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Bound by the Past

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1 Bound by the Past on Sat Jun 03, 2017 10:19 am

1065

A new dawn was about to rise upon the city of Varvol.  Gentle winds rolled down from the mountains making the summer night chillier than usual.  What went unseen in the darkness was a figure cloaked in smoky shadows coming in and out of the ether every so often in different places of the surrounding countryside.  Royquin Elwin appeared once more in the forest overlooking the ancient decaying city, trying to locate the source of his unease.

It took but a moment to determine it wasn’t in Varvol.  His eyes went from the mighty Skyreach Citadel to trace the long abandoned trail that wound its way through the valley.  He vanished once more in a puff of smoke and shadows, appearing this time at the split in the trail.  Royquin closed his eyes and cleared his mind of the building anxiety and unease.  The magical presence that tried to hide itself was up the higher path, Royquin could feel it.

His eyes snapped open and his hands began to shake in trepidation at the thought of the very familiar presence.  He bolted off into a run up the upper trail with a hand at the hilt of his sword.  Sounds of screeching metal on stone that echoed off the rocks spurn him to faster speeds.  Royquin nearly tripped as he hastily stopped.

The trail-turned-ravine opened up into a fairly wide domed building.  At the opposite end was a tall and wide mirror being slowly exposed by the metal double-doors opening up.  In front of the mirror was a hooded figure and a lit brazier at either side.  The figure turned to the approaching Royquin; its face covered by a smiling mask.  “Ah Royquin, good of you to come.  It has been a great many centuries, hasn’t it?”

Royquin tried his hardest to keep his face stoic and his fear in check as he looked at his opposite.  “Smiling Sorcerer.  What brings you back?”

The Smiling Sorcerer let out an exacerbated sigh before he turned his attention back to the mirror.  “The world has been stagnant for long enough, don’t you think?  This past century has been one of regression as the affairs of petty warlords and silly Berns become only interested in the local.  That plague of mine put a stop to all that for the last decade, and everyone is recovering nicely from it.”

“You caused that plague?”

A small laugh came from the Sorcerer.  “Don’t be silly dear Smith.  Gonaen made it; I merely took advantage of poor crops and dreadful famine so the plague could reach its full potential,” he explained, his staff waved through the air in a ritualistic manner.  Royquin blanched at the casual answer.  “Now I say it is time for some change, for some progress once more.”

Royquin hesitantly took a step forward.  “What would unleashing those monsters accomplish?”

“Oh Smith.  I thought you of all people would know the forging process.  You have to melt the ore, remove the slag, and fashion the crude shape before you can temper it to perfection.”

“And this is you smelting the populace?”

The chalk circle around the Sorcerer began to glow and rise into the air.  After it cleared his head the circle rotated to vertical and went into the mirror.  When the mirror glowed the Sorcerer tapped the butt of his staff into the ground, the mana crystal atop it glowed a dull green and the braziers vanished.  The Smiling Sorcerer walked to the exit and took the mask off when he was close enough to Royquin.  “Exactly.  Now the question I look forward to seeing answer; who gets tempered and who gets slagged?”  His unmarred doll-like face cracke a smile.  The Smiling Sorcerer went outside before disappearing in a flash of light.

Royquin fought to keep his breathing under control from being so close to the man.  The sight of the pulsating purple mirror gave him something to concentrate on.  When he calmed down Royquin dashed outside to head for the other half of the trail.  It was time for him to open the dungeon once more.
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9:29 Dragon

It was close to midday as two dalish elves stalked their prey through the light forest of Southron Hills.  They picked up the trail of an injured deer so time before and were now closing in on it.  Lyna nocked an arrow and pulled back on the string, her prey none the wiser as it drank from the creek.  Something spooked the deer as Lyna loosed the arrow; it flew past where the deer held its head just a second before.

The elf cursed as the deer bolted as fast it could on it injured leg and ran over the short hill.  Sounds of heavy footsteps and people crashing through branches came from nearby.  Lyna’s hunting partner, Tamlen, made his way to the noise.  His bow was readied and Tamlen went into the open ahead of the whatever was coming.

A human nearly ran into Tamlen in his stumbling fear, but fell back onto his backside.  Another two humans joined their friend; all three were out of breath from their exertion.  “It’s a dalish!” the brunette on his butt cried.

“And you three are somewhere you’re not supposed to be,” Tamlen replied with a cold demeanor in his voice.

The red-haired human stepped forward while his friend was helped back to his feet by the third.  “Let us pass elf.  You have no right to stop us.”

“No?  We’ll see about that, won’t we?” Tamlen said.  Lyna decided now was a good time to back up her partner.  “You’re just in time.  I found these....humans lurking in the bushes.  Bandits, no doubt.”

The red-head pleaded, “We aren’t bandits, I swear!  Please don’t hurt us!”

“You shemlen are pathetic.  It’s hard to believe you ever drove us from our homeland.”

“We’ve never done anything to you dalish!  We didn’t even know this forest was yours,” the brunette spoke once more.

“This forest isn’t ours, fool.  You’ve stumbled too close to our camp.  You shems are like vermin--we can’t trust you not to make mischief.  What do you say Lyna?  What should we do with them?”

“Why are you here shemlen?” Lyna asked, venom in her words.

“Does it matter?  Hunting or banditry, we’ve have to move the camp if we let them live.”

“L-look....we didn’t come to be trouble.  We just found a cave...” the brunette said.

The red-head interrupted, “Yes, a cave!  With ruins like I’ve never seen.  We thought there might be, uh....”

“Treasure,” Tamlen finished, menacingly stepping closer.  “So, more akin to thieves than actual bandits.”

“Prove it.  I’d like to see such ruins,” Lyna stated.

“So would I.  I’ve never heard of ruins in these parts.”

The red-head came closer.  “I...I have proof.”  He produced a small smooth gem from his coin pouch.  “Here...we found this just inside the entrance.”

Tamlen’s eyes widened as he examined the proof.  “This stone has carvings.  Is this elvish?  Written elvish?”

“There’s more in the ruins.  We didn’t get very far in, though...”

“Why not?” Lyna inquired.

“There was a demon!  It was huge, with black eyes.  Thank the Maker we were able to outrun it.”

Tamlen scoffed.  “A demon.  Where is this cave?”

“Just off to the west.  There’s a cave in the rock face, and a huge hole just inside.”

“How about you show us,” Lyna demanded.

“If we do that will you let us go?”  The two elves shared a knowing look with each other, but relaxed their posture.  All three humans sighed in relief as the bows are no longer aimed at them.  “Alright, we’ll show you to the entrance.”

It took some time for the humans to trace their manic chase back to the source.  But they managed to get back to the cave right over a creek.  “There, just as we said,” the brunette stated.  “Can we go now?  I don’t want to be here.”

Lyna motioned for them to leave.  She waited until they a good distance away before loosing an arrow into the brunette’s heart.  Tamlen followed up by shooting the third in the back of the head.  The red-haired one managed to escape them, but suffered two arrows to the back and another in his arm.  “Well, that was fun.  Want to explore this place?”

“Certainly, these carvings make me curious,” Tamlen replied.  “But, its strange though....I don’t recall ever seeing this cave before, do you?”

“No, and that makes me nervous.  We should tell the keeper before we go in.”

“Always the careful one.  Fine, but I’m not running back until I know there is something worth making a fuss over.  Let’s at least see what’s there.  How dangerous could it be?”  Both of them drew swords before heading down.  There wasn’t much to the cave until the bottom.  Natural earthworks gave way to stone flooring and walls.  Tamlen continued in.

The only sign of recent activity in the complex were paw prints in the dust.  Lyna shallowed as she nervously followed close behind Tamlen as he tracked the prints.  They led farther into the complex, Lyna kept calm despite her mounting worry.  Tamlen ran off in a hallway as he spotted something up ahead.  Lyna caught up and looked at what had his attention.

“I can’t believe this.  You recognize this statue, don’t you?”

Lyna stared hard at the stone statue.  A woman in robes and free-flowing hair holding a spear, her draconic wings depicted in bronze.  “It’s worn, but looks vaguely familiar...” she admitted.

“Back when our people lived in Arlathan, statues like these honored the Creators.  When the shems enslaved us, much of that lore was lost.”  Tamlen shook his head.  “This looks like shem architecture...with a statue of our people.  Can these ruins date back to the time of Arlathan?”

Lyna shrugged.  “We’re nowhere near Arlathan.  This....this proves nothing.”

“We must’ve lived in other places.  Even if we didn’t, its architects knew of our gods.”  Tamlen had to struggle to tear himself away from the statue, intent of exploring the rest of the place.  It was a while before they came across the busted remains of the only door in the entire place.  It was also where the paw prints led.  A roar came from within.  “Bereskarn!”

The bear-thing charged through the doorway at the dalish.  Lyna dropped her sword and back away, loosing arrow after arrow into the creature as it attacked Tamlen.  All he could do was keep making quick jabs at the thing while backing up.  It finally got tired of Lyna shooting its butt so turned around to charge.  Tamlen jumped on its back and stabbed into its neck repeatedly.

Lyna ran to her friend as he wiped the blood off his blade.  “What was that thing?”

“A bear corrupted by darkspawn,” Tamlen answered.

“The keeper needs to know about that.”

“Certainly, but after we check out that last room.”  Tamlen sheathed his sword and Lyna retrieved hers.  The room they entered showed no signs of habitation, like the bereskarn had only recently taken up residence there.  At the entire back wall was a mirror that was glowing in a pulsating purple.  Tamlen looked about the room.  “This place makes me nervous,” he confessed.

Lyna nocked an arrow just in case.  “Yeah.”

“I wasn’t expecting this place to....feel quite like this.  Maybe this wasn’t the best idea...”

“But, regardless, we’re here.  Now, what do you make of it?”

“I’m not sure.  This looks like a very old shem place.  Why did they build this, and why would elven artifacts be in here?  Maybe some of our ancestors lived here, in caves and tunnels like the durgenlen.”

“It sure doesn’t feel like anyone’s home.”

“Yeah.  I have the odd sensation that we’ve....disturbed something.  Like we just walked into a dragon’s lair.”

“I think now would be a good time to go get the keeper.”

“Just one last thing, though, to check out.”  Tamlen slowly approached the mirror.  He looked at the engravings on the outlining.  “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?  I wonder what the writing says.”

“The keeper should be able to translate it.”

“Maybe, but she’s not here to help us.  Odd that it isn’t broken like almost everything else, especially with that bereskarn lumbering around in here.  I wonder what this writing is for.  Maybe this isn’t...”  Tamlen jumped back a step.  “Did you see that?  I think something moved inside the mirror.”  He moved towards it with an outstretched hand.

“Stay away from it Tamlen!”

“Hold on!  I just want to see what it is.”  A ripple appeared in the mirror.  “Did you see it?  There it is again.  Can you feel that?  I think it knows we’re here,” Tamlen said as he drew closer.  “I just need to take a closer look...”

Curious, Lyna joined him.  “It’s showing me places.  Mountains....and and a city that I’ve never seen or heard of before.  I can see...another city...underground.”  His hand brushed the surface of the mirror.  It filled with a purple fog.  “And...there’s a great blackness...It saw me.  Help, I can’t look away!”  The last thing Lyna saw as she was blasted back into the far wall was an immense flash of light, then her world went dark.
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It had been two days since scouting parties were sent up to investigate the grinding noise.  Two days since they discovered the uncovered mirror.  A watch was quickly established with mostly reports of nothing to give back.  The only change that occurred was when the mirror went from its purple hue to a glowing blue.

Even now, in the heat of summer, two members of the Protector Guard stood unflinchingly in front of the mirror.  They were covered head-to-toe in the finest plate armor that Varvol could produce, tough durable mail in between the plate and padded gambeson, with high-quality halberds and arming swords ready to defend their homes.  As part of the watch there was a third person in simple clothes with a sword nestled on his hip.

Suddenly, shapes emerged from the mirror; pale things with shriveled skin of varying heights and wearing wildly different armors.  Both guards quickly moved from their spots inside the building to just outside the entrance.  The third man sprinted out and down the path.

The enemy howled and screeched as more of them came through.  It took only a bit before they charged the two Protector Guard.  One of the taller lot was speared in the face, a little one had an axe head dropped onto the crown of its head, and others suffered similar fates as they pressed their weight of numbers against the two.

One of the bigger things managed to make it past the halberds and slashed at the breastplate of one.  The thing looked confused as its sword bounced off with nothing happening to its opponent.  It was stabbed in the face by a third Protector Guard who had just arrived.  The three men maintained their line against the aggressor.  It was several brutal minutes as fresh enemies kept coming while the three began to feel exhaustion from combat and the summer heat.  One of the enemy got past their halberds and smashed its mace into one of their gauntlets.

Meanwhile, the runner arrived at the throne room of King Valganis.  He dropped to his knee in front of the monarch.  “Sire, the magic gate room is under attack!”

Valganis looked to his right to the tall man in plate.  The man looked down; Valganis nodded.  “Protector Guard!  March to Battle!”

As the armored man moved to the door, Valganis called out, “Edward, good luck.”

Edward nodded in response before leaving.  There were an immediate thirty men behind him as they double-timed up the trail.  From around the bend many of the creatures came into sight of the city.

The one clad in plate and horned helm roared at Edward before charging.  Edward saw the approaching creature and the way it held its two-handed ax in preparation to attack.  He readied his stance and lowered his halberd.  When the opponent swung Edward parried, moving his right foot forward.  His halberd’s momentum was deftly changed and the pick head of it stabbed into the creature’s armpit.  The creature reared its head up as its cried in pain.  Edward swiveled his weapon out of his opponent and slashed the spearhead across the thing’s neck; shifting his footing to throw his full weight behind the cut.

Other, less armored, things crashed into the line of Protector Guard.  They were promptly killed by stabs or the occasional ax strike from the second line.  Edward had no difficulty in killing three more of the creatures in quick succession.  A small one came on his flank, but was stabbed by multiple halberds to the head or upper torso.

The fight didn’t last for too much longer, and after it was done the Protector Guard continued their speedy trip up the trail.  There were occasional enemy bodies along the way; after the split the bodies became frequent.  At the building there was only one guard standing, ready for another attack.  The other two lay dead.  Edward approached the survivor.  “Guard, report!”

“My lord, we tried to hold them here; but we failed.  They kept coming and eventually their reinforcements overcame our advantageous position.  Hughes and Darrow didn’t make it.”  His men marched into the building while Edward looks over the many scratches and dents in the survivor’s chest plate.  “Oh, these.  I don’t what to say my lord.  They seemed to have an obsession with striking our chest, but they seemed surprised when it did nothing.”

“Could be they expected their swords to pierce our armor,” Edward speculated out loud.  “Maybe theirs isn’t of the same quality as ours.  Anyway, are you able to fight?”

“Yes, my lord.  You need someone to go through that gate I will volunteer to go first.”  Edward nods at his words.  With all 32 of them in the building Edward walks to the mirror with his weapon ahead.  Nothing came through it.  The Protector Guard waited for a while, but still nothing came.

Edward waited for a few more minutes before calling the volunteer forward.  The young minotaur, William, slowly pushed his hand into the mirror and brought it back out.  Nothing appeared to be wrong with it.  With one last breath William walked into the mirror and disappeared.  It was a moment of bated breath before William came back through.

“There were a few more of them waiting on the other side but I took care of them.”

Edward nods before turning to the others.  “The king is mustering a force to come here.  Until then we will ensure no more of those things can come over to our side.  It is up to us to establish a presence over there and safeguard our home.”

He moved aside so his soldiers could march into the mirror in two lines.  William went in after them.  Edward took one last look at the scene of carnage that litter the vicinity before walking into the mirror himself and disappearing with his men.
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Lyna took in her surroundings when she finally awoke.  She was in the keeper’s aravel.  Confusion drove her efforts to stumble out of the small straw bed.  The sun stung her eyes when she got outside so Lyna threw a hand up to shield them.

An elf in red garments, Fenarel, walked up to her.  “You’re awake!” he exclaims.  “You’ve the Creator’s own luck lethallin.  Everyone’s been worried sick.  How do you feel?”

“How did I get here?”

“A shem brought you back two days ago.  He was a Grey Warden and appeared out of nowhere with you slung over his shoulder.  You were delirious with fever.  He said he found you outside a cave in the forest, unconscious and alone.  He left you here and ran off again.  The keeper’s been using the old magic to heal you.”

“Is anyone looking for Tamlen?”

“Of course!  Most of the hunters are off looking for him right now.  But the keeper wanted to talk to you as soon as you awoke.  I’ll take you to her.”  Lyna nodded before she followed.  The camp was in the midst of packing up, various people stopped what they were doing to look at Lyna as she passed.  Keeper Marethari sat at one of the fires with the stew bubbling in a pot.

“It is good to see you awake da’len.  Please sit down,” the gray-haired elf said.  She filled a bowl and gave it to Lyna when the huntress was seated.  “It is fortunate that Duncan found you when he did.  I know not what dark power held you, but it nearly bled the life from you.  It was difficult even for my magic to keep you alive.”

“Then Tamlen could be sick as well.”  Lyna started voraciously eating her food.

“If he encountered the same thing you did, yes.  The Grey Warden said he found you alone outside a cave, already stricken.  Duncan thought there may have been darkspawn creatures inside the cave.  Is that true?”

“Only a bear that suffered darkspawn corruption.”

“It may have wounded you then.  What else did you find?”

“Only a mirror.  Tamlen touched it and knocked me away in a flash.”

“A mirror?  And it caused all this?  I’ve never heard of such a thing in all the lore we have collected.”  The keeper sighed before continuing, “I was hoping for answers when you awoke, but there are only more questions.  And Tamlen remains missing.  If he is as sick as you were his condition is grave.  Duncan returned to the cave to search for darkspawn, but we cannot rely on him to look for Tamlen as well.  We must go ourselves, and quickly.  Do you feel well enough to show us the way da’len?  Without you, we will not find it.”

Lyna finished her stew.  “I am up to it keeper.”

“I am relieved to hear it.  Take Merrill to the cave.  Find Tamlen if you can, but do it swiftly.”

Fenarel spoke up.  “Keeper, if you will allow it, I would like to accompany them in their search.”

“Are you sure about this?  I’m already putting Merrill at risk for this.”

“I want to do this.”  The keeper nodded her approval.  “Come Lyna, best we hurry with our task.”

Merrill was found near the halla at the edge of the camp.  The dainty elf seemed oblivious to their presence as she watched the halla graze.  Lyna cleared her throat, startling Merrill.  “Oh, hello.  The keeper asked me to accompany you back to the cave.  Are you ready to go?”

“Will you be looking at the artifacts in there?” Lyna asked.

“Yes, no, maybe...if there is time.  The keeper said ‘Tamlen is more important than any lore down there’, and that is what we have to do.  I am curious about what you found but Tamlen is our main objective.  We must make haste; he may not have much time.”

“Aren’t you worried about the sickness?”

“How bad could it be?  The keeper cured you and I learned much of her magic.”  With that settled the three elves were off.  As they wandered through the forest none of them felt at ease.  “It’s too quiet; no animals, no...nothing.  As if the very air is disturbed.”

“As if the sickness is spreading to th...” Lyna said before another voice cut her off.

