A/N For some reason I really just felt that the flow of the story would work better if many of the short early origin chapters were condensed into one chapter... Most of the stuff is still the same, just all presented in one chapter. For those of you
Disclaimer: I don't own Bioware, Dragon Age, or the names shamelessly ripped off of J.R. Tolkien's works. All I might own is Arnor's character if not his name.
About six months before the Battle of Ostagar
The village of Redcliffe wasn't considered the most prosperous or the most lively place in Thedas, but to Arnor Edain it was home. Arnor was a tall, dark-haired, lightly bearded young man with a decent strength built up from his time spent in the fields and in the wilds on the occasional hunting trips. It was during these adventures with his friend Tomas that Arnor honed his skills with the bow and arrow and put into practice the wilderness skills he acquired from a book bought from that traveling dwarf. After all, you can't learn something like rangering entirely from books. From time to time Arnor also practiced with the sword his father used against the Orleasian forces during the war. Loyal, honest, and reasonably intelligent, the young farmer's son had no idea of the role he was to play in changing Thedas forever.
Arnor had just finished working in the fields, now having to do double duty after his older sister left to join the Templars. "The Templars.." He thought, "The holy warriors of the Chantry, the defenders of the Maker's people." To most of the Edain family they were the greatest heroes that ever were, aided by the fact that every generation at least one child in the family was sent to the order as per an old tradition. To Arnor however, they were seconded by the Grey Wardens. All his life he had heard and read stories of the heroes who ended Blights and saved all of Thedas. His hero was the black sheep of the family, his uncle Drudan, who signed up to fight the darkspawn as a Warden. Many times a young Arnor would listen to the stories his uncle told him with great interest. Stories of venturing into the Deep Roads to slay the foul creatures at their source, of traveling to lands as far away as the Anderfells, and of the brotherhood and sacrifice of the Wardens both around and before him. All the time however, it always seemed like he was not telling the whole truth when, but this only added a layer of mystique onto the Wardens to Arnor. It had been some time since his uncle's last visit, but the dream of becoming a Warden still lingered in his mind, but that type of thinking was useless, he was the one who would have to take care of the land after his father passed, he couldn't think leaving now.
The work of the day now finished, the Redciffer decided to go to the tavern for a quick drink and maybe see some old friends. It used to be something he did on a daily basis, not always getting a drink but always going to socialize with friends and try to hear news about the outside world. Sometimes the world seemed so small with only the farm and the village filled with only a handful of people. Walking at a brisk pace amid the setting sun and red cliffs, he finally reached the tavern and opened the door to a warm smile from the waitress currently serving drinks.
"Hey there farm boy, fancy seeing you here! What can I get you?"
"Bring me some ale, and Bella I come here all the the time, you shouldn't be surprised to see me!" Arnor answered sitting down in one of the empty chairs.
"Yes, but you rarely come this late into the day, and you used to some more often. You also used to be here before the sun started setting." Bella replied setting his drink on the table after being tossed a few coins
"Well I've been working double since Morwen left," Arnor said between sips "My father says we don't have the coin to hire extra hands. That's part of the reason I'm taking that job from the Chanter's Board. Although even if we did hire people father says the extra work builds character. "
"Character isn't something you really build up working around here, not with the customers and the boss."
"How has Lloyd been treating you anyway?"
"Truth be told," Bella replied sitting down after making sure Lloyd wasn't looking, "It has been less than ideal. The man is a pig who gropes me and pays dirt for my work."
Quickly pushing his drink aside Arnor shot up from his seat only to be stopped by Bella
"What are you doing!?" She asked easing him back down
"I'm was just going to have a talk with your boss about working conditions."
"I know that look in your eyes Arnor, it's the same look you had when you had when Tomas "borrowed" you last cookie. That look goes before a fight, and I don't think you'll hold back like you did before."
"You can bet your soul I won't. What kind of friend would I be if I just stood by and did nothing? You stuck up for we when the mayor thought I was the one painting on the golem."
"You'd be a friend getting both himself and me into trouble, and from what you've told me your parents can't afford you finding yourself in a cell. And besides if it was you who painted those things on Shale it would have been much less... Vulgar."
"Fine, but are you sure you don't want me to get Tomas and have a few words with him?"
"Thanks but no thanks, it's not a good job, but it is a paying job. I'll save my coin and get out of this place soon enough." She said with barely concealed false hope
As the two were talking a young man with an old bow and quiver strode through the door.
"Speak of the magister!"
"Hey, there you are. I've been looking for you!" Tomas exclaimed
"What is the occasion?"
"Don't you remember? You were supposed to help me plan the bounty hunt we're undertaking soon!"
"Shit. I forgot about that." Arnor muttered
"It's alright we still have time, just like you always seem to have time to spend with Bella over here.." Tomas remarked sitting down at the table
"Shut up, its not like that!" The two others responded quickly
"I didn't say anything!" Tomas exclaimed with a wide grin on his face, "But in all seriousness, we have to plan this one carefully. These bandits are a tad bit smarter than the wolves and bears, if not by much."
"I know, I know, but these guys are just thugs. We've handled worse, or did you forget the time we stumbled upon that pack of wolves?"
