A/N: And here is the conclusion to the Myth Chase Arc. Hope the wait wasn't too painfully long this time.
Chapter 70: When All Ends Debatably
In the end, the Sacred Ashes turnout ended up being surprisingly high. Which was to say, they left the urn with a lot more ash than they expected. The urn had a small beak (at the bottom, oddly enough) and seemed to decant ashes according to some secret means of determining the need and "worth" of the "pilgrim." Raonar's share was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the largest by far, and it almost ended up scattered on the floor. As soon as the dwarf was within arm's reach, the urn poured out more ash than the small receptacle beneath the beak could hold. It was a good thing the dwarf reacted in time and caught the overflow in a sphere of force.
Gwen wondered if the Urn was self-replenishing (as if miraculous dead body ashes weren't already morbid enough). Most everyone else who'd made it that far got a pinch, good for one miracle compared to Raonar's two, or maybe three. Gwen could almost see Genitivi starting to fawn over the result of their expedition once they got back to the temple entrance hall. Unbidden, the image came of him wearing tattered robes and waving his arms frantically in a marketplace. Loudly yelling "Miracles! Get your very own miracles, one per pouch per supplicant!"
She barely suppressed a snort.
The Guardian, once again present for some reason, proved surprisingly uninformative as to why Raonar got more. The newly instated Warden Commander said it must have been the temple's way of making it up to him for letting three apparitions have their go at him rather than one. He said it as a joke, but it started to seem as if he'd hit the nail on the head when Theron didn't get any ashes of his own.
Thinking back, Gwen realized the elf hadn't made even the slightest move to approach the urn until Leliana and some of the others called for him to have his turn. He didn't say anything, but he did raise a knowing eyebrow when nothing happened. And, naturally, proceeded to totally ignore any urging to explain why the hell he was weirding them all out again. As if the fact he "had no issues in need of sorting" was supposed to be explanation enough.
It was a good thing they were all getting used to his oddities by that point. Not that Gwen would have invested that much time in the issue anyway. She was too busy ruminating about the fact she was holding a miracle in a pouch tied to her belt. As they walked down the four-piece bridge that had not been present before Alim bypassed that stage of the Gauntlet, she had to check (for the fifth time in as many minutes) that she hadn't lost the tiny bag. With this… with this she could heal Fergus' scars at the very least. Even if his arm didn't grow back (Gwen wasn't optimistic enough to assume that would happen), at least he'd no longer be in pain and could look himself in the mirror again.
Walking along, the woman kept half an ear on how Leliana and Wynne excitedly speculated on the limits of the ashes' restorative properties. Morrigan (the only other person who'd not received ashes) kept sending dismissive aside glances all over the place as she walked. Alistair was, for once, quiet himself as he walked next to her, near the rear of their odd little procession. She'd have expected him to at the least snicker when Oghren raised the possibility of somehow using the ashes to turn his container of booze into some manner of ever-full decanter. Maybe he'd been put off the quips for the moment after hearing Kallian wonder aloud if the ashes could heal mental trauma or just physical ones.
Raonar was walking up front for once. Judging by the snippets of conversation between him and Alim, the dwarf seemed to still be in the process of bemoaning their "underwhelming" emotional response upon his recovery, and their alleged "contribution" to the general depression preceding it. The nerve of him, to say they'd reacted inappropriately to the whole mess with his curse of whatever. If Gwen wasn't worried about disproportionate retribution, she might have considered arranging for a practical joke or two as revenge.
That made her frown. Such a course of action would require a partner in crime, one that had the subtlety she totally lacked. Zevran was out, since she didn't like him much. He was a friend, yes, but the kind of friend that you don't introduce to your other friends. Not that she'd had much of a choice in that regard.
Leliana was a possible choice, but she wasn't quite as proactive as Gwen would have liked. That left Faren, but his dark mood didn't speak well for her chances to seduce him to her side of the hypothetical prank war. Granted, now that Raonar was fine (hopefully for good this time), he'd probably be receptive to the core idea, but the woman didn't trust her chances of getting Faren to leave Raonar's side for even a minute.
It was really annoying. With how many times Raonar had somehow gotten himself nearly killed or otherwise incapacitated, their whole group had to have become at least a bit desensitized to it all. Faren, though, seemed hell bent on going frantic with worry every time it happened. Not to mention that he had a talent to take guilt upon himself that was second to none. Who knew what he was doing right that moment? Moping probably.
The woman looked ahead and to her left, where Leliana and Kallian were keeping stride. They had just reached the main corridor, and only had one more turn before they came upon the exit leading back out to the mountain summit. The elf had held out well over the past few weeks, despite how greatly the relationship between her and the dwarf had cooled. Mostly due to the latter. Gwen honestly hoped things would get back to normal now, and stay that way. And if Faren decided to be stubborn, Gwen would just have to drag him to the side one day and give him a few terse words about-
Something like a muffled howl interrupter her thoughts and brought their entire party to a halt. The sound was like that of a war horn, and came with the sensation of a tremor rushing through everything, from the air they breathed to the walls around them, and the floor beneath their feet. And through it, through their armor, and even their very bones.