“Help me!  Somebody, please help!” some screamed from close by.  They rushed towards it with all haste.  What they found was an elf in human clothes trying to back himself into a hole under an overhanging tree.  Closing in on him and surrounding him were tens of pale, shriveled looking men.

“What are those things?  Are they darkspawn?” Merrill asked in a low tone.

“What else could they be?” Lyna replied, just as quietly.

“I’ve never seen anything like them.  You can smell the evil on them.”

Before they could react an upright walking bull-creature clad in plate and holding a greatsword appeared on the crest by the tree and jumped down.  His light swing split a darkspawn’s head in half.  The bull-creature put itself between the helpless elf and the darkspawn, its sword raised to the side of its head with blade pointed forward.  Another tall darkspawn rushed forth, but a step and swing from the bull cleaved its head off.

“Ooh, pretty horns on that one,” Merrill observed.  The bull parried a swing from another and deftly used that to flip his blade over his opponent’s and slice the throat.  “And the way it moved his hooves during that last move.”

“Shouldn’t we help out our new ally?” Fenarel stated.  Multiple darkspawn started to attack and forcing the bull to act defensively.  Lyna quickly loosed an arrow that pierced the back on one’s skull.

“You’re right.  Let’s help him out.”  Fenarel drew a sword and charged while Merrill sent a fireball at another.  A second died to Lyna before they were alerted by the screaming of the burning short darkspawn.  In the darkspawn’s confusion the bull swiftly cut two down and stabbed a third in the throat.  Fenarel reared his sword back on the final approach and smashed the side of one’s head in before it could block.

One lofted its sword over the head and swung down at Fenarel.  He was brought to his knee during the block.  Another came to the right and brought its axe back for a heavy attack, but several small bolts of lightning stopped it dead.  An arrow from the side found its mark and the ax darkspawn toppled over.

Lyna looked over to see five people garbed in green.  Four of them loosed arrows into the closest darkspawn while the fifth held out its hand towards the melee.  Suddenly, a few within the darkspawn band attacked their fellows.  The confusion it caused allowed for Lyna to join her clansmen in the melee without drawing the enemy’s attention.  Fenarel and Lyna paired off and dueled with the few darkspawn that came near them while Merrill used her magic to end those that tried to outflank them.  The bull quickly ended any who challenged him with a move or two, and the green continued their onslaught until they ran out of arrows.

The last enemy darkspawn slashed at a turncoat twice and stabbed through the chest and armor of the other one.  When it saw the bull approaching the darkspawn roared and charged.  It wound its sword to the side for a powerful strike.  The bull merely clamped his left arm shut and braced as the darkspawn swung.  A loud thud happened as the sword struck the side of the bull’s plate, but a scratch was the only sign of damage.  Its sword was quickly wrapped up by the bull’s arm and its life ended by a swift thrust from the greatsword.

Lyna and Fenarel relaxed as they wiped blood off their blades; the bull doing the same.  Not wanting to appear hostile to their new ally, both put their swords away.  Lyna got a good look at the heraldry on the cape when the bull turned to the elf he rescued.  She had never seen one like that before; a gold crown and serpent-like dragon resting on a red diagonal stripe over black.

Merrill joined back up with them.  “Aren’t we going to try and talk to our new friend?”  The two hunters tensed up as the other five approached with swords drawn; Merrill nervously waved.
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William walked over to the person he had just saved.  He made a show of sheathing his massive blade while calming talking to the frightened person.  “You’re safe from...whatever those things are.  My name is William,” he said while thumping his chest with his other hand.  “What’s yours?”

The pointy-eared male looked past him to the field of corpses.  He pointed to himself, and all William could understand was “....Darrian.”  William slowly reached out his hand which Darrian accepted, and gently pulled him out of the hole.

William turned around to another of the lanky, angular featured people looking up at him.  It was clear to him that this lady wanted to fawn over him and he wasn’t sure why.  He just wished she would stop soon.

“Sir, that’s all the monsters in the region,” the zauber yelled to him.

“Good.  Let’s cart them off for the fire like all the rest.”  One of the scouts bowed and ran off to the compound.
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Lyna decided to just stand back and watch as the foreign soldiers looked over the corpses and stabbed at any that didn’t show any clear visible wounds.  She noticed the green garbs that almost entirely covered them hid a great deal of the mail they wore.  They looked to have oddly shaped heads, but she soon out why.  After they were done, one of them drew back the hood to take off the mail coif underneath and the padded cloth coif under that.

“They’re shemlen,” Lyna stated, staring at the black hair and round ears of their unmasked ally.  She must’ve been staring too intently at him cause his gaze was directed to her by a subordinate.  The man merely smiled and waved at her.  Lyna turned around, and noticed that Merrill wasn’t there.  “Where did she go?”

“Over to the bull-man,” Fenarel replied, lightly gesturing towards the plate-clad figure.  The black-head yelled something to the bull-man which was followed up on.  “You think that is about us?” Fenarel asked as one of the humans ran away.

“I don’t know.  But, they don’t seem like they’re from around here.”

“That is certain,” Darrian said as he and Merrill got close.  “I don’t recognize their standard and I can’t understand what they’re saying.”  He proceeded to brush the dirt off of himself.  “Where are my manners?  I’m Darrian of the Gwaren Alienage.”

“What are you doing out here?” Lyna inquired.

“I was on my way to Denerim when my family came under attack by darkspawn.  I was the only one who survived, and then a bunch of local villagers tried to gut me as I passed through.  They thought I had killed two of them a couple of days ago.”

“Hmmm, yeah.  So, what are you going to do now?”

“I think I’ll go with them.”  Darrian indicated the humans and bull.  “Possibly join their army.  I’ve been trained how to use a sword since I was young, but that guy was something else.”

Carts and more men had shown up.  The bodies of darkspawn were loaded up in a timely manner.  While that was going on the bull approached them.  He gestured that they should follow him.  Lyna looked to Fenarel and Merrill before shrugging and catching up to the bull-man.
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King Valganis and Edward looked at the statue in the underground complex.  “So...” Valganis said, “....there is a statue of Tasha here.”

“Possibly so your majesty.  We checked behind it and there is evidence of a bronze tail as well; must’ve broken off at some point though.”

“But, why is she holding a spear?  Tasha is always depicted with her fire and sword.”

Edward rubbed the back of his head.  “I don’t know.  But, this proves that ancient Nestav had some connection with this place.”

Valganis turned away.  “Great, first the attack by those ‘things’ and now this to coincide with the dungeon being opened.  I feel a resurgence of the Cult of Tasha might happen cause of this.”  He shook his head to dispel the unpleasant thought.  “Do we know what they’re called?”

“One of the men joked that they should be called ‘scabs’ based on their appearance of being burn victims.  William, the minotaur, thinks they should be referred to as ‘buffels’ on account of their lack of skill and their compensation through brute strength.”

“Scab works for now; from what I’ve heard they’re about as threatening.”

“Maybe they require greater numbers to be menacing.”

“Not under my rule.  I want the entrance turned into a fort.  We may have been lucky this time but I want to ensure those scabs can’t directly threaten us again.”  Edward nodded as King Valganis left for the mirror room.
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Lyna was in the mirror room with the other elves and the Grey Warden Duncan.  At each corner of the room was a plate-clad human wielding one of their ax/spear/knife hybrid staff weapons.  Merrill looked only slightly less chipper than usual.  “So, these are the ruins?  Interesting.  They’re definitely of human origin, but I saw elven artifacts scattered throughout.”

“And we still haven’t found Tamlen--or what’s left of him,” Lyna interjected.

“You won’t be finding him,” Duncan stated.  “It is only because of your keeper, and your willpower, that you are even alive right now.  This Tamlen has been alone and unaided for days now; he had no chance.”

“But, what about his body?” Merrill objected.

“The darkspawn would have taken it.”

“But why?” Fenarel asked.  “Not to eat it...I hope.”

“Darkspawn are evil creatures, and it is best to leave it at that.  I’m.....sorry.”

The dalish elves looked sullenly down at the floor, but Darrian stared at the mirror.  “What is this thing?”

“I know it is Tevinter in origin,” Duncan replied.  “Used as a means of communication, but over time some simply...broke.  But it looks as if it could be used for transportation as well.”

“You mean these people came from within that thing?”

“Possibly, but it’s strange.  I was told of these mirrors having the darkspawn taint but none of the newcomers have it coursing through their veins like Lyna here.  I assumed this was the source of the sickness.”

“But, it looks clear and not evil,” Merrill said.

“Exactly.  So either this isn’t the source, or it has been cleansed.”  The sound of metal steps on stone came closer from the hallway.  “Ah, it seems we have company.”

Two humans entered; one covered in plate.  The other sported brown hair, a mustache and beard, and wore a crown on his head.  His plate armor was tinged gold.  Duncan bowed courteously to the king with Darrian following suit.  William came in after the humans.  There was a brief discussion held between the two humans; the group assumed it concerned them.

Finally, the king shook his head and walked to the mirror.  Before he could it Darrian rushed to him and knelt at his side.  “Your Majesty, if you will allow it I would like to join your army.”  All the king could do was look to William who could only shrug and gesture to the mirror while talking.  The king pointed to him then Darrian and gestured that they should follow him.  All three soon disappeared into the mirror.

The other leader motioned for the rest of them to follow him.  He lead them outside and gestured them to go away.  Merrill spoke up when they far away from the humans, “Why did they let us go?”

“They knew we wouldn’t have been of much use to them with our inability to understand each other right now,” Duncan answered.  “I am just glad that is over with.  We should hurry back to your keeper though.  There is much I have to discuss with her concerning your sickness Lyna.”

“But I feel fine,” Lyna retorted.

“Only for the moment.  Soon it will come back, and in time it could spread to the rest of your clan.”  They hurried back to inform the clan and keeper of the strangers that came from the mirror.  After a long discussion between Duncan and the keeper it was decided that Lyna would attempt to join the Grey Wardens, for her own sake and the safety of the clan.

So, with a heavy heart, she left her people in the evening to an uncertain future.  One past the bounds of her heritage and traditions.

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2 Re: Bound by the Past on Fri Jul 07, 2017 3:39 pm

Dawn came to Halamshiral, gleaming off the reflective surface of the purple-glowing mirror.  It had been a day since the mirror activated under the city.  A panic rippled through the city as rumors of maleficar magic at work.  The local Chantry and guard were quick to act.

A call to arms was sent out to all local garrisons.  They came while the mirror was moved.  Their camp was made along the Imperial Highway that ran through the city.  The mirror was placed with its back to a local rock wall.  All waited for an attack to come, but nothing came through.

Two of the present chevaliers, Alan and Arthur, were quick to get battle-ready that morning.  Both were eager to gain some glory against their enigmatic foe and bring the Chant of Light to some deserving apostates.  All around them the rest of the army was preparing.  “A most splendid sight is it not?” Alan queried.

Arthur looked upon orlesian soldiers in shiny plate curiasses and pauldrons over cloth tunics with columns of studs running down the middle of the tunic below the waist.  Metal helmets atop their heads, swords hanging from hips, and lines of men in formations bearing the sun standard on their shields.  “Indeed it is.  Hopefully we get the chance to shine the Light on the heathens responsible.”

Elsewhere in the camp a dark-skinned mage was escorted by templars to the holy figure at the heart of it.  The mage bowed and said, “Mother Toinette, it is good to see you again.”

“Ah, Vivienne,” the Chantry cleric replied.  “I am most happy to see you will accompanying us.”

“It is not everyday one gets the chance to bring apostates to bear.”  Vivienne looked to the mirror.  “It is sickening to think that they did this in fair Orlais, and that there must be any mages on the other side without Chantry oversight to reign them in.”

Toinette smiled at the mage’s enthusiasm.  She had never met any mage so zealous and loyal to the Chantry in all her life.  Vivienne had even condemned an apprentice of hers and fellow mages to the Rite of Tranquility when she heard rumors of them questioning the role of the Chantry in the Magi Circle.  “That will be corrected today.  If an hour passes and no attack comes then we will go through and spread the Light of Andraste to whomever is on the other side.”

So the mustered army waited.  When the alloted time was up a meeting was called for the leaders.  It was quick deliberations to decide on their course of action.  Because they didn’t know of what might lie on the other side they decided that the chevalier would be the first to cross.

Alan grinned as he learned he would part of the first wave, and the very second into the mirror.  Swords were drawn and the riders spurred their horses onward.  The man before Alan disappeared into the mirror seconds before him.  It was an instant before they emerged on the other side.

No thought was spared to the ravine they emerged in.  All Alan cared about was the young brunette woman that that was missed by the first.  He relished the utter look of fear and horror on her face as he swung his sword to decapitate her.

Two enemy soldiers lobbed some weird javelins at them and managed to kill a couple of men behind Alan.  They were swiftly trampled by the oncoming rush of horses.  A third manned a small ballista that brought down the man in front.  The enemy was killed by a backswing as Alan rode past and his bolt thrower destroyed.

With the entrance cleared the chevalier continued on.  Ahead of them was a city with no walls and didn’t look to have been expecting them.  The horsemen let out a war cry as they rampage down the trail and into the streets of peasants.
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Amelia closed the latest book she was reading.  So much history that had to be caught up on, and the latest portion had been hard for her to stomach.  Many chapters and texts had been about the various Crusades the Church of Setith had called against Laventino.  The seventh and last one, what she had just read, was the only one to breach the wall that marks their border with the outside world.  For three months they ravaged the countryside; burning and pillaging over 200 towns and 32 cities, raping over a tenth of a million women, and attempting to enslave over a quarter of a million of her people.  They were soundly crushed as they made their withdrawal from Laventino for the winter.  Out of the 300,000 that entered the record counts less than 5,000 escaping the slaughter.

The laven reprisal came the next year with the Uklan Empire on the retreat for most of it.  It ended with the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Five Prince’s Fall; laven forces lost a quarter of their men, all five princes of the ruling family, and had to retreat to the wall.  But the battle had so damaged the Uklan Empire’s central authority that it collapsed a few scant years later.

Amelia groaned at the blind zealotry and idiotic fanaticism that brought about so much pointless death and destruction.  She stood up to stretch and take the pressure off her wings from the hours sitting against the back of the chair.  It was then that she noticed a soldier staring at her from a nearby bookshelf.

The young man wore the armor of a footsoldier outside of combat; a full body-covering padded cloth ensemble, and his falx hanging from his hip.  He looked down as soon as he noticed that Amelia spotted him.

“Yes?” Amelia demanded.  She grabbed her own falx from the table corner she had the sheath leaning on and belted it to her hip.  The question drove away the innocently naive fantasies she felt coming from him about her.

The soldier cleared his throat.  “Pardon my intrusion your holiness,” he said as he knelt.  “The Inperator asked me to come get you.  He wishes to share lunch with you.”

“I see.  What is your name?”  She gestured for him to stand up.

“Quigley Volgatus, son of Quintus Volgatus.”

“One of the prominent High Lords?”

“Yes, your holiness.  He has spoken at great lengths about your few meetings with him.  It is a grand honor to finally meet you.”

Amelia shook her head at it.  “Yeah, I get that a lot.”  She walked past Quigley.  “Are you to escort me back to the palace?”

Quigley blushed.  “Uhm, yes, your holiness.”

“How about you just refer to me as your majesty if you insist on an honorific with nearly every sentence.”  Amelia took in the crisp air when she got outside.  As she expected the bustling activity died down with her present and everyone knelt or, much to her annoyance, laid prostrate to her.

The scene was cut short by the ringing of angry-sounding bells.  Everyone got up and looked around in confusion while Quigley went stiff.  Amelia turned to him.  “What does that mean?”

“The clarion call of war, your holiness.  Somewhere, our nation is under attack.”

Amelia grabbed him by the shoulders and teleported to the palace with a thought.  She decided to not fight the war deity aspect of herself for the moment, and the thought of her people being maimed and killed because of some idiocy angered her greatly.  She opened the doors to the palace only to find her blond handmaiden already waiting for her arrival.  “Xanthia, is my armor ready to go?”

Xanthia bowed.  “Yes, your highness.”

“Good, I’ll be down there in a few minutes.”  Xanthia ran off while Amelia turned to Quigley.  “Go!  Make ready for battle.  You’re going with me.”  Quigley bowed and ran to the armoury.

Amelia made for the dining hall, thinking the Inperator was there.  He was there with several High Lords.  All of them silenced their frantic conversation as Amelia drew near.  “Ah, Princess.  You heard the alarm?” the old ruler asked.

“Yes.  Where is the attack coming from?  And whom is attacking us?”

“It is happening in Urbem Somnia.  As for the attacker, we don’t know about them; they appeared out of nowhere and immediately began to slaughter our citizenry.”

Amelia’s hands clenched in sheer anger.  “This city; I’ve never heard of it before.”

“It was established after his holiness ascended, and after you passed into myth.  The reason for its founding was because of the mirror’s sudden appearance a millennium ago.”

“How far away is it?”

“Two days, but you can get there quickly.  Urbem Somnia is connected to here by a rune circle.”

“Then I shall be there shortly, and these aggressors will be stopped.”  Amelia hurried out of the room.
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Arthur was having the time of his life.  For decades the might of Orlais had suffered defeat after defeat.  Its light driven back by the pathetic city-states of the Free Marches, repeatedly crushed by the Nevarren upstarts, and forced to retreat from Andraste’s birthplace of Fereldan.  The last one was the biggest blow to orlesian pride.

But now, here they were on foreign soil; and they were conquering the heretical natives.  Orlais was expanding once again, and they would claim this land as was their divine right.  Arthur decided that he would enjoy purging this land of the monstrous inhabitants and punish the humans for daring to fight their betters.

The chevalier he was with charged another group of peasants running down the street.  His sword cleaved into the skull of an upright mabari hound-looking creature with a mane.  Further down another group shot bolts into the calvary.  Horses fell to the volley with a couple men dying to bolts in the chest or face.

Arthur covered himself with his shield and surged forward.  While the peasants attempted to quickly reload Arthur was in their line and sliced the head off one human.  One human-thing with bony protrusions coming out the top of its torso was stabbed in the heart.  The remaining peasants lost their nerve and fled.

He couldn’t help but be happy since he came through the mirror.  This city had no wall and no defenses to repel.  It was too easy so far.  The chevalier commander waved his sword arm and screamed.  Everyone charged after the fleeing opponents, butchering them to the last man.
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Vivienne stayed by the Mother’s side during this venture.  They were walking through the local palace and killing all they came across.  The templars with them stabbed and slashed at the latest group of servants and peasants who tried to ambush them.  Orlesian troops ran down the halls in search of people to kill and things to loot.

“Not much of a fight they’re putting up,” Toinette noted.

“What can you really expect from monsters and maleficars?  Such things are no match for Andraste’s Light,” Vivienne replied.  She sent crackling bolts of lightning into a crowd of enemy soldiers that suddenly ran by their flank.  None of them hit the enemy; all stopped and spread out in front of their bodies.

No response came from the enemy soldiers as they continued running past the corner.  “After them!” Toinette yelled.  They gave chase; the front line of templars crashed into orlesian soldiers at the junction.