"How could I forget. I still have scars from the alpha's bite."
"I was the one who had to stitch you two back into shape," Bella interjected "if your folks knew the trouble you boys got into they wouldn't let you go off even after they died!"
"And we are forever thankful for your expert surgery skills. We have to find a way to make you a doctor." Arnor joked.
"And give up my illustrious position here?"
"You're probably right. You wouldn't survive a day working on a farm let alone as a non-Mage doctor."
"If you two are done," Tomas interrupted, physically getting in between the two, "There's a bounty hunt worth six sovereigns that needs planning."
"Fine," Arnor relented taking one last gulp of his drink, "Sorry Bella have to run, bandits to find and sovereigns to earn!"
"It's no trouble, it's always nice to see you."
"Come on lover boy let's get going." Tomas exasperated dragging his friend out the door
The two made their way to the frozen golem that rested in the middle of the village, their old meeting place since they were boys. Tomas brought out a map of the area and a particularly detailed one of the forest they were planning to venture into.
"So what's your grand plan Tomas? The chanter's board said their were only about four bandits. We can most likely pick off at least two of them before they close into range, more if we have the element of surprise."
"The chanter's board said there were at least four, if the information we have about their hideout is true, we have no idea how many of them there really are."
"You make good point, anyway we can't go in unprepared, do you have all the supplies gathered?"
"I have the extra arrows and health potions all packed. Just in case you happen to find anything useful I also brought along some extra flasks to store the mixtures."
"Well, at least if we die in this endeavor no one can accuse us of not trying to plan ahead."
"That's great, thanks for the reassurance. By the way, what really is the deal with you and Bella anyway?"
"I'll tell you the day you tell me what's up between you and Kaitlyn."
"Nothing," Tomas said a little too quickly with a blushing face "I'm just helping her take care of her brother that's all!"
"Right... anyway let's review this adventure of ours."
The two went over the plan of attack again; Arnor would scout ahead using his woodcraft skills to stay hidden and possibly pick off any unlucky enough to come across him. Tomas would trail behind picking off any stranglers and provide covering fire if they stumbled on a group too big to challenge. In a pitched battle the two wouldn't fare quite as well. Despite his practice, Arnor's skill with a sword was nothing to take to a tournament, and Tomas' close quarter weapon was a small dagger ill suited to fighting in a prolonged struggle. Where their skills lied mainly was in their archery, both had been hunting since before they could remember. Tomas focused on slow deliberate shots at long range to kill single, powerful targets, while Arnor delivered arrows faster than the eye could see and could shoot down whole groups with speed and precision.
Going over the plan one last time the two resolved to continue on the bounty hunt, and set out in two days to win themselves more money than they had seen in years. With the sun now down and the moon now high in the evening sky, the two men decided to return to their respective homes.
Arnor began the long walk to his family's farm house with the light of the moon shining full on the water of Lake Calenhad. His parent's land lay on the outskirts of Redciffe, far from the main village and the Arl's castle. Approaching his family's dwelling Arnor could see the light of a fire coming from the window and smoke rising from the chimney. Opening the door Arnor was met with the stern stare of his mother who sitting down on one of the benches around the dinner table, while his father was sat asleep in one of the chairs in the small area considered the living room.
His mother was a caring if slightly firm woman who was worked to wits end trying to manage two children growing up, and now trying to keep her remaining child out of trouble. Often times she blamed her descendants, her son in particular, for giving her the grey hair that she kept tied up in the back of her head. His father was a more gentle soul, surprising given his experience as a soldier in King Maric's army in the rebellion. He carried several scars on his body from that time, and the wear of the life of a soldier showed on his face as well as in his eyes. Always the voice of calm and support, Amroth Edain was the stabilizing element in the family, and if the women in the family were to be believed, the source of Arnor's sense of humor.
"Ah, here he is! What have you been up to serah? Have you been drinking over at Lloyd's again? You go there and the next thing I know you're singing bawdy songs to Bann Teagan!" His mother scolded
"Mother that was one time! One time! Besides I'm not a boy anymore you don't need to fuss over me, I can take care of myself!"
"But no matter how old you are you are still my son, and you are the one to inherit this land after your father and I pass. I must try to look out for your well being no matter how old you get." She said her green eyes softening a little.
"I appreciate the thought, but I was planning the bounty hunt me and Tomas are going on. This is my chance to earn three sovereigns, that's enough to hire us some workers and maybe buy some more land!"
"Whose voice am I hearing talking about sovereigns and land?" spoke Arnor's father rising from his light slumber "Is that my son, the boy who used to run around pretending he was flying on a griffon?"
"Yes it's that young man Amroth. Finally home so late after the sun's down."
"Don't be too harsh on him Eowyn, he did all his work in the fields before he went off I checked."
"I suppose so, still I'm not sure about this whole bandit hunt." She said before addressing her son. "You've fought wolves and bears but never people."
"What are you talking about?" Arnor joked "My friends and I have gotten ourselves into a lot of scuffles, mostly in bar rooms but still!"
"I mean in real combat, in battles to the death, are you actually ready to kill men, to fight foes who can reason? I'm not sure you're ready, I believe you should rethink this whole endeavor."
