9:31 Dragon 17 Parvulis Afternoon
Somewhere in the Blackmarsh
"Figures the darkspawn would pick somewhere muddy and wet," Oghren muttered. "I better not lose a boot."
Anders felt sorry for the poor bastard. The marsh was awful enough for Anders. The ground had up and vanished a mile back. Mud, sludge, and slime took its place. The water was almost up to Anders' knees in some place, which meant Oghren and Sigrun were wading through it.
Oghren's braided beard reminded Anders of a paint brush. The red bristles were tipped with brown sludge. Oghren's armor was in a similar state, and he chose to hold his hip flask aloft in place of his battle axe. Poor Sigrun had fallen at some point, and looked more genlock than dwarf. She was covered in mud, and carried both her axes above her head, and had a waddle to her walk that swayed her like a tiny, dirty, deadly metronome.
"My people say this place used to beautiful, lush..." Velanna said. A gnarled root lifted up from the water to meet her bare foot, and kept her dry. She held her boots in one hand, and her staff in the other. On the one hand, Anders knew it was a gross waste of mana. On the other, he was green with envy. Literally. His trousers were covered with algae or moss or something. It was unbearably itchy. "Until some unnatural perversion occurred."
"My father used to tell me similar stories when I was young," Nathaniel said. He was taking the trek rather well. Too well, actually. Nathaniel's armor was an oily, mottled black, and it was far too easy to lose sight of the ranger in the shadows. Anders was trying very hard not to let Nathaniel's sudden disappearance and reappearances startle him. "He said evil magic killed everyone here. This was just before the rebellion, thirty years ago. It was a great mystery at the time. They never found out what happened. Once the monsters appeared, the marsh was abandoned,"
"Well I'm scared," Anders said, giving Amell a playful nudge. "Hold me?"
Amell seemed completely unaffected by the marsh, which was no real surprise. He was in full armor, marching like they weren't in knee high water and nothing was impeding him. He reached over and looped an obedient arm around Anders' waist. Anders laughed, and shoved Amell away not two steps later. It was hard enough for Anders to walk without being tangled up in someone.
On the bright side, they were definitely not going to fall into any darkspawn traps this time. They were ridiculously over prepared for this expedition. Everyone was carrying draughts, poultices, potions. Sigrun had a new crossbow to go with her axes. Amell's armor had been repaired with one of the scales from the dragons in the mines. Anders had a satchel full of balms for every element, and he had his bracers.
Not only were they fetching, they were practical. Anders should have let Amell finish talking about them when he'd first offered them. The eagle motif was a lovely bit of symbolism for freedom, but more importantly, the inside of the bracers were lined in reservoir runes. It was like wearing lyrium, and did wonders strengthening Anders' connection to the Fade. It also meant he was one step ahead of the templars. No one could slap a pair of shackles on him if he was already wearing some. It was delightfully ironic, really.
They had packs for pitching tents, rations for a week, and all of them were fairly decent at sensing darkspawn now. Amell had brought his grimoire, and read aloud from it every few minutes. The Tevene gibberish Amell was muttering would apparently keep any darkspawn emissaries from shrouding the horde with blood magic like they had at the Turnoble Estate.
That part didn't make sense to Anders. According to Amell, the Litany of Adralla was a counter to blood magic. The fact that it was in his grimoire at all seemed like an oxymoron, with emphasis on moron. Amell had bound Maker knew how many demons to the tome, and Anders would have figured two plus two equaled explosion in this case, but apparently that wasn't how it worked.
The Litany prevented blood magic from taking hold, but once blood magic was in full effect, there was nothing anyone could do. Amell reading it meant they wouldn't be ambushed again, but didn't affect his grimoire, so it was a win win, really. Everything was going swimmingly. Literally. Anders staff sunk into a pot hole in front of him, and he waded carefully around it. If nothing else, at least when they found Kristoff, or the darkspawn he was investigating, nothing would go wrong. Probably.
