Dragon Age: Rise of the Runelords


Trees. It was an odd thing to think about, but as the days went on Dale found that he was almost obsessing over trees. It was peculiar to him, being a dwarf (a surface dwarf albeit), that the sight of trees would be what he missed.

The road to from Denerim to Ostagar was long and winding, heading west then south just to the border of the untamed wilds. The journey took weeks by cart and caravan, passing through Bannorn, along the coast of Lake Calenhad, through the last settlement of Lothering. From there, the route headed almost due south along the imperial highway – although the term “highway” was very generous for what could only be described as a barely visible passage, overgrown and unkempt. The caravan stopped many times and the route seemed, at times, to loop back round north just to head south again. Whether this was by design or necessity was unknown to Dale. He was not expecting an explanation anytime soon.

Wv ferelden map

There were four covered wagons in his party, each with a bird’s cage built in. Each cage could hold six prisoners, although they were not at capacity. He wondered if he’d made the wise decision, questioning now what was almost instinct at the time: the gallows or the Grey Wardens. It seemed simple enough at the time, but he couldn’t shake the notion that those that chose the Wardens only delayed the same end as those that chose the gallows. Still, he missed the companionship of Brock and Gunthar. They were cut-throats, murderers and thieves to be sure, but they were the closest thing he had to family. He’d spent almost as much time with them as anyone else in his life.

Dale was young for a dwarf, at least so he was told. At thirty-two, his beard barely dropped past his chin. He was born on the surface, a curse among dwarves – again, so he was told. He’d never known life under the earth, close to the stone. Surface dwarves weren’t allowed to return to a Thaig or true dwarven city, even if their birth was not their choice. He’d be considered below casteless, if there were such a thing. He’d curse his parents, if he even knew who they were. There was not much for it now, his road lie ahead. Ahead and south.

Behind him, a life of crime. Nothing as serious as what Brock used to brag about. Brock was a surface dwarf too, as tough and bitter as they come. To say Brock had a soft spot for Dale would be a mistake, but Dale could say he owed his life to Brock and several times over. However, Dale still had to fight, scratch and claw for every day with or without Brock. It was not so much an existence but rather survival and barely that. Dale knew more about hunger, cold and want than he did about anything else, not that he had anything else to compare it to. Still, he never hurt anyone in a permanent way and could say that he only took what he needed. Perhaps this is what led him to his decision and why it was so surprising to Dale that Brock made the other choice. Dale was packed up and sent off quickly too, without ever knowing for sure the final fate of Brock or Gunthar. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

His wagon carried two others. He wasn’t sure what their names were, Elbert and Brandon he thought, or something similar – no family names. This really wasn’t so much a sacrifice to Dale, he never had a family name. The wardens (although he didn’t know if the guards were even that, he only assumed) dissuaded any conversations. They weren’t cruel, like the guards in Denerim. Food and care were provided, more than he’d known but certainly not a royal banquet to be sure. Dale’s shackles were even removed after they lost sight of the city and the door to his cage left open. He hadn’t considered running, but he wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was because he didn’t know where he was or where to go. Rather, he thought, as gloomy as the journey was, this was the best his life had been yet.

So, Dale spent the time observing the sights and sounds of the open country. Trees tall and mighty covered the early road and everywhere the din of wildlife. Sure, there were trees in the city and visible from it walls. The city elves even had a large tree they built their alienage around, right there in the middle of the slums. Still, it was different. You didn’t feel the enormous presence of a tree in the city, couldn’t be engulfed by its earthy smells. He never thought of the word “dwarf” to mean diminutive in stature until he rode up alongside a great evergreen, shooting fifty feet and more into the heavens. He never experienced something so pleasant and peaceful to him in his whole life than along that northern road among the trees.

Beasts he saw few of, but he certainly could hear the howls, snorts and rustling, especially at night. So much more than he’d expected. It made the city seem a quiet whisper in comparison. His vision has always been good at night, a gift of his dwarven heritage. He’d stay up many nights just taking it all in. He wondered how the trees grew so tall without fear of floating off into the sea of stars above. He’d not been afraid of that, being so close to the ground. Gunthar often complained of this fear though, the little he did speak. Gunthar was from Orzammar, a fact that Brock had to draw out of him forcibly. Gunthar never spoke of it besides that. Of the three of them, Gunthar was the least disreputable. There was even the rare occasion that Gunthar would be kind and charitable, though he’d grumble about it. Still, Dale knew he had slept some nights with a tiny morsel in his belly because Gunthar went without. Gunthar’s choice did not come as a surprise to Dale, though. It was almost welcome, like the end of a tragic tale.

