I nodded at my visitor. "So you're looking good."
Wynne was. Her decision to leave us in favor of seeing Jowan and Connor to the Tower paid off for her. She looks fed, rested, and clean. Disgustingly so in all three categories, and definitely better than me in all three as well.
Gentle smile. "Thank you." She nodded at the Templar coming through the door behind her. "-we'd been told there was a Grey Warden being held in Loghain's dungeon."
I gave the slightest shake of my head.
Wynne didn't miss a beat. "But I arrive to find only you. And the Wardens? How are they?"
"Hungry. Tired. Dirty. But alive, and as well as can be expected. So are the rest. Well, except for Morrigan." I told that story real quick.
"You met Flemeth." The statement wasn't quite a question.
Either her or Baba Yaga. "Yeah."
"And survived." Definitely not a question. "A rare
My escape chance just popped up. Talk to you later.
Ho. Lee. Shit.
Where do I start?
The beginning, of course.
But not until I get second breakfast.
Not much more to say about Wynne. We spoke of inconsequential things, but a couple consequentials as well. Connor is safely ensconced in the Tower under constant guard. The Templars are probably rightly concerned about a repeat. Jowan is in Denerim, also under heavy guard, but more-or-less okay.
"But," Wynne added, "only because of the Conscription and the confession."
That raised an eyebrow so I'd asked about the confession. Jowan wrote out and signed a confession of what he'd done at the Tower and in Redcliffe, and why he'd done it. I don't know what the longer-term implications of that might be, but the Templars, and therefore probably the Chantry, have something to hang over Loghain's head. If they need it. And decide to use it. Assuming Jowan's still around to back it up.
It might be useful for us, too.
The guard returned with a bowl and a chunk of bread. "Your second dinner."
I put down the diary and approached the bars. I'd already prepped for this, so as I got the meal I made sure to fumble the bread. We both swore. I set down the bowl as the guard recovered the bread. He stood back up, offered the food, and got yanked into the bars.
I put the Swiss army knife blade against his neck. "I don't wanna hurt you," I said (honestly), "but I will-" That was also honest. "-so stay quiet and hand me the key." Not that I needed it; I'd just need a lot more time if I didn't have it.
The guard stayed cool. Not that he had a choice, but still. "Right here. Although that's not really needed." He managed to indicate the knife. "Coin'd be fine."
I snorted and took the key. I left the knife where it was. "Really?"
"Yes, ser. You're with the Wardens, right?"
I got the key into the lock. "I am."
"Well, I've heard the tales of the Wardens. Not just these ones, but the past ones, too. And if there's truly a Blight, then, well, the Wardens'll need what help they get."
I turned the key and opened the door. "I'm gonna let you go, but don't try anything."
"No, sir." And he didn't. That made for an awkward moment, but the guard recovered quickly and without any hostility. "About that coin…."
Hmmph. "Sure." I dug out another hidden silver.
"Oh, and, sir, if you would." He tensed up and pointed to his cheek.
Took me a couple of seconds. "Ah, sure." I punched him. Not too hard, but hard enough.
"Ah! Well struck!"
If you're trying to maintain a secure facility being able to personally recognize everybody in that facility is the best way to make sure anyone you see there actually belongs there. If you don't belong there you need to figure out a way to blend in. But if you can't blend you need to stand out in such a way that anyone who does belong accepts your presence without questioning it. And getting out of the facility is usually easier than getting in. That was the general overview of my escape plan.
The details, however:
I didn't have a clipboard, orange vest, and safety helmet handy, so I did the next best thing. I tore a page out of the diary, folded it, and sealed it with some candle wax and a coin imprint. The rugby shirt and other belongings got carefully folded into a scrounged blanket. I tucked the package under my arm, channeled a "I can't believe they're making me do this" attitude and strolled out of the dungeons with an air of frustrated focus.
A guard saw me almost first thing and opened his mouth.
I raised the paper and held it roughly in front of my face. "Taking this to the Regent," I snapped. I was ready to fight, but was hoping the poor lighting would keep me from being recognized.
I kept calm and carried on.
Phase II involved getting out of the castle. Same general plan involving the same level of chutzpah. It took about five minutes to get to the main gate. It was dark enough that if it was the same crew they didn't recognize me, and all I had to do there was say something about an urgent delivery to Ser Cauthrien at Howe's estate.
"On your way, then."
I held the street kid by his neck against a wall while his associates debated their course of action. "Didn't I tell you not to try this shit?"
The kid squirmed and choked. "Yes, sir." He was trying to signal the others to do something. Or maybe nothing.
I didn't care either way. I leaned in. "I'll take you down with me. Understand?"
I didn't look back. "The rest of you piss off! Now, will you do like I asked and take me to the Grey Warden estate?" My free hand painfully twisted his empty knife hand. "And no tricks this time, got it?"
