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Dragon Age: Broken Chains

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1 Dragon Age: Broken Chains on Fri Dec 02, 2016 10:01 pm

Dust clouds swept in from the Silent Plains promising a sandstorm.  It provided the citizens of Hasmal a respite from the usual scorching heat of the wastelands.  Only a few dared to venture outside their houses.  Two of them were guarding the inside of a barn close to the outskirts of the city.  Inside with them was a group of chained humans and elves, mostly elves; but all bound for the Imperium.

The game of dice the men were playing was interrupted by a knock at the door.  Swords were drawn and the closest man moved to in front of the giant door.  He slid a panel open to see outside.

Sand and dust blew across the view partially obscuring the two figures.  One was about his height while the other was much taller.  Both were covered from head in toe in loose toggery; cloaks, robes, gloves, boots, and turbans.  The only parts of them that were visible were their eyes; the tall one’s were green while the smaller person had deep blue eyes.  “Yeah, what do you want?” the doorman asked brusquely.

“Do you know of a place to eat and sleep?” the big fella asked.  “We were trying to pass the river before this storm hit, but it looks like we’ll have to hole up for a bit.”

The doorman relaxed.  “Most of the ones I know of are down by the riverbank.  Just take this street to the end where it connects to the main road which will take you down to the bank.  On the right three buildings down is an inn called ‘Waterlogged’.  It’s a cheap little place if that is what you’re looking for.”

Both figures bowed in appreciation before leaving.  “You sending them to Csaba?” the other guard questioned.

“He’ll tell us if they’re good marks.  If they are then we can sell them.”  Their swords were put away and the players returned to their game.
---------
On the other side of the city Csaba was awoken from his sleep by persistent pounding on the door.  He got out of his bed where his wife Fruzsina was still dreaming.  A robe was thrown over his clothes to keep him warm in the still chill.  He fumbled around in the dark for his candlestick, quickly finding and lighting it.  With the small amount of illumination he headed to the foyer.

Little dust or sand swirled about the entrance; the building built so its entrance faced the river instead of the direction of the plains.  Csaba opened the door for the two figures and beaconed them in.  To his silent gratitude they dusted themselves off before crossing the threshold.  “What’s bring you here so late at night?” Csaba asked.

The bigger of the two told the innkeeper the same thing said to the slavers before.  “There are a few rooms available,” the innkeeper informed them.  “Will it be one or two rooms?”

Both newcomers looked at each other.  The big one held out a single finger and the other nodded.  “Just one,” he replied.

Csaba got to his record book on the desk while his newest patrons started to uncover their heads.  In the dim candlelight he saw their pointed ears, but was taken aback by their sharp facial features.  He was used to seeing elves with rounded faces like those from the alienage.  The big one was clearly male with a bald head and an unmarred face.  His companion was a lady with unkempt long red hair, a hideous scar ran over her left eye down to the tip of her mouth, and another that ran through the first from the bridge of her nose to the left ear lobe.  Her left ear was a mess; the tip of it had been cut off, and the back and top of it had jagged scars.

He spotted some weapons on them.  The female wore a small sword upon the right side of her hip and a short ornate stick behind that.  On the other were two massive weapons slung around his shoulder; they appeared to be a giant maul and sword.

Csaba made a mental note about these two while looking through the ledger.  A room near the back was vacant.  “We have a room suitable for you.  I just need a name.”

“Athras Alvar,” the male elf replied.

After writing it down Csaba led the duo through the inner door.  He took them on a quick tour of the first floor to show them the various rooms they would need to use during their stay.  It was after a trip up a couple of floors and down the hallway that they finally reached the room.

Inside was a round table with a little candle sitting in a bowl, a chair next to it and a single bed in the middle.  The elves hefted off their gear and settled their packs by the table.  They were beginning to undress when Csaba spoke up.  “If you need anything you know where I sleep.”  He closed the door and left the elves on their own.

Athras waited a moment after the innkeeper left before he said anything.  “Seems like a cozy spot...at least for a day or two.”

His companion was already naked, her robe neatly folded with the cloak next to it while the others were thrown into a pile in the corner.  Her back was a criss-cross of scars atop a series of silver tattoos from the neck down.  On her right shoulder was a brand burned into it, a symbol of nine dragon heads arrayed in a circle.  She walked to the packs and placed her gloves on the table.  She sighed before saying, “Hopefully not too long.  The longer we’re here the bigger the risk they’ll find us.”