"When I was a boy, I used to dream about coming here and setting things right." Nathaniel continued. "But those were just little boy dreams. When I was in Kirkwall, I thought I would return home to take command of my father's garrison. Sitting a throne, parlaying with the nobility, judging the peasantry...
"But you got saddled with all that instead," Nathaniel said to Amell. "If someone would have told me things would turn out like this, I would have laughed at them. But here I am. Here we are. Grey Wardens, heroes of legend, fighting darkspawn, dragons, demons... Setting things right, just like I dreamed. Interesting, isn't it? The way time changes things."
"Definitely!" The little ball of mud that was Sigrun agreed. "This is so exciting. And this place is so creepy! It's the middle of the afternoon, but it's so dark and damp here. And those trees? They're so strange and twisted. What's wrong with this place?"
"This place is setheneran," Velanna said.
"The Veil is thin here." Anders said.
"That's what I said." Velanna said, glaring down at Anders from the root she was walking on.
"It's really not, sweetie." Sigrun said. "So the Veil, that's like... the wall between our world and your creepy human dream land, right?"
"There is no 'wall.'" Amell said. "The Veil is a concept we rely on to explain the divide between the Fade and our reality. When you accept its nonexistence, you can walk between the realms. Velanna, when we've dealt with the darkspawn, you and I should practice here."
Sigrun waded through the swamp to Anders' side and gave him a nudge with a muddy elbow. Anders bent down for her. "So it's like a wall, right?"
"It's exactly like a wall." Anders whispered. "Just sort of crumbling here, so it's easier for demons to crawl over. If you see any weird green bubbles, that's a demon trying to climb over. Give me a holler if that happens, and I can cast a spell that sort of shuts the door on them before they can come in."
"Magic is so cool." Sigrun grinned.
"It kind of is, isn't it?" Anders allotted.
"Can you light that bush on fire?" Sigrun asked.
"You need help." Anders said.
A screech pierced the air. Anders threw up a barrier around Sigrun and himself. It sounded like a shriek, but Anders hadn't sensed any darkspawn.
Nathaniel had his daggers out. Velanna had dropped her boots into the swamp, and was brandishing her staff, precariously balanced on her root. Amell had his shield up. Anders was half way through carving a glyph into the layer of slime atop the water when he realized the sound had been Oghren.
Oghren cleared his throat. "I... Uh. I thought I saw... I mean..."
"Stones, man. Really?" Sigrun sighed, lowering her axes.
Anders started laughing. Sigrun joined him a heartbeat later, and Nathaniel soon followed. Velanna lowered her staff and even managed a giggle, when a shadow burst out of the trees and tackled her off her root and into the murky water.
"Velanna!" Nathaniel screamed.
Water spouted high, and all Anders could see was a creature of darkness. It could have been anything. A darkspawn, a shade, he couldn't tell. Savage snarls mixed with elven curses as the thing and Velanna grappled with each other, and a tangled mess of roots shot out of the ground and swallowed both of them.
A mound of roots took the place of where both Velanna and the creature had been. A few seconds later, and Velanna burst out of the ground a few feet away. She was covered in mud, twigs, bits of bark, and panting. If she weren't holding her staff, Anders wouldn't have recognized her.
Velanna wheezed. Anders fought his way through the marsh to her side. He channeled an aura of healing energies, and conjured a small sphere of water he dumped over her head. Velanna went rigid, and hissed in shock. It was akin to dumping water on a cat, but she needed it. She had a handful of lacerations Anders didn't want filled with mud, and a respectable bruise where the thing had connected with her. He healed her.
"It is still in there." Velanna said, clutching her staff and shivering. Anders channeled a weak fire spell that was all warmth and no flame and dried her off.
True enough, the mound of roots was pulsating, an occasional thud sounding from within. "From the look of your wounds, I want to guess shriek, but shrieks don't bark, and wolves aren't that strong." Nathaniel said.
"A were or blight wolf." Amell said. "It's pack will be nearby. Velanna, you can let go."