"Yes, sir." His eyes flicked about. Probably looking for the knife I'd kicked away or his missing partners.
"Forget about it. Oh, and get better friends."
I shoved the kid away. "Get lost."
Even in the dark I could see him rubbing his arm. "My coin, sir?" Props for his chutzpah.
"How 'bout I let you live?"
No answer, so I took a quick step towards him. The kid took off.
Head shake, and then I turned to the building. No banner or other signs of occupation, but there was a weird buzz that tingled my Warden-sense. Hmm. I tried the door. Locked, but with no lights visible inside or out no surprise there. I'd been expecting to be able to just walk up and knock, but that didn't seem feasible any longer. So I dug out my knife, checked my six, selected the appropriate tool, checked my six again, and went to work. Took me a couple minutes, especially being worried about that kid sneaking up on me, but I was able to retract the bolt. Tucked the knife away, checked my six one last time, and walked in.
Good thing my eyes were adjusted to the dark, and that a lamp was burning in another room. Oh, and the video game reflexes. I caught the edge of a shadow moving at me; I dodged away, and caught the glint of a knife stabbing at me. I threw my stuff in the general direction of my attacker and followed in right behind. I took a slash across the forearm and paid it back with a thrown elbow into a torso. My attacker grunted and tried to stab me but I had size and speed working for me. I trapped the knife arm, took a weaker-than-expected punch to the jaw, and slammed my opponent into the wall.
Another grunt; high-pitched enough that I realized it was female. But I kept hold of her knife hand, used my body to pin her against the wall, and tried to fall gracefully when she hooked my foot out from under me.
We came out even on that. I didn't land too hard, but was still disoriented. She got pulled down with me, knife hand still under my control.
Time to stop the fight. "Leliana, it's me!"
That stopped the fight. Mostly. My opponent froze for an instant then resumed struggling, but more to get away than to kill me. I gave her knife arm a twist and shoved her away. I scrambled to get my feet under me as the room brightened.
A snarling woman faced me. It wasn't Leliana.
Oh, crap. Now I had to re-pin that knife. I stomped forward as I spun one hand in a wax-off; she ignored the distractions. Double-crap; this lady knew what she was doing in a close-quarters fight.
Sten's voice rang out "Hold!"
I mostly stopped moving, but kept eyes on. So did she.
"Who are you?" the unknown woman growled.
I gave the obvious retort. "Who the fuck are you?"
"Both of you! Hold!" Leliana shouted.
Neither of us relaxed.
"Who is he?"
"Who the fuck is she?"
Zevran very gingerly stepped between us. The stranger flinched, but also carefully stepped back as she finally relaxed.
"Aw, I wanted see if she could take him." Oghren turned around and padded away.
I forced myself into a more at-ease state. "What is going on?"
Leliana spoke up. "We have a guest."
"I can see that."
"Elyssa, this is the other Warden of which we spoke. Meet Jeffrey ******. Jeffrey, we rescued this woman from Arl Howe's dungeons. Meet Elyssa Cousland."
Time for elevensies.
One healing potion and half a sandwich later I finished getting the story. Alistair's got a sister, but we're his family. Howe's mansion got scouted then infiltrated. As a result of that Anora is free, Riordan was freed, Howe's dead, and a blood mage is dead. Pigeon pies are delicious. Too delicious, apparently. As a result of that Ser Cauthrien's alive, and Alistair and Neria are in Drakon Keep. With Riordan. There's about a quarter cup of Joining Potion sitting on the table.
And Elyssa Cousland is alive, and free, and pissed like you wouldn't believe.
The whole sandwich later (it was a pretty big sandwich):
Elyssa's voice was serial killer calm. "...he lost interest in me about a month ago. Didn't know why until you lot came along. And as much I am indebted for the rescue, you owe me for not letting me gut the schweinhund."
(Yes, she said, "Schweinhund.")
Elyssa stared down the length of the table with a look that challenged us to challenge her. When we didn't she shook a savage bite out of her own sandwich.
Can't blame her for being hungry; she looked like we had right after the Deep Roads. Leaner even. Definitely meaner. An old scar ran from her jaw and disappeared behind her dark hair. Another heavy scar ran up her left forearm. Both stood out against her ghostly pale complexion.
The five of us looked back up the table at Elyssa. She shifted uncomfortably, narrowed her eyes, and hunched over to use her sandwich as a shield. "I have nothing more to say." She another bite and watched us as she chewed.
As the light in the eastern sky turned gray Chantry Sister Leliana entered Fort Drakon so as bring solace to those imprisoned within its walls. Accompanying her were the Olson twins, Zevran and Oghren, tumblers and jugglers both.
"Do you actually believe this will succeed?" To say Sten sounded skeptical would be a gross understatement.