Athras couldn’t argue with that.  He stripped out of his dirty clothes all the same.  His body was covered in silver tattoos and scars much the same as her.  The other thing he didn’t have was the brand.  New garments were taken out of the sacks.  “Are those shade things coming tonight?” he inquired after they were clothed once more.

“Shouldn’t; neither of us has shed any blood today.”  She pulled from her sack three metal jaws and opened them up, placing them around the door.  “Can you take first watch?  I need to see if there is anything new.”

“Sure Claudia.”  He watched as she sat down on her robe cross-legged and unsheathed the sword she carries.  “Don’t you want to sleep in the bed?”

“I’m good.”  Last thing she did was throw the cloak over herself before dozing off.
---------
The hazy dreamscape of the Fade resembled the craggy slopes and cliffs of the Hundred Pillars mountains.  Standing by her were a couple of familiar figures.  One was a broad roundish thing with arms jutting out from it.  It would be smooth if it weren’t for the cracks in its rocky exterior from which lava bubbled and popped.  The other was a translucent white humanoid person wreathed in magnificent armor.

“It is good to see you again,” the ghostly spirit stated with little joy in its voice.

“Been too long Valor,” Claudia replied.  “Did she send something while I was in the plains?”

Valor shook its head.  The lava being slid all around her making motions as if it was smelling her.  “Rage, back away!  It’s bad enough you are influencing her too much in the other world but you will not have your way while she is here.”  A sword and shield materialized in Valor’s hands.

“What do you mean its been influencing me?  I haven’t been using any of these forsaken powers for over a month now.”

“Remember Last Moon?” Rage asked.  “Those dragon cultists and their blood ritual.”

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to forget them.”

“By drinking the dragon’s blood your body was tainted by it.  You allowed yourself to be consumed by the rage of that beast and your...”

“What was I supposed to do Valor!?  Let them have their way with Athras, force him to partake of their ritual, have his mind and body twisted by magic!?  I wasn’t going to let him be ruined by a damned curse I already bear!”  She glared at the spirit with every word.

Valor calmly stated, “In choosing to sacrifice yourself for your friend you made it easier for Rage to connect to you and impact your actions.”

Rage waved one its hands in a dismissive manner.  “That is not the worst thing that ritual did to you.”

Claudia’s head whipped around to face him, her eyes focused on the daemon.  “What do you mean by that?”

“The dragon’s innate connection to our realm was imbued into you.  You are closer to this place than what is possible with the use of that lyrium stuff the other mages constantly mention,” Valor answered.

“You’re connected by the physical sense.  It’s in your blood,” Rage added.  It slid back to Valor and watched Claudia work out such what they were saying.  The sign of her dawning realization was when she eyes opened to their widest and her jaw went slack.  “That’s right little elf, you became a blood mage.”

“I’m a blood mage!?” Claudia asked through gritted teeth.  Her fists clenched as she attempted to suppress her vast amount of anger.

“Good, good.  Let the hate flow through you.  Use that rage to make yourself more powerful.”  Claudia was too lost in herself to notice the daemon whip itself into a blur of motion.  It appeared behind her and grasped both her shoulders.  “I could show you how to use this new ability, how to fuel it, and even how those cultists use their pathetic blood magic.”

Valor made a slashing motion with its hand.  “Absolutely not!  The use of that type of magic will make you an even bigger target for possession.”  Claudia shrugged out of Rage’s grip.  “Do you remember your Harrowing a decade ago?  You saving your friend inadvertently placed you in greater risk than even back then.  It’s already bad enough without you succumbing to this temptation.”

Claudia walked past them both.  She reached the edge of the path and stared off into the distance, deep in thought.

---------
It was days before storm died down.  Claudia hardly said a word the entire time.  Her mind was still fuming as they continued their flight.  “What’s bothering you?” Athras asked, his face and body covered once more.

“If you were able to cast the same blood magic as our late magister would you use it?  As a tool to use against them.”

Athras’ response was to scratch the fabric on his chin.  He pondered the question for a long while.  “Why?  Thinking of making a deal with your daemon friend?”

“I didn’t ask for it, but the ritual those Last Moon bastards tried to force you into caused the magister bastard’s power to become part of me.”  Claudia stopped as she stared down at her hands brought in front of her.  “How long will their torment stain us?  Is it not bad enough that they marked our flesh, but their cult had to inflict us one last time with our master’s corruption?”  Her hands visibly shook in anger while her eyes began to water.