Kallian spoke first. "Is that-"
Gwen brought her hand to her belt and looked down in shock. Her face went pasty white, the blood draining from it when she realized Kolgrim's horn was not there. "The horn! Where- When did it-?" He eyes widened when her mind made the connection faster than she was used to it moving. "Faren!" He'd taken it off her. He'd bumped into her when he left after the Guardian's tirade! How did she not notice since then? "Did he just-?"
A flash of white interrupted her utterance. The air was rent apart with a blast, rushing around them as the Warden Commander flew from his position like a ballista shot. Within moments he was at the far end of the large corridor, a shining, white apparition that was crouched horizontally on the wall. He kicked off it hard enough to disappear around the corner instantly, leaving cracks in the stonework.
Gwen's head jerked in surprise at the tell-tale noise of wood and iron being smashed at high velocity by something hard.
The horn sounded a second time.
It knocked them out of their stupor. Alim jumped forward, turning into a swallow in less than a second and flying off like a black bolt. The rest of them ran as fast as they could. Kallian was the quickest, but Alistair and Gwen made good time despite their heavy equipment. Theron settled for a quick stride instead of a charge, but only because he needed the space to draw his bow and ready himself.
That was Gwen's hope at least.
Soon, they were making the turn and, sure enough, the door leading to the sunny but cold outside was no longer there. It was whole still, but lying useless on the iced-over ground, five feet away from the entrance. The woman absently noted the broken hinges as she sprinted through, and felt some incredulity at seeing both Zevran and Sten unconscious on both sides of the narrow path. What the hell had Faren done to them? "Wynne? Check them!" She called back, though she didn't stay to see if she was obeyed.
She heard the dragon before she actually saw it, concealed as it was by the two huge cliffs that rose on both sides of the Gauntlet door. A huge, reptilian, winged thing flew overhead, at once disturbed and attracted by the horn of her dead worshipper.
Most of the others beat her to the plateau proper, but only by half a second. She was just in time to stumble from the ground tremors caused by the abrupt landing of the beast. Dusted ice and snow sprayed across her face and left her breathless, warding her face with her free arm, and the roar of the High Dragon was nearly deafening. All that in spite of the fact that the thing was thirty feet away from her and the others at the very least.
Her eyes took in the situation quickly. Shale was trying to pull herself out of a golem-sized hole she'd dug into the cliff face right across from them, all those yards away. It gave them a worrisome idea of how strong that thing was if it could send a golem flying so far. The blue and purple dragon was immense, bigger than Gwen had estimated when they all first saw it settle in its nest earlier that day. The ground, hardened by the frost, nonetheless had flattened and cracked where the talons of the creature impacted. It was a terrifying and wondrous scene, yet Faren Brosca stood right in front of the great predator. He was calm, resigned really, heedless of the horn that slipped through his fingers, and too far away for any of them to reach. Too far from the old ruins at his back, which were his only chance for cover. The human woman barely had time to understand what that meant by the time the dragon opened its mighty jaws, intent to eat him whole.
Gwenith Cousland felt The Veil around them shift.
Raonar Aeducan slid to a stop ten feet ahead of them, next to a boulder as wide as he was tall. He slammed his palm on the huge rock and flared with light. Gwen could feel his spirit focusing, claiming it, making it his own. And when he raised his hand, the boulder was wrung out of the protesting ground until it hovered next to him and above him, touching nothing but the air.
With wordless cry, the dwarf noble threw his arm forward, hurling the man-sized rock like the missile of a catapult. It smashed into the side of the beast's head so violently that one of its many horns was wrenched out of its socket with an audible crunch. The boulder flew off course, thankfully missing Faren, who had only then realized that they had returned, and had fallen on his backside from the shock of that collision happening just two feet in front of his face.
Then Raonar was airborne. In moments, he was eye-level with the dragon, whose head was still several meters above the ground. Maric's Blade was drawn back, poised for a frontal stab that would go right through the nearest eye and straight through the skull.
Alas, the blow to the head had been so strong that the dragon had been left dazed. Dazed enough to stagger, trip on its own forelegs almost. What would have been a quick kill turned, instead, into a glancing blow that only sliced the dragon's jawline.
The White Commander landed, digging a two-inch deep trench several feet long before he came to a standing stop. His white aura was denser than Gwen had ever seen it, almost like a second armor made of scintillating rays. Not just his exposed face, but everything he wore was shrouded in it. Barely any of the legion armor's black color still made itself seen.