Amell stood over the mound of roots. One by one the roots slipped back into the ground, and Anders heard savage snarls that ended with a swift downstroke from Amell's sword. All the roots slithered away, and a ... thing, was left on the ground. It looked like a man, covered in fur and hunchbacked.
"Relative of yours?" Anders asked Oghren.
"Har fucking har." Oghren said. He gave the thing a kick that rolled it over. Anders recoiled in disgust. The thing's face was a hideous mess of man and wolf, and a foot long tongue lulled out of it's massive jaw. Amell knelt over it, and pulled a spirit through the Fade to bind to its corpse. The thing climbed to its feet, and sat hunched in the water, two orbs of blue light replacing its eyes. "I knew I saw something. This little fucker's eyes peeping out of the shadows at me. Didn't we cure these werewolf guys?" Oghren asked. "The fuck is he doing, being all... not cured?"
"Most werewolves are just wolves, possessed by demons." Amell said. "They would abound anywhere the Veil is thin, and wolves exist. This one is blighted, as well. Kristoff must have been right about the darkspawn being here. Velanna, walk on the ground so you don't draw attention."
"Found 'em!" Sigrun said, holding up Velanna's boots. A dip in the swamp had turned them into little gravy boats, mud and sludge pouring out the top. Velanna wrinkled her nose, and Anders really couldn't blame her.
"Must I wear these?" Velanna demanded. "They inhibit my every step, and make it impossible to balance. I fail to see the point. The soles of my feet are as hard as any human leather."
"Bluh," Anders shuddered. "Imagery."
"Not if they're impeding you." Amell said. "But don't discard them. Tie them to your pack, in case you change your mind."
"I am not so fickle." Velanna huffed.
Anders snorted. He couldn't help himself. Velanna glared, and Anders did his best to look innocent. He really wasn't one to talk, but hypocrisy was always funny. As far as Anders knew, Velanna and Nate were still on the rocks. No one had told him anything, but she was still walking apart from Nate, which seemed a good clue.
Sigrun handed Velanna her shoes, and Velanna dumped them out before tying them to her pack. "How much further to this village?" Velanna demanded.
"Some time yet." Nathaniel said, after checking his map. "It would be easier going were the roads not in such disrepair."
"Stay quiet and alert." Amell said, his pet werewolf shambling after him. "It's pack is bound to be about."
They fell silent, or as silent as they could. There was no quieting the slosh of water and mud as they trudged through the marsh, but the marsh was noticeably creepier with no one talking. Frogs croaked in the distance, an autumn wind whistled, and ravens occasionally took flight from the blackened branches around them in a shower of black feathers and creaking bark. Nathaniel took to humming nervously, and Amell's hushed mumbling in Tevene wasn't helping anyone.
"Okay, this is freaking me the fuck out." Oghren said suddenly. "I'm pretty sure I pissed myself a while back. Come on, Boss, you gotta let us talk."
"Maybe a song would help?" Sigrun suggested hopefully.
"Yeah, sure." Oghren said quickly. "Singing's great. I know a few songs. Why the fuck not? Right Boss?"
"... Not too loud." Amell relented. "Nathaniel, stay sharp, and call out if you see any movement."
"I will." Nathaniel said.
"Alright, here we go, this one's a classic. S'called 'Makes Her Living.'" Oghren said.
"I know that song." Nathaniel said. "Are you sure it's entirely appropriate?"
"See that lady wearing brown? She makes her living going down." Oghren sang.
"Ancestors, really?" Sigrun sighed.
"Why do you know this song?" Velanna demanded of Nathaniel.
"She's a shoe shiner! A shoe shiner!" Oghren sang.
Anders started laughing.
"See that lady from the south? She makes her living with her mouth.
She's the town crier, the town crier!
See that lady wearing jet? She makes her living getting wet.
She's a fisherwoman, a fisherwoman!"
"Maker, stop. I can't breathe." Anders laughed.
