Author note: Anyone else hate the deep roads? It's too nondescript for detailed explanations of what we see in-game. So here we go - more horrid deep roads. Do enjoy my character introspection. It was fun!
And Magda is pushing Loghain at Dyrfinna and Dyrfinna toward Loghain with every sentence. It isn't funny - it's like trying to pull magnets apart. Damned muse.
I also hope you like my canon Lady Aeducan. I love her. (Just for your information - Gorim would so get exiled with Aeducan)
Dyrfinna awoke more angry than she'd been last 'night', seething actually about how cruel life was. Was this truly Sigfrost's penance for her killing of the horrific bear? Or lowlanders proving how wicked they really were?
She stuffed what breakfast of dried jerky they'd rationed for each of them, picking up her weaponry and moving into line. "You're luckier than most you know. Having a family before you joined." Alistair sheepishly shrugged at her as they broke their camp.
"More to lose." She snapped back. "More to protect from this barbarism and blasphemy."
The whole group of lowlanders seemed to avoid her after that as they continued through the thaig, the bronto moving at it's steady pace behind them, the snort of it soft and almost pacing the anger welling.
She noticed just how sad the shaman Bethany was, how Carver put his arm around her shoulders to reassure her. "It's for the good of Thedas. We'll be part of stopping this evil." It almost made her wish she could have been back with her clan for one moment - to have someone who cared for her like that to assure her the world wasn't all this blackness and tainted, grotesque evil.
"Right - now exiting Aeducan Thaig, no princess so onto Caridin's Cross!" Lucien chimed, Dyrfinna narrowed her eyes at the shaman, his being used to this information hurting more. If she could have known before this mantle was foisted on her. It might have changed her opinion now.
"Onto Branka!" Oghren cheered. It was awe-inspiring how the dwarf had bounced back from his first nightmare when he'd woken, the dwarves didn't dream either - and just after learning all he had about the Grey Wardens. Truly awe-worthy what lengths the man had gone for to find his very probably dead or... worse wife.
"Yes, let's find that wife of yours!" Lucien smiled at him.
It took almost three days from his estimations from Aeducan Thaig to Caridin's Cross, cave-ins and darkspawn with the pace of the bronto and the need for recuperation and rest hindering them somewhat. Lucien sighed. "Lookie here! These are Branka's!" Oghren smiled, fingering the wall of the tunnel, Lucien turned his head, adjusting the brightness of the runic light attached to his cowl. They definitely were markings - made with an axe?
"So we're on the trail?" He asked. The sooner they were out these deep roads the better. None of the Wardens would speak to him more than a few strained sentences - mealtimes were worst.
They still had each other's backs during a fight but there was a definite schism. Those that were coping, trying to think of this as a higher calling, a betterment for Thedas - Alistair, Leliana, Carver and Oghren.
And those that felt betrayed, who wished they could have made their own decision. Chosen whether they wanted to be Wardens even if it meant something worse - Loghain, Bethany and Dyrfinna. And he still had to tell Thorvald. Still had to tell them the last bit of their being Wardens.
He couldn't do it now, he couldn't risk alienating them all more. He could hope for doing it like ripping off a bandage that had become engorged with blood - quick and painful. Or he could hope they'd come around before he eased them into the truth.
The burn in his veins increased and there was a distinct shuffling ahead. Darkspawn... he removed his staff from his sling and summoned up his mana.
Bethany let loose all that rage, all the bitterness that she was tainted with, would die from in battle, her magic potent and deadly. Her flames charring through darkspawn like nothing, her ice shimmering in it's fragile, ephemeral beauty.
She could swear her healing had improved no end, her healing aura extending and wrapping around their group like a protective blanket, the urge to make sure none of them died quelling this ache, this horrid ache.
Their warriors were vicious, Oghren screaming his rage and swathes of darkspawn falling around him, Dyrfinna on the other side, her shield and sword ringing with that power and strength. Loghain with his tried and tested manoeuvres, reigning the darkspawn in so the mages attacks were brutal.
Leliana a flurry of slashes, crippling darkspawn and ending them without mercy. Alistair... his sword and shield defending the mages at every opportunity, the fractures his shoulder had gotten after a particularly long battle.