The beast straightened and shook its head, but its eyes fell on Faren again. Faren, who was still on his rear and staring, disbelieving, at the one who'd saved him. The part of Gwen's mind that wasn't telling her to do something idly observed that this was a really strange parody of fairy tales, where princesses were saved from dragons by a knight in shining armor.
She could barely see the movements, shadowless as they were. The dwarf prince pulled his sword arm back, then jabbed. The dragon reared in pain as a wound appeared on its flank. Gwen couldn't see the dragon's face, since she and the others were behind the monster, but the injury, however shallow, did, nonetheless, bleed.
The Warden Commander stood tall as the dragon turned and brought its head lower, giving the enemy several meters away its full attention. "Bold you are, beast, to lay your eyes upon me and mine." His words were hard, weighted down by menace. "I suggest you look elsewhere, lest I remove your sight in a more permanent fashion!"
Gwenith Cousland almost felt the rage emerge, or maybe she just imagined it. Either way, the beast coiled backwards, drawing air into its great lungs. A wave of heat washed over the area even before the maw snapped wide, releasing a torrent of flames headed straight for the one who'd dared to harm it. It engulfed everything within a ten-meter radius, with Raonar at the center. The flames bloomed, and the air wafted, until it looked like a sea of flames that whirled on themselves, again and again. Far to their right, Faren scrambled away from the fire, towards the last remaining wall ruins in that place, next to the smoking waste pit.
Gwen wasn't worried. She could feel that nothing had really changed in the world within a certain range of Raonar. Any moment now he would clamp his will upon it again and – there!
An invisible wall of force blew the flames apart and smashed into the dragon's open mouth, making its head snap backwards with a shrieking grunt. The beast regained its balance but scraped a few feet back and to the side, growling and snarling.
The warden swept his free arm in front of him, sending a force wave that blew away all flames within ten feet of him. "Fire? You thought you could reach me with something that completely lacks mass?" A step closed the distance, then another. "I almost feel insulted."
It was sudden. Enough to leave just a blur. The dragon's head snapped forward, intending to bite him, to crush the dwarf between its many fangs, each of them half as long as he was tall. But Raonar jumped up right in time and retaliated, rending the air right in front and below him with a swift, horizontal sword swipe.
The dragon shrieked in real pain for the first time. The cut that spouted on its face was thin and shallow, but it was precise, and had gone through both eyes like a knife through parchment. The wind shuddered as it carried the pained wail to all four corners of the mountain top and beyond, then howled as a second, louder, more horrible cry of pain and rage filled it. The world seemed to groan in unison with giant, clawed feet that stomped on the ground. The dragon staggered, then thrashed, bereft of direction as sight failed it for the first time in its life.
Well, no one could accuse the dwarf of not following through on his threats. Not that he made it out of the mess unscathed. The muscles in the dragon's limbs bulged as it flexed its joints in preparation for a jump. A backwards leap came with a mighty wind buffet caused by the flap of the great wings. Within seconds, the space between the creature and the Commander of the Grey had tripled. Not just due to the dragon's thrashing retreat, but because Raonar himself hadn't yet landed when the wind wave smashed into him and sent him careening backwards.
As she cursed and sprinted away from where the crazed creature was about to land, Gwen wondered how good an idea it had been to blind the thing. On the one hand, it couldn't aim worth jack anymore (hopefully). On the other, it was as close to a cornered animal as it could get, and would, no doubt, want to fly off, regardless of how big the risk was for it to crash blindly into something. Even if Shale did manage to get a hold of it in time, their whole tactic had been shot to hell. Her eyes flicked to the far left of the blasted natural "bowl" they were in, where Alistair and Oghren were doing their best to dig the Golem out of the cliffside, something that Morrigan was helping with her spells. She could easily guess how she'd ended up that way, but Gwen wished they would hurry up.
In true crazy prepared fashion, their group had, months before, come up with a strategy "just in case" they ended up engaging a high dragon. They'd created it with the Archdemon in mind, but it seemed now that they would get to test it in a controlled environment first. Well, what would have been controlled environment if Faren hadn't done the stupidest thing ever, but that would be addressed later. First, someone would engage it, preferably someone quick on their feet, to see what it could do, how it fought. Once they got a good enough idea of its attacks and their reach, Gwen and Sten would be able to figure out where and how to score a critical strike with their more damaging greatswords, while it was distracted. Alim would be around somewhere, laying suppressive magic or powering up something major in case weapons weren't enough.
Shale, however, was the most important, because barring Alim she was the only one with any chance of preventing the dragon from taking flight. They hoped that the golem could grab the beast by the tail and hold it down. Or, if she wasn't heavy enough, one of the mages would pull surrounding stone around and over her, and the dragon tail, to prevent escape.