"Yes, desist." Velanna said.
"Do you know any real songs?" Sigrun asked.
"That is a real song!" Oghren huffed. "Alright, fine, how about Tiny Bubbles?
"Tiny bubbles in my beer,
Make me happy and full of cheer!
Tiny bubbles in my wine,
Make me happy all the time!"
"I love you." Anders laughed. "You know I love you, right?"
"Come on, please?" Sigrun begged. "Don't you know any songs that aren't gross or about getting drunk?"
"You mean do I know any boring songs?" Oghren asked. "Fine, fine, just for you, my juicy little persimmon. How about 'You Get the Cards'? That work?"
"I don't know," Sigrun squinted at him. "I've never heard it, but I don't trust you now."
"Trust me." Oghren said. "This one'll get some hot blood pumping through those dead legionnaire veins."
"Oghren, I don't want anything to do with you where the words 'hot' and 'pumping' come into play." Sigrun said.
"I'll get through to you yet, lady." Oghren grinned. "Oghren'll keep ramming up against that armor of yours."
"Just... sing the song." Sigrun sighed. "Please. You're embarrassing."
"Alright, Alright. Here goes.
"You get the cards, and I'll get the dice
You get the cards, and I'll get the dice
You get the cards, and I'll get the dice
You and me, we can play real nice
I had a girl who lived down the street,
I had a girl who lived down the street,
I had a girl who lived down the street.
She was cute, and she was sweet.
I had a girl who looked good in blue,
I had a girl who looked good in blue,
I had a girl who looked good in blue,
She could make a fool out of you."
"Wow, Oghren," Sigrun said. "That was actually... pretty sweet."
"Heheh," Oghren chortled. "Stop by my bunk one of these days and I'll show you something else that's 'pretty sweet'."
"Ugh." Sigrun groaned.
Oghren giggled, and took a drink from his flask, but his expression quickly turned somber and he went quiet, falling back several paces. Sigrun started up a conversation with Velanna, and didn't seem to notice, but Anders did. He picked up his pace to walk with Amell and his werewolf.
"So... Hey." Anders whispered after Amell finished his latest read through of the Litany. "Who's Fells?"
"Who?" Amell asked. He was wearing his helmet, and his voice was tinny for it. Anders seriously hated helmets.
"Fells." Anders said again. "Oghren mentioned someone named Fells, a while ago. He said he didn't do right by them, or you, or his son. I mean, it was seriously a while ago, but..."
"... Fells. Felsi? His wife?" Amell asked, glancing over his shoulder at Oghren. "He hasn't said anything like that to me about her... Why would he say he didn't do right by me?"
"It was... I think a month ago at least," Anders said. "After the incident in the mines. I'm sorry, I'm an ass, I didn't even think about it afterwards."
"No, it's fine. Thank you for telling me." Amell gave Anders' hand a squeeze. "I'll talk to him."
"Alright. Good." Anders was glad that was settled. He liked Oghren, but he was rubbish at relationships and definitely not the person to go around offering advice on them. "So hey, I've got a good one. Three blood mages walk into a marsh-"
"I have to keep reciting the Litany, Anders." Amell interrupted him. "If I don't focus, the magic will keep me from remembering the words even while I'm reading them. I'm sorry." Amell gave his hand another squeeze. "We can talk later."
"Fine, fine," Anders pouted. "You owe me now though."
"Anything you want." Amell promised, and went back to reading.
That man was seriously going to get himself into trouble with how complacent he was. Anders fell back to walk with Nate, but he hadn't gotten two words in when the archer called out. "Movement to the northeast."
A wolf howled nearby. Everyone stopped.
"Anders, glyphs." Amell said.
Anders started casting. Nathaniel strung his bow.
"These beasts are unnatural," Velanna said. "Wolves are creatures of the night. They should not prowl during the day."
"Well I mean, it's kind of night here." Sigrun said.
"Light." Amell said.
"Right?" Sigrun said. "It's seriously dark for no reason. It's like the sky is broken."