Athras stood there unsure of what to do.  The presence of onlookers on the busy trade route and Claudia breaking down into sobbing compelled him to action.  He took her by the shoulders and walked her over to a nearby mound.  Once out of sight, he drew her into a hug.  She soundlessly cried into his shoulder until there was nothing left in her.  Athras, himself, couldn't hold back his own tears over what his friend was going through for him.
---------
It was close to sunset when they stopped again.  A site off to the side of road was picked for its relative seclusion.  In the diminishing sunlight they assembled a fire pit and got a flame going, traps were spread and covered, and the meager meal of bread they purchased from Hasmal was eaten.

Athras was laying on his robe facing the fire.  “Have you asked our fair lady about your predicament?”

Claudia sat on her own robe with her back against the boulder.  “Only last night.  I don’t know if she’s replied yet.”  She stared at the ground.  “You go ahead and sleep.  I’ll take the first watch.”
---------
Csaba was getting ready to close up his inn for the evening.  It was then that a small squad of men with face-shaped helmets came into the foyer.  They were escorting a lady with ashy-white face paint.  She wore a long black robe with a plunging neckline that showed her navel.  The staff she carried had an ornately crafted metal roaring lion head.

“Lady Laverna...” he sputtered, “...what can I do for you this evening?”

“I was told a couple of people who won’t be missed stayed here during the dust storm,” Laverna stated.

“The two elves?”

The Tevinter mage cocked her head to the side.  “Oh, I wasn’t aware they were elves.  Even better.”

“Would you like some tea while I tell you about them?”

“As much as that offer sounds grand I will have to decline it.  We have a tight schedule tonight.”

Csaba looked through his logbook.  “Here it is.  They bought a room under the name Athras Alvar.  The other I found out later was named Claudia Persephone.”  The mage’s eyes focus at the names rattled off, but the innkeeper didn’t notice as he went into exhaustive detail about their identifying features and the clothes they left in.  Laverna left with barely a nod and one of her guards handed a sack of silver and copper coins to Csaba.

The sight of their cargo being loaded onto the ship didn’t bring as much of a smile to Laverna’s face as the prize that awaited them on the road.  She called for the Captain.  Some time later he entered Laverna’s personal cabin.  “The ship is casting off,” he announced.

“Good,” she replied.  Laverna sat at a table sipping from a cup, her eyes reading a book set before her.  “We have an opportunity before us.  The innkeeper told me of two elves that stayed at his place.  Two escapees with some very high bounties.”

The Captain raised his eyebrow when he was told their names.  “Are those the same ones that burned the Luxluna estate?”

“Possibly,” Laverna said.  “We won’t know for sure until we catch up to them.  Inform your men to ready to capture them.”  With a salute the Captain departed the room.
---------
Claudia yawned as they trekked onward the next day.  She couldn't get any sleep during the night.  The main thing that kept her going was the heat of the dirt on her bare soles.  Athras reached over and readjusted her boots when it looked like they were about to slide off her shoulder.  “Thanks,” she said.

Athras only nodded before steering her from in front of an oncoming merchant caravan.  They were stuck with little room to walk as the long line of carts passed by.  It was at that moment that a ball of sparkles hit Claudia in the back.  She fell face-forward into the ground.  Athras quickly got his giant maul in his hands and spun around.

A person with a staff had sent another spell from her safe position onboard a ship.  He didn’t have any time to dodge the projectile.  It took a lot of willpower on Athras’ part to withstand whatever effect the spell was intended to have.  But he failed to dodge or counteract the third one.  He was only aware of his surroundings long enough to realize he landed on top of Claudia’s sleeping form.
---------
There was something waiting for Claudia in her dreamscape.  This third figure was entirely human; possessing long wavy blond hair, ashen make-up over her face, and bright red lipstick on the middle third of her lower lip.  She layed upon a rug wearing black robes Claudia associated with members of the Circle mages,  but with a collar as long as her neck.

Claudia sat down on the other side of the rug even though she knew it wasn’t necessary to see and hear the vision.  But, as soon as she did the lady’s heavily shadowed eyes opened, allowing her gray irises to be seen.  “Claudie dear, I’m so happy to hear from you.  You don’t know how worried I was when I didn’t hear from you for the past two months.  I thought something horrible happened to you when the family estate burned down.”