Past Lothering, the landscape grew pale. Greens and blues were replaced by brown and grey. Trees started to die off, like the dwindling of a great empire. Only empty husks and twisted forms spotted the landscape, as if the land itself shared in Dale’s despair. And it was quiet. It had been days since he’d heard a sing song chirp of birds or light-footed flight of deer. The silence tightened around Dale, pressing him down. The company of the wardens was neither a detriment nor a comfort to him.

He’d heard stories and songs of the wardens, the sort that folks tell while under the inspiration of ale and wine: Grey Wardens and the blight, swords and sorcery, kings and dragons. In those tales, Wardens were heroes, towering and powerful. They’d stood against armies, an endless ocean of darkspawn and saved all the land from its evil. Few against many, Dale felt this way at oft a time, but never in the role of a hero. The wardens around him seemed honorable enough, but it was difficult to envision them sweeping down wave after wave of darkspawn. They were men and women just as he’d seen in Denermin. He heard that dwarves and elves were among their number, but none that he could see in this company. Perhaps it was all a ruse, and he’d find himself hanging at the end of a rope, just as Brock and Gunthar surely have, a kindred fate spanning hundreds of miles. But he didn’t think so. The wardens wanted him for something, at what he could only guess.

Ostagar was a few days away he was told. He could even make out remnants of the great castle and keep along the roadside. Just bits of stone walls and shingles, blasted away in some great battle or another. At passing they appeared nothing significant, as overgrowth reclaimed them back to the soil and ground. However, after study Dale could see angles and carvings that could not have occurred without the hand of man or elf or dwarf. The end of a journey, as with all things, came suddenly when it seemed so distant throughout.

The Expedition South of Ostagar

For the last nine weeks your days have been filled with menial labor and exhausting drills. You are up every morning before light and back to sleep well after dark. The days are cold and the winds brisk even though it is mid-summer.

The Grey Wardens, the few that there are, treat you well enough but also place high demands on your time. You haven’t quite placed a total number, but you wouldn’t be surprised if there were less than a score. Sergeant Haveth is the only one you really know and can recognize. He’s a generally stoic person for a human, rarely speaking other than to ask another task or correct you on your battle drills. The rest of the camp is busy, if not populated. Runners move to and fro, you can hear the ringing of hammer on metal nearly all day, smoke billows from the chimneys of the few wooden structures you’d call a hut. These house the kitchens, stores, stables, armory and smithy. Wagon parties do leave, although rarely. It seems no new initiates will be coming.

The Wardens have divided you into three groups, the two others comprising of humans. Most of these are young men, from poor upbringings as best you can tell, although you do spot the occasional female attribute (long hair, swayed gait, etc.). A few of the humans do appear to have been recruited from other walks of life, judging by their demeanor, equipment and speech. The other initiate groups train in isolation as does yours.

This time has also allowed you to develop a bond with your fellow initiates. You wouldn’t say it was s kinship, but rather a shared sense of respect gained through hardship and sacrifice. Although you eat, sleep and train together, you’ve known not more than a name and a few details about each other’s past. Perhaps there is simply no time in the day for idle chatter. In reflection, however, you realize you also don’t know any details about anyone else in the camp save a name or something as simple. Again, whether this is by design or happenstance is unknown.

You wake at the beginning the tenth day to abnormal silence. Dowels and practice armors are not set in their stands awaiting use. Sergeant Haveth is not awaiting formation and roll call, as was his impeccable habit for the entire time you’ve known him.

Slowly, other initiates emerge from their tents as well with the same look of confusion and intrigue. “This can’t be good” you hear from one of them. You think his name is Alistair and he’s probably the most talkative of any of the human initiates. Rumors of his skills at the drills lend to a belief that his martial training was not learned here.

As you and your various groups explore the keep’s ruins you discover the group of Wardens huddled around a large table placed outside under the ruins of what could have one been the castle cathedral. Now that you see the group of Wardens you realize your guess at a score was off by a hand at least. There are two, though, that you don’t recognize. The first is an older human with a dark beard and weathered look about him. He seems familiar and you seem to recall his presence on your first day. The other is a slender female elf dressed in practical and battle-worn leather with a longbow and a pair of long quivers on her back.

They are pouring over a combination of several maps, covering nearly the entirety of the table. The elf leans over the shoulder of the other man, pointing and running her finger along a path on the maps.

