main hall.
"Goodbye, Pup." Turning his attention to Howe and Duncan, Bryce went to a nearby table with a map of Fereldan spread upon it. "Now then, we must discuss the battle plans in the south."
As Duncan looked carefully, and adding his opinions and comments on the matter, he noticed the unusual behavior of Howe, as he didn't seem to pay much attention, and was rather observing the hall around him. Duncan even noticed Howe mouthing words to his personal guard, from time to time. While he must have had his reasons, something didn't seem right. The grizzled war veteran had a sixth sense for sensing danger, and while it wasn't in his place to judge the Arl of Amaranthine, something about seemed to have rubbed off in the wrong way. Duncan shrugged it off, thinking it was nothing.
Soon after the war discussion, Duncan returned to his quarters and pondered about his plans. There was much potential in the young Cassandra Cousland, and even if Bryce wouldn't allow it, the Ser Gilmore he'd been hearing about seemed to have some decent prowess. After this, he'd have to make some more trips all around Fereldan, seeking those who have the ability to confidently take up a weapon against the darkspawn. But for now, Duncan was weary. He had traveled a long way to Highever, and he would have a rest after the trip. By morning, he will have had his recruit and be off to find another promising individual. However, upon being interrupted from his sleep by a panicked scream that night, Duncan felt foolish thinking that a simple respite would be available to a Grey Warden, one who must be vigil and alert to everything, and not just darkspawn. A Grey Warden's work is never done. The second, third, and fourth, and current Blights are proof of that.
The night rang with chaos, as Castle Cousland became a warzone. Never before had Cassandra seen so much death, or felt so much hate. As she took her family blade, with her mother alongside her, she sank the sword into the flesh of the traitorous bastards. Everything she knew, her own almost utopian world, was crumbling around her. First they killed Oriana and Oren, her sister in-law and nephew. Now, as she walked the once familiar halls of the castle, the horrid sights were ones she couldn't have imagined, even in her darkest nightmares. Aldous, Mallol, Lady Landry, Dairren, Nan… all dead. Ser Gilmore and what was left of the Cousland Guard were holding off whatever came through the doors of the main hall, probably fighting valiantly to the death. She always knew that war and death were strangers to the Couslands; to the contrary, they were somewhat like siblings to the family name. It was such that made them second to the Calenhad bloodline. Fighting always played some part in the old tales Cassandra enjoyed as a girl. While she mainly used her skills to properly defend herself in time of war, she also felt influenced to train her swordplay from her stories, becoming like the heroes such as Aveline the Brave, whom was her personal hero for much of her childhood.
Only she wished that this was all just fantasy. There wasn't a knight to sweep her off her feet to save her, save for Ser Gilmore. But he was most likely to die. There wasn't a kind sage to guide her to a certain path. And there wasn't a happily ever after. No, that didn't seem possible anymore. This was a grim bloody tale. This was real. But like a story, this was her life, and while the Maker was one to set things in motion, the Cousland girl knew that she could write the future. She was the author of her life. And Andraste forgive her, but Cassandra was going to write her own story; the death of Rendon Howe. And whether or not the story ends, or continues from there, Cassandra no longer cared.
With her mother and faithful hound in tow, Cassandra Cousland dashed into the larder in an attempt to find her father. She gutted every single soldier that stood in her way, wishing to kill two for every person they've slain. And when she finds Howe, she swore she'd sever his traitorous head from his shoulders. After finishing off Howe's soldiers from the current area, Cassandra quickly ran to larder, hoping to see her father, alive and well. What she saw was much, much worse.
"There… you both are… I was… wondering when you'd get here…"
Cassandra and her mother, Eleanor, saw Bryce lying on the ground, a pool of his own blood spreading around him. He attempted to prop himself up, only to have his arms give up on him.
Eleanor ran, embracing her husband tightly. Cassandra could only sit there and watch, stupefied. Here her father was, dying. It didn't seem possible. Her father was the strongest person she ever knew, and this… to see him like this was enough to make her give up all hope. If he was already lost, what were the odds of her getting out alive?