Obviously, this couldn't happen while Shale was stuck in a cliff wall, Gwen thought morosely. Beside her, Kallian was biting her lip, no doubt itching to get over to the other side of the mountain top and give Faren a smack or two. Gwen couldn't blame her. She rather thought it was time she finally charged in and attacked the dragon. The grip on Yusaris tightened as her eyes zoomed in on the dragon's rib cage. The scales looked thick and hard, but her sword had specifically been made for this, and all the scales seemed to overlap each other downwards. If she timed it right she should be able to stab through the hide, between the ribs and reach the heart.
Just as she bent her knees for a dash, an arm appeared in front of her face. "Not yet advised," Theron said levelly. She hadn't even noticed him approach, as usual.
A bolt of lightning descended from the clear sky above, striking the head of the dragon with a mighty booming noise. Then a second hit its back, then a third struck the left wing. The electricity spread, crackled all over the predator's scaly hide, making it roar. Looking up over her shoulder, the human woman finally learned where Alim had gone. There he was, standing on top of the cliff, where the dragon used to sleep. He had both hands reaching for the sky, one holding his staff and the other a familiar orb instead of the wand he liked so much. Magic poured around him, flowed between the orb and staff tip like a weave of alabaster.
The staff descended, even as the globe was held aloft.
The fourth thunderbolt came directly from the elf and smashed the dragon right behind the joint of the right foreleg. The beast's roar was louder, pained, but it only made it thrash harder. Its limbs spread wide for balance, dislodging rocks and sending debris everywhere as it slid back towards the place it had tried to retreat from. Back towards the lone ruin, where Faren had last been, Gwen thought in alarm. But its tail scraped a part of the ground, sending some rather large rocks and ice blocks coming their way. Gwen growled and threw herself to the ground, hoping Kalian would be able to roll away in time. Maybe she shouldn't have forgone the helmet after all.
Relatively unharmed, she looked up in time for the great dragon's hurt limb to give out. It didn't last long, but it had happened. The wound didn't bleed, but the hide and sinews were clearly charred. Yet the large beast surged to its feet, spreading its four legs wide. Gwen saw the tell-tale glow of the inner, living furnace even through the scales on the dragon's torso. And despite not having eyes, the beast turned towards Alim's general direction and spat.
It was like a fireball, but thicker. Fluid, somehow, like flaming sludge that burned in greens and yellow, a comet that surged from the creature's throat and exploded – splashed, really – against the outcropping just above the perch where Alim stood. That it missed didn't matter – the substance splattered everywhere, making the rock itself come alight with flames and embers.
Gwen surged to her feet with a grunt and did her best to keep her breath steady. Alim was fine, she'd seen him turn into a bird and shoot away. She looked around and spotted Kallian a few meters off, a few scrapes on her face and shins. Turning, she saw Theron as well.
The Dalish Elf was calmly standing right where he was before, looking as though the debris incident had not even happened. Gwen felt like rolling her eyes. Of course he was. At least he had drawn an arrow now, even if he hadn't notched it yet…
She stared. That arrow was strange. White, like bone, with lyrium veins all through it. It was mesmerizing. And was its tip shaped like a screw? What in the world?
The Veil lifted.
Gwen's head snapped around to the epicenter, just in time to see Raonar swing Maric's Blade in a wide arc. A crescent blade of white rent the space ahead of him apart. It hit the dragon in the forelimb opposite the one that Alim had harmed, leaving a deep, wide gash behind. Then, to the woman's wide-eyed surprise, he let go of the hilt – Maric's Blade stayed suspended in the air – and whirled on his feet in the opposite direction, holding his arms out as if grabbing a shaft.
His outer spirit, which had been blanketing nearly the entire mountain top until that point, contracted – Gwen could feel it happen – like air being sucked into a void. It condensed into a long, white pole. By the time the dwarf noble had completed two thirds of 360-degree turn, he held a transparent rod in his hands, four inches across and five meters long. Then the rest of the spectral force weapon came into being, and what was intangible suddenly was such no longer.
The high dragon's shrieking snarls were abruptly cut off when its skull was introduced to the full weight of a gigantic warhammer. And though the weapon did not exist less than a second before, its momentum was as real as they came. It sent the beast's head careening with rock-shattering force. And while dragonbone was much harder than granite, it did little to prevent the strike from knocking the sense out of the creature's brain.
The head alone did not possess enough mass to drag the rest of the wheezing and shrieking dragon's body after it through mere inertia. But the mountain top was not perfectly level, and the fire-blooded reptile's sense of balance had been well and truly smashed.
Gwen watched, wide-eyed, as the dragon swayed, like a book that was barely on edge, then stumbled, finally crashing. It tried to regain its footing, but the rest of the blow caught up to it and finally brought it down on its flank. A flying boulder that came out of nowhere and slammed its temple- right where Raonar had struck just moments previously – finally put it out of commission, courtesy of an annoyed, black-clad elven Archmage. Alim landed at the mouth of the path leading to the Gauntlet, which Wynne was only just emerging from.