"Anders, light," Amell clarified. Anders pulled a wisp across the Veil and bound it about his staff.
"Incoming." Nathaniel said.
A werewolf burst out of the trees and dove into their midst. Oghren caught it mid-flight with a downward stroke from his battle axe. His blade struck the beast between its shoulder blades, and sent it crashing down into the knee high water. The werewolf's spine broke with a loud crack, and severed arteries sent blood spraying high into the air. Red drops fell into the water like rain all around them, and a fight erupted.
Werewolf after werewolf dove into their little patch of light. The fight would have been easier if any of them could move, but mud caught Anders boots with every step, and everyone looked to be suffering the same fate. Anders' glyphs and Velanna's nature magic saved Nathaniel from being mauled twice, and Amell's blood magic did the same for Sigrun.
Anders couldn't spare the time to count how many were in the pack when he had to redraw glyph after glyph. He channeled Compassion for an aura of aptitude, and the knee high water ceased to be such a hamper on their movement. Sigrun seemed to benefit from it most, the little dwarf darting through the shallows to hamstring the werewolves.
She cut one down as it was charging him, and the beast hit the ground with a splash. Mud sprayed across Anders' chest, and got on his chin and in his hair. The werewolf continued to thrash and wail on the ground, snapping up water and moss in its futile efforts to reach him. Sigrun put an axe through the back of its head.
The audible thunk of her axe breaking through the werewolf's skull made Anders a little queasy, but for the most part he was desensitized to it all. The fight was over a few minutes later. "Score one for our heroes," Anders said brightly. "Does anyone need healing?"
"Not so fast, Sparkles." Oghren said. He was standing over a werewolf, encased in an oval of sapphire. The beast was still very much alive, it's eyes twitching in its skull as it surveyed them all with mindless malice. Oghren had his battle axe poised to strike. "Hey, Boss, you saving this for later or what?"
"Yes, actually." Amell said, hooking his shield onto his back and cleaning off his sword. "Velanna, Anders, do either of you want to try enslaving it?"
"Woah, what?" Sigrun asked. "You're learning blood magic too? That's so cool!"
"What?" Velanna scoffed, looking at Anders in disbelief. "You humans are such hypocrites. You show nothing but contempt for Amell's magic, but the second he uses it on your templars, you come begging for lessons."
"Oh please," Anders said. "Don't act like you know me. If you'd been paying any attention you'd have noticed I've been all for every spell he's ever cast except one."
"Yes, the one you would be learning now, and using on this creature." Velanna waved at the trapped werewolf. "Could you be any more hypocritical?"
"Do you have any idea how idiotic you sound right now?" Anders asked. "I know plenty of lightning spells I'm not afraid to use, but that doesn't mean I want to be electrocuted."
"You be quiet," Anders frowned at him. "That doesn't count."
"I seriously do not want to know." Oghren said.
"I kinda do." Sigrun said. "Wait, oh my gosh, are there like, dirty bedroom spells? There are! There so are! Oh I'm so jealous."
"Ugh. Enough." Velanna said. "I will make an effort. I need a knife."
"Are you sure the Veil here can take a lot of blood magic?" Anders asked. "I saw you cast a few spells already in the fight back there."
"It can't," Amell agreed. "But we should be fine as long as we don't make a concentrated effort to summon any demons, or expend too much mana in the same area. One enslavement spell won't tear the Veil. Velanna, do you remember what we discussed about binding?"
"I remember. I've commanded sylvans. One little wolf should not trouble me." Velanna held out her hand. Nathaniel handed her a knife. Velanna took off her glove, and made a brazen cut on her wrist that only long sleeves would cover.
"Oghren, be ready to kill it if the spell doesn't take." Amell said.
"Guh." Oghren muttered, flexing his meaty fingers around the hilt of his battle axe. "Alright, but I'm pretty twitchy. Might kill it either way."