They both stop and look to you. They don’t appear to be concerned about your concern and continue their engagement. The elf looks to you as she speaks – of what you cannot hear. The man seems to nod in agreement and return to his maps.

Sergeant Haveth removes himself from the council and heads towards you. “Follow me.” he commands as he passes. “Where to?” asks Dale. Haveth replies without breaking his stride “To the Armory.”


Initiation day (Bral)

Weeks of grunt work, “training”, and eating like swine and then one morning they want to take us out on a hunt? Sounds like they need fodder, but it’s better than cleaning out the cesspits again. They show us to the armory – no blunted practice swords so this must be the real deal. Nothing worth having in the armory, not a dwarf blade to be seen. No wispy Elf work either, at least. The weapons look like human make: plain, simple, and crafted for mediocrity, just like the race that forged them. I grab a short blade – the humans seem efficient enough with ‘em. They drag us out into that endless bog, like the earth spat up all the filth from within and these Wardens chose to camp in it.

      That bitchy She-elf leads the way, type who thinks we should be thankful for the opportunity to serve her kind. Those sun-touched dwarves are here too; the tree loving, elf hugging Dale and the loud mouth Beldal. Actually Beldal is alright – for a sun-touched. At least he does not mope about trees when he is in his cups. We have a runt with us too, a warlock of some kind. I seem to be the only one to question the wisdom of bringing a witch with us to hunt the blight when it was them that caused the foul things to show up in the first place!

      After a miserable track through the swamp they find a cave and now it becomes clear why her ladyship wanted to bring us along. I got volunteered to go in first. We found a small encampment of orks – uglier than I remember but I haven’t seen one in a few years. Looks like something beat us there though as they were all dead or gone – all the adults, anyhow. Once again the unpleasant task of cutting the throats of the few remaining whelps was left to us. The two wardens with us got all fidgety about the blades we used for some reason. Having found our quarry already run aground we headed back, I would never have thought to be happy to see the open sky again but that ork cave was dank with something …. I don’t know what but I felt like something was there – just out of sight – watching me.

      Back at the camp we had a quick meal and then were pulled in for more work, or so we thought. They surrounded us and filled a pot with some truly noxious brew. We were told that we had passed a test and now we were going to take the final oath or some such. All gangs are the same, be they Wardens or street runners, they all need to prove that you’ll do what they say before you can join, but either way it’s better to be with them than on your own. I was first to step forth and drink the crap in the cauldron – thinking it was some kind of mix of rut-gut and pig intestines. It was worse, much worse.

      They put the darkness in us. I can feel it in me, like part of me has died but don’t know well enough to lie down. They say we can feel the blight now. That it’s in us. This was meant to make us stronger but I don’t feel stronger. I just feel dirty all the time – like back in that cave where we killed the babes – I did not want to but it had to be done, I suppose this is the same. When we came to, Dale was gone and I have not seen him since. The next day we were sent off to a town called Sandy Point – some kind of big ceremony they want us to watch. I guess that is what we do now – go out looking for signs of the blight. I have never turned away from looking for trouble before, but now I am not so sure I want to find it.

North and North East (Tamarel)

Duncan can’t keep this up, she thought, it will be his end. He already bears the burden of the exile of the Grey Wardens from Ferelden, the woeful decline in the order’s numbers and now the emergence of another blight. What choice did he have? What choice did any of them have? She paused as she considered the notion of another blight. As far a Tamarel knew, she was the only Warden alive to see through the last blight. The potency of the joining was not to last beyond a blight and none considered the chance of a re-emergence. The blight was over, or so they thought. The Wardens persisted only due to the now diminished gratitude of the remnants of the Ferelden freeholds and the lesser threat of darkspawn raids among the frontier settlements.

The pull of the blood was strong, but her elven longevity gave her temperance, enough still to stay in the moment. Conviction kept her going. Conviction kept her sharp. Conviction also kept her alone. Years of strife, war and death replaced kinship with vengeance. Her ties to her clan had long since faded. She kept to the old ways more out of habit than intention. She would not shun her kin, but she would neither seek them out.

Humans and dwarves mattered little to her, aside from those she shed blood with. The earlier focused too much on the material desires of power and wealth, not understanding the pointlessness of such struggles in reference to the brevity of their lives. The latter seemed so reclusive and insular and she never thought to expend any energy on learning why. Perhaps she did hold a kinship in the shared sense of indifference. Tamarel wasn’t indifferent though, her focus and drive directed her vigil. Duncan would die on the sword or take the long walk before her and her concern was for the loss of his leadership, not his companionship.

