Deep Roads – Kal'hirol - Last of the Roads
Soon. Soon, the former home of the Legion of the Dead, gifted to them by Caridin himself before the darkspawn overran it. The Dead Trenches would soon return to their rightful owners and restored to proper glory and name. Yet, no one was celebrating. Perhaps it was because they were all tired or perhaps it was because of the reason why they were so close.
"Sir, we just got ten confirmations for that initial report," a scout reported to his superior. He received only silence. "Sir?" More silence. "Kardol?"
"I heard you," his superior finally growled. "I'm thinking." Recognizing that Kardol was in a bad mood, the scout shut up and waited for a proper response. "So, there are intelligent darkspawn when there is no Blight and they are split between two sides and fighting each other?" He nodded, afraid to speak. "Ancestor's tits, what's going on?"
"Do you think we need to send a message to the Wardens about this?" he suggested hesitantly, instead of volunteering an answer. Kardol was silent again. "Sir?"
"Get a message to the Lady Unifier." The reply was clipped and slightly unexpected. "She may not be a Warden anymore, but she'll get it to them and I trust her a lot more."
The trade quarter was quiet as well. So quiet that I had to stop and stretch my senses to see if there were any around. All I got, however, was 'below us'. It did not help qualm my worries. The lack of darkspawn brought back bad memories and I often had to remind myself that I was here with a completely different group, in a completely different section, and that the circumstances were completely different. It didn't help, at all.
To top off the uneasiness, Oghren had somehow disappeared.
"Oghren?" I called as I wandered about the ruined area. Broken pieces of armor, swords, and axes littered the ground. "Come on, Berserker, where are you?" I was looking alone, in case the reason for his disappearance was related to Hespith or Branka. I had also ordered the others to not move from their location, as their recent induction made it so that they were hard to find, even with sensing. That being said, I was moving quite a distance away, nearly on the other side of the area if the curving of the stone ceiling said anything.
Finally, though, I found him by an anvil whose shape was reminiscent of the Anvil of the Void. He turned when he heard my approach and attempted to smile.
"This anvil is pretty old," he told me, gesturing at it. "They make 'em differently nowadays. Branka once explained to me the differences, but I'd be a nug's uncle if I could remember what she said, the crazy harpy."
"I'm sorry, Oghren," I murmured. No point in asking much of anything. Of course he'd be remembering Branka. "I…"
"It had t'be done," he dismissed. "Don't apologize for it."
"I could have thought of something else," I protested. "I could've spent just a little more time."
"And then we'd have a psychopath for a paragon." He shrugged. "It's all right. It's over. Don't worry about it." He chuckled, but I noted it was forced. "Side, I've got Felsi now. Or did. I sorta became a Warden without telling her."
"Why did you join the Wardens, Oghren?" I asked. "You didn't show any interest during the Blight."
"…I need t'fight," he admitted after a bit of a pause. "It's all I know. It's all I did. I can't settle down." I'd heard about that. Soldiers who would end up causing trouble or even killing themselves during peace, just because they didn't know what to do with themselves. Becoming a Warden to escape that, though, seemed a little much, but fighting was never something I loved.
"All right, then." I smiled softly. "I think I can understand, or at least understand enough. I won't ask again."
"Thanks." He took a swig from his flask. "All right. I'm done with this. So, let's get-"
"Oghren! Serenity!" Both of us turned at Nathaniel's voice and were startled to see him almost frantic. "Come quickly. It's…"
What in Andraste's name happened?"
At the very bottom level of the thaig, we found the darkspawn. However, we found them rather… occupied.
"A war between the darkspawn?" Sigrun mumbled, staring in surprise, just like the rest of us. "I know they don't get along without an Archdemon taking control, but this is… this is… how?"
"Two Archdemons?" Nathaniel suggested hesitantly.
I shook my head. "No, there isn't even one Archdemon," I replied. "You'd know through the dragon in your dreams. The Withered mentioned an Architect and Mother, though. Perhaps that's why?"
The darkspawn were fighting each other in organized groups, an act unprecedented. This was the reason for Nathaniel's earlier panic.
"Press the attack!" a gravely voice suddenly ordered. A darkspawn that looked like the one who attacked the Keep was the speaker and he was obviously a leader of one of these groups. "The Lost is mine!" 'The Lost'? What?
"So certain?" someone hissed in reply. The ground suddenly shook beneath our feet. "Then come at the Lost!"
"Magic!" Anders informed us as we glanced hastily around for the source of the shaking. "Pretty potent, too. And here I thought there was nothing worse than swimming the lake."
"What does that have anything to do with anything?" Nathaniel demanded as he counted arrows.
"Eh, it sounded better in my head."
"It's better than a flaming golem," Sigrun muttered. Then she realized what she said and gasped. "Wait, flaming golem?!"
Sigrun's reaction matched the rest of ours as a golem with fire brimming at its joints appeared from a back tunnel. It casually picked up the gravely-voiced darkspawn and swung it to a different darkspawn, wearing noticeably different armor. So, they'd learned how to differentiate themselves via armor, like humans? This kept getting better and better.
