A Subterranean Culture of Extremely Talented Craftspeople
Eleanor tried to work out how long they had been walking. Maybe they walked until midnight - she’d call it a day. She hadn’t slept more than a few hours, so maybe they’d gotten up, fought the deepstalkers, at four in the morning? It seemed as reasonable an estimate as any. She was tired, but she thought maybe it was noon - it was dark so she had no way of knowing, and again, she cursed herself for not wearing a watch. She had no idea what time it was. Where she was. What she was doing. They’d heard more sounds here and there but they had yet to actually encounter a darkspawn, and Eleanor was starting to get the feeling that after a day and a half of walking, this main artery wasn’t taking them where they needed to be going. The dim shapes she saw in the cavern walls were so nebulous they could have been walking in circles for all the identifying she was capable of doing. Maybe they were. She’d seen some strange things in the past few months but certainly there could not be a tunnel network of this scope under the plains of Indiana. Or Illinois. Or Kentucky. Or wherever the hell they were for however far they had walked. The thought ate at her and ate at her. She was just on the verge of suggesting they turn around, begin to walk back so that they could literally come at this from a different angle, or at least see if they could find the entrance again - god, would they be trapped down here? - when there began to be light from some as-yet unknowable source. At first, Eleanor thought she was imagining things, that she’d been down in the dark so long she was either becoming numb to it, or that the walls were a lighter shade of clay now and her long-term exposure to so much neutrality clued her into it more than it might otherwise have done.
But no. From somewhere, there was light.
“Do you…” she said slowly, voice even quieter now.
She watched Dorian’s head bob up and down: yes.
“What could that be?”
“I’ve got one idea,” suggested Varric, “but you’re not gonna like it. I don’t like it.”
“Wanna share with the class?” Eleanor whispered, turning her head to get a peek of the dwarf.
“Might be lava,” he suggested entirely in earnest. “In Orzammar, the dwarves use lava as a natural source of heat and light.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Eleanor said immediately. “We’d have to be going straight down for as far as we’ve walked this entire time to hit lava. Magma. Whatever. And there are no dwarves here, so how -”
“Hey, you asked.”
Eleanor pursed her lips thin, not because she didn’t trust Varric, but because she had no better answers. Maybe some bioluminescent cave-dwelling organisms, but the light was so warm, so even, and it was growing brighter.
Was it glimmering?
Looking around, Eleanor felt suddenly like she had plunged through the surface of a pool of water without getting wet, and come out on the other side.
“What was that?” she heard Cullen ask.
“Search me,” offered Dorian.
“But you all saw that?”
They didn’t have to answer to let her know that they did, and that they didn’t have any more information than she did.
There were a few minutes of silence and the light grew brighter the further they went, until Varric spoke up.
“Are you sure you don’t have any dwarves?”
“I mean, we have little people, sure. But do we have a subterranean culture of extremely talented craftspeople? I’m pretty sure someone would have mentioned that.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Varric objected, and he stopped, pointed toward something in the distance. “Look.”
The whole party paused and squinted into the distance, the light casting shadows off of a large object - the first real object they’d seen down here - a few dozen feet away.
“Is that… a statue?” Cullen asked hesitantly.
“Looks like,” said Varric, and he pushed past the rest of the party either through fearlessness or sheer curiosity to inspect the object. “Hate to break it to you, Farm Girl. But this here?” he thumbed at the statue, which stood several feet higher than Varric himself, “is Astyth the Grey.”
Eleanor had sat down defiantly in front of the statue, remaining there for sometime. Dorian had taken off his heavy gear to rest, and Cullen still stood, one hand on his chin, contemplating the structure as though if he stared at it long enough, it would give him some answers. Varric was taking everything in stride, as much as he could.
Which was to say, not at all.
“How can this be the Deep Roads?” he quietly, studying the stone figure from every possible angle as though trying to discern whether or not it were actually standing before him, looking ancient, looking prehistoric, looking all too real.
“I think we’d all like to know the answer to that,” Dorian agreed, stretching out his aching limbs.
“This can’t be,” Eleanor objected. “Even if the darkspawn were here for fully seven years, making these tunnels, why would there be this… this thing here? Would they bring it? Does it mean something.”
Cullen shook his head. “As much as I would like a simple explanation, I can’t help but think we’re missing something. Look around. This isn’t a cavern anymore, or just a tunnel, or even something artificial carved by the haphazard handiwork of the darkspawn. This is… a place. Or the beginning of one. Just look,” he implored, and sent his eyes toward the ceiling.
At no point had the ceiling seemed low. It had been cavernous, canyon-like the whole time, barring their brief respite in the narrow nook in the wall, and even that had been tall enough for Dorian and Cullen to stand, if just barely. The roof still seemed miles above them - was at least thirty feet - but now it was even. Flat. It met the walls at something like right angles.
“Someone… made this?” she asked.
“Bingo,” Varric said, sounding less delighted than his word choice implied. “Somehow - I dunno how - at some point, we entered the Deep Roads.” The frown on his face was impressive, and he put a hand palm down on the top of his head, as he looked around again.
“This is… not good,” muttered Dorian.
“This is impossible,” answered Eleanor.
A low rumble reverberated from somewhere. It was the same noise, the same feeling, that had answered the heavy drop of Cullen’s gloves.
“That… is worse,” the commander said. “I think we should keep moving.”
“Cullen, I haven’t slept in…” Dorian’s complaint died off as he realized he had no idea how long it had been since he’d slept.
“We keep moving,” Cullen insisted. “If we find another safe place, we rest.”
“An excellent idea, Curly,” said Varric, “I want to be out of here as quickly as possible. If that means going in first, so be it.”