Gwen gaped. She had trouble believing that the confrontation had only taken two or three minutes. Sure, the dragon was only a very young adult, given its size, and she'd just lain a clutch of eggs, so she was far from at her best, but damn!
It would have been the perfect moment to go in and deliver the finishing blow, and Gwen was getting ready to do just that. But her attention, like that of everyone else, was totally derailed when the White Commander finally laid eyes on Faren and tore into him with so much outrage that she couldn't help but stare. "Suicide by dragon! BECAUSE THAT COULDN'T POSSIBLY BACKFIRE!"
The younger dwarf recoiled and tripped on a rock, falling on his rear for the third time in as many minutes. Leliana, who'd no doubt made her way over to his side during the battle, put some healthy distance between herself and the target of the commander's ire.
"All that's left now is for me to find out Trian somehow got himself killed too!" Raonar roared, not paying attention to how Maric's Blade finally clattered to the ground behind him. "Then you, him and Bhelen can come together in the afterlife and celebrate your status as worst brothers ever! FORM A CLUB WHY DON'T YOU!"
Gwen listened, dumbfounded, and watched in fascination as Faren hunched in on himself and seemed to become smaller and smaller the longer Raonar's diatribe went on. She wondered if she should, maybe, be more worried about the dragon, especially since now would be the perfect time to end it.
She should have expected Theron really. "You would not make it in time," the Dalish Lore Keeper told her, prompting a huff of exasperation. "The dragon is not unconscious. And Alim's vines will not hold it down."
The human warden turned away from the continuing dressing down and raised her eyebrows at the various plants that had broken through the cold, hard earth in spite of the odds. The greenery was twining around the dragon's limbs and long neck, twisting and coiling under the elf's guidance. She was surprised he could even control natural life that way. He'd never shown much aptitude for it.
As if woken by the former hunter's words, the dragon shuddered and raised its head from the ground, groaning speechlessly as it surged to all fours on wavering limbs, as if the plants weren't even there. Sightless still, it could not gauge its surroundings well, leading to a side collision with the lone wall remnant. The wall on whose other side Faren's withering form was trying to disappear from sight.
The stonework and mortar were smashed to pieces, and for one, long moment Gwen's perception of time lengthened, showing her just how much debris her fellow warden was going to be buried under.
Time returned to normal along with Raonar's growl of "Oh, that's just great!" The white commander lunged forward, magic blasting from his feet and everywhere else. He was upon and above the duster just as the wreckage crashed over them both, burying everything in a mound of crumbled stone and under a cloud of billowing dust.
Gwen's entire form slumped as she allowed her head to hang backwards in exasperation. If Raonar somehow managed to get himself into a near death state again – and so soon after recovering from his latest brush with oblivion – she was going to strangle him. At least Shale had finally been freed from the cliff face, although the orange crystals in her had been turned into mere shards of their former selves.
Unfortunately, they were too late. Gwen gritted her teeth and cursed when she saw the dragon spreading its wings and crouching in preparation of taking flight. With a curse, she sprinted straight for it, ignoring the frosty wind as it cut the skin on her face. She doubted she'd reach it in time, but she'd had enough of standing around uselessly.
As she feared, she didn't make it. Just as she was three running leaps away from her goal, the high dragon surged upwards and flapped its powerful wings hard enough for the resulting buffet to make her stumble, then stagger back one step, despite her momentum. She could not help but bring her left arm to ward the worst of the gravel from her eyes.
She heard Alim's grunt of annoyance just before yet another thunderbolt hit the creature's belly straight on. The beast roared, sounding less pained than Gwen hoped, and instead of falling back to the earth, it only went off course, landing on the higher terrace circling that entire place. It was a rough descent, ended when the beast was just above the passage leading to the ruined temple caverns, dozens of yards away. Yet it was enough to give it the necessary support to launch into the air a second time.
Its attempt was cut short. Gwen watched with a confused glare as the beast reared back in pain right as it leapt. It slipped and stumbled off the edge of the cliff, forced to turn its back on them as its front paws scrambled to recover some of their lost purchase. Then her eyes widened when she saw a brown and yellow shape on the back of the dragon that was now scrambling up the rockwall. With her own cry of effort, Kallian Tabris stabbed her sword in the dragon's back a second time.
When the hell had she jumped on it?
The woman's heart skipped a beat when Kallian's sword slipped out of the new wound. She would have sighed in relief when the elf stopped her sudden fall by stabbing through the wing membrane just next to the main joint. Unfortunately, the quality of the weapon worked against her for once. It sliced clean through the hide, leaving nothing else to break the city elf's fall off the ledge.
Gwen looked away and swallowed, her mouth feeling dry. She could only hope that her friend would get out of it with a few broken bones instead of dying outright. She gathered all her emotions and ignited them, leaving her with a tight ball of rage. She glared up at the beast, whose latest roar of pain was being drowned out by a wordless shriek. Any second now it would take flight. The wing injury, however painful, didn't really impact its buoyancy with the main skeleton still intact, especially since it was so small and near the main body itself.