"Have a little faith in our son love! I've seen him shoot his bow and I've trained him with my sword." Amroth replied "He will do fine so long as he's careful and quiet. Although that last part might be tricky for him!"
"Thanks for the vote of confidence father!" Arnor laughed as his mother tried but failed to glare daggers at her family members "In all seriousness, I have to do this, its the best way to earn the money to get help around here. I'm not just staying that so I can shirk off work. I want to try to do something to help this family beyond simply plowing and sowing fields."
"No it's not just that," Amroth replied "You want an adventure. You don't think I noticed the way you always jumped at the chance to hear my brother's stories, or go on trips to hunt for bears, wolves, and other wild creatures? Well I for one can understand it perfectly. This maybe the closest thing you get to one."
"Huh, I guess I can't stop you then," Eowyn admitted "Not anymore than I could deny this man fighting against Orlais. You still have two days to prepare from what you've told me. You better make the most of it, I want all your work in the fields done by tomorrow."
"Yes mam!" He said grinning like an idiot before rushing off to to his room and flopping into his bed
"I swear that son of ours is going to be the death of me."
"Don't you worry so much. He's our son after all he'll be able to look out for himself. Besides two days is a long time. Who knows what could happen in the meantime?"
While not much happened in Redcliffe in the meantime, in other parts of Ferelden events were taking place that would have far reaching effects on the history of the world.
In the city of Denerim a young Templar-in-training mused while his future was being deliberated by a dark skinned man with an impressive beard, and the Grand Cleric who he considered the crankiest person in all of Thedas. The three were in the Grand Cleric's office in the Chantry and the man of the our was quickly getting tired of standing for so long and torturing his feet. Truth be told he was incredibly eager to leave the Templars and do anything really, now actually would be the best time. He had completed his training, had learned all the abilities necessary to be one of them holy warriors, and had not yet been addicted to the lyrium that was used to keep the Templars in line. Yep, Alistair Theirin was ready to leave the Templar Order and spend his days fighting darkspawn.
"You are asking for a man sworn to the Maker's service to leave his post, I will not allow for it!" The Grand Cleric protested
"As I understand it the young man has not taken his vows as of yet, I need recruits and he seems the most suitable. You have many fine Templars here madame, I don't see how the loss of one will damage your order." the Bearded man replied smoothly and diplomatically
"Your Wardens are not facing a Blight! What need could you have of his servant of the Maker, to fight your battles against the darkspawn?"
"If the Chant of Light is correct, the darkspawn are enemies of the Maker and his creations. They also have mages in their numbers, surely someone trained in the arts of the Templars would be useful."
"If I may say something, your grace. I for one would love to go for the whole Grey Wardeny-thing. It would be like a field trip, but with Darkspawn and Deep Roads and possible death by monsters, but I'm game." The young prospective Warden offered.
"Know your place and duty Templar, the Chantry did not train you to protect against magic only to lose you to the Wardens!"
"Oh but it would be so much fun, and besides I hear the Warden uniforms are much more comfortable, this Templar plate armor itches something awful." Alistair joked
"If you will not give the young man to the Grey Wardens, then I must invoke the Right of Conscription." Duncan finally said playing his trump card
"Fine then take the boy, I will not deny the Wardens their ancient rights. Leave my presence you exhaust me." The aged lady requested
Leaving the room with his Grey Warden savior Alistair breathed a sigh of relief. Thank the Maker he was out of there. Although he had no idea what being a Warden entailed other than life long devotion to killing ugly beasties, he was sure that it was better than hunting and guarding mages. Deciding that he wasn't completely fond of being left in the dark, the now ex-Templar began to talk to Duncan.
"Well, so I'm part of the anti-darkspawn club yay! What's first on our agenda? He asked
"We are going to Redcliffe. My scouts have heard reports of a darkspawn raiding party of considerable size traveling through that area. Perhaps we will also find other potential recruits. "
"I can't wait, returning home except this time to look for monsters and warriors, this should be fun!"
The days between the meeting by the golem and the actual excursion passed quickly, and soon Arnor had packed his supplies, did the farm work early, and set off with his gear for the small forest several miles from the familiar hills and the Lake Calenhad. For such journey Arnor attired himself with leather armor and gloves, boots long since caked with dry mud, and a thick green cloak useful for hiding among the brush and trees. For armaments he took with him his old long bow and quiver full of arrows which he slung across his back, and his father's sword used during the occupation; a weapon which Arnor strapped to his belt unlike nearly everyone else in Thedas.
At his side was his pet wolf affectionately named Fluffy. While nobles and lords may call Marbari their pets, Dalish Elves call their halla partners, and Dwarves call nugs food; a country bumpkin call a wolf his companion. The story of the wolf begins when both of them were pups by both species standards. Arnor was barely 12 when he was working in the fields and heard a howl of pain from the outskirts of his parent's land. What he saw was this: a young wolf pup barely out of his mother's womb by the size of him, trapped in one of his father's leg hold traps. He freed the little thing, and ever since then, Fluffy, as Morwen named him, was Arnor's constant companion and partner, accompanying him on all his little adventures and expeditions.
