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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


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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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