The Veil parted a fair distance away, on both sides. Alim weaved magic around himself, bending his knees as he got ready to shoot after the monster. Opposite from him, near the smashed wall ruin, Gwen could feel a second buildup of power.
Then both feelings were suddenly gone from her awareness. Theron Mahariel calmly stepped next to her, raised his bow up and notched his strange arrow. With painstaking slowness, he pulled the string backwards, his index and middle fingers gripping it in a reverse pose that the human woman had never seen before. At the back of her mind, the music Theron always played in his head built up, little by little.
The dragon spat an absurdly fast gob of flaming acid right where Alim was standing, forcing him to take flight in a totally different direction at the last moment, lest he be incinerated. Home free, the high dragon then soared at last, somehow judging where the open air was despite lacking eyes.
That was when Gwen understood why she couldn't feel Alim and Raonar's channelings anymore. The feel of them was drowned out by the power being focused in the arrow just a foot away from her face. The lyrium on the bone-like arrow shaft flared brilliantly, just before the Dalish elf released the string.
She could not help but stumble back from the burst of Fade-charged air, the funnel that the bowshot produced when the arrow was released towards its intended target. The projectile spun on its axis insanely fast. It speared the air like a drill, swathing dust and dirt aside, disintegrating even the smallest specs as it sailed towards the flying creature with a booming sound. It crossed the distance in mere moment, a white streak that opened a fade breach half a foot across, for an instant.
The magical drill smashed straight through the spot where the right wing connected to the dragon's back. It tore through scale, bone and tendons with a crunch that went unheard over the energy outburst that was given off.
With the same disbelief that the dragon itself must have felt, Gwen watched a multicolored energy explosion blast the wing clear off.
She'd thought the dragon's other cries and snarls had been loud, but the wailing roar of agony that now came from its throat was several levels of magnitude beyond any of the ones that came before. The great beast twisted dangerously under its own weight, falling freely, until it crashed back-first on the other side of the smoking waste pit with enough force to throw her to the ground due to the earth tremors alone.
When she was back on her feet, Gwenith Cousland could only stare, dumbfounded, at the large cloud of dirt and grime that concealed the crash site from her view. Looking hesitantly to her right, she took in the form of Theron Mahariel, hair slightly windswept but otherwise no more rattled than he usually was these days. "Erm… nice shot," she said numbly.
Theron hummed, then gave her a wry smile. "I was aiming for its head."
She blinked and would have sputtered if not for the noise that entered her thoughts. Like a chime, it built up in preparation of a magical outbreak of some sort. Her eyes sought the debris mound that had buried their two dwarven companions earlier. A wall of shimmering force washed out from it, like a dome, but did not physically interact with anything. It settled, stable and almost solid right at the edge of the ruined heap. Then the real explosion came. It tossed the rocks up and away, blew the dirt away from the center, yet nothing from within the dome was pushed to the outside of it.
Gwen boggled at the sight of all those wall pieces, bricks and dusted mortar. They were all floating, suspended in the air, barely drifting. Laliana, bless her curious soul, tiptoed over to the edge of the dome and reached out. And when her fingers easily slipped through the border of it unimpeded, she poked at the nearest piece of floating rock, as big as half her head.
It was sent gliding through the air, until it hit another, which, in turn, hit two more. Soon, the various, broken and battered ruin bits were gliding and hitting each other almost drunkenly.
It lasted until Raonar, still in Spirit Warrior mode and carrying an unconscious Faren much to the surprise of no one, stepped outside the dome. Immediately, the unnatural effect disappeared, the Veil fell, the rules Raonar had set in the Fade no longer superseded nature. All the wall fragments that were still suspended fell to the ground in one, crumbling mess.
"Do try not to stab the dragon too much," Theron spoke from his position, jerking Gwen out of her mood. "It would be a shame if all the dragon's blood were to go to waste. At least that is what I assume Caridin would say if he found out you stabbed it through the chest or cut off its head, allowing it to bleed out up here." Then he elegantly glided to hide behind her for some reason she could not fathom.
A reason she understood all too well just moments later. The dragon, which had been hidden by the dust and ice cloud until that moment, but which had definitely been thrashing about in pain, managed to stumble into its own waste pit in the process. The flailing of its hind legs didn't throw the liquid, stinking, disgusting mess all that wide, but the way the tail swept the area was more than enough to splatter the smoking, acidic "substance" to all four corners of the world.
Gwen went absolutely rigid when her front, from the top of her head to the tips of her boots, was sprayed with blobs and drops of puce-brown and stale-green. The stench was horrid and the feel of it on her skin was sickening. Slowly, as if in a dream, she brought her left hand up and wiped the mess off her burning eyelids with the inner plates of her gauntlet.