These hands were supposed to heal, were supposed to do good - if this was all she was worth, then by the Maker she would be the walking weapon that Lucien had recruited.
Of course the Grey Wardens would hide their true nature. It would have been better just to stick a knife in his kidneys. Bloody Orlesian sympathisers. Loghain kept in formation as they trooped forever forward in this damned darkness.
He wasn't about to roll over and die because they wanted him to. If he'd been just anybody he might be assured that it was to keep him alive. But this? Was it worth dying because they said so? Could there be some catch to it all?
What had initially incensed him to even swallow that bloody poison?
Loghain knew deep down that prior to that blood mage fiasco in Ostagar he'd been butting heads with Cailan almost relentlessly, knew that if the battle had turned he could have, no matter how difficult that decision, put the lives of the men of the flank ahead that of one foolish man.
Did that make him a monster capable of regicide? Perhaps - but he'd moved against those instincts and been too late to charge when that beacon had been lit. Failed Maric and Rowan - their son lost because he hadn't managed to do a damned thing.
Getting that darkspawn blood in the eye, that spider that latched over him and dripped it's venom over his face. He'd taken the venom counters but he knew - Loghain knew it would kill him. It probably should have.
And now he was here - in the dark of the deep roads and tasked to kill darkspawn for the rest of his life. Fitting. But that didn't mean he'd made peace with it. No Ser!
Carver, found something. Something, he wasn't sure he knew had been inside him. It felt like a purpose. To be part of something that was greater no matter how horrible it was.
He was protecting people, proving how valuable a person he was to the world. If that wasn't worth thirty years... and people died all the time. Mercenaries didn't often have families (like the Blackstone Irregulars that Miriam had done some work for) - because their death rate was high. So thirty years and hopefully he'd help to end this Blight, help to eradicate this darkspawn threat so people wouldn't need recruiting into the Wardens, people wouldn't get tainted.
It was a nice idea he supposed, the best face Carver could put on it. It was better than moping about hoping life had gone a different way.
It had always been that way though - things happened, it wasn't fair - you could fight it like a child or you could embrace that change. Carver was tired of acting like a child. It was time to get on with things the way men were supposed to.
And to support Bethany. That damned Lucien could have conscripted her then let her go... he didn't need to actually make his twin sister a Grey Warden did he? Just get those templars off her back and then let her be.
Leliana supposed that this what the Maker had asked her to do, to aide the Grey Wardens, to become as they and be a saviour in repentance for her wicked lifestyle prior to becoming a Chantry lay sister. The life she had lead had been nothing by deceit and trickery, death and destruction not only for those victims but for herself.
This was something good. Being a Grey Warden meant those crimes had been absolved, but the price of such a wiping of the stale was hard. They were stopping evil and she remembered the nobility of the Grey Wardens in Val Royeaux, when she had travelled in Jader and Montsimmard they had radiated a protection - of being bigger and greater than mere mortals.
Not everyone had taken the news that there were downsides to their status - but everything in life had downsides no? One simply had to focus on what good they could do despite such trials.
Well, if it got Branka back it had to be worth it.
Oghren took it in his stride, seeing those sodding pictures in his head when he should have slept as soundly as the stone, that he was going to die... well everyone was going to die right? Now you just didn't get any surprises over it. No big deal.
And if he was completely honest - it felt good to have an axe back in his hands. Like how he was always supposed to be, you got trained, you fought for your people, they thought you were honourable and blessed by the Ancestors.
Soon as you break one rule - on accident because your training took over, the training your own people had pumped into you - life weren't so peachy after that. They couldn't strip him of his caste because he was married to a Paragon for Pete's sake, but they could take away everything that made you a warrior.
The Grey Wardens didn't care. They valued him and if that didn't make him want to to tear up they were searching for the old girl, his personal ball and chain.
Call him a lovesick fool but if it got Branka back where she was supposed to be - in Orzammar dazzling like that amazing little woman she was, then sod it he'd fight darkspawn for the rest of his life.