Swords were immediately swung at the templars, only one dying due to quick reflexes and shields.  Vivienne’s hand glowed as she concentrated on dispelling the probable blood magic cast on the soldiers.  A lucky soldier stopped his swing and looked around in a daze.  An unengaged templar breathed out and concentrated; Vivienne’s head began to pound from the anti-magic effect the lyrium-enriched warrior was causing.

Toinette went to comfort the confused soldiers.  “This proves beyond all doubt there are maleficar living openly here.  Only they are capable of such evils.  Let us enact the appropriate punishment on those vile creatures.”  With renewed determination and anger everyone pushed onward to where the enemy fled.

At the end of the long hallway was a circular room blocked off by a translucent wall that distorted the sights beyond.  A crowd of people behind it were either readying weapons or huddled at the back.  Before them was a woman sitting down with her eyes closed.  Vivienne could make out a glowing circle with runes just past the crowd in the room.

Her first instinct was to start launching arcane lances and bolts into the barrier.  The templars walked up to it and willed their anti-magic ability in effect.  Others hacked away at it with sheer brute strength.

Toinette looked at the cowering fools with more than a small amount of joy.  “Keep it up.  These curs think their spell will protect them.  I say we teach them the folly of relying on magic.”

Under the unrelenting assault of magic-draining, physical and magical attack the barrier wavered and weakened.  The enemy mage resorted to holding her hand out towards the barrier in a desperation attempt to keep it up.

There was a pulse of light as it finally came down.  Vivienne walked forward; her counterpart slowly rose from the floor.  Another pulse of light occurred.  With a thrust of her staff Vivienne sent a stream of fire onto her counterpart.  The cry of pain drowned out all other noise, but it was music to Vivienne’s ears.  She ceased the spell when the enemy mage fell to the ground.

The others rushed forward to kill the cowering inhabitants.  Vivienne strolled towards the burnt mage, intent of finishing the maleficar off.  A third flash of light caused the orlesians to shield their eyes.

Words in the enemy’s language were spoken before the light dimmed back down.  There were more enemy soldiers standing in the room.  Both the newcomers and the ones about to be killed had formed into three staggered lines; all with crossbows aimed.  What had the orlesian’s attention, however, was their commander.

A fierce and angry woman walked out in front of her men.  The parts of her plate armor that could be seen were covered in runic symbols, over which a jacket of gold scales was worn that reached down to her knees.  Her tail was clad in segmented plate and ended in a sword that thinned to a fine point; even the bones of her wings were covered in plate.  In her hands was a two-handed sword that, unusually, had only a single edge but curved forward sharply at the top.

The orlesians stepped back before her visage; Vivienne felt the fearsome magic emanating from her, but even she couldn’t resist the fear the dragon-lady’s spell caused.  She disappeared into the ranks of the soldiers as the dragon-lady began to heal the fallen maleficar with her tail.  Anger overcame fear; Vivienne wouldn’t allow her work to be undone.  Lightning leapt from her staff to the dragon-lady.

Her opponent’s left hand came up and blocked the spell.  Vivienne couldn’t believe it.  A templar held his own hand and concentrated; Vivienne’s head pounded from the sudden pressure.  The glowing of the enemy fallen mage dimmed only just slightly.  He took a step back in his dumbfounded state.  Dragon-lady pointed a finger at him and, with a slight movement, bisected him with a beam of light.  The templar’s melted halves fell to the ground.

It was then the soldiers shot their crossbows, one line at a time.  Those who couldn’t get their shields up in time had their armor punctured, and they quickly died.  From a sack hidden by the jacket the dragon-lady produced a spherical object with a rope coming out the top.  Vivienne watched by she lit the fuse with her breath and waited.  The soldiers continued their volley shooting without having to reload their crossbows.  When the rope was almost completely burned the sphere was tossed under the feet of the orlesians.

Vivienne pushed Toinette away and began to run.  She watched in horror as the explosion happened, killing the lot of the men.  Both of them felt that the tide of the battle had turned against them.
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Amelia let the two women and a small group of fully-armored men go.  They would be dealt with later.  She let out a grunt of disgust at those left behind though.  The corruptive taint coming from them was nauseating.

A cough came from under her.  Amelia looked down to see her magician was alive again and fully healed.  She helped the young lady to her feet.

Her eyes widen as they beheld Amelia.  She immediately knelt.  “Your Holiness, it is an honor to be in your presence.”

“What is your name young one?” Amelia asked.

“Demas.”  She looked up into Amelia’s eyes.  “I was tasked with overseeing the ongoing examination of the portal.  It flared to life only yesterday.”

Amelia pointed to the foreign transgressors.  “Does it emanate the same sickening feeling as those men?”

“Yes, your holiness.”

Amelia brought the young lady back to her feet.  “Then you will show me this portal after this attack is abated.”  She turned to her soldiers.  “These invaders carry a corruptive taint in their blood that could poison our land if left for too long.  Kill them all and burn the bodies.”

She stretched her wings and took flight over the heap of dead and dying enemies.  The mansion would have to be cleared first before it could be used as a safe haven.
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Arthur steered his horse around a corner of the street and spurred it to trample the latest group of peasants.  Its hooves came down on the back of a kid before she could make it to the ad-hoc roadblock.  Arthur pulled on the reins before the line of spears.

A few of them saw the orlesians halt their gallop halt and decided to charge.  Arthur easily blocked a strike from a young boy.  He was about to stab back, but movement from above caught his attention.  An old woman standing on the roof had thrown a large block over her head at him.  It smashed the crown of his head and face, killing him in short order.

Arthur’s last sight was one of his men shooting the old woman in the face and her body slumping onto the edge of the roof.
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Amelia was flying over the city, taking in the battlefield.  Some of the buildings were on fire and the streets ran red with the blood of her people.  Roving groups of cavalry were running amok chasing people down.  The enemy infantry was more numerous, but more collected.

She concentrated on the orb hanging from her hip.  What she looked for were any orbs close by with special auras.  When she found the only one a few miles away she honed in on it.  It was only a minute or two of flying to reach it.  The marching soldiers let out a great cheer as she flew over them.

Near the middle of the formation was her destination.  A group of ornately dressed horsemen rode out to greet her.  “Princess....” the mustached man said, “....it is an honor to fight along you this day.”

Amelia nodded in respect.  “How many men do you command Milis....?”

“Milis Kallikrate your holiness, and I command three full legions.”

“With the other three coming from the capital we outnumber the enemy force 10- or 15-1...by my estimation.”

“Two to three thousand!?” he asked in surprise.  “Why would they only attack with a skirmishing force?”

Amelia shook her head.  “I don’t know, but they are still causing a lot of death and misery.  Milis, can your men move faster then their current pace?”

“Seeing you in the flesh War Goddess, I think they feel inspired enough to still fight if I make them run the rest of the way.”

“Good, do it.  The faster your men get there the sooner we can stop this senseless slaughter.  Also, send a legion to the pass.  We need to make sure no more reinforcements come in for them, and ensure none of them escape.”  Kallikrate and his men salute as Amelia took flight once more.
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Another attack was launched on the mansion.  Another repeated volley of crossbow and centipede bolts cut them down.  Any invaders who didn’t cover themselves with shields was ended quickly.  Those few who made it to the front line were grossly outnumbered by the men wielding falx-dory pole-arms.

Quigley replenished his repeater-crossbow’s supply of bolts while the falx-dorymen took care of the last few attackers.  The orb on his person began to heat up a little.  He grasped it.  Yes?

Sir...., came Demas’ voice in his head.  ….the promised legions from the capital are starting to come through now.

Great news. Tell them to triple-time straight here.

Quigley’s smile couldn’t be dampened by a renewed attack by the invaders.
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Allen and his contingent of chevalier charged towards the mirror, intent of getting the Mother out of the closing noose.  Things were going great until armies the size of which Allen had never seen before arrived to reinforce the city.  Now, their only thought was to escape.

The path to the mirror was blocked by lines of black-and-red uniformed soldiers.  A makeshift wall of tall square shield-like things stood out in front of the forest of spear-things the first three ranks of the enemy infantry held at the ready.  Behind them were more crossbowmen, but bulkier ones than Allen had seen with a vertical box held in place over the bolt channel.

“Chevalier, charge!” the commander ordered.  Spurred horses reached top speed in short order.  They barreled towards the enemy.  The wall was reached, when suddenly, an unseen group of men stood up from behind it.  With their curious pump nozzle devices they sprayed yellowish-green clouds into the face of the horses.  Allen’s horse, like the others, reared in pain; throwing him off.  The horses spasmed and died in short order.

Allen recovered and charged the enemy looking to avenge his horse.  Those with the sprayers melted into the enemy ranks and those with the spear-things advanced and stabbed.  The infantry accompanying the chevalier was ordered into the fray as well.  Orlesians along the entire line tried their hardest to pair off into personal duels, but none succeeded.  Those that managed to get past the first line of spear-things were ganged up on by the second.

Fighting devolved into a massacre when the enemy brought forth odd boxes with nozzles into the front ranks.  The operators pushed and pulled a pump to spew fire onto the orlesians.  Infantry fled in terror and were picked off by the rapid-firing crossbows.  Allen didn’t notice any of this as he fought against multiple opponents.  He was stabbed in the side of the neck by the odd perpendicular metal protrusion on the spear-thing’s head.
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Amelia had spent the fight flying overhead and tearing apart pockets of the enemy she found attacking her people.  It wasn’t until the fighting at the pass did she find the religious figure again.  She swooped down and landed behind her and the plate-clad enemies.

A downward swing with her falx punched through the helm and into the face of one of the armored men.  A flap of her wings put some distance between her and them.  The enemy looked upon her with an expression of rage and horror.

Lightning leapt from the dark-skinned mage’s hand towards her.  Amelia thrust a hand forward and deflected it.  The armored men rushed forward with the distraction.  A swing at her was redirected easily with the follow-up slice to his neck taking it clean off.

Amelia flew back some ways and inhaled deeply.  The armored men charged again.  She breathed fire onto their ranks.  Only a few weren’t caught in the deflagration.  One of them came at her with shield forward.  She swung with one hand, and a flick of the wrist at the end of the swing brought the falx tip into the back of his neck.

Another attacked from the side; she put her fresh kill between them.  Freeing her blade Amelia moved quickly and stabbed him in the back of the knee.  He fell, and she swung to kill.  Suddenly, fireball crashed into her back and stopped her attack; but splashed harmlessly against the ward in her armor.  Amelia turned to face the mage.  Her tail stabbed into her previous opponent’s neck before she moved on.

A glowing white ball was sent her way.  It dissipated before Amelia’s hand.  She responded in kind by shooting another beam of light from her finger.  The enemy mage’s staff was split in two and the arm that held it severed into three.  Another white ball was sent only to end the same as the first.

There was panic and fear on the mage’s face as Amelia caught up to her.  A downward strike cleaved halfway into her head.  The blade was extracted.

Amelia turned to the cleric whom was kneeling and praying.  She reached out with her mind to probe the cleric’s.  Flashes and memories passed before her vision, the experiences this one had growing up in something called the Chantry.  Amelia dug deeper looking for tongues and dialects.  Images of ordinary objects were brought up and connected to words in the cleric’s own language.

The whole process was short but Amelia kept at it until she was sure she had deciphered the enemy’s language.  Afterward she discovered this cleric had requested a crusade, or ‘Exalted March’ in the cleric’s own parlance, to be called on this land past the portal.  Amelia withdrew with hatred etched onto her face.

She saw the Mother was crying in her ongoing prayer, rocking back and forth in concert with her words.  Amelia took her falx in both hands and lopped off the Mother’s head.

The battle before her was concluding as well with the last of the enemy succumbing to repeater-crossbow shooting.  Amelia shot what looked like a commander in the back with a crackling bolt of lightning.  With the messy business done she walked back to the mansion.
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Amelia stood on the floor of the Court telling of the battle.  The amphitheater-like structure was designed back in the day to hold the representatives from all across the vast empire.  Now, the current number of High Lords could barely fill the first three rows of the center aisle compared to the other 22 rows.  Across from the High Lords sat the Inperator looking as tired and sickly as ever in his chair.

Her description of the attack shocked and horrified many of the High Lords.  The crusade part added fuel to their anger.  Many called for immediate retaliation, cutting off Amelia’s narration.

The Inperator silenced them with a raised hand.  “Do you know why this....Orlesian Empire and Cult of Andraste wished to declare war on us?” he asked Amelia.

“They believe we were responsible for the portal coming to life, and in their eyes magic is something to be condemned and its users chained and imprisoned.  ‘For the good of all’ from their perspective.  Add to that the sight of minotaurs, gnolls, braen, and the image of the sun as one of our religious symbols; they condemn us as heretics and monsters to be purged.”

“How egregious were our losses?”

A minotaur stood up in the front row.  “I talked with the Governess of Urbem Somnia.  She estimates that over 70,000 of her citizens were either killed or maimed by these orlesians.”

“Out of 100,000?” a gray-haired human yelled.  “How big was this hostile army?”

“2,000 men and women,” Amelia replied.  “Their surprise and the confusion it caused helped their ability to damage us greatly.  By the time word was able to be sent out and our force’s arrival over half the enemy was dead.”

“A mere 2,000!?  They caused so much destruction with a mere patrol force.”

Amelia nodded.  “From my probing it looks like this size of battle is normal for them on the other side of the portal.”  She faced the Inperator.  “With your permission I would like to muster 15 of our reserve legions for an attack on the other side.”

The Inperator raised an eyebrow.  “75,000 men.  Isn’t sending half the reserve a bit excessive if what you’re saying about their method of war is true?”

“It will send a clear message to them.  We can sustain far larger forces than what they can send; and we are not to be trifled with.”

“Very well.  High Lords, how do you vote on this matter?  Aye or nay?”  There were hardly of them who voted against Amelia’s plan.

“Your Highness,” Amelia added.  “There is one other thing.  I wish to send word to our allies and request that they send soldiers here as well to assist us in this endeavor.”

The Inperator was genuinely surprised.  “Oh, we have allies?”

“My fiefdoms to be exact.  Other parts of the old empire managed to survive the collapse a millennia ago.  The Kingdom of Lav next to the land bridge and the chasm, renamed the Khugomid Kingdom a century ago, and the Winterfell Republic in the Shadow Lands.  In addition to them I secured the fealty of the gnolls and minotaurs of the Labyrinthine Peaks along with the last of the orcs, now formed into a singular Black Hand tribe.”

Everyone in the room was taken aback by this news.  “And these disparate peoples pledged their armies and loyalty to you?” the Inperator asked.

Amelia nodded.  “All I have to do is send word and they will come.”

“Very well.  Send your message and lets see if they answer.  I assume you will lead the campaign.”

“Naturally.  We are about to enter the portal to the other side for a night attack.”

“Go then, Princess, and good luck.”  Amelia bowed to him before leaving.
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Moonlight illuminated the pass more than the purple glow from the portal.  Amelia looked away in disgust from the noxious feel emanating from it.  “Horrible, isn’t it your holiness?” Demas asked.

“Yeah.  This has to be the source of the corruption that filled the orlesians.”  Amelia closed her eyes and sent her magic through an outstretched hand into the mirror.  She sought to purify it of the taint.  What she found was a system far bigger than she could have guessed, but she persisted onwards.  Slowly the portal radiated blue in an ever-expanding circle.

A great deal of her power was required to cleanse the whole thing and every part of the network.  When the portal shone entirely in blue did she relent, exhausted by the effort.  She took a moment to steady herself and catch her breath.  The soldiers behind her readied weapons for the attack.

When she recovered Amelia drew her falx and entered the mirror.  The others steeled themselves and followed.



Last edited by SilverDragonRed on Fri Jul 14, 2017 9:37 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Changed 'Divine March' to 'Exalted March'.)

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3 Re: Bound by the Past on Thu Sep 28, 2017 2:58 pm

The first army Laventino sent through the portal quickly surrounded the city of Halamshiral.  Within three days they forced it to capitulate.  Within what the locals called the Winter Palace they were able to find detailed maps of the region and continent.  A strategy was quickly formulated to expand along the Imperial Highway that cut through their current location.  One legion to stay and occupy Halamshiral, two to head east to Jader and the Frostback Mountains, and the last three to head west to a town called Lydes.

While in Halamshiral the laventine soldiers learned of the elves’ existence, and their treatment.  Under Amelia’s order and the lav’s watchful eyes the elves of the alienage gathered their belongings and moved into the quarters where the occupying legion stayed.  Plans were drawn up to contact the Dalish elves in the region only after all they had some more land to spread out.

Meanwhile, in Fereldan, the forces of Nestav started construction of a fortress to safeguard the portal connecting to them.  A nearby village launched a surprise attack on the neets, but were repelled back with near-total casualties of their small population.  The local Banns requested aid from the Arl--whom mustered a sizable force of 3,000 men.  Less than 500 returned after the day long battle, and the Arl killed at the hands of Edward von Keller.

A month has passed since the opening of the portals.
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Denerim was abuzz with increasing activity in the week leading up to the emergency Landsmeet.  Arls and Teryns from across Fereldan came at the summons of the King.  To complicate the meeting further the Grand Cleric of Denerim received a letter from the Divine, leader of the Chantry and Cult of Andraste, herself.  Now they were all assembled in the hall, Teryns and Arls standing on the balconies with King Cailan and Queen Anora on their thrones.

A diplomat from Orlais, Rametta Marchand, stood apart from the congregation on the ground floor.  “These maleficar from the mirror come with terrible purpose.  They burn and pillage all they come across, and like those of the Qun these new people won’t stop with just conquering the Dales.  They will look to enslave all of Thedas.”

“Knowing Orlais....” a gruff voice came from the balcony, “....they attempted to conquer these new people.  Tell me--were the chevalier happy to find another potential people they could abuse, another source of old farmers for them to beat to death on a whim, another source of people for them to rape because they can?  Were they happy about this before these new people proceeded to beat back your invasion?”

Rametta glared at the speaker.  Cailan sighed while Anora massaged her forehead.  “Father, please.  There is no need to insult our guest.”

A woman, Arlessa Geneva King of Southron Hills, on the other balcony spoke up.  “Why should we concern ourselves with the affairs of Orlais when we have our own group of mirror-men to contend with?  They have stated their intent to stay by building a castle in our land.  They killed my people in battle--including my husband!”

“The Arlessa is right.  We must look to securing our lands first and foremost,” the older man, Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir of Gwaren, replied.  “There is no reason to trouble ourselves with the latest group of people putting Orlais down.”

“No reason!?” his counterpart on the other balcony, Teryn Bryce Cousland of Highever, questioned.  “This second group has already crossed the Frostbacks--they are in our nation.  There have been sightings of them at Lake Calenhad.  How much further must they progress before it becomes our problem?”

Grand Cleric Berger interjected, “And the Divine herself is considering calling for a Exalted March on these strangers invading Orlais.”

“At which point we will be obligated to assist,” Cailan finished.  “Regardless, we should help Orlais if Duncan’s suspicions are correct.”

Loghain frowned.  “You mean his warnings of a Blight.  There hasn’t been one in hundreds of years.  Why would one start now, especially without an Archdemon?”

“Well, we won’t know either way until he gets back from Orzammar.  He said he was going to the Deep Roads to verify.”

“I don’t mean to be rude Your Majesty,” Arlessa Geneva said.  “We have to focus our efforts on the invaders in my Arling.  Deal with our local invaders first before the issue of a possible Exalted March comes.”