Their trek took them across several other farm houses and fields filled with crops, mostly wheat and corn, growing tall and causing allergy inducing pollen to fill the air. The further they got from the cliffs and shores of Lake Calenhad the more the landscape flattened, and the trees and bushes that could never grow in the rocky uneven ground around his home became more and more frequent. The fall colors were beginning to show as the leaves on the trees started to turn to a burnt orange color, except for the rare evergreen that held onto its small green needles even as the seasons turned. The snow capped Frostback Mountains loomed in the distance as a fall breeze blew through the plains bringing flocks of birds along their migratory journeys. Reaching the small river that ran outside and through the forest, Arnor caught sight of Tomas sitting on a rock strumming the string of his bow absent mindedly.
"Been waiting long my friend?" Arnor asked, startling Tomas who nearly fell backwards into the water before Arnor grabbed him
"Wha- Oh its just you. Maker, how do you sneak up on people like that?" He questioned as he picked up the bow he dropped on the ground and stood back up.
"It's a practiced skill, that ranger guide was pretty thorough. Being a ranger, isn't just about calling on attack animals now is it?" Arnor asked as he bent down and rubbed Fluffy's fur "You're a good attack animal aren't you boy, yes you are!"
"I'll never understand how you got him to like you even after all these years."
"Hey! You just don't like him because he used to chase ya!" Arnor teased
"Yeah, into the lake!
"One time!" Arnor defended as he continued to pet his furry companion
"And one time is all it takes," Tomas shot back "Just like how you will always be remembered for the best performance of "The Naughty Lay Sister" ever in the history of Redciffe."
"I'm never going to live that down am I?" Arnor asked clutching his head as he remembered the damning incident
"No, no you're not." Tomas said grinning
"Hey don't make me sick Jaggers on you, he's still a vicious little bastard!"
"For the love of Andraste, what is the deal with you and animals anyway? First it's the racoon, then it's the wolf!" Tomas cried out raising his arms in exasperation
"Just be grateful I only brought Fluffy," Arnor laughed "I secretly have a pet bear and giant spider in my employ!"
"I wouldn't be surprised, sometimes I think you were raised by animals and your "parents" found you in a cave."
"Yeah I think I only have the energy to handle one animal in battle though, so Fluffy will have to do. Unless you want to go back to the attack racoon." Arnor asked with hopeful grey eyes
"No, just no."
"Fine, fine, I'll stick with Fluffy then. I know what I'm doing, do you?"
"Yes! Now get in there and stay out of trouble!" Tomas said while practically shoving his friend into the forest
"Alright I'm going! I'm going." Arnor said as he and Fluffy stumbled their way into the wood
Trugging his way into the trees Arnor was followed closely by Fluffy. Fluffy was surprisingly quiet for a beast of his size, making no more sound than the various other animals scampering through the brush of the forest floor. It was not long before the ranger could see a target walking through the landscape. "A sentry.." he thought, meant to keep an eye out for potential bounty hunters like himself he deduced. The man was dressed in ragged leather armor, armed with a bow and arrow and two daggers strapped to his belt. Hidden by the trees and his green attire, Arnor might as well have been invisible to the man barely twenty feet away from him. Taking an arrow from his quiver Arnor coated the tip with deathroot extract and fired. The arrow struck home and the man quickly dropped to the ground out like a light.
While Tomas was an experienced forester and was stealthier than most, Arnor could hear him coming not quite a mile away.
"You got him?" The brown haired man asked slightly nervous about the unconscious person in front of him.
"Well he's out cold and not responding," Arnor said as he poked the criminal with a nearby stick for good measure," So yeah, I think I got him. Do you have the rope?"
"Right over here," Tomas responded before handing his friend sufficient rope to tie the unconscious bandit to a nearby tree.
"I've been thinking, if they have enough men to have this bloke as a sentry, then maybe there's a bit more than four bandits. Hold up here and stay out of sight. I'm going to look ahead and see if I can find their camp or cave or whatever. I'll get back here as soon as I can, if you hear any horrible screams of pain get out of here, they're probably mine."
With those words words Arnor melted back into the trees, followed quickly by Fluffy as Tomas found himself left with Mr. Out Cold for company. Deciding to try and be proactive he set up a few rudimentary leghold traps in case someone or something got a little too close to his hiding place. Settling himself in for a short wait, he decided to much on the dry biscuits he brought only to remember how crappy they were after the first bite.
Elsewhere in the Forest
On the other side of the decently large forest two human beings were roaming aimlessly, at least one of them was. One of them seem to be totally sure of where he was going, the other had no idea in the slightest and was simply following his more experienced companion.
"Not that I don't enjoy a wilderness hike every once and awhile, but what exactly are we doing in this place?" Alistair asked before being hit in the head by a branch Duncan had just pushed out of his way "Ow."
"This forest is where the darkspawn party has made camp, while you are not a Grey Warden yet, we cannot let these monsters roam freely. We should be fine as long as you stick close to me and remember your training." Duncan reassured him as they continued to venture further and further into the forest.
"Right... My training, great memories that experience. Anyway how can you be sure? I thought darkspawn only dig around in the Deep Roads or places where the land is all dead and evilly."