She knew Duncan knew this new blight would not be survived through the strength of arms of the Wardens. Information was more valuable now than numbers, yet an army needed to be raised. Duncan would seek to root out the cause of the blight here in Ferelden and send ambassadors to Denerim to seek out King Cailan and his host. Even that may not be enough. The lands have long been fractured through years of discord between and among the races. Even if the Wardens were to call upon the ancient treaties of alliances, there may be no one left to answer that call.

Tamarel would make her way to Varisia, both to seek answers among the ruins of Thassilon and hopefully new allies. Her road would take her to Magnimar then Riddleport and back. It didn’t matter that she may not have the time, there was no alternative.

The initiates would accompany her to the Varisian coast. They would look for riddles in hopes of answers in the crumbling towers of an ancient empire. They would also be tasked to make audience with the rulers of Janderhoff and any others they could. Both tasks seemed impossible, but again, what other choice did they have? She would see them safely to Varisia but their paths would then have to part ways. Duncan tasked her with their charge and she would keep as best she could, but they would have to find their own way. They were Wardens now.

Their road took them through Lothering, then east and north again to Denerim. Gwaren was closer, but she had no knowledge of that city for hundreds of years. There was no guarantee they could arrange passage to Varisia there, even if they found safe travel through the Southron Hills. The Dalish hunted among the wilds in the Brecilian between here and there, as well as many other far more dangerous things. No, it would have to be Denerim, no matter how she despised it and its testament to human prejudice and depravity. She even hated the elves there for their weakness disguised as tolerance.

The longer road required supplies, however. They would need to stop first at Falcon’s Hollow. The little runt Vamros still owed her a debt and now was as good a time as any to collect.

The Plague of Falcon's Hollow - Part I (Beldal)
Get down with the sickness

The Plague of Falcon’s Hollow (Part I)

Following our initiation into the brotherhood, Tamril is leading our band on our first mission. We have begun our mission by travelling to a local village led by a halfling mayor, Famrosh. It was an unpleasant journey through poor weather. Along the way, Iyan stopped to show us his “pet.” I am not sure where he calls that “thing” from, but it had no sense of the Darkspawn. Cayden didn’t speak ill of it, so I thought it best to let it be. Bral seemed a bit uncertain, but I would be more worried if it was something he liked off-hand.

The village is filled with people affected by some mysterious sickness. I tried to offer my aid to the local herbalist, but she turned me aside. We traced the sickness back to a single man trapped in a shack. Here, the sense of the spawn was stronger. We put the poor soul out of his misery with the help of Deldren, the half-elf sheriff of this gods-forsaken village. If this village is suffering from a spawn induced plague, it was our duty to save them!

We returned to the herbalist, Laurel, and with Tamril in tow, she seemed a bit more willing to help us. She told us of the herbs she needed, Elderwood moss, pickled Rat’s Tail, and Ironbloom mushrooms. We were directed to a woodsman named Mylin. At the logging camp, we met with some resistance. Iyan “coerced” the leader to help us. That little one is craftier than he appears. Aye! A dagger to the privates will make a man talk it will! Mylin showed us where we needed to go and we headed out immediately.

Our march was long but we made good time. We came across a fox stuck in a trap. Imprisonment is against the will of Cayden. Bending to set the poor creature free, I was ambushed by the accursed hobgoblin hunter behind me! Cowardly beasts! By the grace of the Brewmaster, his crappy gobbo bolt couldn’t pierce MY mail. HA! Petunia made short work of the beast! It was a mighty showing! I healed the wee fox and we continued on. In gratitude, the wee fox creature remained with us.

At the center of the forest we came across a great grandfather tree. The thing must have been 150’ tall! It was grand! At the great tree, we encountered a wee dragonling! It enwrapped me in its coils, but I struck it a mighty blow with my morningstar and quieted the beasts as I fended off its snapping jaws. Well, Petunia helped. Among the loot we found 8 days of rations, 9 gp and 12 sp. There were two medium crossbows which we left behind. We brought the nice shortbow and signet ring “flaming hands” with us. We gathered the moss and moved on to the witch’s hut. Wary of a trap, we were on our guard. Inside, the place seemed to be deserted, filled with odd herbs and containers. When I found the Rat’s Tail, the accursed cauldron came to life and attacked! We gave it mighty combat, but it managed to swallow wee Iyan whole! Enraged by the loss of its master, Petunia became a beast enraged! I banged at the cauldron with my morning star and it ceased moving. Bral managed to find a number of small figurines we decided to take with us. (b/t 20-40 gp value)We fled that cursed as soon as we had what we came for. The fox continued to join us, and I take this as a sign of Cayden’s blessing!