"Yeah, I do." To be honest, I don't even think they needed us working the backup plan, but I was pretty sure it couldn't hurt. I finished my count. "You two ready?"
Sten let out a heavy breath. "I am."
"Aye," Elyssa muttered.
Her presence was a surprise. When I laid out the plan she volunteered to join us, and doubled-down over our objections. "My debt is too great," she said simply, and went back to listening.
"Let's do this." I offered up my fist.
Sten didn't react to it. Elyssa glanced at it.
"Fist bump for luck," I said.
"I am aware," Sten said.
"I see," Elyssa said, but didn't return the gesture.
Shrug. "Okay, let's go."
The guard on watch looked at us with tired, confused eyes. "'Ballista maintenance'?"
I looked back with my own tired eyes. "That's what I said."
"We were told they are in need of calibration," Sten added flatly.
The guard looked at us and our bags and shrugged. "Let me find someone."
Turns out Sten really does know how to calibrate a ballista. Makes sense, I guess. So does Elyssa, although that makes a bit less sense.
I don't, which is why I started examining the spears the thing uses for ammo. Oak or ash or other heavy wood shafts with metal warheads. Or maybe points is more accurate. Or maybe spearheads. What is the technical term? Anyway….
The crew chief I was talking to shook his head. "An all-metal bolt would be too heavy. If it was light enough it would be too small for the bow rope to catch."
"Right, but if you use pine-"
"No, pine's too light. Even with a metal head pine doesn't hit hard enough."
"Right, but what if you did this?" I sketched out a simple design: a slender all-metal spear surrounded by a pine case. The case is halved and meant to fly apart from and release the spear after being launched. The spear continues downrange.
That got the crew chief's attention. "Interesting. But I think we'd need some way to make sure the box doesn't fly apart on the ballista. And that the spear flies true."
Good objections. One simple answer; another a bit tougher. "Well, what if we…."
Not going into any more details, but today I helped invent armor-piercing, fin-stabilized, discarding sabot anti-tank (well, anti-dragon) ammunition. Too bad I can't wire guide it.
Sometime during that conversation Sister Leliana walked by, accompanied by an elf, a dwarf, and three rather bemused humans.
Our own departure was a somewhat lower key, but our arrival back at the Warden estate was a bit more eventful. I was trying to get Sten to admit the ballista crews had done a respectable job maintaining their equipment while Sten was trying to talk down on the bas. Elyssa simply walked along tiredly with us, her head on a constant swivel, trying to follow the conversation and watch out for whatever she was watching out for.
Good thing (I think) she was watching out. She suddenly hissed and shoved herself into a shadowed corner. Sten and I reacted immediately; we found our own corners then looked around for whatever had spooked Elyssa.
There was the street outside the Warden compound. A platoon's worth of dwarves were there along with a similar number of what looked like Loghain's men. Nothing going down, at least at that moment, and I didn't recognize any of the human troops, but I didn't really feel like testing my luck yet again.
"I don't suppose there's a back door."
Turns out there is.
We backtracked, cut through an alley, pushed through a fence, and crawled into a half-collapsed building. Down a ladder, through a barely-lit tunnel, and up another ladder. We crawled back out of the tunnel and ended up in the back of a large fireplace. There was a nocked arrow and a glowing dragon spear pointed at us, but that problem was easily solved, except for explaining Cullen's whereabouts.
"So what does Loghain want?"
"Same thing we want: to stop the Blight. And keep Ferelden safe from the Orlesians. I think I convinced him that's not a problem."
Alistair didn't look happy. Or satisfied. "And what else?"
"To keep Anora safe, and, ideally, on the throne."
He still didn't look satisfied but grudgingly conceded the point. "Well, I don't want it."
"I think I convinced him of that, too. And nobody else really has a claim. But-"
"Oh, here it comes."
"-he's concerned about Anora's legitimacy."
"But I don't-"
"I know. But I pointed out another option."
"Maker." That was Elyssa. "Are you talking about Fergus?"
Elyssa showed the first real emotion I saw from her. "Why? Did he survive Ostagar? Does he know about Highever? What's he been doing? How do you know this? And don't say, 'I drink and I know things'; I've had my fill of that from the dwarf!"
I put my cup down. "Sometimes I do know things, and your brother was one of them."
"And what about me?"
"I didn't know about you."
That got me a glare.
"But your brother. I don't know if he's okay, but I convinced Loghain that he could be with the stragglers. We have until the Blight is finished – one way or the other – for him to show up."
"And then Alistair's on the hook."
"Maker! But what about what I want?"
"Let's wait and see what happens." I looked at Elyssa. "Are you okay with your brother being king?"
"What does okay mean?"
A small hip-style flask sat in the middle of the table. I'm not sure of the metal, but that's not really important. What was important was that I could feel the corruption, or blessing, or power, or whatever it was gently radiating from it.