"I am ready." Velanna said. A glove of red hovered menacingly around her hand, spell woven and waiting. Amell dispelled his force field, and Velanna cast.
The net of blood fell on the werewolf as it tensed to lunge. The beast seized violently, and Oghren took a cautious step back. Blood poured out of the werewolf's ears, and foamed in its mouth. It took two unsteady steps forward, and exploded.
Blood, fur, bone, and chunks of meat went everywhere. Water and mud sprayed over all of them with the force of the explosion. A chunk of fur-covered skin landed on Anders' face. It was disturbingly warm. "Oh Maker. I'm gonna barf." Anders gagged, peeling the bit of flesh off his cheek.
"I don't understand," Velanna said. Blood had dyed her hair a cherry blonde. "I did everything you said. I wove my will into the spell and aimed to dominate the creature's blood."
"And you did, for a few seconds." Amell said. "That was more than respectable for your first attempt, but you need to think of it as a channeled spell. Sylvans can act without direction because they have their own spirits, but you're tethering your target to your will with blood magic. Werewolves are weak of will, and with how much force you put into the spell, it was bound to explode when you let go."
Velanna nodded, and handed the dagger back to Nathaniel. Anders healed the cut on her arm.
"Bluh," Sigrun shuddered, wiping mud and gore off her face. "I think some got in my mouth. Ick. Next time you try that I am standing so far away. Like, so far."
"We probably shouldn't try any more with how thin the Veil is anyway." Amell said. "But that was good, Velanna. Don't get discouraged."
"I am not discouraged. Do not coddle me," Velanna huffed, putting her glove back on and striding forward. Everyone followed, and Amell went back to reading from his grimoire.
"Hey, look what I found back there," Sigrun nudged Anders, and held up a tooth the size of her palm. "No way this came out of a werewolf. What do you think it's from?"
Anders took it, and turned it over in his hands. "Someone with a serious sweet tooth?" Anders guessed.
"That's a dragon tooth." Nathaniel said. "I visited a traveling fair when I was a child that had a whole skeleton on exhibit."
"Neat!" Sigrun said. "Give it back. I want to keep it."
Anders handed it back.
"Anders," Nathaniel said quietly, "I know it's not my place to ask, but are you sure? About the blood magic?"
"Yep." Anders said.
"Alright then." Nathaniel said.
That was an easy conversation, Anders thought. The six of them kept on through the marsh, until the wetlands finally gave way to dry. The road reappeared, and led them to a strange stone circle with a pedestal in the center. Off in the distance, Anders could see the outline of the abandoned port city. "Finally." Anders said. "Can we take a break here and dry off?"
"Be careful. The Veil is thinner here." Amell said, but he stopped, and leaned against one of the many stone pillars.
"Anders!" Sigrun exclaimed, jumping in place and pointing off into the twisted tree line. "Green bubble! Green demon bubble!"
Anders ran towards it. Amell and Velanna went with him, but it wasn't a demon crossing. It was a Tear in the Veil. It floated like a cloud with the texture of glass, colored green and black. Looking through it, Anders could shapes and shadows moving on the other side. "Fascinating." Amell said.
"We must be wary." Velanna said. "Spirits will abound in this place."
"No kidding." Anders agreed, looking to Amell. "Do you know how to fix one of these?"
"Not without a very involved ritual, or entering the Fade and slaying the demon that controls the demesne for this Tear." Amell said. "Keep an eye out for demons crossing, both of you. Dispel what you can."
They went back to the stone circle and took a rest. Oghren wrung out his beard. Sigrun cleaned off her axes. Anders conjured a fire and Nathaniel passed out rations. Amell sat with his werewolf, still reading the Litany every so often. All of them cleaned mud off their armor.
"There are darkspawn nearby." Amell said. "Around a score, to the southwest. Not enough for a nest, but worth investigating."
"Hey, guys, look at this!" Sigrun called. Anders looked over, and found her tossing sticks and refuse aside to reveal a massive skull that had been hidden underneath. "Look! Look! Is this a dragon skull? It's huge! And busted! Look, it looks like someone kicked it in here. I wonder where this piece of its skull went."
