I Think We've Found Them
The rumble shook beneath them in closing intervals. At first, it startled them out of their ambulatory reverie once every hour or so, just a long enough pause in between for them to think it might not happen again, that they were past the threat, whatever it might be. But then the grumbles came quicker, more intense. Once every few thousand steps. Few hundred. Then after just a few dozen.
“Why do I get the awful feeling that we’re going the wrong way?”
“This is the only way to go,” insisted Cullen, though that wasn’t entirely true. Now that they could see clearly, thanks to some glow from the depth, a glow that poured up from a mote that had begun to run along the edges of the path, they could see into the offshoots of the tunnel, narrow paths, not at all carved, finished like the artery down which they travelled. But none of these seemed like paths to anywhere, none of them seemed special enough to take them somewhere they needed to go. This main road was clearly going somewhere - or coming from somewhere - though where it had begun, where the natural hollowing of the tunnel, the ravine, became this, no one could remember.
But Cullen had made his point.
“So then what do we do if we discover whatever is making that sound?”
“Dorian,” Cullen chastised. “That’s the whole point. We need to find out what’s down here.”
“What’s down here? One handful of darkspawn and some pissed off lizards, that’s what’s down here!” Dorian threw up his hands and turned in a circle. “We should go back,” he insisted. “We can tell the Wardens that there’s nothing to fear. They should be able to find the darkspawn and poke it with a stick without concern. For Andraste's sake, they can leave their fancy armor at home!” he shouted.
“Dorian -” Eleanor said softly, to try to shush the mage, to try to listen, but Cullen was shouting back.
“You very well knew we might be down here for days. We’ve got plenty of supplies. I promise you we’ll find some place to rest, and soon,” the commander placated. “But we are not turning around until we have a clear picture of what’s going on here.”
“Cullen…” Eleanor tried now to quiet him down, reaching out for his hand, but he had already turned away.
“A clear picture! Hah! We don’t know where we are, we don’t know how we got here, we don’t even know how this - all this! - is possible! What exactly are we going to get a clear picture of, Commander?”
Varric had rolled his eyes, turned away, as though he had watched this scene play out a thousand times before. Maybe he had.
“Please, guys, I think I hear -”
But she didn’t have to tell them what she heard. They all heard it.
It was a scream. A shriek. Right below their feet, or above their heads, or all around them. It permeated the air like a physical thing, enveloping them in thick, grasping fear.
None of them moved.
And then all of them ran.
They ran in the direction they had already been heading, because they knew there was nothing behind them but a long, dark tunnel. They ran because the lurching fear that overtook them told them there was nothing else they could do but run. They ran until their legs and chests burnt, and kept running until the ground beneath them began to shake, began to tremble. The Archdemon was coming, but from where? Ahead of them? Under them? It didn’t matter. They had to hide.
Cullen looked quickly from side to side, saw an opening that look more like a door than most of the others had.
“In here!” he turned his head and called back, and then darted into the side passage, almost tripping over a small rise that he hadn’t seen. He stumbled down the path a few feet, deep enough to allow his three companions to quickly follow suit, and they crouched down, wanting to look out onto the road from whence they had just come and yet not wanting to see. Cullen reached out and pulled Eleanor to his chest, and she pressed her face against his armor until the whole cavern shook in such a way that it threatened to fall in around them. She had to look.
Eleanor turned her face and looked back the way they came, just in time to see the Archdemon scream past. If she hadn’t seen it herself, she never would have believed it, never even would have thought that the Archdemon could fit in such a place, but its wings were drawn back against its body and it shot forward like a missile, and Eleanor realized that it might not even be using its wings to fly, perforated with holes as they were. It might simply use some sort of wicked magic to propel itself forward until it found a hole in the ceiling that would allow it to rise up and into the sky.
The Archdemon passed, and an even more horrible noise filled Eleanor’s ears: the sound of darkspawn, of dozens of them. Hundreds. More. They ran behind the Archdemon as though it was their king leading them into battle, and they were its army. Perhaps, she thought, that was exactly what was happening.
And then she thought, oh my god. They’re going to see us.
If they were spotted, they were dead. They could take down ten, maybe fifteen darkspawn. Twenty if luck was on their side and only if. They could not take down this massive swarm, and the Archdemon would just as soon eat them for lunch. They had to move, or they were done for.
“Cullen,” it was just a breath, just the merest idea of his name, “we have to get away from here.”
He nodded; he already knew - they all already knew - but maybe didn’t want to let her go just yet, not with the threat only so many feet away. Maybe he didn’t want to move, some sick impulse compelling him to watch as the horde of darkspawn spilled past like a flood. But he began to move his feet, began to slowly inch deeper into the passage, carefully, quietly, his arms still loosely around Eleanor, just enough to allow her freedom to move, but tight enough to feel as though he were somehow protecting her more this way than if he let her go.
When they rounded a sharp corner, now decidedly out of sight of the army, the collapsed. Even Cullen trembled.
“Well,” said Dorian, his usually strong, smooth voice quaking and shallow, “I think we’ve found them.”