Maker, it really had happened.
The ball of rage that was smoldering inside her exploded in a blaze that would have been too much for any furnace to contain. With more strength and speed than she usually showed, she shot forward. Her predicament was easily enough to make her ignore the dying voice of common sense, the voice that told her it was suicide to charge blindly into the dust cloud where the dragon was still berserking.
As if logic had any chance to survive against the realization that she'd just been covered in dragon shit! That bitch was hers!
The magic filling the air sung in her mind. Instinctually she pulled at it. Every shred of energy that Raonar had left drift off, every leftover arcane power from Alim's many attacks. She gathered it all, pumping it through her nerves, muscles and bones. She'd done this once before, though she hadn't been conscious of it at the time. Back at the Circle of Magi, right after the detestable tranquil incident, she had absorbed part of the vast outpour that Raonar had given off during the breach test. It was what let her manhandle Greagoir and pin him to the wall so thoroughly.
There was not as much power nearby now, but it would be enough. Finally diving into the mess kicked up by the dragon's wounded crash, she jumped aside, rolling from a blind hind kick, then jumped when the tail came sweeping from the other direction. She landed on it and ran, straight up, using the large spinal scales as foothold. Three running leaps and she was on its back, two more and she was right between the foreleg shoulder blades, one leg balanced on the main joint of the lone wing still attached. Yusaris came wide in a sweeping, downward arc.
The great sword sung as it sliced clean through the spine at the base of the creature's neck. The loss of feeling shocked the dragon into a wavering stillness, but Gwen was not yet done. Bending at the knees, she shot forward one more time, running up the monster's neck until her eyes, moist from the dust and cold air, finally could see the head up close.
It would have been a study in injuries brought about by blunt force, with the mangled hide and torn horns, but Gwen was not there for sightseeing. Practically sliding to a stop, her left foot caught her entire weight as it struck against the underside of where the remaining horns still stuck out. All that was left was to bring her greatsword high, tip pointing down, and ram it in a descending stab.
Silverite, sharpened beyond word and enchanted beyond need or reason, cut clearly through the dragon's skull with a crunch that would have been horrifying to any normal spectator. Gwen relished it, feeling the vestiges of her explosive anger finally die down with every inch dug by her weapon, until the tip came out the other side. Using the sword as support, Gwen held onto it as the dragon wavered, dead before it hit the ground with a finality that could not be denied. She had to let go and control her fall to avoid breaking anything when the dragon head, as long as she was tall, finally slammed against the hardened earth.
Only when she rolled to a stop and climb back to her feet did she notice how heavy her breath was. Adrenaline was still coursing through her, but it was slowly tapering off, letting her know just how clearly beyond human she had gone in her charge. The Warden stood and gazed upon the still form of the blinded beast, wondering how much the legend of her blade would grow after this. The blade Yusaris predated Andraste. The sword was supposedly found by Dane in the treasure hoard of the dragon Fenshal, whom he slew with it. Dane supposedly went on a hunt for werewolves before passing Yusaris down to his son Hafter who, In 1:40 Divine, led the Alamarri tribes against darkspawn that flooded into the Ferelden valley from the dwarven lands. After years of ruling the valley in peace, it was said that Hafter left Ferelden, sailing into the unknown east of the Amaranthine Ocean with the blade still in hand, never to be seen again.
It really begged the question of how the sword ended up with the shade composed of random thoughts in the Circle Tower. Not that she was complaining. It was an awesome sword.
An awesome sword that wouldn't come out of the dragon's skull. Damn.
A throat was cleared behind and above her, and she turned to look at the source with a grimace.
"Need any help?"
"No," Her voice was flat. Also, her answer was a blatant lie.
Needless to say, Alim saw through it. What surprised Gwen, however, was that he did not call her on it, or even offered to encase the blade in that slicing field he could coat weapons in. Instead, he looked down at her from where he floated, ten feet off the ground, and after finding something in his search, flooded the place with enough magic to let her pull her most recent stunt thrice over.
Blinking in surprise, she closed her eyes and tried to replicate what she had done in the spur of the moment. The magic seemed to slip through her mental grasp at first, but she actually managed it on the fourth try. Carefully, she bent over and grabbed the hilt of her sword with a single hand and pulled.
It took all her strength, but she did it. Yusaris creaked against the dragonbone with the noise of nails on glass as it slid out, but it came all the way free in the end. Her application of magic – so strange to think of it that way – emulated Wynne's empowering spells a fair bit.
"Well," Alim blinked in something between bafflement and intrigue. "What an interesting development."
Excerpt from Journal of Senior Enchanter Wynne
28 Eluviesta, 9:31 Dragon: I was so close to having nothing but good news to write down for once. Alas, I suppose I should resign myself to never getting my wishes fulfilled. It would be far too kind of fate for it to be the case.
The good news first.