Nothing, neither hide nor hair of the Paragon. Dyrfinna unfurled her bedroll on the floor of the tunnel, wearied down to her bones. Fighting, eating, sleeping and endless walking. Sigfrost's pelt some variety wouldn't have been welcome. Oghren was getting brighter the further they went - the cuttings into the walls fresher.
"I had this place on my maps." Their shaman commander looked around the grey stone buildings they were near. "We never thought we'd ever manage to cut through the darkspawn to get here, it was lost during the forth Blight you see."
"Well spit it out - where'd Branka lead us?" Oghren asked.
"This should be... according to my maps. Ortan Thaig and if I boned up on my dwarven history-" He was cut off.
"Caridin was House Ortan before he was named Paragon!" Oghren cheered. Dyrfinna felt relieved, it should be over soon. Some sleep and they'd either find a couple hundred dwarves huddled around his anvil that was so important or a couple hundred dead dwarves. Either way, she wasn't sure if she had it in her to care too much - it would be over.
Bethany and Lucien set to sorting out the dried fruits and meat for their rations, adding a bit of brandy in the bottom of the cups as they poured some water into them.
Dyrfinna ate and drank in silence as people mulled around, the wards set up so the darkspawn would ignore them. "Still wishing you'd died of the taint?" Loghain pointedly spoke to her, their conversation away from the main group.
"Are you?" She responded dryly.
"I've decided something like the taint isn't going to stop me." He snorted softy. "Didn't kill me and I won't let it take what life I have left being maudlin."
"That is... wise. I should have realised that on my own." Dyrfinna looked up and smiled, just the edges of her lips affected.
"Now who thinks who's simple?" Loghain positively grinned for him.
"I never thought as such. It was merely a statement-" She was cut of by the low chuckle from his throat. "You think I am being amusing?"
"We're all a bit wound up, focused on our mortality, having thought we'd never die."
"If I had been told I might have chosen to have saved my own life. I hate the fact it was secret to me." Dyrfinna rubbed small circles into her forehead under her fringe. "And I am... sorry. For my outburst. Not all lowlanders are barbarians."
"I've not seen any evidence to the contrary yet. You never know though, we might prove deep down to be honourable sorts." He shrugged. Dyrfinna found herself smiling, the hate in her heart lessening from such small words having been spoken.
"There are lowlanders less barbaric than others. Thank you for proving that to me Loghain." She leaned forward and lightly brushed her lips to his cheek, light stubble grazing her lips. Loghain had remained stock still throughout and only looked at her when she had sat back, the distance between them again.
He pursed his lips, as if thinking before her took a deep breath in through his nose, sighing. "Sleep well Finna." He rumbled.
"I will." She nodded to him as he stood and went to his own bedroll. Dyrfinna laid back on her bedroll, the errant action suddenly feeling so odd. It wasn't a reciprocated action regardless, a thanks for being a friend. Why would it have been reciprocated? She wasn't of his world and he not of hers.
Wait a moment... he called me 'Finna' - that... ninny of a lowlander!
Loghain's mind was occupied with trying to reason exactly why... why had that damned woman had thought to have all leave of her senses? She was young... and he'd already admitted there was beauty on that tattoo banded face and that flimsy blue silk robe was a haunting thing.
So what was the point of goading a cantankerous old man like himself with something stupid like a peck on the cheek? And why... Maker why did he wish it hadn't been a peck or on the cheek?
Hadn't foolish notions of romance and... nubile young women. She was younger than his damned daughter. But hadn't such notions left him yet?
So... what happened now? Did he say something? Was he fooling himself that Dyrfinna was interested? Was this just how she showed interest?
Why was he even thinking about that? It must have just been a slip up on her behalf. She was hurting about the truths the commander had revealed to them, he'd said something comforting to her because... because she'd been comforting to him before. So it was gratefulness for returned comfort.
Lucien awoke to find the tension in the group was a lot lessened. And thank the Maker! Thank any of those bloody Avvar Gods or the dwarven Ancestors if they'd had a hand in it. Thank all of them.
Now to ruin what peace had descended on the Wardens... Oh even Bethany was laughing at one of Alistair's terrible jokes. He couldn't. It was as if she was a little sister he'd never had. Not now.
"Darkspawn!" He yelled, his staff coming with ease from his sling and lightning infusing down the runic weapon.