The lady sat up and reached out with her hand.  Claudia pantomimed resting her cheek upon that hand.  She couldn't feel the touch, but it was something she oft repeated with every vision.  “It is a sad imitation of what I wish was really happening,” the vision said in a sad tone.  The hand was withdrawn a short time later.

She brought her hands together in front of her bosom.  “But I am glad to know you trust me enough to bring what ails you up with me still.”  Her expression grew somber before continuing.  “It is heart-breaking to hear such a fate was forced upon you.  There is only one piece of advice I can give to you if you do learn blood magic from your tag-along daemon friend.  Treat it as you would any other type of magic, as a tool; but be extra cautious when you use it.  Tevene is the only place where using it doesn’t come with everyone hating you and wishing to kill you.  I trust you’ll be careful with whichever decision you make.”

The vision of the fair lady vanished like smoke carried by the wind.  Claudia rubbed under her nose before standing up.  Turning her head to Rage she said, “I would like to learn from you...if you’ll teach me.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Valor said.

“So do I.”

---------
Claudia woke up with an ache in her back, wrists, and ankles.  What she saw was a wooden floor above her.  The clank of metal as she tried to move her hands made her head snap up.  Both her hands and feet were bound in manacles.  The sight of it made her swell up in anger.

She attempted to break the chains that connected her to the people beside her.  She strained and strained but the chains never gave way.  The commotion she was making caused those around her to stir.  “Claudia, are you awake?” Athras asked in a whisper.

“Athras!”  Claudia turned to where she heard the voice come from.  The big elf was laid down on his wood slab on a different row.  Seeing her friend in the same predicament made her fury swell up even further.  As she strained against her bonds again the lyrium embedded in her muscles activated, lending her even more strength.  The metal groaned and eventually snapped.

Her legs were freed shortly afterwards and Claudia leapt off the wooden bed.  She headed over to Athras and broke the chains holding his feet.  At this point the others started pleaded for her to free them as well.

Footsteps came from the stairs.  Claudia rushed it and with a leap kneed the approaching guard in the stomach.  She threw him down the stairs into the slave pens.  Wanting to end him quickly she dashed over, but he was already back on his feet.  He unsheathed his sword and swiped at her in a single action.  Claudia caught and stopped the blade with her bare hand.

She ignored the pain that spiked on her neck.  Repeated punch and swift punch bloodied his face.  The rage became stronger as something slashed at her arm from behind.  A palm strike knocked the guard out and Claudia spun around with his weapon in her possession.

The pair of things behind her were black and oily, the same general shape as Rage.  She threw the sword into one and caught the arms of the other as it attacked her.  The thing was unprepared for the assault of multiple front kicks.  It vanished in short order, leaving the other deal with the angry elf in a confined space.  A swipe of its claws was met with a shoulder check, both of its arms ensnared, and being repeatedly headbutted until it dissipated.

Claudia was alerted to a noise behind her.  The guard was getting back to his feet so she stretched out an arm.  Blood flew to her from his face, and in her hand it turned black.  She flung the blood back at him.  It hit him the face.  He dropped to his knees howling in pain.  Claudia kneed him there.  He crumpled at the end of the cramped walkway, his veins becoming visibly prominent against his skin.

Athras wasn’t able to leave his confines so Claudia hopped atop him.  She grabbed his wrist chains and yanked them until they snapped.  They left the slab and made for the stairs.  Athras looked behind him as the screaming stopped.  The guard exploded in a shower of blood and gore that covered a number of people around him.  Some of those that were splattered began to scream in agony themselves.

Claudia didn’t witness any of it as she grabbed the discarded sword by the stairs and began going up.  Another guard came around but was taken care with a straight punch to the throat.  Blood poured from his mouth to above the elf’s hand.  She threw the spell into this one’s face, same as the last.  The guard was thrown up to the weather deck before Claudia jumped up after him.

There were many people armed and ready for her, including a mage in a silk nightgown.  Claudia hefted her previous opponent up by the back of the collar and chucked him into a dense crowd of slavers.  She was on a surprised slaver before he could react.  Bones cracked from the flying kick she made to his sternum.  His neck snapped from the impact he made with the railing.

Lighting shot out from Laverna’s staff towards Claudia.  She dodged behind the mast, but was set upon by two armed guards.  A block for an overhead slash and a parry for a stab to her gut.  Claudia was too busy defending herself that she didn’t notice the sound of a fleshy explosion behind her.  A third person came around to join the fight.  Their stab was easily batted aside, and Claudia grabbed their overextended arm.  She swung the newcomer in a circle, forcing the other combatants to back up, and broke their back upon the mast.