“But we need to keep these other mirror-men out of our nation,” a giant of a man with a beard, Arl Gallagher Wulff of West Hills roared.  “We could muster two armies for this emergency; one made from the northern and western Arlings to drive the foreign army back across the Frostbacks, and the other created from elsewhere to deal with the local invaders.”

“And the northern army heads south to combine with the southern one after they drive this second group of mirror-men away,” Cailan added.  “Loghain, will you lead the southern army?”

“Of course Cailan.  Who will lead the other army?”

“I will.”  Cailan smiled at the thought.  “Ah, the glory to be had in battle protecting the country from an army of malicious maleficar.”

“Cailan dear,” Anora said, “do we even know anything about the army you’re wanting to fight against?”

Rametta cleared her throat.  “There are a few observations that were reported by survivors from the battles outside Lydes or Jader.  They bring gaatlock explosives that can be carried and thrown by individuals, crossbows of different sizes that can fire many times without pause or the need to reload, strange box weapons that breath fire onto their enemies, small carts that can send hundreds of crossbow bolts hundreds of yards--that then explode, wagons that move without horses.  There are also ravings of random explosions occurring across the battlefield with these invaders are fought.”

The royal couple looked to each other with worry.  “These new people have gaatlock as well?” Cailan asked.  Rametta nodded.

Teryn Cousland spoke up.  “To add to that your majesty--the legion of their soldiers spotted in our lands was stated to be lead by a woman in gold armor with the wings and tail of a dragon.”

“Yes, she is said to be of high rank in their army.  Quite possibly this woman is their ruler,” Rametta said.

Cailan’s smile deepened.  “Then all the more glory defeat her in open battle.”  He stood out of his throne.  “We know what we must do now.  Marshall your forces and prepare for the battles ahead; we fight to save our homes from these men from the mirrors.”
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Darrian had been in Varvol for weeks; most of it spent with a woman, Merylin, whom he suspected was a mage.  They attempted to learn the other’s language--Merylin proved to be both a quick learner and excellent teacher.  Darrian had a rudimentary understanding of it in no time.

Her current lesson was interrupted by a heavy knocking on the door.  William entered upon Merylin’s invitation.  He sported a dark blue padded shirt with red trimming, held tight by four belt buckles.  Hung from his hip were two swords.  “Sorry to disturb you my lady.  King Valganis wants our elven guest to get armed and armoured.”

Merylin nodded and shooed Darrian out the door.  The elf hurried to the street behind William before asking, “Why were you sent for me sir?”

“The king has decided to accept your services.  We need to get your suited for the role you’ll serve.”  Darrian’s eyes widened at the news.  He fell into silent contemplation.

A young boy bowed to William as soon as they entered the smithy.  “Milord, how may I help you today?”

“Long seax.”  Darrian suppressed a chuckle as it sounded like William just said ‘long sex’.  The boy quickly came back with the requested blade.  “This will be your off-duty sword.  You are required by law to carry on you whilst in these lands.”

Darrian accepted it from the boy, unsheathing it to peer at the craftsmanship.  He was surprised to see it possessed only a single blade with a flat back that was only a bit thicker than the blade itself.  Near the tip the blade had a sharp angle that it ended in a sharp point in-line with the back.  “Sir, why do quite a number of on-duty soldiers garbed with this if it is just meant for the common folk?”

“It can provide a number of utilities.  Think of it as a long knife that can be used as a back-up sword.  But, we need to get you an actual weapon as well; what weapons did you train with back home?”

Darrian points to the other, longer sheath on William’s hip.  “What about something like that sir?”

“You have to be a member of the nobility to carry this.  There are techniques that have to be learned to use this blade properly--it was designed to thrust so it can’t cut well.”

“Uhmm, well...my mother taught me how to handle a two-hander sword.”  William nods to the lad whom returns in short order with a number of such weapons.

The elf looked over them.  One, named the serpent’s fang, was a wavy blade until the very end.  A number of the selection came with a leather grip that ran a portion of the blade past the guard.  The last one he looked at was just a straight uncovered blade with a hilt as long as his forearm and a ball pommel.  He smiled at the simple beauty of it.

“Ah, the sturm sword.  Popular with the sturmers, but never really caught on south of the serpent.”  Both swords were paid for and the duo headed across the street to the seamstresses.  Darrian’s measurements were taken and a set of gambeson--with coif--was found that fit him snugly.  Afterwards, at the armor smith right next door, Darrian received a set of mail that covered him from head to toe.  He was again surprised, this time by the fact that although only his eyes and nose were the only parts not covered his mobility wasn’t restricted--thanks partly to the belt at his waist.  The final thing William paid for was a helmet with a curved front piece that reached down to Darrian’s chin.

The sun was about to be blocked by the mountains by the time they left the armor smith.  “Next week you will present yourself to the scout company you’re assigned to.  Your training will be with them.”  Darrian nodded, overjoyed to hear the news.
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Soaring over the Frostback Mountains in his glider Quigley was enjoying the grand view.  Despite it being summer many of the peaks were still snow capped.  Down below was a river that his troop was following; the only obstacle that separated them from the port town of Jader, the marked border of the Orlesain Empire.  Each assault the laventine force sent to take the bridge thus far had failed; the siege weapons the orlesains used greatly out ranged anything they could bring on the ground.

Trebuchets spotted, someone reported through their orbs.  Sure enough, almost straight ahead, the bridge was there with the enemy camped on the other side.

Their troop commander spoke up, Sickle approach and dive from the rear.  They rolled their gliders to the right and were soon behind the orlesain camp.  A sharp turn left became a dive, their roll completed to get them right side up again.  Directly ahead were the trebuchets with an entire camp between them and the bridge.

Things were in motion for a volley of boulders to be launched.  Quigley was sure he was lined up enough for a hit.  Before the flight wheel were three handles; he yanked the central one towards him.  A bomb attached to the underbelly dropped.  The orlesain machine and its crew became engulfed in the conflagration that followed.

His feet slammed on the floors pedals, and with a yank of the wheel leveled off the glider.  He, and the rest of the troop, shot their under-wing firebolts.  Explosions rippled through the camp.  Using the momentum gained from their dive the gliders climbed back towards the heavens.  After another leveling roll Quigley took some time to examine their work.

The camp was in chaos.  Orlesians responded immediately to quell the multitudes of fires in their midst.  None of the trebuchets survived to bombard the oncoming laventine spring wagons heading towards the bridge now.  Quigley let out a sigh of relief when he felt the powder fuel run out.  All they could do now was look for a relatively flat, and hopefully smooth, area to land.
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Deep underground, in the city of Orzammar, Amelia stood in their General Assembly surrounded by the dwarf lords.  She had been waiting days in the city for this opportunity.  “Princess Kryosthenos of Laventino, it is a pleasure to meet you at last,” King Endrin said from atop his throne.

Amelia curtsied.  “I feel the same King Endrin.”

“I understand you have been spending much of the previous days with the Shaperate.”

“I wish to know your people’s history and to understand them.  It is my hope that we can become allies or trading partners.”

“Allies!?” the dwarf to Endrin’s right, Crown Prince Trian started.  “You seize our merchant caravan and want an alliance?!”

“Trian!” Lord Harrowmont on the king’s left admonished.

“Yes, I ordered the traders in Halamshiral to be detained and the caravan seized.  I did it in order to keep them out of the battleground that is what you know as the Dales.  They and the shipment were brought back safely, were they not?”

An angry dwarf stood up.  “Do you intend to stop all our trade?  Lyrium is one of the pillars of trade that keeps this city alive.”

“Lord Bemot, do you think she would come here to speak with us if she fully intended to injure us so?” the king replied.

“Please understand that we can’t just allow trade with our enemies to pass through lands we now possess.  But.....”  Amelia made a show of visibly pondering something.  “....do you currently trade with Fereldan to the east?”

“Yes.  They are one of the biggest buyers of lyrium and our weapons are highly prized by their nobility.”

“Then this could be turned to your advantage.  This war that Orlais declared against my people has cut your merchants from the western half of the Imperial Highway.  You’ll have to shift all of your trade routes through Fereldan.  They should reasonably tax the transport of any such goods, but what that allows you to do is increase the price of this....lyrium substance by however much you want.  Since you are the only source they will have to abide by this ‘temporary’ increase in cost.”

Lord Bemot asked, “And what of the current caravan?  The loss of its profit will have an impact on the Merchant Caste and this city.”

“What if I paid for the full stock of supplies in the caravan?  Will that ease things?”

“Yes, of course.”  Lord Bemot sat down without any of the anger before.

“Now I need to figure out what use lyrium has.”

Lord Harromont cleared his throat.  “It is used topside by the mages to make it easier for them to do their magic.”

Amelia was confused by the statement.  “What about for people who don’t require it for magic?  Are there other uses?”

“You stated you want to start trading with us,” Train stated.  “We need to know what you have that is worth trading.”  King Endrin buried his eyes under his hand and sighed.

Amelia was taken aback by the brusque manner.  “I can invite a number of your merchants to sample the wares we have to offer.”

Once King Endrin recovered he replied, “That would be good.  You also mentioned wishing an alliance between our kingdoms.  What would take entail, us helping you against Orlais?”

The princess waved her hand dismissively.  “Not at all.  So far we haven’t had much trouble with Orlais past their initial attack.  I was thinking more along the lines of a cultural friendship.  The only things that require us to take the field as one is something that threatens all of life, and that is something I hope wouldn’t require much prompting in order to band together.”

“You mean like the darkspawn?” Lord Harromont asked.

“They were the beings that reduced your old empire to what it is presently if I recall correctly from your history.”

“You remember correctly,” Endrin answered.  “Out of all of the old empire only this great city and Kal-Sharok remain and we are divided by thousands of kilometers.”

Amelia nodded.  “I can empathize with your situation.  Several centuries ago my own people were at the height of our power before we had our own sudden.....emergence of monsters.  I was.....there to witness and fight through our downfall.  What managed to survive is but a mere shadow of our former glory.”

“What type of monstrosity was responsible?”

Amelia looked away.  “Please don’t take offense, but it isn’t something I wish to discuss.”

“I see it is still a sore spot.  Don’t fret; I take no offense.”

“The darkspawn are a threat to everything that lives,” Harrowmont proclaimed.  “We suffered the most from them because they live down here with us whenever a Blight doesn’t occur on the surface.  Now that you are here you are threatened by their existence as well.”

The laven princess looked to the king’s advisor.  “If that is the case then I would like to see the scale and horror of this threat myself.  When you next seek battle against these creatures I will do what I can to ensure soldiers of mine are there to assist.”

Harrowmont and Endrin look to one another.  “We are looking to fight them very soon,” the king announced.
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Early the next morning Duncan and his small band of Grey Wardens rode up the path to the trading hub that resides at the entrance to Orzammar.  The town was absolutely crowded by what had to be thousands of soldiers.  They wore the same colors and armor as those the Grey Wardens had to bypass the day before in Gherlen’s Pass.

“Red and black halves with three gold animals on the black,” Solona, the recent recruit from the Mage Tower, stated.  “Same heraldry as the garrison building that fort in the pass.”

Duncan replied, “This must be the army said to be smashing the Orlesian Empire.  We will have to tread carefully if we wish them allies against the darkspawn.”

At the gates they asked about the newcomers.  The guard snorted.  “Those people would be the oh-so-mighty army of Laventino.  Wish they would squat somewhere else that wasn’t right at our front door.”

“How many strong is this particular group?”

“Five thousand, solely meant to escort their princess.  They say it’s only an insignificant part of their army but I don’t buy it.  You just can’t muster an army of that size to battle.”

“Indeed.  I’ve never heard of an army bringing more than 20,000 to the field and that was with great difficulty.”  Duncan took a look back at the laventine army of dwarves, humans, and species he couldn’t recognize.  “I will go inside and talk to King Aeducan about getting into the Deep Roads.  Make camp until come for you and stay out of the way of the army.”  With that Duncan walked into the seemingly endless hallway past the gate.
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Amelia awoke after yet another night where she wished she hadn’t slept.  Her palms stung with pain--dried blood caked them and her fingers.  The spot hurting most of all was right under her throat.  She brushed fingers over it but didn’t feel any scar.

Hundreds of years and a world removed from that moment, she thought to herself, shaking her head.  How much longer must I be plagued by this?

She healed her hands in soothing white light and got to her feet.  Looking back she found she had sweated profusely from her nightmare.  A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts.  “Come in.”

Her personal handmaiden walked in.  “Ah, my lady, you’re finally awake.  The morning is already half over.”

“Any news Xanthia?”

“Of course.  Genikos Kallikrate has started to dig in and besiege Jader while Stratigos Argyros says that his siege of Lydes may be coming to an end shortly.  After that he plans to march along the Imperial Highway to Ver...Verchiel I want to say.”

“Good.  Send a message to them and the Governor of Halamshiral.  Anyone who wishes to leave with their possessions must pay for it; 3 gold for nobility, 10 silver for merchants, and 5 bronze for the peasantry.  Oh, and tell them that is per family member.  They will have one month to pay before they will be forced out.”

“Right away my lady.  I will let them know while you ready for the day.”  Xanthia curtsied and left the room.
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Trian paced before King Endrin and Lord Harrowmont.  “Are you sure father that these laventines can be good allies?”

“Of course I’m certain,” Endrin answered.  “Why do you ask?”

“That princess of theirs makes me question them.  The guards report hearing her cry herself to sleep nightly or screams of terror during the night.  How can anyone be considered strong or even a capable ruler when they act like that?”

“Son, you heard her as well as I did.  Her people went through something similar enough to our First Blight that she could relate.  If she is to be believed and she experienced it herself then I can understand her plight.  Trauma like that can scar generations.  Even the Paragon Aeducan was beset with bouts of horrific melancholy and depression; not to mention his desire to save Orzammar was said to border on the obsessive.”

“You would compare that weak woman to the great Paragon?”

“There is no comparison son.  What I’m saying is that they both went through a great ordeal of stress and that has effects on people.”

“What about all the surfacer dwarves in her army?  It shows her army is without honor if it is so full of those who abandoned our ways.”

Harrowmont replied, “I’m inclined to believe they are from a different world.  They act nothing like any dwarf I’ve ever known and they lack the stone’s touch.  So there being dwarves in their army shouldn’t be counted against them.”

“All we have for any of that is her word, as well as her soldiers are capable of.”

“Then we will have to wait until next week before we can take a full measure of their martial ability,” Endrin stated.
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As usual whenever Duncan visited Orzammar the Warrior Caste put together a Proving in order to try and induct one of their own into the Grey Warden ranks.  With the need to recruit in greater numbers than ever before he was inclined to invite today’s champion.

His journey through the stadium was halted repeatedly as warriors came and talked to him.  So many of them were competing in the bouts and all were eager for a chance to join the order.  Duncan enjoyed his talks with them and answered any questions they posed.  The beating of drums that rang through the grounds dispersed the warriors as the Proving was about to start.

Duncan quickened his pace to oversee the fights from a booth reserved for royalty.  The Proving Master bowed his head in greeting as Duncan took his seat by the rail.  “Are you ready Warden?” the old dwarf asked.

“Yes.  I am eager to see your Warrior Caste in combat.”

The Proving Master nodded, turning his head to speak to the crowd.  His voice boomed across the whole of the stadium.  “This is a Glory Proving, fought under the watchful eyes of the Paragons of Orzammar for our honored guest, the Grey Wardens.”  Duncan stood up and bowed.  “First up is.....”

Duncan sat down as the fighters entered the arena.  The bout was between one armed with ax and shield against a two-handed ax user.  It was over quickly with the butt of the two-handed ax knocking out the opponent.  There were raucous boos coming from the crowd; the match ended too quickly for their liking.

Several bouts came and went; the warriors on display were skillful in their craft.  While an initiate of the legendary order of Silent Sisters roughed up a young cadet the doors to the booth opened.  Duncan was too engrossed in the fight to see who it was.  It wasn’t long before the Proving Master announced the winner.  “Princess, you honor us with your presence,” the old dwarf said to the new arrival.

“I heard your warriors were putting on a tourney today so I had to come and watch.”  Duncan first saw the wings and tail that made her sit forward in the seats.  He could understand; the stone backing made seating for him in these things uncomfortable.

“Will any of your warriors be joining this Proving?”

She shook her head.  “No.  It’s too sudden, and I feel the rules need to be understood first before I think of letting any of them participate.”

“There is much wisdom in your words Princess.”  The Proving Master addressed the crowd.  “The warrior Everd, son of Galten, will fight Officer Mainar survivor of the battle at Kar Elerin!”

Duncan noted that Mainar was another shield-and-ax fighter while Everd looked comfortable handling two short blades.  It started off as a series of vicious attacks, parries, and counter-strokes.  But something looked wrong to Duncan; Mainar swayed a bit too much after each swing and block.

He saw the dragon-woman was either displeased or slightly angry.  “Your Highness, is something wrong?”

“Officer Mainar is either poisoned or drugged.  I thought these Provings were supposed to be free of foul play.”

“You noticed it too.  Just be sure to have something to support your accusation your highness.  Dwarves view their honor as a sacred paramount and don’t take challenges to it...”

The Proving Master interrupted, “The winner is Everd!  A truly memorable fight.  The young cadet vanquishes the wily veteran.  Healer, see to their injuries.”  He soon introduced the next couple of fighters and their match commenced.

“If I may so bold...,” Duncan spoke, “Are you by chance the leader of the Laventino army on the surface?”

“Yes, I am.  What gave it away?” she asked sarcastically.

“The Proving Master and....”  Duncan rubbed the back of his neck.

“The wings and tail.  The traits that connected my siblings and I to our father.  But enough about me; who are you?”

“Duncan, Leader of the Grey Wardens in Fereldan.  It is our charge to fight the darkspawn wherever they may appear.”

“Before you continue, know this: I wish to see this threat and its scope for myself before I can say anything about possible help for your Order.”

“I understand your majesty.  Then will your soldiers be taking part in the battle next week?”

Amelia nodded as the match came to an end.  Another soon began as another dwarf, Officer Mainar, soon joined them.  He looked to be walking and behaving normally.

Matches came and went throughout the rest of the morning.  The dwarves Everd and Oghren crushed their opponents.  Throughout it all Amelia and Duncan talked about a few subjects such as the Grey Wardens and the history of the organization.

Just as the final match was going to be announced an obviously drunken dwarf stumbled out into the arena.  “Wha-?  Is my bout a’ready?”  Several guards rushed into the arena after him.  The drunk dwarf pointed at the one standing in the center.  “Hey!  That’s my armor!”

The Proving Master leaned over the railing.  “Who are you?  How dare you disrupt this sacred...”

Mainar interrupted, “Wait!”  He leaned over as well to make sure he wasn’t seeing things.  “That’s Everd!  Then....what imposter did I fight?”

“Remove your helmet warrior, and let all who watched you fight see your face.”

The unknown dwarf turned around to address the Proving Master.  “I will not.  My victories have earned me your respect.”

“Your skills are impressive, but you are but one man.  Show yourself, lest I call the guard and have them do it for you.”

The unknown warrior turned to look at the crowd of a dozen guards, and Everd, form a semi-circle around him with weapons drawn.  After facing the Proving Master both hands came up to the helmet.  It turned out to be a male dwarf with a marking upon his cheek.