Riordan indicated the container. "Joining Potion. There was substantially more, but Howe's blood mage saw to that. And nearly to me." There were a few fresh scars and a more older ones on the inside of his arm. "And yet it's more that you have. Or had." He looked at me.
Yeah, Neria and Alistair backbriefed Riordan while they were locked up.
Riordan kept going. "There is enough here for one, perhaps two, to join us."
"Maybe more," Neria said, and placed a tube on the table.
Alistair and I shot glances at each other; rough counting left us with two of Avernus' potions.
Riordan reached out for the vial. "Is this…?" At that he rolled the vial in his fingers. "This explains you. I can sense you, but only distantly. And yet you found me from the boulevard outside the estate. Is there more?"
Neria shifted without speaking.
Riordan answered his own question. "There is, but none you wish to surrender. Fair enough, junior Warden."
Alistair coughed. Neria squirmed. I bristled.
"She's the Ferelden Warden Commander," I said simply.
That earned me a sharp look.
"I know there's only three of us, bit still…."
Apologetic nod. "I understand. You have worked alone for so long that you are not accustomed to outside command. That must change."
Neria glanced at me, I nodded and glanced at Alistair, he nodded and looked back to Neria.
"No, it won't," Neria said quietly. "You're right: you're an outsider. We've been working together for months. We're a team. A cohort. A karataam [sp?]. You must accept that." She sounded almost Qunari as she spoke.
Riordan took us all in. "Perhaps we can talk about that later."
"No. We won't."
"Three dwarves, under a flag of parley," Leliana said.
I peeked out the peephole. The dwarves looked familiar. So did the equipment they're carrying. "Can we let'em in without getting rushed by Loghain's folks?"
I looked around. The door was a choke point, and we're damn good at plugging those with our and other bodies. And I needed my sword back. "Let's do it."
It took a moment, but we got ready, unbarred one of the doors, and yanked it open. The trio started then reacted by walking forward; they broke into a jog at a shout from the crowd. But they got in with no trouble; we immediately shut and barred the door.
I remembered these three. Engineers and smiths from Orzammar. Although Joastin wasn't one of them.
"Gentlemen," I said.
"Topsider," the leader returned.
"I'm sorry, I don't remember your names."
Shrug. "Heh. Still a stupid stack of meat. But no worries; we don't remember yours."
"First things first," Erlind said. He pushed a familiar scabbard across the table. "Nice to see you took care of this. And it you."
I pulled the scabbard over and eased the blade out just enough to feel the rune kick in. I didn't need the calm so I put the sword away. "So, where's uh…?"
"Joastin? You, well, we were right. They made him a Paragon. The Younger Paragon they call him, but some call him the Sane one. [dwarvish]. But the Assembly wouldn't let him out of Orzammar. They wanna keep him close. And safe. And keep him working."
That made sense. "Yeah, I got a letter from him. He said something about lit paths."
"Well, he followed them. Found some strong veins, and here's the result. Well, one of them, and it's for you." Shrug. "We didn't bring ours because of what you said about the big guy, but he'll find out soon enough."
A cloth-wrapped package got pushed across the table to me. I tugged at the leather cords holding it closed then unfolded the slightly oily cloth.
My mouth opened. It shut. It opened again. It shut so hard my teeth clacked. It opened again.
"Shiny, isn't it?"
"Right shiny," I said.
I now have a boomstick. A single-barrel, break-open, breech-loading boomstick, but a boomstick nonetheless. The barrel is filigreed with fine, barely visible dwarven runes, but it's still a boomstick. A boomstick with-
"No safety?" I asked.
"That would be useful."
"So…how do I-"
"Ah. Charges. Here you go."
Another small package slid across the table. Opening this one revealed a score of shells a bit larger than my thumb. I grimaced at what the kick would be like.
I pointed the weapon in a safe direction and dry-fired the single-action trigger a couple of times. It's pretty heavy, but at least it shouldn't fire accidently. I decided against loading it, though.
"-an early design," Lamond was saying. "Only made a few of these, but they work well. But these scatter-blasters are pretty simple."
I didn't quite blue-screen. "Wait. What?"
"What did you call this?"
"Yeah. I mean, isn't is obvious? Put a charge in, pull the release, and you get a blast. This one scatters little pellets everywhere."
"Blasters," I said flatly.
I looked at my sword. I resisted the urge to make a remark about it being a more elegant weapon from a more civilized age. Yeah, I've changed this world.
A/N: not long after I started MoN I sat down and rolled some dice. I used the results to determine which of the potential origin characters was going to be the Warden, and which ones survived their non-recruited origin stories, and which ones didn't. Now the dice did say the Cousland survivor was male but I couldn't think of any reason for Howe to keep a male Cousland alive. I could think of a good one to keep a female Cousland alive.
Minor Spoiler: in case you're wondering the answer is, "No, there are no more survivors."