"At times raiding parties come up from underground to raid settlements and pillage the land, but I can tell the darkspawn are here, Grey Wardens can sense the presence of the creatures. Don't worry, we will have ample warning before the darkspawn swoop down upon us."
"Yes swooping is bad.."
"Keep your wits about you Alistair. The darkspawn maybe mindless, but they are vicious beyond measure."
"Not as vicious as these squirrels!" Alistair remarked as squirrel droppings landed in his hair and on his armor, "I think the entire forest hates me."
The foliage grew thicker as Arnor walked carefully among the leaves and branches, cautious of any foes human or animal. Fluffy trailed behind him still alert for enemies of the one who called his aid. The wind whistled through the branches as leaves decorated the forest floor like a intricate quilt. Burnt orange and brown they fell, but most hung onto the trees from whence they came resulting in a forest full of color both top and bottom. Many animals scurried along oblivious to the wolf and his human, many were scampering along trying to gather food for the winter before the chill set in. It soon became clear to Arnor that he was heading in the right direction after he spotted tracks on the ground, relatively fresh along a path that must've been carved out of the woods. The dirt corduroy road seemed to extend quite a distance, and from the number of footprints Arnor could tell it was a group of at least eight men that had trodden this path recently. Deciding to follow the road but stay out of sight, Arnor and Fluffy melted back into the foliage and continued forward following the road and footprints.
It was not long before he found their campsite, several worn brown tents in a large clearing surrounding a medium sized campfire. Quickly scanning the area Arnor counted six men milling about, four sitting around the campfire eating a meal and two guarding a pile of plunder most likely taken from unfortunate travelers. Wondering where the seventh and final person was, he soon got his answer as a giant bear of a man emerged from one of the tents. The man was over six feet tall and carried a mace that looked like it could crush a man's head with a glancing blow, adorned in crude chainmail armor, this behemoth of a man was no doubt the leader of these thugs. Listening in on their conversations, Arnor could make out most of what they were saying, despite most of it sounding like nonsense.
"Hey Bert, do you ever feel like some days we don't exist? Like they don't really happen like they're implied to have happened." The man said as he munched on a cooked deer leg
"What are you saying? Tim that's the biggest load of crap you've ever said, and that's saying a lot." His cohort replied as he spat out a small bone from his soup
"Quiet the both of you," the leader demanded "We need to keep an eye out, the new guy said he might have seen darkspawn roaming in our woods."
"He's always seeing things boss, I remember the time he thought he saw a tree walking about. Imagine that!" one of the ruffians remarked
"Which begs the question, where is he anyway?" another one of the other bandits asked "He's usually back here by now, I swear, the man can smell food a mile away."
"Do you think one of us should go look for him boss?" Bert asked, silently hoping he would send someone else
The large man contemplated for a while before deciding.
"Bert, Micky, go and find out where that softy's gone off to. If you don't find him in an hour, get back over here."
After he said that two of the bandits rose from the long bench they were seated on and went into their tents to grab their weapons. Deciding he had heard enough Arnor and Fluffy removed themselves from their hiding place and began the trip back to Tomas' position while Arnor tried to formulate a plan to take out seven bandits with about a dozen arrows and only enough deathroot extract for two. Then Arnor began to add Fluffy into the equation of the coming attack. Surely having a large wolf fight for you is an advantage, but whether or not it would be a critical factor in the battle was up in the air. Determining to reach Tomas before the two bandits discovered their cohort was missing Arnor raced quickly but quietly across the forest floor.
"Bored, bored, bored. That's what I'm feeling right now," Tomas said as he sat and continued to chip away at the hardtack he had been eating, "You know when me and my buddy planned this thing, I thought I would be fine with being the one to come in after the coast was declared clear, but now I'm just bored." Tomas confessed to the man he and Arnor tied to the tree.
His captive wiggled around in the uncomfortable rope bindings as he answered "I hear you, you know on most of the raids I was always in the back, always getting a piss poor share of the lot. For a while I was fine with it, no injuries, no being the guy the "hero" takes a swing at, but soon you want in on the action."
"You know you're awfully chatty for a bandit and a prisoner, and I haven't heard you yelling at the top of your lungs for help." Tomas remarked absentmindedly as he actually managed to take a bite of the arrow proof substance
"We'll if I did that me mates would probably think I was going off again," He grinned "but I swear I saw im! Hurlocks and genlocks moving about through the woods!" Suddenly overtaken by fear at the memory of the monsters
Tomas suddenly spit what little of the biscuit he'd eaten, choking on some of it before standing up and looking his prisoner dead in the eye. "What! You saw darkspawn? Why didn't you clear out of here?"
"Like I said, the band isn't really that inclined to believe me. I think they send me out here on sentry duty because they don't like me much."
"Why would they send the person they don't trust to be the man who watches for danger? Even if they don't fancy you too much?" Tomas asked suddenly taking an interest in what Mr. Not-Out-Cold was saying, while trying to hold back the fear rising in his chest.
"I never said they were a smart batch of people."
Tomas snorted in response, "Fair enough."
While the two were talking, Arnor and Fluffy had returned after weaving their way past several well placed leghold traps.
"So you're awake I see, you've been keeping my friend company?"