There was an immediate roar of hatred that erupted from the crowd as they leapt from their seats.  Duncan stood up and stroked his chin, deep in thought.  “Casteless!  You insult the very nature of this Proving!” the Proving Master yelled.  “Guards, take this....filth away!”

Duncan spoke up.  “Hold your men, I pray you.  This warrior has defeated the best you have to offer.  Is this not what this Proving is for?”

“We are honored by your presence Warden, but this Proving is not solely for you.  There are laws which have governed this arena for a thousand years.  This...thing is no warrior.  He is casteless, rejected by the ancestors.  His very footsteps pollute the stone.  He has no place here.”

“Except as your champion,” Duncan stated before he walked away.  The casteless imposter was clad in chain and hauled out of the arena.

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4 Re: Bound by the Past on Tue Oct 24, 2017 4:40 pm

Henrryet patrolled the walls of Jader.  Up above came the roar of the enemy’s flying machine, no doubt having just set another group of ships aflame.  In the valley outside the wall a foreign army had set up their camp and dug an ever-growing series of lines into the ground.  He walked past a group of archers talking loudly to themselves.

“They’ve been out there for a week now.  Why don’t they attack the walls?”
“They’re a bunch of amateurs when it comes to sieges. Could you expect anything more from dumb monsters?”
“What are you complaining about?  Them taking their time is to our advantage; the longer they stall the greater the chance that reinforcements will come to cast them aside.”
“This siege shouldn’t even be happening.  If it wasn’t for the idiot chevalier and his piecemeal charge against them the enemy wouldn’t have their position.”

The conversation was cut short by a sword swing the cleared the last archer’s head from his shoulders.  A chevalier, Cuvier, wiped his blade clean of the offender’s blood and spat at the corpse.  “You all know your place.  Keep your faith in Andraste and we will be saved from these heathens.”
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Valganis sat across from his fellow Neet lords in the Grand Hall of his citadel.  From the mighty House Adalwulf came the Bern and his fierce daughter, a small child represented the valiant and hardy House Cyneburg, and two brunette men came from the west for House Isabjorg and its vassal Hakon.  “Thank you all for coming,” Valganis stated.  “It looks as though we will have to start without the Bern of Snorri, Dagfinnr, or Magnhild.”

The older of the two brunette men spoke up.  “The ‘honorable’ Bern of House Snorri will not be joining us.  We have heard anything from their lands since the winter started.  Everyone I sent to investigate disappeared.”

Valganis rubbed the corners of his eyes.  “As if we didn’t have enough problems to deal with.  Thank you for the dire news Arn Hakon.”  A curt nod was given from the aged man.

“What do you mean ‘enough problems’?” Ima Adalwulf asked.

“They are the reasons why I called you all here.  Just over a month ago the locks on the door of Tasha’s Dungeon came undone.  The way to the goddess’ throne is open.”

“By Archiphot’s holy light!”  Her father had a look of subdued shock in his features.

Before anyone else could respond the doors opened.  A blond man and a dark-skinned woman were escorted in by a slithering snake with a human face, a naga.  “I humbly present the honorable Berns of House Magnhild and Dagfinnr.”  They quickly their places amongst the council; the arrivals caught up on what was stated so far.

The dark-skinned Bern inquired, “King Valganis, what do you propose to do about that most cursed of places?  Do you not find it prudent to inform the Church of this event.”

“That would be most unwise in this situation,” the naga replied.

“Why?”

Valganis cleared his throat.  “Because the dungeon opening was not the only thing.  On the same day a mirror opened to another world.  Out of it came horrid creatures whose very presence corrupts the land.”

Bern Adalwulf shook his head.  “Both these things would be enough for the Church to declare a crusade against us.  They would settle for nothing less than the outright extermination of all the neet people.”

“I must question the second event,” Bern Isabjorg said.  “How do we know this...portal doesn’t just go to another part of this world?”

Valganis looked to the naga at his side and nodded.  It slithered away to the rear.  Another door opened.  When the naga returned it was accompanied by a strange looking man.  The lords couldn’t help but see the elongated limbs, slightly pointed face, and the sharp pointed ears.  “This is Darrian of Gwaren from the Kingdom of Fereldan,” the king announced.

The assembled lords were utterly surprised.  Ima Adalwulf shot up from her chair and pointed at Darrian.  “Is that a male elf!?”

Both the king and naga nod.  Darrian, trying to stay away from the unfamiliar naga, stepped forward and bowed.  “Hello lords and ladies.  I am Darrian, born in the elven alienage of Gwaren.  To answer your milady; yes, I am a male elf.”

The young boy, Bern Cyneburg, walked up to him.  He made a thorough examination of Darrian while strolling around him.  “Is there something wrong milord?” Darrian asked, really uncomfortable with the attention he was getting.

Ima sat back down, calm once more.  “You must understand Mister Darrian.  This is a most unusual occurrence.  There are no elves outside of the harichu, and our only contact with them is when they raid the coastal towns and ports.”

Darrian cocked an eyebrow at the new information.  By now young Cyneburg finished his inspection.  “I can’t see any deception in him.”

“Uhm, thank you milord.”

“Is this all the proof you require?” Valganis asked.  The assembled lords nodded.  “You may return to your training Mister Darrian.”

“Of course your Majesty.  Glad to have been of service,” the elf proclaimed while bowing.  He didn’t notice the sudden flinch of everyone in the room.

The air didn’t ease up until after Darrian had left.  Valganis could only shake his head.  “I guess he wasn’t informed about that particular greeting.”  It was met by an awkward laugh from the Adalwulfs.

Everyone in the room knew Valganis was of the noble standing as them.  Though a Bern in authority, he was able to send summons and make requests of the other Neet lords solely to his control of the city of Varvol.  It was the seat of power for the ancient Nestav Empire, and still maintained its place of importance to the neet people.

Varvol was put to the torch over nine centuries ago and the empire defeated in the War of Shadow and Flame.  Mad King Marcus’ family was put to the sword; all, except one.  The sole surviving princess was forced to surrender to the Six Kingdoms and to endure the harsh treatments of the vengeful victors.  She was forced to marry the prince of the Kingdom of Ythri; her people became the subjects of their conquerors.  The title of Queen was bestowed upon her by the victors as a final insult to a fallen people; despite being subjected to other people’s authority since then the neet lord who held Varvol was forced to carry the mark of shame of the title.

“Not that I blame his tutor,” Ima stated.  “To be a neet is to be cursed with the sins of our forefathers.”

“Along with perpetual shame and a never-ending quest for penance we will never attain,” Ark Hakon added.

Valganis rubbed his forehead.  “He is about to learn about the great evils of our past.  Young Mister Darrian is amongst the first group of men being sent into Tasha’s Dungeon.”

Bern Dagfinnr spoke once more.  “Again, I must ask King.  What do we do about that chasm-hole under our feet....and this new place as well?”

“We need to send soldiers into the dungeon to clear it out.  I ask for at most 400 men from each of you to go down there.  Not too much to draw outside attention, but hopefully enough to avoid a bloodbath.  As for this new place, Fereldan, we’re building a mighty tower on the other side to prevent anymore monsters from crossing the mirror.  I’m also hoping to come to an agreement with the rulers over there.”

The room became quiet as each of the lords contemplated how they should respond.  Father and daughter looked to each other and nodded.  “Very well King Valganis,” Bern Adalwulf responded, “We’ll send our packs down there to assist your soldiers.”

Ima added to what her father said, “And if those people of Fereldan attack in the meantime they will feel the bite of my wargs.”
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The streets of the Diamond Quarter, where the nobility of Orzammar lived, was bustling in a way they normally weren’t.  Merchants had stalls set up along the sides with their various wares on display.  Nobles and warriors alike crowded the streets, looking for whatever tickled their fancy or merely trying to push their way through the crowd.  Amelia was surprised to see numbers of casteless women in fancy clothes standing about the place.  

She had intended to meet with King Endrin to finalize their battle plan for the next day, but he was mired in debates with some of the bigger noble houses.  Then there was the celebration happening today to commemorate the military commission of his second son.  Which, to her, meant it would have to wait until late evening.  At least her legion topside was ready and prepped.

It was then that she caught sight of an armoured dwarf attacking one of their scholars.  His ax tripped the robed dwarf and plunged into the chest with an overhead swing.  The attacker bowed to two others, stowed his ax after cleaning, and walked away.  A path was cleared for him by nobles and warriors now wary of him.  Amelia’s braen guards put themselves before her before he passed them by.

Xanthia slipped into the parted crowd before it closed behind the murderous dwarf noble.  “My lady, news comes from Halamshiral.  The last batch of legions has come over as well as 60,000 from the four vassals you spoke of.”

“60,000?  That is a lot more than what I expected or asked for.”

“That number is what I was told.  Also that the monarch of one of them has come personally to pledge her loyalty.  She, and a contingent of cavalry, are coming here.”

Amelia smirked.  She wouldn’t expect anything less if it was the Khugomid Queen.  “Has Genikos Isadore been informed to expect their arrival topside?”

“No my lady.  I shall do so at once.”  Xanthia curtsied before trying to make her way back to the palace.

The princess noted the looks of shock and/or awe on the faces of those who overheard the exchange.  Chief among them were two male dwarves Amelia spotted earlier at the scholar slaying.  She crossed her arms and bowed slightly.  “Well met, and honor upon your Houses.”

The two returned the greeting.  “I don’t mean to pry my lady, but did your handmaiden just say 60,000 more warriors have come here?” the red-haired dwarf inquired.

“Not here; but they have crossed over, yes.”

“How many....?”

“How many ‘total’ do I have on this campaign?”  The dwarves nodded.  “135,000 all together now....of course minus some casualties from the few battles and sieges so far.”  The nobles around tried their best to put on a stoic facade.  Amelia realized what she forgot and introduced herself.

“My lady, this is Prince Duran Aeducan, second son of King Endrin; set to receive his military commission today.  I am his second Ser Gorim, Warrior Caste.”

Amelia faced the plate-clad brunette dwarf.  “Aah, so you’re the one the celebrations are about?”

“Indeed I am Princess.”

“So,....”  She looked to the spot where the scholar’s body was now being cleaned off the street.  “What was that messy business about?”

Gorim answered, “Oh, that.  A noble from House Vollney was angered by the latest book written by the late scholar.  It talked about the controversy surrounding Paragon Vollney.  To insult the honor of a Paragon is a dangerous thing to do.  The scholar in question was sponsored by House Meimo so he will be avenged soon.”

Amelia was very happy the ‘games’ of politics she had to endure were nothing like this.
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Darrian stood at the mouth of darkness.  The open rusted doors to either side contrasted sharply against the natural landscape of the mountains.  It was an ominous sight with gruesome depictions of history displayed on them.  Even more disconcerting was the the unlit abyss past them.

“What is this place?” he asked.

“The Palace of Nestav or Tasha’s Dungeon,” answered Hagano, the troop leader.  The man was clad in scale armor, like most of the troop, and armed with a pole-ax, bow, ax, and sword.  He ran a hand through his musty brown hair.  “It is the second most evil place in all the world.”

“What’s the first?”

“The Chasm, to the far south.”

“What lives there?”

“Koth.”  Before Darrian could inquire further a horn sounded to their right.  Two columns of Protector Guard marched to the mouth.  Among them was William.  “It’s time!  Armor up and prepare to move!” Hagano yelled to his men.

His hair disappeared under layers of coif and a metal helm that protected all but his eyes.  It was awkward for Darrian to put on those same three layers of armor on his head.  Once he finished he joined the ranks.

Another horn blow and the Protector Guard formed into rows eight wide.  They marched into the dark with halberds at-arms.  Torchbearers followed close behind; its light seemed to dim in the infinite gloom.  After them went Darrian’s scout group and their torchbearers.
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The Proving Grounds were livelier than last week; most likely because this was planned in advance and not a spur-of-the-moment affair as the previous one.  It was funded by House Aeducan for the celebration.  The royal entourage made their way up to their seating.

Prince Trian was already there with the Proving Master and another dwarf.  Amelia bowed her head a bit to the nobles before taking a seat.  She and the Proving Master began to talk.

“Atrast vala, big brother.  How surprising to run into you among the common folk,” Prince Bhelen stated.

Trian cut him off.  He glared at an exquisite knife adorning Duran’s hip before looking to his brother.  “Especially since duty requires you attend our king father at the feast today.  Have you so little respect for him that you disregard his wishes on a day set aside for you?”

Gorim answered.  “Lord Harromont told me we wouldn’t be needed for hours at least...”

“Silence!  If I wanted the opinion of my sibling’s second, I would ask for it.”

“Yes, your Highness.”

Duran felt a headache coming on.  “Bhelen, help me out here.”

“You’re on your own.  I’ve been dealing with him all afternoon,” Bhelen replied.

“What exactly is that supposed to mean, little brother?” Trian demanded.

“Nothing, Trian.  I’ve been having a great time.  That speech you gave the little legless boy about hard work and making something of himself was fanstastic.”

“As heir to the throne, it is my duty to impart wisdom and judgment upon those who need it.”  He turned, glaring at Duran.  “Now then, you, get to the feast.”

“I will go when I’m ready,” Duran stated.

“I’d advise you to watch that tongue of yours, dear sibling.  Father will not last forever.  Come Bhelen.”  The brothers left the booth, but not before Trian shoved Duran aside.

“Well, that was fun.  Nothing like being talked down to by the next king,” Gorim joked.

“That is unlikely to happen,” Duran said.  “Best to forget about him.  This is our day.”

“That it is.  Let’s get back to enjoying it, shall we?”

The current fight in the arena ended with the female warrior slashing open her opponent’s throat with multiple slices.  After announcing the winner the Proving Master turned to them.  “Your Highness, it is an honor to have you here.  Have you come to watch these brave warriors do battle in your honor?”

“No.  I’ve come to fight.”

“Your Highness, this Proving is in your honor...”

Gorim interjected, “Then honor him by doing as he says.  My Lord Aeducan will fight in this Proving.”

“I will honor these warriors by testing my skills,” Duran said.  “Then all will see the glory of my victories.”

“Of course it is well within your rights.”

Moments later, Duran was in the arena ready to fight.  “Men and women of Orzammar, we have a late entry to these Provings, held on the eve of battle for the honor of House Aeducan.  I give you the Prince Duran Aeducan, himself.”  There was an instant deafening roar of cheers from the crowd.  “Lord Aeducan will fight Aller Bemot, youngest son of Lord Bemot.”

The young dwarf stepped up to Duran and bowed.  “You honor me with this match.”

“The honor and glory are mine.”  Not long after the battle began and the two noblemen exchanged blows.
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No one had any idea how long they’ve been marching in the dungeon.  The only indicator for the passage of time were the torches dimming and burning out.  They had barely reached the third floor when replacements had to be lit.

A hand signal shot up from the commander.  At once the Protector Guard stood at attention.  In the darkness ahead could be heard the sound of shuffling feet and clanking rang.  One thing came into the light followed by another and others after that.  Dead bodies in various states of decay; most still had dried skin on their bones.  The armor they wore displayed many signs of battle damage.

There were lines of them standing shoulder-to-shoulder.  Violet dots in their eyes or eye sockets grew and brightened; big two-handed axes were raised and the dead marched forward.  The Protector Guard lowered their halberds.

What commenced was a skirmish far more organized than the stories of battles Darrian heard growing up.  Halberds parried chops and struck back; the dead forced back after each tangle.  Some that had been struck down attempted to rise again only for stomps to cave in their ribs.  The scouts kept close in case they were needed.

It was a short affair.  Protector Guard stood ready at the stairs to the next floor.  Everyone else was ordered to break into teams to explore and clear the rest of the third.  It mostly consisted of bedrooms that have been torn apart and a giant dining hall with attached kitchen equally big.

Darrian was out in the main passage after hours of walking and exploring, sighing out of boredom.  His eyes noticed something strange; the wall across from him had a section with a fine gap between it and the floor.  He took a dagger off a corpse and tested the area with the tip.  There was an empty area in the floor.

Tapping the pommel on the regular wall he noted the sound it made.  The rest of his troop noticed his activity and came over.  All heard the less muffled sound on the mystery wall.  Darrian quickly explained what he came upon; and, with them all searching, a crease was found.

A struggle ensued to get the wall open; no attempt at pulling or prying worked.  Other troops came to assist but they too became tired.  Then something happened; the doors opened into the empty space.  Everyone was flabbergasted by the suddenness, especially because they happened to be trying to pull it at the time.

Darrian entered the mystery area.  It was a small space ending in a plunge he nearly walked into.  Hagano walked in after him, looking at the walls where ropes hung.  “We need a long rope and some torches,” the troop leader called out.

“What is this?”

“This Darrian...”  Hagano dropped his torch and watched it fall.  “...is a lift.”  A thud rang up, but the torch itself was still fairly visible.  “Judging by that I’d say this shaft goes down a few floors.”  Darrian looked down to witness the torch get snuffed out.
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Duran had returned to the booth after his latest bout.  To say he dominated his opponent is an understatement; the Prince so outclassed Adal Helmi that it seemed he prolonged the fight solely to humiliate her.  By the louder than usual cheering throughout the match Amelia guessed that the eldest daughter of Lady Helmi was very unpopular.

The Proving Master looked pleased at his return.  “That was a crowd-pleaser.  Many have been waiting for that woman to be put in her place.”  He wanted to say more but the next match was about to begin and he was needed for it.

A red-haired dwarf came to Duran and paid his respects.  “Greetings, Lord Aeducan.  Are you enjoying the Provings so far?”

Duran rolled his shoulder trying to relax from a blow it took from Aller Bemot’s hammer earlier.  “Yes, I am....outside of that pathetically easy match I just got out of.”

The dwarf laughed.  “No doubt.  It is certainly good you decided to join my Lord.  Your presence inspires these warriors to even greater effort.”

Gorim cleared his throat.  “My Lord, this is the lead trainer of the Provings.  He teaches nobles from lower Houses without their own personal trainers and the best young men from the Warrior Caste.”

“Did he train you?”

“No.  My father thought it a waste a time to learn dual-style combat, as I was planned to be your second.”

“However, Ser Gorim has helped teach many classes on small-scale tactics, especially shield work,” the trainer stated, with a jolly tone.  He turned serious after a bit.  “Did you two hear of the scandal that happened here last week?”

“We’ve been preparing for tomorrow’s battle, and have had little time for gossip.”

“The Grey Wardens are in Orzammar searching for recruits, so the Warrior Caste arranged a Proving...as they do.  The goal was for the Grey Warden to recruit the winner, bringing him honor and a chance for glory.”

“Didn’t that happen?” Duran asked.

“Well, yes and no.  It was like nothing I’ve ever seen.  Ser Everd, fresh from fighting darkspawn, got dead drunk before the Proving.  Then some casteless bruiser took Ser Everd’s armor, wore it, and nearly won the Proving!”

Duran broke out into laughter.  It sounded too far-fetched to be true, but he decided to go along with it.  “Well, good for him.”

Gorim chuckled and sighed.  “Lord Aeducan likes to see the world shaken up.”

“Well, shake up the world it did,” the trainer said.  “They took the imposter to jail, but he somehow escaped, killed Beraht of the Carta, and was recruited into the Grey Wardens.  The Warrior Caste is in an uproar.  An incident like this raises many questions.”