"Maker's Blood, what's happened?! You're bleeding!" Eleanor cried out. She attempted to use some of the cloth from nearby sacks as makeshift bandages, though they did little to hinder the flow of blood.
"Howe's men… found me first… almost did me in right there…" he weakly replied.
Cassandra couldn't take this. Her grip on the grey iron longsword tightened more, her hands practically trembling. "I'll kill Howe for what he's done!" she yelled. Her face was turning red from her anger, face dripping slightly of tears.
"He can't… get away with this… The king will…"
Bryce couldn't finish his thought as he coughed more blood, staining his once elegant tunic even more. Eleanor and Cassandra gasped, the latter rushing towards her father's side. Her Mabari, Cerberus, followed in suit. He let out a mournful whine at the sight of Bryce dying.
"Bryce, we must get you out of here!" Eleanor exclaimed, checking the larder entrance for intruders.
"I… I won't survive the standing, I think…"
"No… No! I'm not going to leave you behind Daddy! You're coming with us! We'll drag you out and find healing magic! You can't die!" Cassandra cried out, tears dripping down her face. Bryce looked his daughter in the eye, only to quickly look away.
"Only… if you're willing to leave pieces of me behind, Pup."
"Damn it Bryce, this is no time for jokes! We have to get out of here! Once Howe's men break through the gate, they will find us! We must go!" Eleanor cried out, hoping her husband could see reason.
"Dad… please…" Cassandra begged. She grabbed on her father's hands, and looked straight at him. Unable to keep his glance away, Bryce turned his head and saw his daughter's blue eyes, crying and pleading for him to get away with them.
"I'm… I'm sorry, Pup. It's too late for me now… You must have faith. You're a woman now. You… and your mother must get out of here. Find Fergus… tell him what has happened here!"
Bryce coughed more blood, the color and will in his face quickly depleting. Cassandra didn't know how to think of this. The daring and dashing eyes of her father, the ones that made a simple glance make him look invincible, were closed in a look of defeat.
"No! Bryce, the servants' exit is just right there! We can leave, we can get you healed!" Eleanor shouted.
"The castle is surrounded. I cannot make it."
The teyrna was starting to lose hope of a future, as she continued her futile efforts to get him out of there. A smile almost made an impression on her lips; he was still the same stubborn man she had married.
"The teyrn is correct. Howe's men have not yet discovered this exit, but they have surrounded the castle. Getting past will be difficult."
The Couslands shifted their gaze towards the Grey Warden, Duncan, entering the room. His armored robes and longsword were stained in blood, no doubt from the traitorous arl's men.
"You are… Duncan, then? The Grey Warden?" Eleanor asked.
"Yes, your Ladyship. The teyrn and I tried to reach you sooner."
"My daughter helped me get here. Maker be praised…"
"I am not surprised," Duncan said, seeing the true value she would be to the Wardens.
"Please, Duncan…" Cassandra began. "Can you… help my father? Or deal with Howe?"
"No, there is nothing to be done. We have so little time, and they seem to be as willing to kill me as much as they are willing to kill you. I am sorry, Cassandra."
"Duncan…" Bryce attempted to say something, but he was losing too much blood, and he wasn't sure he'd be able to finish even this conversation. "You are under no obligation to me… but I beg you… take my wife and daughter to safety!"
"I will, your Lordship. But I fear I must ask something in return."
"What is happening here pales in comparison to the evil now loose in the world. I came to your castle seeking a recruit. The darkspawn threat demands that I leave with one."