"Yep that would be my lot in life, you must've been the one to put me down. You look like someone dressed to blend into the trees, I would feel really put out if this guy was the one to get the drop on me. Nice use of deathroot by the way, I've used poison on occasion, but I've never put it on an arrowhead. Come to think of it, I don't think I've seen anyone put poison on to their arrowheads. How'd you think of it?" He asked still squirming against his bonds.
"I don't know it just seemed like the logical thing to do." Arnor said shrugging his shoulders
"If I may interrupt you two, what did you find?" Tomas asked
"Well I've got good news and I've got bad news."
"What's the good news?"
"I found their campsite."
"And the bad news?" Tomas asked
"Oh not much, just that we're really outnumbered and that they're maybe darkspawn in these woods, and the bandits are led by a bear of a man who might need more than a few arrows to take down."
"Wonderful, all according to plan then." Tomas remarked as he rubbed his temples in frustration
At this juncture two things happened; one several of Tomas' traps went off and two, a blood curdling scream went up into the air that told immediately what it was.
"Darkspawn?" Tomas asked, his voice carrying a tone of hoping against hope.
"Darkspawn." Arnor confirmed, the stories of his uncle more than enough to confirm what that unholy sound was and the destruction and death that came with it.
"Um.. Either of you two want to let me down from here? I don't fancy death by tainted blades and arrows." The captive asked suddenly even more eager to get out of his restraints if that was even possible.
"How can we be sure you won't just stab us in the back the first chance you get?" Arnor asked as he hurriedly loaded extra arrows in his quiver.
"I may be an outlaw but I'm not a fool. Three people is better than one against a group of mindless killers. Give me my bow and I'll lend you a hand." He said, desperation evident in his voice.
"I'd rather not run the risk of being betrayed after dealing with the creatures, what do you think?"
Arnor quickly ran the odds through his head and decided that one more blade was one more blade and set about cutting the ropes that held the man to the tree. His decision was compounded mainly by the sound of trap activations and footsteps that brought the sound of numerous foes.
"Thanks be to you ser," the outlaw said as he stretched his limbs a bit, "Now if you'll hand me my bow I might be of some use to you in the survival category."
"Don't thank me yet," Arnor said as he handed the man his longbow and quiver, "They're several unholy creatures about to attack us, unless you're the running type."
"I've got less chance on my own than with you two, and I don't like my odds of finding my former associates in the midst of this. You and your entourage probably represent my best chance of survival." Out-Cold reaffirmed as he took up position with the two other fighters.
"Alright then that sounds like a self serving enough reason for an outlaw," Tomas joked trying to lighten the mood, "But what should we call you when you're running in terror and we want you to stand and fight?"
"You wound me ser to think that I would so easily run from danger, but to answer your question my name is Daveth and..."
His life's story was cut short as a hurlock arrow grazed the top of his head and landed in the tree behind him. As the party turned their heads to look for the source of the arrow they saw one hurlock archer reading his bow as well as a half dozen genlocks running at them with murder in their eyes.
Firing faster than he ever thought possible, Arnor quickly aimed and fired multiple arrows into the lead genlock. Fluffy had gone on the offensive deciding on leaping, gnashing, and clawing at an unlucky darkspawn. Tomas had shot down the hurlock archer that peppered their group with skill and precision, the tension and stress of the situation honed his accuracy as he fired in deadly silence. His complete opposite was Daveth who fired both quickly and wildly, slightly panicked in the presence of everyone's childhood nightmare. He barely managed in a lucky shot to the head of an oncoming genlock.
"This really throws out the whole bounty hunt thing doesn't it?" Arnor asked Tomas brandishing his sword when the darkspawn grew too close for comfort.
"Do you really want to joke now, now?!" Tomas asked as he drew his dagger nervous about his chances in close quarters.
"Damn those guys. I told them they was here I told them!" Daveth screamed as he unsheathed his dual daggers "Why doesn't anybody listen to me?"
"Heads up!" Tomas called out as he parried a crude tainted blade aiming to chop his head off.
Refocusing, Arnor kept his distance from the creature he was facing. His sword was longer than the genlock's dwarf-sized blade and Arnor used the distance to his advantage. He was constantly moving out of his opponent's effective range while maintaining his own striking distance. Parrying another slash from the creature he countered with a horizontal strike that slammed against the crude metal of the round buckler the darkspawn used for defense. The force of the impact severely wounded the monster's arm as it dropped the shield in pain and left itself open to a killing blow from the Edain family sword. Tainted blood spattered all over the farmer, staining his armor and weapon in the toxic substance. The black blood seemed to singe exposed skin and burned everywhere else. Even with all his uncle tales, Arnor could scarcely believe that this stuff rain through those creatures veins. Hard to believe that this would be one of the key ingredients in the mixture that changed his life forever.
Daveth meanwhile was having a rough time maneuvering in the confined area of the forest, but managed to get the drop on the genlock fighting Tomas. Swooping down upon the unfortunate creature, Daveth plunged his daggers into the back of the marauding darkspawn. Driving his weapons well into the beings inner workings he stabbed the thing once more to ensure the death of the darkspawn.