At the abandoned dwarven monastery, we found more evidence of plagued orcs. Bral and I gave them mighty blows, while Petunia clawed at them! The battle was won, but the orcs were slow and plagued. Not a great victory. In the struggle, Bral was wounded badly, but I called upon Cayden and his wounds were healed. Praise be to the Brewmaster! Among their items we found a week’s rations, silk rope, thieves tools, an odd potion, and approximately 42 gp. The tools and rope go to Bral. There is a desecrated shrine to the paragon, Torag in the monastery. Among the library items, I found a book with some hymns to Torag worth 100-300 gp to the right buyer! There was a scroll of spiritual weapon inside the book. We continue to explore the monastery

Mercy (Tamarel)

“May the Maker accept you.” Tamarel whispered as she knelt beside the man before her. She didn’t know the man’s name nor cared to. Although it was a piece of mercy she performed she went about her business with a sense of urgency. She placed the tip of her knife on the soft spot just below the chin and smoothly yet sternly guided the blade to the base of the skull. He gave a whimper and a feeble attempt to struggle against her hold; he was in no condition to resist – his strength taken by the darkspawn plague.

Thick viscous blood drained into the bucket she set below his cot, its color unnaturally dark. She held her hand over his mouth partly to muffle his cries, but mostly to deny any protests or pleas for aid. He was beyond that even if he didn’t know it. Still, it was best not to alarm the other patients. She had everyone that displayed signs of the taint ordered into quarantin in the town’s stables. It was one of the larger structures with a wide open room that made setting up an infirmary easy enough. Of more benefit was the abundance of dry hay which would make excellent fuel for the fire. She was glad for the little blessings, like the fact the townsfolk raised no question when she did not seek volunteer nurse maids to help care for so many. Everyone seemed so worried about their own fate that those of the afflicted mattered little to others right now. Family members and town officials were quickly dispatched to other duties, keeping them both busy and away. By the time questions would arise, the Falcon’s Hollow would be little more than embers and memory.

Keeping Deldrin busy arranging transport for the hundreds of mill workers, families and other townsfolk was easy enough as well. He clearly had no head for crises and seemed glad to have the burden of stewardship lifted from him. Vamros, Thuldrin and Payden seemed more concerned with the transition of their own holdings to worry about anything else. Overall, it seemed the town would turn a blind eye to its own demise. It was unfortunate, but necessary.

Hopefully the other wardens would return soon with the ingredients the herbalist requested. It could prove useful and a few souls may yet survive this for their efforts. Personally, Tamarel would see a swift and more definite end. Was there much of a difference if fate called now rather than three score years down the road? It was not for her to judge either way. All that remained would be to take what they needed from the town stores and set the kindling.

Tamarel lifted her hand as she felt the last bit of strength leave the man’s body. She wondered if the man really did meet the Maker, if such a thing existed. In her lifetime she has seen the rise and fall of many a hope disguised as the divine. Her ultimate conclusion was it was little more than a distraction from the inevitable. Still, it did her no harm to plant a small seed of hope if she could. She wiped her dagger on the man’s tunic, got up and retrieved another bucket from the stable’s shelf. She quietly set it under another cot and kneeled before its occupant, a young female – no more than twenty by the looks of it. The girl’s eyes flittered open as her mouth coaxed a weak smile at the sight of the fair elf. “Sorry to wake you,” Tamarel whispered. She paused a moment and then continued “May the Maker accept you.”

The Hunter (Garrett)

“It’s like they want to be found, isn’t it boy?”

Whiskey responded with his usual dismissive grunt. No matter, goblins were easy enough to track even when they tried to hide their trail, especially a group this large. Garrett easily caught up with them by late evening on the first day. The goblins had barely made it a mile outside of Sandpoint before they started in-fighting and squabbling. They might as well have held a banner high for all to see.

This gathering ended, as Garrett surmised, as all goblin gatherings end – with anger and violence. The groups blamed each other for the raid’s failure and made threats upon threats to each other. It was a little difficult to make out enough of the main conversation with the constant screeching and bickering, but Garrett understood it was a “longshanks” that directed the raid from Thistletop, and a female one at that. What was even more difficult for Garrett was to suppress his overwhelming desire to put a bolt between the eye-sockets of each and every one of the dirty little bastards.