“What kind of questions?” Duran asked, taken aback by the whole thing and curious about the implications.

“Well, how the brand got in here to begin with.”

Gorim spoke up.  “Or how casteless learned to fight like that.  They’re not even allowed to possess weapons.”

“I heard they fight in the slums with the old cast-offs.  I’m almost curious to see.”

“I doubt King Endrin would approve of that.”

“I suppose not,” the trainer said with a chuckle.  “I have to go check on the fighters.  It was an honor to speak to you Lord Aeducan.”  The dwarves gave a slight bow of their heads before separating.

The Proving Master turned to Duran.  “My Lord, Ser Blackstone is your next opponent.  He is one of the best of the Warrior Caste.  He achieved glory is close combat assaults in the Deep Roads.”

Duran grinned.  “Good.  He should at least provide a decent fight.”

A minute later he stood once more in the arena.  “Lord Aeducan will fight Ser Blackstone, Deep Roads squad leader of the Warrior Caste.”

His opponent was a bald dwarf with a tidy, braided beard.  “This is your education, child.  Try to learn as you bleed.”  Duran smirked at his comment and readied his weapons.
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Darrian’s feet hit solid ground, or wood in this case, at last.  It had been a tense climb down the shaft.  He looked around but no sign of anything within the lit area.  The others were already untied and had weapons drawn by the time he started on his knot.

When the ropes began their trip up the group ventured past the lift controls to the hallway beyond.  Alcoves lined the walls, all taken by metal humanoid figures.  “What are these things?” Darrian asked.

“Golems,” someone answered.  “The creation of Avasur, the Golem-Maker.  But...these are made of forged metal.  I’ve never heard of this kind before, just stone and wood ones.  Royquin the Smith must’ve helped with these.”

Darrian didn’t recognize the names; he figured they were apart of history he wasn’t taught yet by Merylin.  “What animates them?”

“The souls of the living or dead.  Least, that is what the Church teaches.  That...and golem-making, along with raising the dead, are forbidden and heretical.  That’s why only the yuan-ti use such accursed arts.”

“Yuan-ti?”

“Snake-men.  Evil men who’s minds and bodies were corrupted and twisted; just punishment for consuming a part of Set, the God Serpent.”

They walked past the last of the golems into an open room.    Darrian walked forward until he got back.  The man who did it pointed him to a groove in the floor with carved runes in the stone.  “Mind your step, no telling what happens when you cross that barrier.”

With a nod Darrian proceeded more cautiously.  Not an easy thing to do when the circle encompassed almost the whole room.  What the group found was a large set of double doors blocked by a pile of assorted tables, chairs, and other large and heavy items; two locked doors; another alcove, this one wide; and a well in the center of the room.

With only one place to go they headed to the alcove.  On either wall was a metal protrusion in the shape of a mask; one smiling, the other frowning.  Everyone, except Darrian, blanched at the sight of the smiling mask.  They backed away fast and scared.

By now another group of scouts had made it down.  Just in time to see someone cross the circle and activated it.  Sunlight came down from a hole in the ceiling into the well, illuminating the whole place.  A mighty roar erupted from the room past the double doors.  “You fool,” Hagano yelled.  “Are you trying to get us killed?”

The man responsible ran for his life out of the glowing circle.  It became dark and silent once more.  “So, what caused this recklessness?”

A boy answered, “The Smiling Sorcerer’s symbol.”

Hagano went pale at the answer.  He stepped carefully over to Darrian and took a look for himself.  “You, head back up and inform the Guard of this,” he ordered, finger pointed at a random scout.  “No one come near this without lots of men.  Who knows what sort of trap the bastard set with this.”

Darrian decided against asking the pertinent question he had; he didn’t think anyone was up for answering it.  Heading back to the locked doors he tested the first one again.  It was still locked.  The other opened without resistance.  He called over to Hagano.

Light could be seen from the other side.  Everyone readied for battle.  Hagano nodded, and Darrian kicked the door the rest of the way open.

Braziers affixed to the wall provided the light with a steady controlled flame.  The room itself housed racks fully lined with weapons of different varieties.  Darrian saw more of those two-handed axes the dead used earlier.  He about ran a finger over the blade when someone stopped him.  “Careful with that neet ax.  Back in the old days those edges were coated in toxins or poisons.”

Darrian withdrew his finger and nodded.  He looked to a rack of swords near the wall.  The shape of them was peculiar; a double-blade that curved out on both near the end into an arrow-head looking tip.  “What is this sword?”

The man gulped.  “Executioner blade; used by the most feared and deadliest of ancient Nestav’s army, the Executioners.  It was said to be able to slay any armor of its day.”

“Who are the Executioners?”

“ ‘Were’; who ‘were’ the Executioners.  They were the organization feared throughout the land.  After Nestav’s defeat and collapse they turned into the Protector Guard.”

Hagano came out one of the other entrances to the room.  “Weapons, armor, and a forge.  This must’ve been Royquin’s shop.”

“Who’s Royquin?” Darrian asked.

“He was the greatest singular smith of all time.  Doesn’t matter what he was tasked to create: weapons, armor, and the like; he would forge it to such a quality as to be magic.”

Darrian’s eyes widen in amazement and wonder.  He looked around the room at the spears, axes, and swords; and wonder if they were made by his hands.  Going into the room Hagano just left he saw shirts of mail everywhere.  The third room took his breath away.

Though the forge was not active it was still an impressive sight.  It was organized and neat as if it was never used, but the anvil and billows showed signs of wear.  He walked amongst the workshop looking at everything.  It was past the massive forge that he found something out of place.

A sword rested on two bars jutting out from the back wall.  It was incredibly long with a good-sized handle, but had almost no guard.  The pommel was shaped like a bird head.  Darrian looked over the scabbard decorated with iconography of a bird-horse mixture with a lion tail.

“Darrian, where are you?” Hagano yelled.

“Behind the forge.”  His leader came with a couple others, and they all stopped to gaze at the art before them.  “Why keep a sword in a forge after it’s done?”

Hagano shrugged.  “Maybe Royquin wanted to display his greatest creation.”  He reached out to lift the sword, but it wouldn’t budge.  Everyone joined him and barely managed to get it down.  They struggled to carry it.  “This thing is way too damn heavy.  What was it made from?”

Unbeknownst to them the makeshift mantle slowly raised without anything to hold it down.  A stone slab slid open.  The scouts abandoned Darrian to the task of holding the sword.  He could see they only went as far as the entrance before stopping.

Darrian somehow managed to lower the tip of the scabbard to the ground without the whole thing falling.  He worked to pull the sword upright.  Luckily, the thing had a sling so he decided to simply wear the thing on his back.  With a great deal of effort he stood up with the sword, but immediately found it easier to carry.

In the secret room he looked upon another sword.  This one looked about greatsword-sized, but shorter than the one he now bore.  The pommel was shaped like the head of a gryphon with a guard in the form of claws and the blade patterned in a way to resemble a tail.  Like the sword he was wearing the handle consisted of beautifully polished wood.  The scabbard next to it was decorated with images of flowers, its petals resembling fire.

He looked to his compatriots.  If they were afraid of the Smiling Sorcerer’s image before it was nothing compared to their expressions now.  Sheer terror etched onto their faces and their fingers trembled.  Darrian looked with confusion back at the sword.  “What’s wrong with it?”

“The Blade of Retribution,” Hagano whispered.  “Tasha’s blade said to....said to....I think it best to leave this place.  Right now!”  The other scouts left in a rush.

Darrian turned to leave.  He heard whispers from behind, but only the sword was there.  More whispers came from all around.  He did his best to ignore them but they wouldn’t stop.

They spoke of his childhood in Gwaren,
of the beatings he got for being an elf,
of his father forced to take the worst jobs at the wharf just to provide for the family,
of his mother being repeatedly violated by humans as she tried to sell apples for a local merchant,
of his sister selling her body just to make enough for the family to not be kicked from their home,
of the ‘accident’ nobody tried to stop at the wharf that crippled his father,
and of the murder of his family as they tried to move to Denerim because they were elves.

He looked to the sword.  With some trick of the light he swore the thing shined yellow, possibly with tinges of green.  Darrian closed his eyes and shook his head.  When he opened them again the sword was a sword.

Another blink of the eyes; just to make sure.  Nothing changed.  Looking around Darrian saw no one else in the room.  He approached the sword.  His hand reached out to touch it.

A voice said behind him, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”  Darrian spun around, his hand going to his sword.  In front of him was a man wearing dark green or black clothes; the only visible flesh were his blue eyes.  “Wielding Tasha’s sword is dangerous.  It takes its toll on your mind and body.”

“Who is Tasha, and what is so special about that hunk of metal?”

The stranger pinched the bridge of his nose.  “Tasha is the Goddess of Vengeance, the all-consuming Fire of Retribution, Rage and Fury Incarnate.  And that ‘hunk of metal’ as you so despicably call it is a work of art that was imbued with her very will.  You make the guess why it calls to you.”

Darrian relaxed his grip.  “Alright, so who are you?”

“Royquin Elwin,” he answered, crossing his arms.  Darrian was sure the guy was smirking under that cloak.  “I’m sure you’ve heard of me.”

“Not really.”

“Oh, right.  You’re still new.”

Darrian indicated the goddess’ sword.  “If I try to take that would you try to stop me?”

“No.  I’m only here to warn you what it will do.”

“Good to know ‘Legendary Smith’.”

“You doubt the claim?”

“How can I know it to be true?  I haven’t seen you forge anything.”

Royquin chuckled.  “Alright, what do I need to make to prove my title?”

Darrian pointed to Tasha’s sword again.  “Something like that.”

“Can’t.  Don’t have access to the materials.”

Darrian indicated the large sword on his back.  “What about this?”

“Same thing.”

The elf was flabbergasted.  “What do you mean you can’t?  You forged these yourselves!”

Royquin made an exaggerated motion of sighing.  “As good as I am at smithing I can’t claim either of those swords as my work.  They are centuries older than I am.  Whoever did that had some of the absolute best quality steel imaginable, another metal I’ve never come across, mana crystal dust, and access to dragon fire.  The level of craftsmanship is nearly as good as mine but the smith responsible put their very souls into those works.”

“What about armor?  I’d like a suit of plate armor.”

The smith thought about it for a moment.  “I’ve never attempted that sort of thing before.  You’ll have to give me some time but I’ll see what I can do.”  Royquin vanished into a cloud of dark smoke.

Darrian faced the goddess’ sword.  He reached out to grab it, but hesitated.  It promised him the revenge he desired against the humans he despised back home.  It would give him the power to do so.  But, these new humans; they showed him kindness and genuine acceptance.

He retracted his hand.  These humans could help make things better back home.  Darrian decided to do what he could in their service to help bring that change.  He clenched his fist to bury the anger and resentment that bubbled to the surface a moment ago, but it refused to go away.

His eyes went to the sword one last time.  It’s beauty and elegance spoke to him.  With great reluctance he turned around and walked away.
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Through the forested mountainous terrain of the southern Dales laventine scout parties searched for the tribes of Dalish elves.  They had no such luck so far.  However with the arrival of all their forces, plus the Princess’ vassals, the Genikos overseeing the occupation of Halamshiral decided to increase the number of search parties as well as how many were in them.

One such party was lead by a gnoll named Apollon.  His party was having a rather horrible time of it.  Recent rains made the paths they were trying to use muddy and hard to traverse.  Their spring cart had gotten stuck multiple times.  The horsemen with them wasn’t having it any easier.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when they got to hard stone.  That was when the driver signaled they had to stop.  “Need to rewind the spring,” the driver stated.

The riders piled out the cart and stood guard.  Apollon ordered to his horsemen, “Alexander, Ion, Bacchus!  Sweep the area in front and report if you find anything.”  With a fist over their heart they departed.
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Maram was leading the hunting party for her tribe.  They were readying to move their catch when one of the younger hunters came hurdling into their midst.  “Shemlen on horseback!  They’re heading for the tribe,” he got out between heavy breaths.

Any feelings of shock they had were subsumed by anger and action.  “Three of you are to join me and Pallian.  Everyone else, get those deer to the clan and warn them.  Pellian, lead the way.”

The party scrambled with haste to their various activities.  Maram was soon alone in the forest with her small group.  They pushed themselves as fast as they could to intercept the humans.  When they got close to the path they slowed down and readied their bows.

Right over the crest of the bank they crawled to were the three Pellian mentioned.  “Shem, alright,” Maram whispered, “but they don’t look Orlesian.”  The humans they saw all wore red surcoats over their armor; mail from the looks of it, but with legs and arms covered in plate.  Each had a curved sword, spherical objects on their belts, and crossbow.  What confused Maram was that their crossbows had two bows, one reversed, and the string looped over the front.  The crossbows were even perplexing with three blades jutting out the front and a box resting over the bolt channel.

She scowled nonetheless at the humans.  They put the clan at danger with their proximity.  At her gesture the elves nocked arrows and came out into the open.  All aimed at the riders.  “Shem!  Why do you stumble into these woods?”

The humans their arms into the air just enough to show the elves they were not going for their weapons.  Maram repeated the question to them but they looked to one another, probably confused.  Pellian slipped his grip and accidentally shot an arrow.  It bounced off the far right rider thanks to a sudden glowing spot.

The elves froze while Maram gave the youngest a death glare for his mistake.  Her attention was drawn back to the riders by sudden noise.  The middle one had gotten off his horse and approached them.  With five arrows aimed at him the soldier snapped his heels together, slammed his fist to his heart, pressed his left arm to the small of his back, and bowed slightly.

Maram hadn’t expected this; hadn’t expected a human to show a dalish elf some courtesy or respect.  She relaxed the draw and lowered her bow; her subordinates doing likewise.  They were surprised to see he was dark-skinned after the human removed layers of head protection.  Maram was taken aback further when the human walked up to her and proffered his gauntleted hand.

When she wouldn’t accept it he demonstrated what he was trying to do.  A simple grip and shake of the forearm.  Spurred on by the kindness this human was showing so far she accepted his gesture.

That was when she noticed the red glowing orb on the other side of his hip.  It was different from the other two in fact it looked to be made of glass instead of metal and lacked a rope sticking out.  The soldier noticed it too, backing away and slowly reaching for it so as not to alarm the elves since the orb was next a knife on the belt.  As soon as he rested his palm on the orb Maram noticed he closed his eyes.  It was an uncomfortable moment of silence with the only movement being the other two riders lowering their arms.

Things returned to normal when he opened his eyes and took his hand away from his belt, the orb transparent.  “Look, it’s been nice to meet you and all....but you still haven’t answered my question.”

The human merely took a stick off the ground and began to draw in the mud.  Five circles and three Xs with a box off to the side.  She nodded, thinking it looked like their present situation.  He carved a line from the box to the others and another X in front of the middle circle.  The drawing was finished with little squiggly lines between the two.

“What does it look like?” one of her hunters asked.

Maram stood up.  “There are more of them coming.  Their leader might be able to converse with us.”

“So, we’re supposed to wait here?”

“Seems like it.”  The whole scene became boring soon enough as both groups sat around waiting for the leader to arrive.  Maram spent her time studying the humans from afar.  The sword they wore looked to curve forward at the tip, very odd in her mind.  Her eyes stared at their strange crossbows and she noticed they hung off their torsos thanks to a leather strap that went over their shoulders.  Next were the box things on those crossbows; she noticed more of them in pouches on the horses.  She also wondered what it was that stopped the arrow earlier; quite possibly could have been magic.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of wheels dealing with mud and rocks.  The humans stood up and walked closer; elves doing likewise.  What came was the strangest thing so far to Maram.  A wagon without a horse to pull it rolled into the vicinity.

Both people up front and an additional eight in the back hopped out.  Maram’s eyes went wide at the sight of the dog-faced individual amongst this group of humans.  It walked over to the horsemen and discussed something with them.  To Maram it looked to be their leader.

She tensed up when the dark-skinned human pointed to her.  The dog- or wolf-man thing extracted a green gem necklace from a pouch on its belt and put around its neck.  “Greetings,” it said in the orlesian tongue as it approached.

One of her hunters reached for his sword, but she stopped him with a glare.  “Please forgive that action.  It’s just you’re speaking like Orlais.”

It howled in laughter.  “You think I would willingly learn that filthy barbarian tongue?  No, the necklace does that while I still speak my own people’s more refined and cultured language.”

“And who are your people?”

“We are from the Kingdom of Laventino, a strong but hardy and proud remnant of an ancient glorious empire.”

“I never heard of you.”  Maram crossed her arms.  She didn’t like the sound of this place; too much like the Tevinter Imperium up north.

“Not surprising.  We’ve only been here for a little over a month now.  Been kicking Orlais all across this region since they brutally and unprovocatively attacked us.”

“And what brings you here Ser....”

“Apollon, leader of this troop.”  They shook forearms.  “To answer your question first I have to ask: are you the Dalish?”

“Name’s Maran; and yes, we are dalish.”

“We came to find and make contact with one of your clans.”

She looked at him confused.  “Why?”

“We’re taking all the Dales from Orlais.  The Princess wanted your people to be apart of the kingdom to come, and help govern it.  That, or peaceful co-habitation.”  Maram repeated her question.  “It isn’t my place to question divinity.  If you want to know you should ask her holiness yourself.”

Maram really didn’t like the sound of that.  Suddenly, a large group of elves emerged from the forest with bows drawn.  Maram moved in front of Apollon.  “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Rescuing you?  It’s been a while since the clan was alerted to the intrusion of these shem.  When you didn’t return we feared for the worst,” a male replied.

“As you can see, Vavel, we’re fine.  These humans of Laventino don’t seem to mean us harm.”

“Riiiiight.  That’s a funny joke.”

“I’m being serious.  They have been nothing but courteous and respectful to us.  I think the Keeper should talk with them.”

Vavel’s jaw dropped along with his bow.  “Are you crazy?”

“No, I’m not.  They’re different enough from Orlais that the Keeper should at least hear them out.”  Vavel begrudgingly and reluctantly accepted it.  The laventine scouts were escorted to the camp of the Ellwood clan under heavy guard.
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It has been a very good day for Duran Aeducan.  He entered into a Proving dedicated to him and won it in the end.  His last opponent was a fierce one, Frandlin Ivo; the match between them went on for over ten minutes.  He walked into his commissioning ceremony with the Proving Helm on his head and a finely crafted ceremonial dagger on his hip.

Sure, there was the sticky part where Lord Dace tried to trick him on the subject of surface dwarves, but he made the scheming noble pay dearly.  When Duran made a spectacle of the deception Dace’s son challenged him to single combat in order to defend his father’s honor.  After a short bout Lord Dace was left grieving for his deceased son.  The rest of the ceremony was smooth and grand as befitting a son of House Aeducan.

When he retired for the night Trian made another attempt to ruin the day, but failed.  Afterwards, Trian left and Bhelen told Gorim and Duran of a plot.  The crown prince was looking to try and get Duran killed during the battle the following day.  Duran wasn’t worried about it for the moment.