"The Architect sends many, but does not come himself," the darkspawn hissed, showing that he was 'the Lost'. "He is a coward!"
"And the Mother remains in her depraved den, unmoving!" Gravel-Voice spat, showing immense courage. He seemed unperturbed that he was in the hands of something that could easily crush him. "She is a coward!"
"I will kill you!" That sounded like a tantrum.
Oghren chose that moment to agree with me. "Sod the stone, they're acting like a bunch of namby-pamby elves."
The darkspawn all turned to face us at the noise, yet I could not really help my reply to Oghren. "Agrona is going to kill you for that comment."
"I can feel you," the Lost muttered as he stepped towards us. Behind him, the golem twisted Gravel-Voice until the spine snapped and then tore him in two. "Yet you are not darkspawn. What trickery is this? What is he planning?"
"We are Grey Wardens," I announced in an even voice. "If you can explain more about this Architect and Mother, however, that would be appreciated."
The Lost's answer was to growl and produce a staff not unlike the one Anders wielded. "You will die!" he hissed, the words blending together. "The Mother demands it!"
"Anders, Nathaniel, Sigrun, go for that golem," I ordered as the darkspawn charged. "Oghren, think you can take the darkspawn other than the Lost?"
"You takin' him yourself?" Oghren asked as the other three edged along the wall so that they could reach the golem unimpeded.
"He seems to be a mage." The Lost chose that moment to envelop itself in a fiery light. "I'm becoming more and more thankful that Alistair taught me templar tricks. I can null him. That will prove better than your resistance, I believe."
"Have fun." With that, Oghren loosed a bellowing war cry and threw himself into the thick of the fighting.
I charged for the Lost and managed to use a Cleanse Aura before he could generate an inferno. Surprising how useful those abilities ended up being.
"What madness is this?" the Lost demanded as his spell failed. He looked a little panicked. It was odd seeing emotion on a darkspawn's face. "How can my power be disappearing?"
"It's a trick," I murmured, whirling to try and just cleave him in a single blow.
He proved too clever for that, though, jumping back to avoid the blade. He then shot a fireball at my arms to try and make me drop Vigilance. I shrugged off the pain and tried to strike him again. A sudden swarm of darkspawn appeared to block me, however. They were almost suicidal in their attacks, leaving themselves wide open just to draw some blood on me.
All of them died when the Lost unleashed an inferno. I didn't even get singed thanks to Cleanse Aura.
"Again!" the Lost snapped. "Why is the power…?"
"I've got your back, Queen," I heard Oghren say from behind me. "The other three almost have the golem. Just get that annoying one."
"Thanks," I told him, before charging. I ducked under a fireball and managed to make it to the Lost without many problems, since Oghren was dealing with the surge of darkspawn. As I drove the blade through the Lost's head, though, I noticed something very, very terrifying. The Taint was stirring. I had to move quickly.
"Oghren, get down!" I snapped before swinging Vigilance in a wide arc in front of me. The Silver Fire roared down the blade and leapt to devour the darkspawn in its path.
"Been a bit since I'd seen that trick," Oghren commented with a forced laugh. "Archdemon fight, actually."
"Sorry?" I glanced around to see mostly corpses.
Oghren did the same. "Looks like we won. Excuse me while I do my happy dance."
Not wanting to see said 'dance', I went to check on the others. As I navigated the area, I hooked Vigilance on my back and winced as my arms protested the movement. How many new scars did I gain today?
It wasn't long before I found Anders healing Sigrun from burns and Nathaniel firing at some darkspawn who tried to escape via the tunnels. The golem was broken and twisted near them, proving that they'd been successful in dealing with it.
"We should take that thing back to the Keep," Nathaniel stated as he fired his last arrow. Hopefully there wouldn't be more fighting. Otherwise, Nathaniel was going to be in trouble, unless he had a knife as back up.
"The golem?" I asked incredulously. I decided against disturbing Anders and the obviously pained Sigrun.
"As a trophy. I think there's a place near some bookshelves where it would fit. Right in the throne room."
"If you can figure out a way to carry it, Nathaniel." He chuckled as if taking it as a challenge. Oh, dear. I'd forgotten how stubborn he could be.
"Anyone else need healing?" Anders asked then, carefully standing. He looked a little haggard.
"Are you overextending?" I asked him. Sigrun, rolling her shoulders, went over to where Oghren was actually 'dancing' about and hit him over the head. Pretty certain I heard Oghren flirt with her afterwards, though.
"A little," Anders freely admitted. "But I can still work. Trust me; I'd be complaining if I couldn't. If, you know, I was still conscious."
"I see." I closed my eyes to stretch my senses. "I think I sense some darkspawn ahead, but it's a different 'feeling' than the normal. Perhaps it's the broodmothers."
"Uh… Serenity?" Anders pointed at my arms that were strangely not hurting anymore. "Red mist?" Hmm? What was he…? Oh, that.
"It's been a bit since it's activated," I commented absently, studying the mists that rose from the corpses to my wounds. "Then again, I suppose it's been a bit since I was wounded this much." I hadn't received many wounds during the Siege of Denerim, merely exhausted myself. The one wound I really remembered had been healed almost immediately afterwards by the mages.