Garrett and Whiskey followed the largest group, east and north. This was apparently two groups – Thistletops and Birdcrunchers. The latter seemed reluctant to follow, but without other options. They dreaded the Thistletop warchief, Ripnugget – who they feared was likely to throw them into some pit to be devoured by an enourmous fish-ghost-octopus-crab (depending on which goblin was complaining at the time) monster Ripnugget had apparently kept as both a pet and a method to keep the other goblins in line. Still, with their chief Gogmut slain during the raid (another fact Garrett gathered that allowed him to chuckle at the goblins’ misfortune) they had nowhere else to turn.

As the last rays of light set under the waves to the west, the goblins made camp along the coast. The Birdcrunchers made their camp a good distance from the Thistletop goblins. Garrett counted their number fourteen, a few smaller than the Thistletop band. However, the difference in morale and organization between the two groups was stark. The Birdcrunchers were all but defeated and panic threatened to consume them at any moment.

Garrett settled in as evening drew on, secreted among the many briars and deadfall along the tree line abutting the coast. Autumn provided a greater amount of natural camouflage allowing Garrett to stay within earshot the majority of the time. Luck was with him as well, as a near-perfect opportunity began to form before him. The two goblins set for the evening’s first watch appeared nervous, packing their belongings into filthy sacks. They were making to leave at first opportunity.

Garrett looked to Whiskey and gave a nod. The mastiff understood immediately and quietly moved off into the woods. Garrett tracked the goblins as they slinked off, out of sight of the camp and back south just inside the wood line. Goblins were fecund and callous and would not risk too much exposure to the perils of the deep woods. They could move faster along the forest’s edge, but were easier to track.

Garrett allowed a mile and a half to pass before he quickened his pace. By now, his prey was well outside of earshot of the goblin camp and any help. The moon shone brightly tonight allowing Garrett to maintain sight of his quarry at over a hundred feet. Holding his finger on the stopper of the oil flask to control the flow, Garrett allowed two drops to fall into the bolt notch on his crossbow and coated it’s metal groove with his middle finger. He slid the flask back into his belt pouch and drew a solid bolt quietly from its quiver, loaded and readied his shot. He then gave a sharp whistle. Whiskey responded with a long, low and fierce howl.

The two goblins suddenly froze at the sound. Garrett, within sixty feet to his best reckoning, slid to a crouched position on his right knee, let out a smooth exhale and released the trigger on his crossbow. The bolt flew quick and straight striking the closest goblin just below the base of his skull, propelling the unfortunate little beast forward. He flew a little more than a foot before the tip of the bolt struck a large gum tree pinning the goblin’s body to the tree’s trunk. A weak gurgle emerged from its mouth, followed by the slow flow of dark viscous goblin blood.

The other goblin turned and drew it’s dogslicer in one swift motion. Its eyes widened as it came into focus on Garrett, who could see the telltale gleam of the large goblin eyes, which were as keen as his in the darkness. Before the goblin’s instincts could kick in and make the decision to flight or run, Whiskey barreled out of woods into the goblin, locking his jaws on the goblin’s weapon arm.

Even at a young age, Whiskey was large for his breed. His powerful jaws easily tossed the goblin about like a doll. Garrett could hear the snap of the goblin’s bones over the high pitched shrieks of pain. Whiskey tossed the goblin up above, released his bite, and clamped down again as the goblin descended, choosing the goblin’s legs as his next target. Garrett strode up just as Whiskey crushed down on the goblin’s left ankle.

“Good boy, that’s enough”

Whiskey obediently dropped the limp goblin to the ground, who could do no more than pant and stare up in shock. Garrett looked over the broken thing, eyeing it to make sure it was as incapacitated as it appeared. He kicked away the dog slicer and went to work binding the goblin, making no effort to avoid pain. After the goblin was secured, but before he set about building a litter from his remaining rope, Garrett moved over to the gum tree – checking the other goblin’s vitals, ensuring it was dead – and retrieving his bolt. He did a quick search of the goblin’s belongings and found nothing useful.

A pair of dead branches and rope made for a quick litter, fixed with a hoop for dragging.
“Meech grac grac raas, dun raas, dun mee-cho.” The little goblin snorted weakly as Garrett placed it on the litter.