"I am more curious about this stone circle." Velanna said, running her fingers over one of the stones. It was taller than Nathaniel, and thicker than Oghren. "The runework on them reminds me of an elgar'arla. A... Ah... A binding circle, for spirits."
"My tooth fits!" Sigrun exclaimed from over by the skull. "Oh man. Can we take this back to the Keep? Maybe hang it up in the barracks?"
"Sure," Amell agreed. "We can plan another expedition here, and try to find as many of the bones as we can. They make for exceptional weapons and armor."
"Oh I'm so excited!" Sigrun said.
"That fucker is about as big as the Archdemon." Oghren observed, nudging the dragon skull with the toe of his boot. "Now that was a fight. Remind me to tell you sobs about it sometime. Nothing gets your blood pumping like fighting a dragon on top of a fort, wind in your beard, whole army at your back, ballistas thrumming... Good times."
"Do we head towards the village, or the darkspawn first?" Nathaniel asked when they were rested.
"... Village." Amell decided. "Kristoff might have camped out there. The darkspawn aren't moving, for some reason."
"Another trap, perhaps." Velanna said.
"It's likely," Nathaniel agreed. "Perhaps they are lying in wait, believing themselves shrouded by blood magic."
"Dumb fucks." Oghren said.
Anders laughed. They set off towards the village.
It was a mess of moldy, rotten buildings. Cobwebs were strung up in the alleys, and rubbish and skeletons littered most of the corners. Oghren kicked the door to one of the houses, and it collapsed in a heap of rotten splinters. "Heheh," Oghren giggled. "Looks like no one's home."
"I am not surprised," Velanna said. "I don't expect us to find any trace of Kristoff in this graveyard."
"Oh come on, it's not a graveyard." Anders said, punting a skull down the street. It landed in a pile of bones beside a building that might have been a tavern once. "Aside from being ruined and haunted, it's kind of picturesque. And speaking of haunted, I think that skeleton is moving."
The skeleton was definitely moving. The little pile of bones apparently only needed a skull to pull itself together. Magic hummed in the air, and its joints cracked and clattered as it formed.
"I got it." Oghren said. He strode over and brought his battle axe down on the creature before it finished forming, and split several of the bones in half or into dust.
"There's another one!" Sigrun said, pointing. A skeleton shambled out of a building, and Velanna killed it with a vicious lash from one of her magic roots. "At least they kind of suck. This is fun. Like wack-a-nug, but with skeletons."
"Don't get complacent." Amell said. "These are wisps: mindless half formed thoughts. If a demon crosses and takes hold of a corpse, it will be far stronger."
"Okay Ser Frowns-a-Lot, I won't have fun." Sigrun said.
"I didn't say you couldn't have fun." Amell said. "And I don't frown a lot."
"You kind of do, sweetie." Sigrun said. "I mean you're not Nate, but you almost never laugh."
"I have a creepy laugh." Amell said.
"It's true, he does." Anders said.
"Here," Nathaniel called, emerging from one of the buildings still boasting a roof. "Kristoff camped here. Months ago, I'd say. There are old tracks in the dirt, but his camp is untouched save for an ancient blood stain on his cot. I think the darkspawn killed him in his sleep, and dragged his body somewhere."
"Time to go find the fuckers, then?" Oghren asked.
"Era'harel!" Velanna yelled.
Anders didn't need Amell to translate. A corpse was floating through the city square, radiating magic. It was a mangled thing of elongated limbs, with flesh like dried jerky, and dark pits of black in place of eyes. It clenched a fist, and three shades ripped through the gossamer thin strands of the Veil quicker than Anders could dispel them.
Velanna reached for fire, and the corpse waved a hand in her direction. It sent her crashing through the rotted walls of the nearest building. Anders ran after her, confident everyone else could handle the horror. He found her picking herself up out of a pile of rubble, a splinter the size of fingers cutting through where her armor was thin, in her upper arm. She pulled it loose with a hiss, and started when she saw him.