Beady eyes were suddenly inches from his, fangs as big as his hands ripping and scratching his neck and face. Fuck... he'd forgotten how quick tainted spiders were as Oghren cleaved the thing in two. He lay there, hands fumbling toward the red of his own neck and attempting to heal through the searing pain as the vemon tried to attack him.
Bloody fortunate Wardens couldn't actually get poisoned. The taint was more poison than pretty much anything else - it still burned though, interrupting his concentration as he tried to stem the bleeding.
Battle crashed around him, helmet and chest lights swinging around, flashes of hairy, spindly legs and dark mottled spider bodies - venom splashing alongside blood and webbing sprayed with wild abandon. He picked himself off the ground and tried to think of the itching under his skin as he fired lightning and stone through the warriors cleaving and slashing.
Suddenly something much bigger interrupted the flow of magic and swords, the spiders finished off.
"Ancestors tits!" Oghren exclaimed. Lucien couldn't even chuckle, all their lights aimed toward the gigantic spider blocking the street in front of them and looking like an incredibly pissed spider.
And here he thought spiders the size of mabari were horrible. This could have eaten cows as snacks!
The spider was scuttling with unholy speed toward them. "Get back you bastard!" He looked up to see a dwarven sized figure hurl a flask of something at the spider, smoke plumes billowing around the truly enormous spider.
Suddenly a hang clasped around his and he was being dragged. Unwilling to even comprehend what was happening he followed.
The stomp and clatter of armour and the tingle of ice being cast behind him was the only sign his Wardens were in pursuit.
Dyrfinna glared at the dwarves that had taken them into the hall of sorts, a burner in the centre with almost dessicated wooden beams burning in it with pungent oil.
"Suppose you want to know how I got that queen to back off." The female dwarf paced backwards and forwards before she removed her helmet, tumbles of brown knotty hair slipping down her shoulders.
"A simple smoke bomb, darkspawn blood and the urine of a bronto?" Leliana smiled. "I am incredibly surprised the doors were large enough for Monsieur Mangetout to get in safely."
"I though his name was Mr Rabbit?" Alistair laughed toward the ex-bard.
"It's the old thaig shaperate - where all the information Ortan Thaig used to have got stored - of course it's big." The female dwarf shook her head. "And yes actually. I suppose you all must be Wardens seeing as you knew that was darkspawn blood then."
"Well yes." Lucien stood up. "Now who are all of you?"
"The exiled... the lost." The woman shrugged. "We've forsaken our old names and half of us are tainted, we tend to go by - 'hey you' if spoken to. We're just surviving now. Ancestors - I never thought I'd look forward to deepstalker tail for way of food."
"No - who are you? All of you?" Lucien gestured at the ten dwarves in the room.
"I used to be," She paused her pacing. "Dharma Aeducan. Princess, kinslayer - and I did kill my brother before you get any silly notions of me being tricked through your heads. I hated Trian, he hated me. Bhelen told me Trian planned on killing me so I did the deed first." She shrugged. "And we have Ruck - who loves shiny objects, Gerrit, Gorim Saelac, Caridin - named after the Paragon and everyone else is too far gone to remember their names. They've been the only things not alerting the darkspawn to our presence. The darkspawn see them as their own."
"You're the princess we were asked to hunt down?" Alistair scoffed incredulously. "Somehow I thought princesses weren't brother killers and... scary women in charge of... six tainted people actually."
"Oh? Did father decide leaving me to rot in the deep roads wasn't good enough? Execution by hanging or headsman's block?" Dharma snorted. "No thanks, I'll stick here if it's all the same."
"Your father is dead." Lucien sighed. "I'm very sorry."
"Don't be, he was old and a doddering fool." She shrugged, getting back to her pacing. "So why were you asked to find me of all people?"
"Your fathers advisor - Pyral Harrowmont and your surviving brother are in the middle of a battle for the throne. They're both even in the votes in the assembly." Lucien bit his lip. "As Wardens we're not supposed to support either side. But we need troops, there's a Blight on."