Bryce gave another look at his daughter, and back at Duncan before letting his head droop a bit. "I… I understand…"
"What? Me…? I… I don't think I'd make a great Warden…" Cassandra said, staring at the ground. "I can barely keep myself together against Howe's men, let alone darkspawn… I think this is a mistake…"
"You fought your way through Howe's men. You were trained as a great warrior since you were a child. You've a noble soul that is capable of great things. I think the Maker's intentions were clear. I am sure of it," Duncan said, putting a comforting hand on Cassandra's shoulder. The Cousland girl looked at Duncan carefully. The words were encouraging, and he had a glint in his eye that was reminiscent of her own father. Duncan nodded, then turned his gaze back at the wounded teyrn. "I will take the teyrna and your daughter to Ostagar where I will tell Fergus and the king what has happened here. Then, your daughter becomes a Grey Warden."
"So long as justice comes to Howe… I agree…" Bryce weakly coughed.
"Then I offer you a place within the Grey Wardens. Join us," Duncan said, gazing back toward a dumbfounded Cassandra. The brunette exchanged glances toward Duncan, her father, and her mother, trying to find answers and renewed focus to this problem.
"Darkspawn be damned! What of my family!? What about Howe?!" Cassandra yelled, her mind too conflicted and confused to make a proper judgement.
"Listen, Pup… We don't have much time. I want you to be happy. I want you to live. Without you and Fergus, the Cousland line dies here. I… I always knew how you loved stories, of the Grey Wardens and such. Now is your chance to make that a reality. This chapter of your life is over. It's time to write the rest of story. This is your chance to weave a tale… of your very own…"
Cassandra looked at her father, who was weakly smiling back at her. She could only smile a bit in response. She stood upright and met with Duncan's eyes.
"It's settled then. I'll go to Ostagar. I'll… join the Grey Wardens…"
"Then we must leave quickly," Duncan declared, brandishing his steel longsword.
"Cassandra dear…" Eleanor said, turning to her daughter. "Go with Duncan… you have a better chance of escape without me."
"Hush, Bryce. I'll kill every bastard that comes out that door to buy them time. But I won't abandon you."
Cassandra felt as if she was going to faint on the spot. "No, not you too…"
"Cassandra, this is your chance to make your mark on this world. You have great things ahead of you. You'll be greater than Aveline and all the others. This is your dream. Don't waste your life over us."
"I… I love you all so much…" she said, shutting her eyes closed.
"As do we, Darling… we love you too…"
"Now go, Pup… warn your brother… and know that we love you both… You do us proud…"
One of the very few times Cassandra has ever been on the outside of Castle Cousland, she was terrified to see that the walls were burning down. They had reached the end of the servants' tunnel, far away from Howe's men and the conflict. Cerberus had walked alongside his master proudly, though the sad events earlier hurt his normally proud and cheery demeanor. The very thought of what happened back there made her sick to her core, chilling the very blood in her veins.
"I… feel numb…"
"I understand. You just went through quite a bit. And death is never easy to accept, especially when it comes in such an abrupt fashion. I realize that you may still be in shock, but we still have a task to get underway," Duncan plainly declared as he marched on toward the mainlands.
"So… are we going to Ostagar?" Cassandra asked.
"No, we need more recruits, and I plan on scouring Fereldan for the best that I can find. We need to move quickly. Our next stop is the Circle Tower at Lake Calenhad."
"You're going to find a mage?"
"Yes. There are many potential recruits like yourself. The Grey Wardens need people like them, and it is my duty to find those worthy of our ranks."
"Duncan… I still don't think that I'm Grey Warden material…"
Duncan paused, and he stopped on his tracks. He looked at Cassandra straight in the eyes. "Never doubt yourself. Only use it to make yourself stronger. I wouldn't have chosen you if I didn't think you were fully capable. Trust in yourself."
Cassandra had no idea what to say, so she merely nodded in response, pondering his words and of the coming future. "So… we have to get all the way to Lake Calenhad? Well then… time's a wasting!"
Duncan smiled, and was pleased to see she was able to lift up her mood slightly, after all the death that had ensued a few hours ago. She was no doubt still recovering from the physical and emotional scars, but the darkspawn hardly left time for any respite. And so, the Grey Wardens marched on towards Lake Calenhad, in search of those great enough to join their ranks.
And as a promising apprentice underwent his Harrowing, his journey to greatness would soon begin.