“To vas, to saara vas, meecho meecho lammassh-to, vas pur vando. Mal-veecho-shne-kar-to, vas pur das!” it continued, with a sour look of anger as Garrett finished binding it to the litter.

Garrett stopped to ponder this, with a single eyebrow raised. He responded in goblin. “Malfeshnekor you say” as he produced his knife from its sheath, “do tell me, then, how exactly will Lamashtu and Malfeshnekor avenge you…”

The Hunted (Tamarel)

“Lamashtu” Goddess of monster and mal-births. This was hardly an insight, though Tamarel. The fact that a demon was worshipped as a god did not make the latter truth. Still, it’s presence in the fade was of note to Tamarel. Tamarel heard whispers and prayers, indications of rituals calling upon gods and demons. Lamashtu was apparently being called upon somewhere within the city, homage to some dark sacrament. These were dire omens, not necessarily connected to the awakening of an archdemon, but the fact that demonic worship occurred in a city was certainly a sign of increased demonic activity, which always precedes a blight.

Her mind traveled through the twisting ether of dreams and magic. The fade was bare before her, a realm of madness and chaos. Anchors to the world remained in the fade, in approximation to the physical location of such an anchor. Mages built towers and other arcane structures around these spots, drawing upon the power therein for their own purposes.

So it was with the mage towers of Magnimar. Here, arcane fuels and energies were drawn to aid in the construction of golems, the industry the city was most well-known for. Tamarel has sought the use of the tower for her divination, but intentionally omitted her purpose to the circle mages or their Templar hosts. Divination without sanction was strictly forbidden in Ferelden. Tamarel had no reason to think otherwise here, or to provide excuse for the circle’s refusal of aid.

Her body sat quietly in an upper-level antechamber. She did not need the use of the divination chambers for a quiet and quick trip into the fade. Besides, her presence in the divination chamber would make her purpose quiet obvious.

Tamarel was about to recall, observing nothing of use, when she suddenly felt the presence of others in this proximity of the fade. The fade was not like a material realm, a consciousness did not occupy a certain space per se. Still, she could tell by the potency of the communication that the diviner was close. Whispers swirled around her in old and arcane tongues.

Tamarel set her focus and composed a spell, drawing upon her own arcane power to allow her to understand even the most obscure of languages. Faint echoes and images of twisted masks assaulted her mind.

“Norgorber” This name Tamarel recognized as well. Religious doctrines in Varisia indicated Norgorber as one of the ascended, and generally associated this god with thievery, secrets, and sometimes assassinations. Rumors persisted of an even more vile aspect of Norgorber than this, however.

In any case, these insights were more troubling than she anticipated. She dared not to risk communication with any Ferelden circles, or even the few mages among the Grey Wardens. It was best to slip away from the fade unnoticed and send word by more conventional means. Without any solid answers, Tamarel still had enough to determine something had disrupted the fade here in Varisia within the last few years, awakening spirits and demons alike. The awakening of an archdemon could easily have led to this, and their timetable needed to be accelerated. If the Wardens were to combat a blight, preparations needed to start now, in the open, with an eye towards war. Duncan needed to be warned now, the king alerted and his armies mobilized towards Ostagar with all haste.

Tamarel slowly drew along her silver strand toward her body. Whispers faded and the fade began to recede. She could see her body below here, time standing still in the material world. As she began her descent a shock of force suddenly threw her aside her path. Tamarel could not have anticipated the amount of force she felt and it was all she could do to maintain a hold on her strand lest her mind be lost to its body.

Turbulent waves batted her spirit violently as fear gripped down on her. A new presence emerged, old and powerful. It was no archdemon. She’d never felt anything as strong or evil now as she did in the circle’s towers in Lake Calenhad all those hundreds of years ago, when she first delved into the fade, at the cusp of the fourth blight. It was folly to divine during a blight, as the demonic energies of the archdemon swept across the fade, mirroring the dark march of the darkspawn armies across the lands. She had barely escaped what was only seconds into her divination then – but what seemed hours in the fade. Her psyche barely survived that first encounter and she remained in defensive trance for days afterward.

This presence, glowering eyes affixed an immense runed countenance, pressed down upon her now. Ancient and powerful magics, the likes of which the world had not seen in many ages, swirled and drew her in. Her mind blanked and her perceptions blinded. Searing pain was all she knew. Above the din a name echoed, but her mind could not comprehend.

In a last, desperate effort, Tamarel’s instincts flickered to action. Her mind went inward and shut, as a single word left her lips.