"Okay, so this is normal?" Anders hesitantly poked the mist, as if it were some cat or something. "Warden thing?"
"No, it's an effect of drinking dragon blood," I answered, checking the area. "At least, I believe so."
"I had far more important things to worry about around the time I learned about the ability, Anders. Blight, Landsmeet, Civil War, fifteen-minute time limit before I snap and go berserk."
"The strength to snap metal in half," Oghren added with a grin. Apparently, he decided to stop flirting and throw a 'jab' at me. Damn dwarf.
"Yes, yes," I dismissed, even as the other three stared. "Now, shall we get going? Sigrun?"
"This way!" she replied, racing for the far tunnel after giving Oghren an annoyed look. "This is where the broodmothers are, if the information was correct!"
I was both delighted and not that I guessed correctly.
The tunnel was long, very long, with absolutely nothing it in. There wasn't even a token guard. It was in that state of paranoia that we entered the final room of the thaig.
At first glance, it was empty, aside from whatever was giving off the blue light. Then came the realization that there was a hole in the middle of the room and the incredible curiousity to peek over the edge to see if there was anything inside. Curiousity killed the cat and made the Howe and Cousland sick.
"Maker, they're…" Nathaniel breathed. He'd paled significantly at the sight of the twisted monsters. Some part of me noted that the smell wasn't nearly as bad as the last one and was glad for it. "They're…"
I glanced over the side as well and winced. "Sigrun, I hate to say this, but I think these were dwarves," I told her. They certainly looked like what Laryn turned into. "Were you the only girl?"
"No, but I know the others were killed," she replied with hard, yet relieved, eyes. "We have to destroy them. Otherwise, they'll breed an army." That was something Fereldan could not afford.
"How?" I asked. "There are many down there and one causes quite a bit of trouble." I tapped the scar on my neck. "Last time Oghren and I encountered one, he got knocked out and I got this and lost a sword." Oghren, for his part, just nodded in agreement with me and stayed away from the hole. He'd been quiet since we arrived, probably remembering things even more vividly than me. He'd actually known Laryn and Hespith, after all.
"What about the lyrium well that's hanging above our heads?" Anders suggested dryly, pointedly not looking down. "You know; the glowing thing that could probably kill an entire army?"
I glanced up to see the well and, more importantly, the chains that held it. "Everyone take one of the four corner chains; Nathaniel and Sigrun pair up. We'll want this near simultaneous to ensure a level drop. I'd rather it not careen into a wall and take a chance of lyrium poisoning." Everyone did as I ordered with little protest. Exhaustion did have its advantages, at times. "On the count of three," I called, palming Vigilance. "One… two… three!"
It wasn't quite simultaneous, but the resulting explosion was eerily beautiful amidst the twisted shrieks of the dying broodmothers. I took it as a sign that I really needed to rest. The Taint was affecting my outlook.
"Well, that's that," Sigrun breathed, noticeably relieved. She seemed to have tears in her eyes. "It's done, brethren. Rest easy among our ancestors."
"The darkspawn fighting amongst each other is troubling," Nathaniel commented, resting against one of the walls.
"Let them kill each other," Anders commented, sitting next to him. "Less for us to kill."
"Or we just get stronger ones t'deal with," Oghren retorted. He didn't seem to be all that tired, but he was sipping from his flask, instead of gulping.
"Regardless, Sigrun," I interrupted, focusing on the Legionnaire. "What do you plan on doing?"
"Most likely return to the Deep Roads to fight darkspawn," she replied easily. "And to fulfill my vow to die against the darkspawn, unmourned and forgotten." The way she said it surprised me and she took advantage of that to salute. "Many thanks, Grey Wardens. I wish you well."
But as she tried to limp away, I recovered enough to make a split-second decision. "Sigrun, how about joining the Wardens?" I offered. "We'd be honored to have you."
She turned to stare at me. "Me? Really?"
"Why not?" I smiled. "I think you'll make a wonderful Warden."
"Hmm, I don't know." She crossed her arms and thought. "I am required to fulfill my oath."
"Can you not do that as part of your Calling?" I suggested.
"Maybe." She was still thinking. "Any catches?"
"You'd need to stay until the current crisis is averted." If it ever did. "Then, there are the drawbacks in general. This is, of course, providing that the Joining doesn't kill you."
She was still silent for a moment longer. "Well, all right." She smiled finally. "Why not? I'm already dead."
I walked over and held out my hand. "Welcome to the Wardens, Sigrun."
She took it with a firm shake. "Thank you for the honor."
And, with this, we have the last instance of the Deep Roads, barring sidequests and… I suppose the endgame itself. …Can't say I really like how the chapter turned out, but I'm writing this as a stress-relief and I feel better now.
Yes, it's been awhile since that healing ability of Serenity's appeared. I half-forgot about it and half-realized that she hasn't really had any deep wounds since Ostagar where a healer didn't/couldn't heal her immediately. Er… well, there was the fight at Fort Drakon, but there were other things to worry about then and I think a few waves of healing magic went through the battle then.
Next chapter: More of Agrona's adventures!