"I'd go for Bhelen but that's my choice." Dharma laughed. "He's a slippery bastard, sodding clever and knows his way around that festering pool we call politics. Harrowmont? No don't make me laugh. He was the reason we turned down aide whenever the surface deigned to send any against the darkspawn - poisoned my father's mind against furthering our people. I wouldn't be surprised if he poisoned my father if it got him closer to the throne. He sentenced me down here."
"Ah." Loghain nodded. "I got that impression, he's too close minded to new or better just damned efficiency. He didn't even want to speak to us until we swore we'd stand for him in the throne war."
"That sounds like old Pyral." Dharma grinned. "I should probably thank him. I like it down here. No need to watch out for a poisoned chalice when I sit down to drink, not worrying if my heels are too high for the latest ball. It's quiet if you know how to hide and how to find non-tainted food and water. I do miss the army though. I was the commander you know, endless campaigns to get Aeducan Thaig back. We tried to clear the place ourselves you know. Think we finished it up."
"An ogre and a whole nest left at least." Lucien sighed. "You know you'll never reclaim it."
"Yes. But it was something to while the hours away." She shrugged.
"So will you come back... support your brother?" Alistair asked.
"No. Tell them I'm dead or you just couldn't find me. We found a new tunnel that looks and sound like it's under a sea. We want to go through - start off on the surface far away from Orzammar." Dharma smiled. "As nice as it is I do miss proper food. I go back and I'm not even a dwarf in the eyes of all those deshyrs, lower than the casteless. Bhelen had a nice casteless girl in his harem, sweet - red hair and the prettiest smile."
"I think she's off her rocker." Oghren chuckled. "But we might need you to come with us to settle this bloody throne thing."
"Right. Orzammar first." She snorted softly. "I doubt searching for a kinslayer brought you all the way into Ortan Thaig though."
"We're looking for my wife. Branka."
"Oh?" He eyebrows were raised. "Then I'd better show you the epitaph on the wall then. If we run into the spider queen I have a few more bombs and you mages can paralyse the bastard, the warriors go for the underbelly and cleave through her legs. There's twenty of them."
"She's dead?" Oghren shouted.
"I assume so, she carved it in the wall for anyone who came looking for her." Dharma shrugged. "Oh - and there's a lot of old records that the Orzammar shaperate would pay good coin for back there. Store them on your bronto."
Dyrfinna came away from that whole talk disgusted with the woman and yet strangely in respect of how strong the woman was. She had betrayed her brother, her own blood and yet she stood surviving, tempered by it with a plan. It stood for and against every ideal she had.
Dharma could certainly get her way around a ruined thaig. Lucien was rather impressed by the traps set out, the ballistae set out in case the darkspawn came close to her base.
The Wardens kept close to her, down winding streets and over rubble until they finally came upon a wall. Oghren looked up at it, following the words with his runic light atop his helmet.
"She was missing me!" He cheered!
"And it's dated a year ago. Dragon 9:29." Lucien breathed. "It took her a year to get here. Where is she going next?"
"Let's see..." Oghren squinted. "The Dead Trenches? We have a map for there right?"
"It's a big black block saying darkspawn breeding ground - suicide." Lucien blurted out. "We have no maps, the only thing close to near there that could help us get around any darkspawn would be the Legion outpost close to there..."
"Suicide?" Dharma chuckled. "That sounds like the legion."
"The legion?" Carver asked.
"The Legion of the Dead. Like the Grey Wardens except they don't have our upsides or downsides and they never come out of the deep roads when they go in." Lucien answered him. "They make a symbolic death and have a funeral... then they just dedicate themselves to killing darkspawn until they die. And they'll take caste, nobility all the way down to the casteless."
"I might have gone to find them if I wanted to die against the darkspawn. But as much as I hate them I'm not suicidal." Dharma shrugged. "So have fun finding Branka."
"We have company!" Lucien yelled suddenly, the burn in his veins spiking.
The Warden group turned to see the huge spider queen. "Oh you sneaky bastard!" Dharma shouted, throwing a smoke bomb.
Lucien readied himself to shoot lightning and Bethany nodded, icy air swirling around her. Their magic went as one and the spider seized up, ice sprouting over it's form and lighting infusing down it's hairy legs.
The warriors charged, hacking and spidery ichor dousing over them. "I can't hold it!" Bethany screamed.