Upon reaching his bedchamber Duran spotted the noble hunters he talked to during the morning.  He was going to enjoy the night.  All in all, it was a very good day for the second son of King Endrin.
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Amelia woke up the next morning feeling absolutely relaxed.  For the first time in days she slept above ground and could see some version of the sunrise over the mountains.  There wasn’t a single nightmare to plague her sleep; a rarity she was happy for.  It also helped that she didn’t have to contend with the weight of belief coming from hundreds of millions of people, only around a hundred thousand.

Her chipper and cheerful attitude proved to be infectious to her army as they prepared for the battle today.  Weapons set, armor donned, and machines ready to be moved; things were running in the ways only a well-organized and well-disciplined army could.

Amelia got in her armor after breakfast was finished.  By the time she emerged from the tent her soldiers had finished their prayers to her.  She made a quick inspection of the legion; all her men were eager and ready for battle.  After that they gathered into marching formation in front of Orzammar’s gate.  All they had to do now was wait.

A commander entered her tent and knelt.  “You summoned me your holiness?”

“Yes,” Amelia replied.  “Milis Isadore, correct?”  The man nodded.  “Your men are guarding the pass, correct?”  Again, he nodded.  “How many do you have there now?”

“Two hundred, your holiness.  I rotate them out daily.”

“I want your entire millennium there.  We might be in the Deep Roads for days and I don’t want anyone to try anything with most of the legion gone.  Oh, and take extra cannons and other war machines with you that we can’t bring with us.  It should make easier for the millennium I’m assigning to guard the camp.”

“As you wish your holiness.”  He was dismissed.

Xanthia entered after Isadore left.  “My lady, you are in high spirits today.”

Amelia suppressed a chuckle.  “Well, of course.  We’re going to battle.  What could be better,” she half-heartedly joked, playing into her war deity persona a bit.

“One of the sentries reported spotted a crowd of fliers heading here.”  The Princess followed her handmaiden out curious to see if it was whom she hoped.  She could see a swarm of them on approach, sunlight glinted off their metal.  “Shall I order the legion to battle formation?”

Amelia halted her with a hand gesture.  The riders swooped down to the trade road leading to Orzammar.  Their mounts flapped their wings at the last moment to smoothen the landing.  A flag was unfurled and raised.  She couldn’t help but smile at the sight.

Under the banner of a gold hippogryph over a green field was a hodgepodge of pegasi, hippogryphs, gryphons, and a number of drakes.  The riders and their mounts were covered in mail and plate armor with colorful quilts over top most of their bodies.  The peculiarity that stuck out to Amelia was the fact that all the riders wore something on their backs; it looked to be imitation wings of wood and silk.  The lead rider had wings of purple as opposed to the white everyone else had.

When they drew near the lead rider came down from their hippogryph, removed her helmet, stopped before Amelia, and dropped to one knee.  All the others followed suit.  “All-Mother, I came as you requested,” the kneeling royal announced.  “Our lives are yours to command.”

Amelia placed a hand on the kneeling woman’s head.  “I never doubted your great-grandmother when she made the pledge, and I am happy to see you fulfill Queen Albuyah.  I accept your service with gratitude and humility.  Rise.”

The riders stood up as one.  Albuyah’s eyes were wet with tears of joy.  “It is a dream come true to finally meet you All-Mother.  We also come with a gifts; one from us and the other from the Inperator.”  A hippogryph was brought forth wearing a green caparison with gold embroidery.  Amelia walked to the majestic creature with wonder in her expression.  She bowed to it and the creature knelt back.  With an out-stretched hand she petted the top of its head.  “We thought it the perfect gift for one such as you All-Mother.”

Amelia looked to their flag.  “Well, how can one rule the khugomid people without the very symbol of that people to carry them into battle?”  They shared a brief smile.  “You said the Inperator also had a gift.”

Albuyah cleared her throat.  “Yes, All-Mother.  We couldn’t find your sword so the Inperator handed over your father’s for you to use.”

The Princess saw it as she walked around her mount.  Hanging off the left flank of the saddle was the familiar dragon-head pommel and draconic iconography on the scabbard.  She grasped the one-handed wood handle and unsheathed the longsword length blade.  Despite the lack of a guard it was still a masterful work of art.  After re-sheathing it she asked, “Why would he just hand it to me?  It is the symbol of his status as Laven King.”

“He told it is rightfully yours to wield.”

Amelia had moment of sorrow as she thought of the king.  She replaced the falx on her person with her father’s sword.  “I....thank you,” she said with a bow of her head.

The riders all returned the gesture.  “All-Mother, you look ready to go into combat.  My winged dragoons and I are ready to fight at your side.”

“My legion and I will be fighting in a place called the Deep Roads, far underground.  It is no place for effective cavalry usage down there I’m afraid.”  Amelia approached the Queen.  “Rest for now and we will take after I return topside.”

Albuyah nodded, more than a little disappointed.  “We will assist your men topside then.”  Amelia smiled to her with a hand on the Queen’s shoulder.  “Please don’t take too long.”

The Queen watched her All-Mother and the laven troops march into the underground passage.  Another, smaller contingent of them trudged past pushing and pulling various siege weapons.

Albuyah noticed a mixed group of what she assumed to be natives staring at her winged dragoons or possibly their mounts.  They spotted her glare and promptly went underground.  Albuyah sighed about what she assumed was going to be a long day of boredom.

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5 Re: Bound by the Past on Thu Nov 02, 2017 2:30 pm

It had been a frantic week of rapid musters.  Carrier birds went out from Denerim to all corners of Fereldan.  All banns were asked to send some of their fighters to either of the armies.  The two commanders began their march to the west or down south gathering men along the way.  Now, it was all coming to a head.
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King Cailan sat upon his horse watching his army finish arming for battle.  He took a breath of the crisp morning air.  It was a good feeling he had for today.

Below him was an assemblage of warriors from every bannorn and arling along the shore of the Waking Sea or the border of the Frostback Mountains.  Tallies placed the muster at 9,000 men and women; a force larger than any that his father commanded during his fight for freedom from Orlais.

The giant of a man Arl Wulff rode to where the young king observed the camp.  “My king, the scouts report they’ve located the enemy encampment.  By their count there are only 200 men there.”

“Only 200?” Cailan was a bit confused and let down if true.  “Did they see the dragon-lady there?”

“No sight of her.”

“Must be a rearguard then.”  He was hoping for a glorious battle that would be remembered, but he supposed it would have to do for now.  Cailan let out a sigh.  “Oh well.  Hopefully it isn’t all of the enemy and we can catch their army off-guard once we take care of this band.”
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The forest was damp with water dripping from the branches above.  Edward von Keller stood there just as miserable as his men after the stormy night they had prior.  It was a struggle to sleep for anyone with how fierce the thunder storm was, and not everyone managed to keep dry in their tents.

Before him were thousands of peasants busy in the construction of the tower; right over the location of the mirror.  It was already up to the third floor and possessed the simple square shape.  Another couple of months and it should be complete.

Wooden cranes lifted the stone and other materials to where the work was ongoing.  The workers stopped momentarily and paid their respects to a young blond woman in plate armor and Lady Merylin.

The pair spotted Edward and went to him.  “Princess Natasha, Lady Merylin,” he greeted them.  “It is nice to see both of you here.”

“Impressive,” Natasha stated.  “I can’t wait to see it complete.  The ground floor seems incredibly massive and its walls appear to be three times thicker than normal.”

“Good eyes Princess.  Your father thought this could make a trade outpost in addition to fort hence the ground floor being that size.”

“What defenses does it have already?”

“Heavy cannons and flammenwerfers are installed on the first floor with another set of cannons set on the second.  The same will be done for the other three floors when they’re finished.”

“And the gate house?  I don’t see one.”

“That will be the very last thing was the building materials are done being ferried across.”

An approaching Protector Guard interrupted the conversation.  Once he got the three’s attention his finger pointed upwards.  High above the work site was a man tied to a kite.  The scout was flying a white flag with a red central circle.  “Approaching enemy force,” the Guard announced.

“Get him down and have him sent back to inform the capitol,” Edward ordered.  After the Guard left, he addressed the peasants.  “Prepare for battle!”
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King Endrin had just informed his second son Duran of the important task he wanted the newly commissioned commander to complete. He was in one of the safest areas in all the Deep Roads with Lord Harrowmont, his third son Bhelen, and a sizable force of guards.

Harrowmont was particularly curious about what the laventine soldiers were doing.  They had placed a number of tables in the open with maps of the Deep Roads sprawled all over them.  A collection of their people stood around the tables, orbs in hand.  Little wooden figures were pushed along the various tunnels and routes.  Occasionally they would mark a spot with quill and ink.

Amelia could be seen, in her armor and gold scale surcoat, going between tables to overlook it all.  She was intercepted in one of her trips.  “Interesting set up you have,” Harrowmont said.

“We learned a long time ago that with the tools at our disposal that this really is one of the best ways to coordinate a scattered mess of tunnel fighting.”

Bhelen pointed to the close by mass of loitering soldiers.  “Why are they not in the battle?” he asked.

“Reserves.  I’ll pitch them in whenever one of my decades comes across an open area or are in need of a relief force.”

“Very well,” King Endrin replied.  “It’s looks as if you have this matter in hand.  We’ll be leaving to join the fight.”

“Would you care for a century of my men to escort you?”

“That won’t be necessary Princess.  Where we’re going that will be plenty of your people there.”  The Orzammar party left them to their own attendance.  Amelia inclined her head at their departure and got back to commanding her troops.
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Isadore had barely gotten his troops in position when word came in about an enemy army marching toward them.  He ordered their machines prepped and loaded, his men to take positions, and the steam boilers to be heated.  Immediately afterwards he sent a message to the Princess and others topside that they would soon be under attack.

As soon as she heard from the Milis commanding the base camp Queen Albuyah ordered her riders to mount up.  They thundered out from Orzammar as fast as their steeds could run.
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Teryn Loghain’s army was making camp in the forest.  Some of his men was exhausted from the forced march down here and he wanted to ensure that his own troops from Gwaren joined them before the army moved against the invaders.  No one was really happy with how wet the land was.

Arlessa Geneva King was explaining the local terrain to him, referencing a map to help him understand the layout.  The splattering of an ink drop marked the location of the invader’s tower.

A soldier entered the command tent and reported, “Milord, few of the scouts have returned.  They said they engaged in a skirmish with enemy scouts.  One of them said the enemy is on the move.”

“That messes our plan up,” Loghain stated, groaning at the news.  “I was hoping for a couple of days of rest.”

“We need to intercept them before they get here,” Geneva proclaimed.

“We’ll leave the elves and peasants to finish making camp.  Send the order for everyone to march.”
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Duncan and his Grey Wardens were accompanied by a contingent of dwarves led by Crown Prince Trian.  Their journey was slowed by the high number of darkspawn close to Orzammar.  It was unusual that the foe would amass this large a force within striking distance of the dwarven city-state.

They sensed another such concentration of darkspawn ahead.  Unfortunately there was no way around unlike the others.  Screams and howls rang off the walls and an ogre’s roar was cut short by an explosion.  The group ran for the source of the noise.

It was an open area they emerged into.  Ahead of them was a stubby genlock waving sending lightning out of its fingers at a party of laventine soldiers.  The sparks stopped at glowing blue spots before their person.  One of the soldiers aimed his crossbow and shot the genlock in the head.  Its body fell amidst the rubble and darkspawn dead.

The soldiers swept over the area with raised crossbows while the dwarves and Wardens examined the bodies; especially the ogre.  One of the darkspawn was still alive but choking on its own blood.  A dwarf stomped hard on its neck; a nearby lav gave him a smile and thumb-down.
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Loghain’s march was halted when they stumbled across the enemy already set up in battle formation.  He had his own do the same in short order.  While they did that he examined the enemy force.

The enemy had set its left flank (from his perspective) to a vertical embankment.  Most of its front line was comprised of infantry wielding an wildly varying assortment of spears, but the same type of tear drop shaped shield; and wore a varying assortment of armor and helmets, but most possessed suits of overlapping scale that went over their whole bodies.  There was a small group on the right that all were covered in plate armor and used the same weird configuration of spear.

Lining the small rise behind those at the left flank were heavy metal tubes on wheels Loghain deduced were cannons.  Behind the center were archers while there was an empty space on the right.
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Being the first to the battle Edward did as much as he could to make it as advantageous as his side as he could.  It didn’t help that the trees were frequent and broke up his organized tightly packed formations.  But the spot he chose offered an elevated position for archers and artillery.

Edward decided to arrange his army with the right flank (from his perspective) butted against the unflankable piece of terrain.  These were the least experienced people in his army, never seen combat but received adequate enough training.  He would personally take charge of the left where the Protector Guard and more veteran troops stood.  When Princess Natasha insisted on partaking in the battle he let her command the center.

Across the way he witnessed his opponent arrange themselves into a loose definition of formation; more like a blob to him.  The vast majority of their armor consisted of rows atop rows of metal ovals.  To his surprise this army, like the last one, came equipped with shields and short melee weapons; mostly swords.  Edward couldn’t believe the complete lack of spears amongst his opponents.

A runner had arrived from the engineers manning the cannons.  “My lord, the boilers have warmed up and pressure is now building up for the cannons.”  Edward dismissed him with a nod.

Two people rode out from the opposition.  Edward walked towards them; Natasha and Lady Merylin joining him on horseback.  Both parties stopped a small distance away from one another.

Introductions were exchanged with Merylin translating between them.  “I’m giving you one chance invader...” Loghain proclaimed, a finger pointed at Edward.  “...leave this land that belongs to Fereldan and the Arlessa or be driven under heel.”

“If I do that will I have a guarantee from your kingdom that the mirror will be defended?  Will you ensure that another attack will not be made against Nestav by those pale wrinkle-faced monsters?  Or anyone else from this side for that matter?”

“My duty is to the defense of this country, not yours.”

“Then you have your answer.  I won’t leave my people open to attack.  We will have a garrison for the tower if you won’t guard the mirror.”

Arlessa Geneva King, whom had been glaring at Edward the entire time, spoke up.  “Then I will avenge my husband’s death upon you and your army and your people on the other side.”

Seeing that talking was going nowhere, except more ranting and threats from the Arlessa, Merylin rode away.  Edward covered the ladies’ ride back.  He kinda already knew there was going to be a battle.
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The king’s army stared at their enemy up the slope of the pass.  A small wooden fort had been constructed with a second line of palisades enclosing the whole thing.  In front of that was a fighting force that looked too big to fit in the fort.  They had mantlets to their sides and front with a deep-dug trench before them.

Cailan commented, “That looks to be a lot more than just 200 men.”

“How did they get reinforced so quickly?” Teryn Cousland asked.  “And where did it come from?”

They looked at the machines sitting behind the enemy soldiers; cannons, strange multi-tubed carts, and what looked to be a small ballista.  “We have to strike now if we wish for them to not encroach upon our lands,” Cailan stated.  The Teryn and Arls nodded in agreement.  “Archers!”

Lines of archers went ahead of the infantry.  They got as close as necessary and nocked arrows.  Upon command they raised their bows high.  Their officer’s raised arm dropped and they released.

A volley soared high into the sky.  The enemy infantry overlapped their large round shields and ducked underneath.  Arrows pelted down upon the first ranks without harm.

In response hundreds of fiery arrows rocketed out of the multi-tubed carts and flew into Fereldan’s infantry.  The resultant explosions shredded their lines with shrapnel.  Everyone was stunned by the power of the weapon.  Archers were cut down before a series of pops came from the enemy force.  Cailan was horrified to see his countrymen falling to the ground either armless, legless, or headless.

He suddenly feared what would happen if this army was allowed to venture into his nation.  “For Fereldan!” he shouted at the top of his lungs.  The shocked stupor the soldiers were in was broken by that roar.  Man and woman alike charged up the slope with swords drawn; their advance covered by the archers.  They would make the enemy pay for every person cut down by the stone balls their artillery threw.
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“They know they’ve already lost this,” Loghain mused.  “They’re taking a purely defensive stance.  You only do that when you’re losing.”

Geneva smiled.  “It also helps that they kindly surrendered the initiative to us.”

Loghain watched as the battle began.  A volley of arrows lit ablaze soared from his archers over to the enemy.  He watched as they simply raised their shields.  He watched as the plated soldiers simply lowered their visors and heads.  He watched as they weathered the storm of arrows; volley after volley.

The old general was shocked.  It didn’t look like any damage had done.  After the tenth he called an end to it.  The enemy merely plucked the arrows out of their shields and tossed them into the mud.  He didn’t like the way things were going so far.

“I want them loosing regular arrows from now on,” he told the archer’s officer.  The woman acknowledged.  “Release the hounds.”

Dozens of mibari hounds charged past the archers who kept the enemy under their shields.  Suddenly, archers were smashed back and popping sounds came from the enemy’s flank; their cannons were now in the fight.

Big snarling ferocious mibari hounds barreled towards their targets.  “Get those cowards!” warriors cheered.  The men and women of Fereldan watched in horror as the enemy loosed a single volley of arrows and killed every last hound.

They were pissed to see their prized and faithful companions sent tumbling with such contemptuous ease.  Weapons were gripped tighter in their anger.  That was when Loghain gave his order.  “Infantry, advance.”

More arrows rained upon the enemy as the infantry passed by them.  Warriors were ripped apart as more popping rang.  It was chaos after that.  Infantry charged at full sprint while the archers covered them will volleys of arrows.  All the while the enemy cannons tore apart their targets.

When his infantry came close to the enemy’s front lines their archers opened up.  Anyone who didn’t have their shields up was killed or injured.  Their charge was stalled, but they pushed on.

The enemy switched stances and formed a wall of shields and spears.  Warriors of Fereldan were impaled before they could strike back.  Loghain could only watch as the melee began.

He was confused with the fact the men of Netav didn’t break their ranks and engage his men the proper way.  His eyes examined the whole of their line for any sign of weakness.  When the archers shot their last arrows he held them back; he was going to have them wade into melee at just the right moment.
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The Grey Warden’s journey was slowed down a bit with two decades of laventine soldiers teaming up with them.  Trian had left them by this time due to a massive battle occurring in a thaig close to their location.  With him went all the dwarves.

Two of the soldiers pushed mantlets forward to provide the others a source of cover in the tight confines of a tunnel.  Everyone else filed in single line after them with crossbows aimed and ready.  The Grey Wardens and their new recruits followed close behind.

Duncan was highly impressed with the skill the soldiers were displaying.  Few of the darkspawn they came across closed the distance to the group thanks to the lav’s marksmanship.  Those that did were quickly set ablaze by what he was told was called a flamethrower.

Now they had stopped again.  Those in front spotted a branching tunnel.  The leaders of each decade conversed in their language leaving the Grey Wardens clueless.  After they were done Duncan watched a dispatch of three head up to investigate.  The one in front leaned over to peek after the corner; the last in line held up five fingers.

“What is happening?” Duncan asked the troop’s leader.

The man directed two more of his decade to move ahead.  “Five darkspawn in the offshoot.  We’ll try to take them all out at once.”

Duncan looked to those at the connecting point.  One had a spherical object in hand while another next to him had a small metal staff with a blue gem affixed to its top.  Duncan noticed some curious runes etched in the sphere.  The gem touched the rope sticking out of the spherical device and lit it.

Two seconds passed before the soldier holding the sphere walked forward and tossed his device in the branching tunnel.  He quickly retreated back.  Time passed, and as if by cue the soldiers sprang into motion around the corner with crossbows pressed against shoulders.