The spot was now clear, at least for as long as Tomas' traps held. The three leg holds he placed earlier now held in check some very angry hurlocks. They were quickly dispatched by the party's arrows from a safe distance once located. With the darkspawn gone, at least for now, the three humans took the moment to breath and plan. On the minds of Tomas and Arnor was the viability of continuing the bounty hunt with the darkspawn presence confirmed, and what to do with their captive now free. Daveth on the other hand was debating which rath to risk, that of the two hunters and their wolf, or the boss who was doubtlessly upset at him. Their ideas on how to proceed were interrupted however by a cry of terror coming from the area of the bandit camp. Although Daveth held no extraordinary loyalty toward his fellow lawbreakers he had grown fond of some of them. Deciding to risk arrows in his back he bolted in the direction of his camp. Arnor and Tomas still in a daze from the battle barely registered the man leaving, but Fluffy was not so shocked and raced after his prey with all the speed he could muster. For a split second it was total silence between the two friends. One look of bewilderment between them later, and they were off.
"Tell me this is a dream right now, tell me this is a nightmare," Tomas demanded as they sprinted after Fluffy and Daveth "Darkspawn are only in nightmares." Tomas tried to reassure himself
"And you didn't believe me when I told you my uncles stories!" Arnor accused "You thought I was making it all up!"
"Is now really the best time to vindicate your uncle's memory?"
"Might as well do it now, considering we could all probably be dead soon." Arnor replied as his voice took a decidedly grim tone.
"I guess you're right.."
They continued running until they saw the form of their former captive on i in the middle of the forest path Arnor had recently trekked through. Beside him was Fluffy who surprisingly wasn't growling at the man, but instead looked at the sight in front of him along with Daveth. Before them were two badly mangled corpses, recently dead, shot full of arrows in several places, and cut up with crude blades in a thousand places. Arnor held back the urge to vomit... unsuccessfully as the bile from his stomach drenched a nearby bush. Tomas instead put a comforting hand on Daveth's shoulder as he stammered out.
"Um.. I'm I'm sorry I.."
"It's funny," Daveth muttered barely over a whisper "I didn't know these two's names, I was among them for None of us were the most honest people, but they didn't deserve this. They couldn't have done anything to deserve this. "
"We could try to give them a burial or something." Tomas offered as he tried to look away from the gruesome image before him.
"No, not yet. The things that did this are still out here and we can't leave ourselves in the open like this." Daveth reasoned, getting up on his feet.
"The tracks lead back to your camp," Arnor informed as he rejoined his companions after emptying the contents of his stomach. "Six hurlocks it looks like, the prints are too big for genlocks. One of them is a big one, most likely the alpha or leader of this band." He said as he kneeled down to get a better look.
"These were my mates. I'm going to find em and gut these beasts the heartless monsters they are!" Daveth declared as rage overcame fear and he ran off in the direction of the campsite
"Dammit not again!" Tomas yelled as he and Fluffy raced after him trying to stop him before he got himself killed
Arnor started up after them but then felt a burning sensation unlike anything he had felt before. He also felt weak and tired as he moved with a heavier step. Shrugging it off, at least for now, Arnor continued after his friend, his pet, and his quarry.
The smoke rising from the clearing was far too much to be created by a campfire, and indeed most of the flames were from the tents and carts set ablaze by the darkspawn. For the most foul things in the world do not seek riches and material as the free races of the world, besides the call of the old gods is nothing but destruction and death in the mind of these beasts. Around the campsite the bodies of the men who took these worldly possessions lay, some with looks of horror plastered on their faces as they witnessed their last moments at the hand of a hurlock, others in pure panic barely aware of the situation before they were killed. Not even those who had been these people's victims would have wished this fate on them. For this was not combat for victors and vanquished after both had fought. This was simple murder.
Daveth arrived back only to see the look of terror on the last remaining bandit's face as he was cut down by a hurlock far larger than his brethren. Adorned in armor and weapons superior to the average mindless beast, this one seemed to have a limited control over the others as he seemed to order them about with a savagery that would have done his magister forefathers proud. The outlaw currently hiding among the surrounding trees would have none of that as he rushed headlong into the nearest hurlock and stabbed it again and again even as his victims five comrades were closing in on him. It was at this point Fluffy camp to the rescue by pouncing on one of the approaching monsters. Then two arrows shot out from the trees too fast for the hurlocks to raise their shields to block the offending projectiles. Both shots went into the leg of the large leader, but to the archers horror the alpha simply ripped out the annoying arrows and let out a warcry that echoed through the woods.
The advantage of surprise gone and arrows proved to be of little detriment, Arnor drew his sword and charged at the hurlocks even as his body seemed to be working against him more and more with every step he took. He yelled as he went, half out of bravery, half out of fear and desperation. Tomas tried to get off another shot with his bow, but with the hurlocks how aware of his position they maneuvered their shields to block the archer's main weapon. Tomas, like his friend then resorted to drawing his melee weapon and charging. Daveth still had not yet gotten off the hurlock he had engaged and was still stabbing as if the wounds would bring back those familiar now dead faces, unaware of the battle around him. Arnor and Tomas then found themselves facing two hurlocks each, with the alpha setting his sights on the green cloaked ranger.