A great invisible weight smashed Claudia to the deck.  She struggled to get back to her feet, but another weight dropped on her.  A thumping sound came closer as another and another weight bore her down.  The mage came into view and slammed her staff down once more, Claudia’s back getting smashed once more.

“The bounty didn’t say anything about you being a mage,” Laverna said.  Each thump of her staff now only served to make Claudia angrier.  The beating of her heart synchronized with the staff falls, and with every beat her vision flashed red.  “I know you became feral, but be a good pet once again and return to your pen.”

Suddenly, an arrow embedded itself in Laverna’s arm.  The remaining slavers affixed their attention to the front of the vessel.  Standing there with a maul in his hands, and a discarded bow at his feet, was Athras.  “Try and chain me again,” he roared.

Laverna pointed her staff at the uppity elf.  From the lion’s mouth burst a gout of flame.  All Athras could do was divert it by holding his maul as far ahead as he could.  Guards were already moving to outflank him.

Meanwhile, Claudia was feeling the weight disappear.  So as her enemies walked away she, as silently as she could, got back to her feet.  She smiled as she saw many of those head to Athras sweating profusely, despite the cool night air, and their veins strained to burst from their skin.  In a flash she ran and stabbed one of not-already dying ones through the back.  She followed it up by kicking the other in the side with her leg.  The slaver flew into the crowd.

Claudia tackled Laverna into the rails.  Her left hand grabbed the mage’s throat and began to squeeze.  She snapped the wrist carrying the staff.  So focused on the throat she was that Claudia failed to notice a spell flying from Laverna’s uninjured hand and smash into her face.

The grip was broken and Laverna took her staff and ran for the poop deck.  Claudia recovered and looked around the ship.  On the other side was a lonely guard clutching at the spot her leg impacted, covered and surrounded by the gory mess of his buddies exploding.  Athras handed the two-handed sword to her.

He indicated where their enemy had fled to.  With her sword out of its scabbard, Claudia leapt up the stairs.  Laverna waved her staff and created a wall of fire.  The elf halted her advance and held her hand, palm up, through the flame.  A smile grew on her face while adjusting the position of the sword.  She walked through the wall, her vision pulsing red with every beat of her heart.  A leap forward, a swing downward and before Laverna knew anything the massive blade sliced through the railing and her arm.

Laverna stared at her arm and staff laying on the deck.  The elf’s left hand grabbed at her throat.  All Laverna could do was smack at her head a few times with injured hand.  It was stopped when the elf’s hand ceased trying to choke, grabbed her assaulting arm, and brought her other arm right onto it.  Broken bone tore right muscle and skin; Laverna cried out in pain.

Claudia’s rage became greater still.  She grabbed again and slammed the offending mage’s neck into the rails.  Her grip became tighter and tighter past the point where both veins were ruptured and blood began spurting out.  Even with her indomitable anger clouding all her senses Claudia felt herself being rejuvenated by the death of her enemy.

It eventually reached a point where she only felt a trickle of vitality coming from her opponent.  Claudia’s tattoos on her free hand glowed and she grasped for the heart.  A long squeeze and the mage finally died.

She still felt the desire to kill things, but there were no enemies left to sate her.  When thought turned to  the people in the holding pens Claudia slowly shook her head a couple of times.  The rage began to abate, causing her to stumble back.  She looked to her hands; one covered in the mage’s blood, and the other had a cut that was fully healed.  How did this happen? she thought.

“Claudia!  Are you alright?” Athras yelled.

She turned her attention to her surroundings.  Her sword was stuck in the wood floor and the mage’s staff lay nearby in the death grip of a severed arm.  Claudia wiped her hand clean on the nightgown before picking up the staff.  After a quick inspection she cracked the top quarter off with her knee.  At last she retrieved her two-hander sword and walked away from the grisly scene.

“I’m good, I think,” she replied after walking through the waning fire.  Blood and guts colored the weather deck.

“Come on.  We’ll free whoever is still alive down a deck.”

“Yeah, while we’re here.”  The key was easy to find; it was on a guard that merely had his head caved in by a maul.  Their manacles came off and Athras headed down the middle set of stairs.  Claudia walked to the prow and stared.  The ship was continuing its journey, dragged along by the river’s current.

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