Oghren was clambering up the kossith spider, hacking downwards into it's head when it started moving. "Whey-hey! I feel like a rodeo brontoboy!" He yelled, holding on for dear life to his axe embedded in the spider.
Dyrfinna and Alistair were thrown away by a leg splintering off the spider as it unfroze. Loghain charged through the ichor spurting stabbing upwards under the spider as he skidded.
Maker's breath - he had two crazy Wardens! Leliana was next to Oghren! How in the Void did he not see that sneaky red-head?
She was alternating between holding onto her sword and stabbing with dagger and holding dagger and stabbing with sword - her legs wrapped around the joint between abdomen and head.
A web shot at him and Bethany, shoving them against the epitaph in sticky bonds. "I'm stuck!" Bethany shouted, fire curling around her hands, the web drying and cracking off her.
The spider squealed and Carver had hacked into it's abdomen, ichor and venom splurging over him. The spider slumped down.
Dyrfinna was up and throwing the spider legs off her and Alistair running at the spider and shoving it with her side until Oghren and Leliana, fell in Oghren's case and nimbly jumped off in Leliana's case. "Hey!" Oghren grumbled. Lucien burnt the webs off him and started the healing, pulling a lyrium potion out of his pocket.
"Loghain!" Dyrfinna dragged a heavy black looking metal body out from under the spider by the arm. "Hakkon be my witness you ninny!"
"That's my word." Came the coughed reply.
"Yay! He's alive!" Alistair cheered weakly. "My bruises have bruises. Ow..."
"I'm just getting to you. Oghren shattered his kneecap and dwarves have magical resistance." Lucien sighed.
"You should have put your shield out - look at that cut on your forehead!" Dyr scolded.
"I killed it didn't I?" Loghain grumbled.
"I did actually." Carver sounded pleased as punch.
"Hey - you didn't have your axe in spider face Hawkling!" Oghren chuckled.
"We all killed the spider no?" Leliana chimed. "And when you have time I have pretty bruises on my ribs and thighs."
"Will you stop coddling me?" Loghain snapped. "I'm alive and just a bit... spider covered."
"Just a bit? You look like a spider gave birth to you!" There was a tinkling chuckle Lucien hadn't heard before.
"She's laughing?" Alistair muttered. "Great, spiders covering people in their ickiness makes her laugh and talking about goats."
"Goats?" Bethany furrowed her brow at the ex-templar as she healed up Leliana's bruising.
"Er... nothing. Don't worry that pretty head of yours about it!" Alistair squeaked.
"Oh Maker's breath. I said talk to a woman not a..." Carver gestured at Dyr. "Right, she's a woman but she's more skewed than my big sister."
"I'm completely lost." Bethany sighed.
"Sodding cloudheads. Pike twirler has a crush on sparklefingers. Heh." Oghren chuckled. "Not as funny as girlie over there and-"
"Hey! What did he call me?" Alistair raised his voice in indignation.
"I seen you boy, twirling that pike a yours." Oghren chuckled. Lucien slapped a palm on his head, the blue glow relieving some of his headache.
"Templars tend to have 'twirly' moves don't they?" Carver smirked. "He means your sword."
"Ah! I knew that!" Alistair snorted.
"Sure you did Alistair, and the Divine isn't Andrastian!" Carver laughed.
"Do you... like me Alistair?" Bethany sounded hesitant.
"Er... yes?" Bethany slowly walked up to him, leaning upwards and kissing him softly on the cheek.
"I like you too." She giggled. Even in the dim light of his runic light Lucien could see the blush on Alistair's face.
"Nice - now ravage her!" Oghren cheered. "Where I can see it too."
Everyone burst into laugher, some of it wheezy as wounds and bruises were yet to be healed. That's of course - except Alistair and Bethany who'd huddled into a hug, chuckling lightly.
"Anyone see what happened to the sodding princess?" Oghren asked.
Lucien looked around him - a note on the floor catching his attention. He picked it up with a click and read it aloud. "Went back to the exiled ones. Have fun Wardens, we're headed to that tunnel. -Dharma."
"Sneaky princess." Oghren chuckled.