The explosion of light could be seen throughout all of Magnimar, its swift blare followed, ceasing all other sounds at the moment of impact.

The Templars reached the apex of the tower to be met with open sky. All that remained of the upper levels was the polished marble of the floors and Tamarel’s motionless body. Luckily, the tower was otherwise unoccupied that night. Debris littered the Golemworks in an even circle, expanding out two hundred feet from the tower’s base.

“Stand guard” the commander ordered as they cautiously approached Tamarel’s body. With weapons drawn and lyrium coursing through their veins, the Templars moved to flanking positions. The commander stepped forward, nudging Tamarel with his blade.

“Ka…r…zoug” was the only sound to escape Tamarel’s lips, although she did not regain consciousness.

“Take her to Justice Ironbriar,” the commander frowned, “it seems he may have been wrong about cultish demon worship in Magnimar.”

The way back (Garrett)

“By Hogarth’s beard, they’re alive”

Garrett mused as he gazed across the span that once held what the goblins of Thistletop called a bridge.

“Guess you win that bet then, dontcha boy?”

Whiskey sat on his haunches and panted in self-satisfaction, knowing what come next. Garrett reached into his pack and quickly produced a leathery, salted and cured goblin ear.

“Only a hand of these left, time for some more curin’”

Garrett had collected plenty after sifting through the aftermath among the thistles and briars before the coast. He tossed the preserved ear above Whiskey’s snout as the young mastiff jumped happily to meet it.

Even at this distance, Garrett’s keen eyes could detect the visible exhaustion on the party abroad. They were covered in dirt, blood and viscous ichor. He wasn’t quite sure if they won, but at least they were all accounted for.

“Somethin’s not right about that”

Garrett had a tendency to let his mind speak aloud. He looked back down to his furry companion who tugged and tore at the dried goblin’s ear.

“How do you suppose they’ll get back across”

He hadn’t quite finished the thought when the small one began his eldritch ritual to bring fourth his foul minion. It was as ridiculous a sight as any he’d seen, watching the dwarves be carried in the maw of some extraplanar winged beast.

“That lad looks to be about as uncomfortable as a one-legged dwarf in an ass-kicking contest.”

He watched in quiet amusement as they began to cross the gap.

“Well, I suppose I should go and put their stuff back in their packs”

The party spared little time with words and seemed a bit hurried to get underway. Keeping the camp hidden was easy enough, with the stench of rotting goblin all about. The thick briars and thistles keep the buzzards at bay and the sheer cliff along the coastline acted as a natural defense. Garrett had led the horses near the thistle’s hidden entrance, close enough for cover without causing too much discomfort.

Some time was spent cleaning and dressing the many wounds they gained two days since. The pious one went about calling his gods of wine and merriment to aid in this respect as well. Garrett could tell they were leaving something unfinished, but he thought he best let that matter be. He was happy enough to have live customers, which hopefully meant good coin. He could tell their load was heftier than before they set out.

They broke camp soon enough and saddled up for the ride back to Sandpoint. Almost as soon Thistletop sank below the horizon to the rear, the wee little one began to squeak and squawk like a bird. Garrett spoke to birds on occasion; their minds were simple enough to understand. They mostly spoke about food and other birds. However, Garrett was having a hard time keeping up with the stories of goblin chiefs, hell dogs and a rage-twisted she-demon. He thought he heard something about a land octopod and a crab wearing a giant helmet too. Garrett’s concentration was compounded each time the pious one broke in with some bawdy lyric between his almost constant drinking. May as well make religion fun Garrett supposed. The ugly one grumbled mostly with the occasional need to make some complaint.

Garrett wanted to ask what the initial plan was in infiltration and assault but he knew he’d just draw either puzzled looks or a cacophony of argument among the three. It was clear there was no plan. How they survived without one was a miracle indeed.

Sandpoint was a few hours away with plenty of daylight to spare. He’d bet sure enough Mayor Deverin and the Sheriff would breathe a sigh of relief at the notion of clearing Thistletop, which meant opening the town’s coffers. Zantus might be interested to hear the stories of the tombs below the fort as well.

Still, Garrett couldn’t shake the feeling this little adventure was merely a prelude to something worse.

Preparation never hurt. Sure, Garrett could be accused to over-stocking supplies for the inevitable cataclysm or apocalypse. He didn’t mind the teasing from his brother or the other dwarves. No matter, if he was wrong then so be it, he’ll have extra food, supplies and weapons for his kin. If he was right, well then, preparation never hurt.


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