For one thing, Andraste's Ashes exist. Also, they work as advertised, as the total healing of our Warden Commander has shown. It gives me hope that they will be sufficient for Arl Eamon's recovery. And for the healing of Gwen's brother. Even if his arm does not grow back, at least the skin on his face and neck, and the rest of his body's left side, should mend, at least partially.
Secondly, we were able to slay the dragon without any casualties, despite Faren's suicidal recklessness. Oghren was most put out that he did not get to contribute anything to the fight. Shale as well. I wonder what goes on in peoples' heads sometimes. Shale got her fire crystals all but smashed useless, though Raonar and Alim are certain they can get them to grow back to proper size. And Oghren never was one for level-headedness. But still! Kallian sustained a broken leg and a broken arm from her fall. That should be enough to make everyone thankful that the dragon was slain so quickly.
Had it been just a decade older, and not so fresh from laying a clutch of eggs, the fight would have no doubt been far harder, possibly lethal to at least some of our number. As it was, the difficulty barely compared to the nightmarish creature from Cadash Thaig.
But this would not be good news under normal circumstances. What makes it (arguably) good news is that Kallian appears to have developed a regenerative factor that will make sure her body will be good by morning. Even without my magic, she would probably heal fully in a couple of days. That wyvern blood she drank at Theron's insistence is the only thing that could have done this.
Some had the mind to scavenge the beast for alchemical and crafting ingredients, but Raonar vetoed that. He intends to have Caridin, his golems and some of the Drydens come up here and process the body for parts. I am in wonder of how the former dwarf somehow managed to recover his full dexterity and, by extension, his smithing skill after forcefully trading his normal hands for metal ones. I have to say that I look forward to what wonders a legendary smith like Caridin can create from dragon scales, hide, wings and bone. And what runes the blood can power.
I suppose it is ironic that rune crafting does not seem to frown on the use of magical creature blood at all, despite the supposed "evil" of Blood Magic. I am not about to dabble in such things myself, but I can recognize the Chantry's and the Templar Order's hypocrisy when it comes to this topic.
But I digress.
Alim set off across the skies, in raven form, to meet with Caridin before he and his cohort leave the Circle for Soldier's Peak, as the original plan was. From there, he will fly to Soldier's Peak to get Levi Dryden on the case, or better yet his brother Mikhael the smith. Alim intends to be present for the processing of the corpse, as he wishes to test the alchemical usefulness of the organs and bodily fluids other than the blood. It will take a month or two for everything to be finished, especially since the Wardens intend to loot the temple of everything the heretics had, and to harvest all the dragonlings killed on the way up, and the eggs as well. Some concerns were raised in regards to depriving the main group of its most powerful force, but nothing too dangerous is planned for the near future. Besides, Alim and Raonar can communicate through the Fade quite easily, both directly and through spirit proxies (wonders never cease).
Genitivi will accompany us back to civilization, as far as Redcliffe. He intends to spread the word about the Urn, but has agreed to hold off on that until he gets the OK from us that we are done with the dragon. I still feel that Alim's casual mention that he could, in fact, erase his memory of the past week was a bit overkill. The man had already agreed!
Alas, that is as far as the "questionably" good news goes.
Now for the bad: Faren was planning on dying by dragon, but had loaded himself with as much poison as he could carry, and then some, aiming to take the beast down with him. When the wall collapsed over him and our other dwarf warden, some of the flasks and vials broke. And between the ones that worked through the skin, and the compounds he inhaled or accidentally tasted, Faren was not left in a good condition at all. He will be going from unconscious to delirious and back again for days, by my reckoning. And he will be rather weak for a week or so after that.
Suicide by dragon indeed.
From what we can gather, he waited until Zevran could not take any more silence and began to talk Sten's ear off, then made his move, dazing them with a miasmic flask and knocking them out by pressing a chloroform-soaked rag to their faces. Seems that Sten had become quite comfortable as part of this odd party of ours. He never, for a second, worried that an attack could come from within the group, so he was caught completely by surprise. The way he has been staring at Faren's laid out form for the past hour is almost on the verge of a glower.
Zevran has been far more open in his feelings of annoyance, though he did make a passing remark about not having expected Faren to be the type to play the rough dominatrix. I will take that to assume he is doing just fine.
The others are united in their feelings of exasperation, and I share their suffering. Dwarves and their drama. I do not aim to belittle the state of mind that Faren must have been in, but still! If it's not one it's the other. Wherever the Maker is, if he is watching us he is either bemoaning the foolishness of his creations, or shaking from hysterics.
I am not a gambling woman, but if I were I would put my money on the latter.
Then again, if the Chantry is right, the Dwarves are not, in fact, the maker's creations.
Thoughts too heavy for me this night. I will put a stop here and see if there is anything I can claim from the dragon's considerable hoard. An ever full wine goblet perhaps? One can only hope.