It was a moment of silence that seemed to stretch on.  All five emerged unscathed.  One made a series of hand gestures that the troop leader told Duncan indicated none survived the grenade.

With that the group pressed forward, the five falling back into line.
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Another group of winged dragoons was encountered out in the pass.  They came from the direction of the Dales.  Unlike the ones under Queen Albuyah’s personal command these rode upon horses, unicorns,  and wargs.  There were also a number of elephants carrying men and small steam cannons.

The two groups halted upon seeing the other.  Their respective leaders converged between them.  “Sis,” the other leader, Princess Jasemine, with  red silk wings said.  “Have you met the All-Mother?”

Albuyah nodded.  “She is underground where we can’t fight with her from our steeds.”  There was a silence before Albuyah called her sister’s name.  “What is important now is that we have an opportunity to use our strength for her service.  Our brethren are being attacked right now.  It sounded like they were greatly outnumbered.”

“Lead the way sis.”  Both groups combined and hurried towards the battlefield.
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The fighting that Endrin and his men were engaged in was reaching its zenith.  It had started off as a simple skirmish in a thaig.  More and more darkspawn came to replace those the dwarves had killed.  Soon after more dwarves arrived to reinforce Endrin’s group but the flow of the enemy could not be stymied.

It became a mini-battle all its own when darkspawn emissaries showed up to cast their spells, an ogre to smash the hasty shield walls, and a hurlock alpha to command them all.  Before anything could come of it an explosion pulped the ogre’s head.  Crossbow bolts killed almost all the emissaries and one forced the alpha to retreat with a grievous shoulder injury.

All eyes momentarily turned to the outflanking laventine dwarves.  Harrowmont saw one stuff an overly-large bolt into a tube held by a second.  After a staff was inserted and retracted from the back of the tube fire pushed the bolt out and sent it into the chest of another ogre.  The resultant explosion turned the creature’s chest into a bloody mess and the thing toppled over dead.

A great cheer came from Endrin’s men and they refocused on the darkspawn.  They were going to reap a bloody vengeance on the things.
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This was not what Wynne expected.  She thought another adventure was to be had when King Cailan arrived at the Circle Tower to request the aid of mages against an invading of maleficar from another world.  What she and the other senior enchanters got was trying desperately to keep stricken men and women from dying from their horrific injuries.

She was the only one of the four to not get sick at the sight of the damage the invader’s weapons caused.  What helped prevent her as well was her focus on a man with a leg blown off from the thigh and a perforation of shrapnel in his chest.  Wynne was exhausted and her head was pounding from the constant use of her healing spells to save many lives.  The current patient was especially taxing and she feared for his survival after his skin became cold and clammy.

News of the battle all became background noise to her as she continued her work.  After he passed on Wynne downed a lyrium potion and moved on to the next person who needed help.  It was all she could do.
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Cailan hoped the battle could be turned around now.  His people had reached the palisades despite the voluminous amount of projectiles sent their way.  Corpses and injured littered the ground in heaps.

The enemy was keeping his people from the fortifications with what he was told were spears that had unusually long metal shafts and heads.  Even though their spears were capable of punching through the shields the weight of numbers was on Fereldan’s side.  It would only be a matter of time before they broke through.

Drums began to be beaten from the enemy camp.  The rhythmic pounding became faster and heavier as time went on.  What few archers were left fled the field at their sound.  Even those standing by Cailan, including an Andrastian priestess, began to fear the haunting drums.

The blowing of a horn became their funeral dirge.  Over the hill crested a tide of cavalry the likes the young king had never seen before.  They thundered into the side of his unexpectant army.  Anyone who didn’t die from the lances were trampled under the mass of horses.

Cailan and his entourage attempted to flee but the winged horsemen enveloped and surrounded him.  One mage prepared a fire spell but was skewered upon many lances before he could finish casting it.  So, with some reluctance, the surviving nobility and soldiery tossed their weapons to the ground and surrendered.
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“Your holiness, Prince Duran has left Aeducan Thaig.  King Endrin has given us permission to move in and secure it.”  Amelia nodded at the report.  A century was sent out at her command.

Another report came to her.  “The Grey Wardens are venturing off on their own.  Our people were told they needed to finish their investigation on their own.”

“Where did they depart?” Amelia asked.  The map monitored by the centurion had the spot marked by a small circle.  “Keep a decade there on rotation.  That will be the farthest we progress for today.”

The Prefect of the legion, a gnoll named Eustorgios, approached Amelia with a glowering look on his face.  “I’ve just heard from Milis Isadore.  His forces had just been assaulted by what has to be Fereldan; no casualties.”

Amelia’s mouth twitched in anger.  “When did they come under attack?”

“I....don’t know your holiness.  This is the first I’m hearing of it.”

She had to massage her temples.  “Was there more?”

“Yes.  They captured a lot of enemy soldiers, including nobility.  A few of them might be of the upper parts of the hierarchy.”

“Prefect, continue the battle and clear out the thaigs we’re already moving towards.  I’m going topside to talk to the Milis and these prisoners.”  Eustorgios bowed in response.  Amelia selected a minotaur and braen to serve as her guard as she departed.
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Isadore was getting visibly sick.  His men were combing the field looking for any wounded.  The damage their weapons caused against flesh was something hardly any of them could handle.  Despite the incredible training and drilling they underwent this was still their first taste of combat.  Many of them felt they would be haunted by the sight and sound and smell of it all.

Winged dragoons assisted their brethren in caring for the wounded and dying.  None of them seemed shaken in the slightest.  Their royalty sat on their steeds overseeing everything; eating an apple while doing so.

“Your highness, how can you be so collected after such a slaughter?” Isadore asked.

“Because....”  Jasemine paused to think of how to best phrase it.  Albuyah took another bite.  “...this is an old sight to us.  Back home we’ve had to deal with marauders from the south and north, and for the past few years koth looking to devour us from the east.  A battlefield littered with this few dead from sides is a change of pace.”

“You’re joking, right?”  Isadore was in complete shock.  Both royals shook their heads.
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Natasha barked out orders as the melee carried in front of her.  The center flank has been holding its ground for some time.  But slowly things were changing.

She had noticed for some time that the inexperience of the right flank was taking its toll on the nerves of those young boys.  A plan had formed in her mind, and she sent a messenger to Edward to bring it to fruition.  After he approved she sent the same messenger to order the right flank to slowly step back every so often.

The cannons had been pulled back a while ago.  Looking over Natasha saw the enemy was now in position.  She ordered the wing of her flank to bend slightly so they wouldn’t be in a position to be outflanked.  She hoped the enemy would take the bait.
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Loghain saw it.  One side of the enemy army was getting pushed back.  The battle, he felt, tittered on a knife edge.  If his people could break that side they could hit the center in the back and finish them off.  All he needed was a signal.

Arlessa Geneva King had wandered from the field looking to maneuver her personal knights around that of the enemy’s plated warriors.  Those of Fereldan facing those men right now were having a terrible time of it and were suffering badly because of the bizarre spears.

A glint of light off metal could be seen behind the opponent’s lines.  It was followed by a cheer and a charge.  The plated enemies were caught off-guard and attacked from two sides.  Just the sign Loghain was looking for.

He ordered the archers into the fray on the left.  Their weight of numbers would be the tipping point.
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Edward and others were toppled by the surprise charge.  He felt the impact of someone trying to stab through his backplate.  The clashing of metal rang all around.  What prevented him from standing was the weight of someone fighting atop him.
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Natasha witnessed the opposition’s archers rush into her right flank.  Sure enough the rookies were getting pushed.  The back lines of those fighting her flank filtered over to assist in the breakthrough.  It wouldn’t be long now before she gave the order to advance.
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Darrian breathed in the smell of the damp forest.  The scouts had just made it out of the tower.  Behind them were a bunch of wolf riders from some neighboring House.

The order to advance was given.  Everyone knew what direction to go; the sound of battle was clear.  It took some time to get there despite their hurried, but not running, pace.  What they saw was a battle their side was losing.

Wolves howled, and the cavalry charged.  “Ready weapons!” Hagano ordered.  Darrian, without thinking, took off the scabbard from his back and unsheathed the sword.  He looped the scabbard back over his shoulder as if it was the natural thing to do.

“Protect the Protector Guard!”  The scouts charged into the back of those on the Guard’s rear.  Darrian swung downward and cleaved a man’s head and arm from his body.  It was the first of many lives he would claim.
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Fereldan’s fortune turned very swiftly.  Loghain ordered a hasty retreat of anyone who could when he spotted the wolf riders heading straight for him.  They pursued him for some time before they turned back.  He dreaded the fate of those left behind, but he couldn’t do anything now except for his own troops to arrive.
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Edward felt the weight disappear from him.  He immediately pushed up and got to his feet.  Someone swung at his back but failed to do anything.  His hand went directly for his arming sword and drew it in a flash.

The person who attacked him was an angry woman in fancy armor.  She was already preparing to stab when he turned around.  What she didn’t see was someone behind her swinging a large sword down at her.  There was a look of shock and surprise on her face as both her arms were lopped off in an instant.  Edward ended her suffering by quickly stabbing her exposed head.

He nodded to the one who saved him.  His halberd was plucked from the ground and Edward got back to the bloody business of battle.
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As soon as she saw the enemy leadership was driven off Natasha ordered the advance.  The enemy lacked the numbers to stop them.  Nestav’s archers formed a melee line on their side and eventually their rear as the spearmen hinged movement progressed.  The trap had been sprung and most of Fereldan’s army was pinned against the cliff.

Warg cavalry charged the exposed area and sealed the enemy’s fate.  Fereldan warriors were pressed on three sides.  They backed up until they couldn’t anymore, and in the crush only the front line could raise their weapons.
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Edward’s front died down soon afterwards.  Seeing most of their people trapped, and that they were unable to rescue them, the remaining parts of the enemy army fled or surrendered.  He would give them no respite.

“Scouts, Archers!  Pursue them to their camp!” he bellowed.  Both groups of began the chase.  Edward made sure to stop the one with the large sword and thank him before letting him go.
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King Endrin’s grief was becoming too much to bear.  He had believed Bhelen at first when he said Duran was trying to kill Trian.  He didn’t until he saw his second son kneeling over the body of his first.  The sense of overwhelming victory they won today was washed away in an instant.

There were three other dwarves there with Duran.  Ser Gorim’s loyalty to Duran made him untrustworthy in this investigation.  The scout from the Warrior Caste when questioned about the incident said that they found Trian’s group standing there and Duran ordered them to attack the Crown Prince.  He was accused of lying by Gorim and swiftly killed.

Guards had to be restrain the retainer and stripped him of his weapons.  Faudlin Ivo, last dwarf amongst the group, was interrogated.  The valiant warrior from a low noble House corroborated the scout’s story.

It was a sad procession back to Orzammar.  Trian and his men were carried back on shields while Duran and Gorim were marched back in chains.
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Cailan was brought to the command tent.  A man, possibly the one who commanded the battle, emerged with his face pale.  He bore the look of someone harshly reprimanded for a grievous mistake.  The king was shoved into the tent.

Inside he was before three women sitting in armor.  Only the center one didn’t sport a glowing gem necklace or imitation wings.  She had real ones, and a tail.  Her hair had been pulled back and exposed her pointed ears.

A look and a nod was given to a guard behind Cailan.  The binding on his hands was undone and a seat placed before him.  He sat down and both the guards left them to their meeting.

“Who are you?” the dragon-lady asked.  Introductions were quickly exchanged.  “Why did you attack?”

“Your army had been seen in my country.  We heard of your invasion of Orlais, and we feared the same for Fereldan,” Cailan answered.

“And yet you saw fit to supply me a justification for it if I so choose.”  Cailan looked at her sternly.  “I’ve no interest in your kingdom.  I’m only at war with Orlais because they attacked my countrymen for some poorly thought-out reason.”

“Then what is to happen to my men or I?”

“You’ll be ransomed.”  Cailan looked at her incredulously.  “I’m not just going to let you go.  That will just send the message to everyone that they can prey on my people without fear of reprisal.  Do you have a trusted confidant or advisor with you?”  The Fereldan King nodded.  “For five gold we will allow him to leave with the message.”

“I can pay that.”

“Good; the guards will escort you to him and assist in his departure.  In the meantime your people will be well taken care of and we will do our best to help the injured.”  The discussion went on for a while longer as the price was set for each social standing: Cailan was worth 80 gold, Teryn Cousland and his children 40 gold each, any Arls 20 gold, Banns that didn’t die with their subjects 10 gold, and anyone else was to be released at a payment of 5 silver each.

“The last thing I wish to discuss is the Frostback Mountains.”

“Yes, what about them?” Cailan queried.

“Are they part of Fereldan?”

“No.  Only the Avvar folks live in those mountains in their holds.  The conditions making living there tenuous at best.”

“Very well.  I was going to ask you to hand them over, but I it seems that isn’t necessary.  I will inform you, however, that I plan to claim these peaks and that will be as far eastward my forces will go.”

“All I can do is warn you of the Avvar.  They will come during the winter, like they do every winter, to attack anyone and everyone in the surrounding lowland areas.  They will burn villages to the ground, wantonly slaughter anyone in their path, snatch women from their homes, along with looting and pillaging anything they can get their hands on.”

“Thank you for the warning.”  The guards were called for and the King of Fereldan dismissed.

After Cailan was taken from the tent Amelia sighed.  “That should relieve some pressure off the taxpayers for this campaign....at least for a short time.”

“All-Mother,” Jasemine spoke.  “Do you think this ‘war’ will last too much longer?”

“I hope not.  I don’t have any plans to annex lands past Lake Celestine.  But, there is still the question of how much Orlais can take before they capitulate.”

“If it is your desire I wish to lead the combined army in the west.”

Amelia admired the Princess’ initiative.  “Very well.  When I leave this place you will command the entire war.”  Jasemine hadn’t expected that much; she dropped to her knees and bowed her head to the floor.  “Tomorrow morning you will return to Halamshiral and learn all that you can about the various forces brought from the other parts of the empire.”

“Yes All-Mother.  I will endevour to make myself worthy of your faith in me, and I hope that you will proud of me.”  A tap on her shoulder let Jasemine know to rise.  She saw a smile on Amelia’s face as well as her sister’s.
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Nestav didn’t have to worry about any subsequent attacks.  Fereldan’s forces had been chased back to their camp.  What was left of their army never bothered to try to defend it; they fled from the camp and left all their belongings behind.

There was a great cheer amongst them after Edward gave the order to plunder everything from the enemy camp.  They were wealthy for a time after that.
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The records would show this to be a terrible day for Fereldan.  Both battles were unmitigated disasters.  Of the 9,000 sent to fight Laventino’s thousand men, and the khugomid reinforcements of a thousand horsemen, less than a third of them survived; with only around 500 coming of it unscathed.  Lavenitno didn’t lose a single man.

The fight with Nestav was more even.  Fereldan brought 5,500 to bear against 5,000 of theirs.  Casualty figures state around 700 survived from Fereldan with another 250 captured; Nestav suffered over 150 dead with another 550 wounded.

In the written accounts of the battles Laventino and Nestav make particular mention of the oddity of Fereldan’s army.  Both had found it weird that around half the army that went against them were comprised of women.  Laven archivists note that the percentage was much greater than even in Orlais’ military.
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It was a long, long day; but it was finally over for Crown Prince Bhelen.  The battle was exhausting, but with Lavenitno’s help and never-before-seen weapons it was an great success with how depopulated the region around Orzammar became.

An Assembly meeting was immediately called after they returned from Trian’s murder.  Bhelen took charge and condemned his older brother Duran for the act.  He called for punishment immediate of both perpetrators; over half the lords readily voted for.  Lord Harrowmont tried to call for a more lenient banishment of the second son of Aeducan but his proposal was instantly voted down.

Duran was now in the Deep Roads with only a sword destined to fight the darkspawn until he perished.  His second, Gorim, was stripped of his title and banished to the surface.  There was no one left with the political clout to oppose him now--with the possible exception of Lord Harrowmont.  He couldn’t move against the old man while his father was still alive, but Bhelen wasn’t going to kill his father.  He was patient and would wait for King Endrin to return to the stone peacefully.

The Crown Prince retired to his quarters for the night.  Just as he hoped the red-headed Rica was waiting for him.  She smiled at him but bore a worried expression.  He closed the door and went to her.  “What is it my rose?”

Her eyes went to the side.  Bhelen turned around to see Amelia leaning against the wall.  She wasn’t in her armor and was muttering something with a glow coalescing between her hands.  Her palms closed and Bhelen felt a weight covering him.  “Can I help you Princess?”

Amelia looked up to him and walked over.  “Yes, you can.  You can help me understand why you did it.”

“Did what?”

“Why you framed your brother for Trian’s death.”

Bhelen feigned anger.  “That is a very serious accusation to make.”

Amelia dismissed it with a wave of her hand.  “Come now.  It is incredibly obvious what transpired to those without centuries worth of political experience.  You can truthful with me.  There is a spell over these quarters that prevents anyone else from listening in.  Plus, I have no interest in delving into your city’s politics past this so there is no harm to be done.”

“And what assurance do I have of your word?”

“There is the fact that I have a labyrinthine mess of legal, political, and tax codes to unravel back home along with the governing bodies to restructure.  Oh, and of course, three entire societies that have to be shifted around and molded under my guidance.  How much time do you really think that would leave me to try and interfere in a foreign government.”

“Fair enough.”  Bhelen looked to Rica, to the brand on her cheek.  “You have been here for close to two weeks.  What impression do you have of this city?” he addressed Amelia.

“Very solid society, very rigid, very defined strata in your caste system; but also very inflexible, very hard to bend or shift.”

“But able to break.  I fear we are at that point.  We are able to shift views on certain things, but only when forced to.  The Warrior Caste was created in response to the darkspawn threat.  Even now we don’t have the numbers to continually endure them.  You saw the Proving last week where a member of the casteless almost won it.  So why wasn’t he elevated to the Warrior Caste?”

He held Rica’s hand.  “Meeting Rica, my rose, and her brother proving his skill at arms last week at that Proving was just more confirmation of what I’ve believed for awhile now.  The casteless are capable of remarkable things.  What keeps them undesirable is tradition, a tradition of punishing them for some vague forgotten crime their ancestors committed.

Your kingdom has been around for centuries; has it not also had a history of past glories and magnificence?”  Amelia contemplated the question.  She very much knew that three remnants of the old empire were bound to their past and heritage, and that in the case of Laventino constrained it from moving on.  “I mean to save my people from the rock-hard stagnation at our foundation.  If Orzammar is to survive it needs to progress and reform.”

“And you are the only one capable of enacting such reform?” Amelia inquired.

“You’ve seen my brothers.  Trian was a heavy-set believer that things should stay the way they are while Duran liked to rile people up and shake the world for his own amusement.”

“So, who killed Trian?”

“That....I’m not too sure about.  Might have been darkspawn or mercenary types.”

“You are serious about wanting to change your society?”

“Absolutely.  We need to change to survive.”

“Then, I hope our people can do it together.”  Bhelen looked relieved, and it helped to calm Rica down.  Amelia nodded to him before vanishing in a flash of light.

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