"Keep fast. Keep moving." Arnor repeated in his head as he dodged, parried, and swung. Dodge parry, swing! "Keep moving or you're a dead man."
Nothing seemed to work, if he could put one off balance, the other would force him back on the defensive. It didn't help that both his opponents were stronger and more savage than he as the burning sensation within him grew more and more. The alpha was especially vicious as he swung his sword with enough force to break a dwarf's shield arm. Arnor was quick and careful but his stamina was waning. It was bad enough fighting these things, but worse was fighting as body seemed to be drained by something he could not pinpoint.
All throughout the fight Arnor was beginning to hear music, horrible, beautiful, intoxicating music that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. Parrying the blow of his smaller opponent and then striking the alpha with his sword pommel Arnor allowed himself to breath and scanned the battlefield. The hurlock Fluffy was fighting had pushed him off and Fluffy now made jumping slashes at his foe while the hurlock tried to strike at the wolf with little success. Daveth was gone, and there were footprints soaked with black blood leading away from the clearing. Arnor swore as he realized now they were outnumbered almost two to one.
Leaving, Tomas to face two hurlocks with nothing but a small dagger and a shield he had picked up from the one slain hurlock. The small reach of the dagger meant that Tomas had to get in close, but it was easier said than done.
"Block, duck, dodge, stab, pray." Tomas thought as he also wondered how the whole thing went to the void so quickly. "Alright that's it, no more bounty hunts from today onward, if I survive today that is."
The one hurlock tried to bash with his shield, Dodge left, slash now! The other one tried a different approach as it slashed at his head forcing him to duck, but giving Tomas the chance to strike at the legs of the monster perhaps crippling it.
Unless something happened soon the Redcliffe hunters were going to be darkspawn chow at best, or something else entirely, something too dreadful to think about.
Arnor quickly had to refocus on the two darkspawn charging him but their rage and lack of finesse had given Arnor the opening he needed. As the smaller of the two charged with a reckless downward slash ready, Arnor ran him through with his sword, but was unprepared for the difficulty in removing it. Out of the corner of his eye Arnor spotted the alpha ready to kill him and he rolled out of the way, but he didn't quite roll in time as the slash from the hurlock grazed his back, cutting past the rough leather armor. Arnor grimaced in pain as he felt the blood trickle down his body, but he couldn't worry about that now. The hurlock alpha meanwhile had overshot and stumbled several feet before regaining control. At this stage he had to fall back on the bow and arrow as he lay bruised on the floor with his mind blurred by fatigue and that horrid, wonderful song. After standing up and praying a silent prayer to the Maker, Andraste, or whoever was listening he fired an arrow at the charging alpha. The arrow struck home in the knee of alpha as it simply continued its charge.
Knock, aim, fire, repeat, knock, aim, fire, repeat.
Time seemed to slow down for the ranger as he aimed and fired with speed that a Dalish Elf would respect, but even as arrow after arrow hit the alpha the beast would not fall. The creature seemed possessed, with its one mission in life to kill the human it was rapidly approaching. As the monster grew closer Arnor tried to will his legs to move and found he could not. All he could do was stare at the thing charging him and hope that Morwen would carry the Edain name better he had.
Before the killing blow could be landed
"That works best on mages, but I guess that worked here too." A chipper voice spoke coming from the other end of the clearing.
"Focus Alistair, we are not done yet." A much more authoritative voice reminded as its owner drew his swords and charged
"Right, right. Alright them, who ordered death?" The chipper voice asked as he ran towards the hurlock Fluffy was facing.
Block, twist, pivot, strike. Weapon training intended to be used against apostates and abominations seemed to work just as well against darkspawn. Bash, stab, slash. Look awesome.
The senior warrior on the other hand turned his attention to the alpha rising up after shrugging off holy smite. The bearded warrior ran up to the recovering hurlock alpha. The monster made several clumsy, but powerful strikes. This was of little consequence to the dark-skinned man as he easily parried and dodged the alpha's attacks as if he was performing a well rehearsed dance. The beast grew frustrated and with frustration warriors grow sloppy. A wide sweeping strike gave the unknown fighter the chance to stab the monster with his dagger. As the hurlock suddenly registered the blade in its gut the warrior brought up his longsword and decapitated the monstrosity. After killing the alpha he turned to Tomas' direction and quickly ran to aid the young man before he lost his internal organs.
The young man was in rough shape after fending off repeated assaults, but he still had the strength to keep the darkspawn occupied. Duncan and Alistair took the opportunity to dispatch the final hurlocks with two different methods. The splintmailed warrior bashed the hurlock with his trusty shield and stabbed the hurlock as it lay of the ground afterward. The bearded man instead opted for a backstab that killed quickly and cleanly compared to the previous decapitation.
His head still pounding and his body still aching and burning at the same time, Arnor kept conscious just long enough to see Tomas, Fluffy, and the two strangers rushing to him as he fell forward into the dirt.
A/N For anybody just joining on, welcome! And for anybody who's been with me from before thank you for coming along with this story before I decided to make a few changes.
Special Thanks as Always goes to my Beta FalconHawk, who has been a great help to me throughout this writing process. Check out his work!