It would have done my heart good to find one member of the Order who had Joined before the Blight. Every time a more-senior member of the order comes to Ferelden something horrific happens to him or her. All of the Grey Wardens in Ferelden died in the betrayal at Ostagar, Riordin fell to (or, more literally, from) the Archdemon, and the dozen who came from Orlais after the Blight ended were lost to The Architect’s machinations. I never had a chance to know any of them, outside of a few days’ travel with Duncan and three conversations with Riordin.
That Alistair and I persist in being the longest-term members of the Grey Wardens in the whole country strikes me as a cruel joke of the ancestors at this point. It had been so long since anyone had heard from Kristoff that I held little hope of finding him alive if he still remained in the bogs. Yet I had still clung to that wish that one time fate would have paused in conspiring against the Wardens here long enough to bring me this small bit of solace. I should have known better.
What did surprise me was that Kristoff been drawn there as bait for a Darkspawn trap. While we stood about the body we were surrounded by the creatures I’d sensed lurking in the foliage and ruins. One of them stepped forward, clearly the leader, while the others stood looking menacing.
Despite some trouble speaking clearly, the lack of lips and added mandibles both hindering him, the creature introduced himself as The First. He had no difficulty in gloating that we’d fallen for their ruse and that something he called The Mother had a nasty gift for us. The much-improved intellect and powers of speech in these Darkspawn clearly did not extend to naming.
I told him that I pitied him the incredibly dull weeks he must have had waiting for me to get around to him. In response he accused of us working with The Architect who was apparently at odds with this Mother over some unspecified issue. That explained why we had found bands of Darkspawn fighting each other in the Deep Roads.
The present The First had brought turned out to be something that transported us, grubs and First and all, into the Fade. Accompanying us had apparently not been a part of his plan and he railed against this Mother before he ran off to find a way home. I had a good laugh at that and called after him that he should perhaps change his name to The Expendable. He was not amused.
I’d been in the Fade once before, in our battle to clear the Circle tower of abominations, and was not too concerned about being there but Ohgren pitched a major fit about finding himself in the world of human dreams. Dwarves aren’t meant to go there but it hadn’t hurt me. Even the battle scars I’d earned there had not translated to my actual body. It just required a different way of thinking.
Most physical rules still held true and, after a few skirmishes and tussles, Ohgren calmed down enough to be of use. I regretted not bringing Sigrun. She would have been fascinated and eager to explore instead of having hysterics for half an hour. I think having a child has wrecked Ohgren as an adventurer.
As so often happens to me, we uncovered the answer to one mystery in pursuit of another. It seems the woman who had ruled the village had been a blood mage of the worst sort. She’d preyed upon her tenants to keep herself young and been possessed at some point by a powerful vanity demon. When challenged, it had shifted the whole population into the Fade both to punish the villagers and to keep them under its control.
That seems to me a fairly strong argument for Chantry oversight of mages, if not an endorsement of the Circles in which they are kept imprisoned. Anders may chafe at the control under which he’d been forced to live but he was, if anything, more appalled than I at what we discovered about her as we made our way to where we hoped the demon lingered still. Perhaps being an apostate has made him even more careful of dealing with creatures of the Fade. I wondered if he’d ever faced a demon and made that choice directly.
We arrived at the manor house with fortuitous timing to find a spirit of justice rallying the townspeople, or whatever they were after so long in this realm, to storm the gates and end the tyranny of the demon. Figuring that such a powerful creature might be able to release my party from this ephemeral prison I threw in our lot with them and helped break through the entrance. Naturally, The First had found this seat of power as well. I finally got the opportunity to best him in combat and the demon used the life essence (or whatever semblance a Darkspawn has thereof) in his blood to return to the real world.
In its haste at tearing aside the Veil, the demon had brought us all along. Our return brought along that spirit of justice and inserted it into Kristoff’s lifeless body. After we re-learned to close our mouths, I welcomed him to our little band. I may not have the senior Warden but at least I had a powerful new ally. I sent Ohgren off to Vigil’s Keep to apprise them of our situation and the rest of us headed to the analogous place in this world to that where we’d last seen the demon in the Fade. It was there, waiting and more than happy to engage us.
Suffice it to say that we defeated this creature after a protracted and bloody battle. Anders nearly wore out his staff trying to keep us alive. It summoned lesser demons and shades by the dozen. We summarily dispatched each but defending against them distracted us from attacking our foe. I was so frustrated by the end that I had abandoned my sneaky fighting ways and simply hacked away as fast as I could swing my blades at the enormous leg that was all I could reach of the thing. I was too tired for finesse.
We camped right there in Blackmarsh, nursing our wounds and recovering our collective breath. Justice explained that he could see and feel some of Kristoff’s memories but not particulars enough to explain what had led him to this dreary corner of Amaranthine.
The spirit seemed eager enough to join our crusade but very discomfited at wearing the dead body of another. I gave him the diary we’d found in Kristoff’s camp in the hope that it would help him settle into his host and explain some of the fleeting images that so tantalized him. He spent the rest of the night on watch, browsing through its contents. Being a spirit he required no sleep and the body would demand none, having no physical functions.
At least this was one team member I could count on avoiding Ohgren’s nightly drinking games. I suspect that, had Justice found himself in a living body, he would have been even less at ease considering the need to eat food and the products life would have created therefrom.
Nathaniel and I shared a bit of a snicker at the idea of a spirit facing the prospect of relieving himself for the first time as we reviewed what we’d been through and learned that day. I’d inadvertently allowed Nathaniel to realize a childhood dream in helping me to right what was wrong in the marshes. That I’d not known it before asking him to accompany me did not lessen his gratitude or his growing love for the order.
Who was I to tell him that the lives of Grey Wardens were not always so rewarding? For all I knew, they were. Mine had certainly maintained this level of excitement the entire time since I had Joined at Ostagar, barring the idyllic interlude that I had spent mostly at court with my beloved. I had gone from exile through epic battles and the slaying of the Archdemon to become a hero and a Paragon to my people and then elevated to my family’s throne to rule Orzammar. I’d advised and been loved by a fellow monarch.
The order had been awfully good to me. I hadn’t thought of it that way before and thanked Nathaniel for helping me to see the last few years in a very different light. He looked almost as pleased at my thanks as he had at the idea that he’d solved the riddle that had for centuries plagued what had been his family’s lands.
We are making our way back to Vigil’s Keep feeling that recent events were starting to form a pattern we can understand if not predict. Our next step must be to find some more of these talking Darkspawn and interrogate them rather than killing them outright as monsters.
I’ve met The Architect and know enough to blame him for the attack on the keep but not to divine his motivations. And I have no idea who The Mother is except that she believes us to be working with The Architect and thus against her. If her aims are comprehensible and aligned with our own could it be that the Wardens could ally with a Darkspawn? That would be like the Legion of the Dead helping the horde to find a new Archdemon but a temporary alliance may be just what we need to gain the upper hand with our few troops and fewer Wardens. I simply cannot decide until we know more.
I had so wild a day and so much to occupy my mind that my libido appears to be taking a break. When Anders asked me to pet his kitten I barely flushed and didn’t even object to a hug or two while we talked. He fell asleep very quickly after the amount of mana he’d burned keeping us all alive, more or less, but none of us stayed up for long. With Justice on watch we slept like the dead, a comparison the spirit did not find entertaining when I voiced it in the morning.
We woke in much better spirits, no pun intended, and dragged our aching bodies out of the marsh. We’ll arrive at the keep this afternoon. I hope that my little cell of Wardens can sit and strategize for a few hours before yet another crisis arises.