"No, I am fine," Velanna said, dusting dirt off her trousers and using her staff to climb to her feet. "Do not heal me. I want to try binding one of those shades."
"You know three blood mages is probably serious overkill," Anders said, healing her anyway with a simple rejuvenation spell. "Why don't you let Amell handle the blood magic here? Remember, he said no more enslaving things, because the Veil is thin, and a demon-possessed corpse just threw you through a wall? I know this was all ages ago, so it makes sense you don't remember, but..."
"Enough. Fine. Yes. You are right," Velanna said. How Anders loved hearing that. "Let us go help," Velanna strode past him, and back out into the fight.
Anders was feeling pretty good about himself when he rejoined the fight. He was a nice, responsible blood mage, and a spirit healer to boot. Take that, Circle. Admittedly, it put a bit of a damper on his confidence to see Amell had bound the shades anyway, but Amell knew what he was doing. Probably.
Anders surveyed the rest of the battlefield, and found Oghren caught in a prison of telekinetic magic. Anders dispelled it, and the resulting explosion knocked over Nathaniel who was standing nearby. Nathaniel stood back up quickly enough, and Oghren rushed to rejoin the fight in time to see Sigrun take the horror's head off. It crumpled to the ground, a harmless headless corpse.
"So... is that safe?" Anders asked, gesturing to the three shades.
"No," Amell admitted, "Not at all. Please kill them,"
Velanna and Anders dispelled raw mana and ripped the little things to shreds, sending them back into the Fade.
"So anyway," Oghren said. "Darkspawn now, ya?"
"Yes." Amell agreed.
Nathaniel led them back to Kristoff's camp, and from there they followed the tracks towards the darkspawn they could all sense now. The drag marks led out of the small coastal town, and up a hill, lined with white sacks identical to the ones they'd found in Kal'Hirol.
"Anders, cast a grease spell on the path down the hill," Amell said. "Velanna, ignite it when the darkspawn charge."
"Why would they charge?" Velanna asked.
"Because Anders is going to cast a chain of lightning through these sacks," Amell said.
"Oh is he?" Anders asked.
"I'd be surprised if the screams of their young didn't provoke them into fighting." Amell continued, ignoring him.
The simple little plan worked exactly as intended. The lightning made the sacks burst in explosions of white pus and green slime, and the children fell out screaming. Hurlocks and genlocks charged down the hill in response, and Anders' and Velanna's combined magic set them all ablaze. Only a handful made it down the hill, and Nathaniel's arrows and Oghren and Sigrun's axes dispatched them easily enough.
"Easy." Anders said.
"There are still a few left, atop the hill," Amell said, "Around a half dozen."
"Well let's go kill 'em." Oghren said.
Everyone agreed. It was a short climb up, and Anders kept a barrier channeled, but the darkspawn didn't use their elevated position to their advantage. The darkspawn didn't do anything. They crested the hill, and found a half dozen hurlocks waiting with the corpse of a man in Grey Warden armor, who must have been Kristoff.
"The Grey-" One of them started.
Velanna set them all ablaze with a well placed fireball. The darkspawn scattered, shrieking in pain. Oghren chortled. "Haha! Atta girl! Ain't got much to say now, do you, you blighters!?"
"Pathetic." Velanna said.
Five of the hurlocks collapsed, but the one who had spoken was still alive, if horribly charred from Velanna's spell. "The First may be dying," The monster coughed, scrambling backwards. "But the mother-she is never being wrong! This is her gift to you," The darkspawn lifted up a small green sphere, and crushed it in its hand with its final act.
The sphere exploded, but instead of being thrown backwards, all of them were wrenched forward. Anders lost his footing, and heard the soft sound of fabric ripping. He hit the ground, and fell through it. The world fell away, turned upside down and inside out, and all was black and pain.
He woke up in a field of reeds.