The sounds of a battle echoes within the Deep Roads, almost deafening as it bounces off the stone wall. Bizarre hissing, growls and clicking noises accompany the din of bashing shields and the ringing of clashing swords. High pitch shrieks and squeals cut through the air like a knife.
Zinaga and her troupe hide in the shadows. She signals for a scout to explore ahead and return with news. The human looks at the elf with shock and fear while shaking his head. Zinaga glares back at him, her expression making it clear that he had better do as instructed. The red haired human gathers his wits, says a quick prayer and slips off into the darkness.
“How much further,” the elf whispers to Bianca.
“Three days, but we have to go that way,” she points in the direction of the battle.
“Is there another way,” Tavish questions.
“Yes, but it will add on five days, and I doubt you have the rations to spare.”
The scout is gone for several minutes before returning pale by what he’s witnessed. He scurries up Zinaga to report his findings.
“A group of 15 darkspawn are battling a group of large spiders, and it looks like the ‘spawn are winning. When their done, they’ll probably come this way.”
“Then inform the others we’re setting up an ambush here.”
“Do I have family in Kirkwall,” Isana asks between bites of her bread.
“Precious, you have family like a rat has fleas,” he yawns. Varric had taken the last of the stamina tonic several hours ago, and now the days with little to no sleep are starting to catch up with him. His eyes are burning with weariness.
“Does that mean I have a lot of family or that they’re blood suckers?”
“Will they like me,” she’s a tough girl, but still eager for the acceptance of family and he can see it in her intense blue eyes.
“Your Great-Aunt Rylinn will absolutely adore and spoil you. She’s always wanted me to give her a niece to dote upon. You have male cousins that will be thrilled to have a ‘little sister’ to look after and protect while your female cousins will share fashion tips and Kirkwall gossip with you…whether you want them to or not.”
“What about my grandmother,” she hands him the water skin.
“She died several years ago.”
“Mom mentioned you had a brother.”
“Bartrand,” Varric sighs heavily at the mentioned of his traitorous sibling. “That’s complicated. I’ll tell you that story when we’re back on the surface,” he eats the last of his dried meat and wipes his hands on his pants.
“You’re turning down the opening to tell a story,” she chuckles. “Are you feeling alright?”
“It’s a tale that involves the Deep Roads, and I don’t think this would be the best time for it,” he brushes aside her concerns rather than admit that he doesn’t feel well.
“Why don’t you sleep and I’ll stand guard,” she finishes off the last of her bread.
“Going to stand on one leg,” he jests.
“Very funny,” she snarls. “But I can tell you’re tired.”
“It’s dangerous,” he stands and stretches then immediately regrets it. The searing pain in gut cuts through him. He grunts, grabs his midsection and doubles over.
“Dad,” she exclaims. “Are you alright?”
“I’m ok,” he lies once the pain recedes. “The food just isn’t sitting well with me right now. Don’t worry about it.”
“Really, ‘cause you look like you’re running a fever.”
“I’m allergic to the Deep Roads.”
“Weren’t you born down here?”
“No, I was born on the surface. Your mother was born in Orzammar.”
“Oh, so why don’t you just sleep for a bit,” the sudden topic change catches him off guard. “I promise to stay awake and keep an eye out for any big, bad nasties. And if I suspect anything I swear I’ll poke you with a stick.”
“I’m fine,” he reiterates, but can’t stop the yawn.
“Yeah, you sound well rested,” she jokes, but her brashness soon fades. “Please sleep. You can’t protect me or save Mom if your senses are dulled by exhaustion,” she is definitely his daughter knowing exactly what to say to get people to do what she wants.
“Ok, but you wake me at the slightest hint of trouble,” he cannot argue her logic
“Agreed,” she smiles and offers her hand which he shakes.
“But first, I’m going to take a leak.”
She rolls her eyes and begins packing up the uneaten rations.
He finds a secluded spot and checks the damage done by the darkspawn. The heat in the wound has increased and pain comes and goes. He can see red streaks emanating from the injury and it’s seeping a foul smelling puss. He would remove the wrappings, but the bandages are keeping the stench hidden. He didn’t think wounds could get this infected this quickly; he situates his clothing and hopes it isn’t blight running through his system.
Bethany sits on the ground and rummages through Varric’s pack desperately searching for anything she can use other than the pool of blood. Her vision begins to blur as tears well up in her eyes. The only thing she can find is one of the storyteller’s gloves and that’s not enough for her spell. She curses and pushes the pack away and sobs quietly for a few seconds before gathering her composure. She takes a deep shaky breath and tries to ignore the growing sense of dread in gut as she pulls out her grimoire and flips through her collection of spells. Her innards feel heavy with anxiety and heartache.
True to his word Fenris acts as a buffer between Isabela and the mage, giving her the time she needed to come to her conclusion. When Bethany announces that she would do the spell he throws the pirate a warning glare, silencing anything Isabela was thinking about saying. As Bethany pulls item from her bag he quietly asks what he can do to help her.
“I need water and some of the…of the,” she can’t bring herself to say the word.
“I’ll get it,” his voice is soft and supportive. He knows the cost of her decision and doesn’t want to make things worse for her. He pulls his spoon from his backpack and uses it to collect a small bit of the drying blood.
Solemnly she lays out the tools of her magic and carefully double checks her notes, more as a stall tactic than out of necessity. She produces a small clear crystal and a fractured ruby from her bag. She summons a small magical flame and places her small cauldron over the fire. Fenris returns and wordlessly offers his waterskin, which she takes without looking at him. The pot is small, only capable of holding a quarter cup of fluid and she fills it to the midpoint with water. She takes a small bit of twine and secures one end to the clear crystal and then sets it aside. Bethany double checks her book one last time before deciding that she cannot postpone this any longer.
Isabela and Fenris watch in silence as the mage tosses in a pinch of a grey powder, a few dried leaves, a sprig of something green with small white berries and a few drops of a lyrium potion. She weaves her mana with words and gestures, when pot begins to simmer she drops in the cracked ruby and another pinch of the grey powder, a plume of blue smoke filters up from the cauldron, and Bethany chants quietly. She holds out her hand and Fenris gives her the blood he collected. She summons her mana and plunges the crimson liquid into her concoction, followed by the clear crystal as she holds the loose end of the string. When the steam rising from the pot turns bright red Bethany breaths it in and slowly pulls the crystal from the liquid. The rock glows a soft white light before fading. The magic hits her suddenly and with more power than she was expecting. She gasps, snaps her eyes open and throws her head back. The red smoke dances about her and flows into her mouth and up her nose. She’s never known such power as it fills her lithe body. The power continues to grow as she struggles to catch her breath. Every fiber of her being is alive as it sings with magic. Forbidden knowledge surges through her, dark and intoxicating power warring with guilt as a single tear of regret slips down her cheek.
“Bethany,” Fenris crouches beside the mage, concerned for her. She looks at him and he watches as her brown eyes begin to glow red. He’s has seen this before, and he works hard to keep his expression neutral.
“We head north,” her voice is low and dejected as she rises to her feet.
“Right, and which way would that be,” Isabela gasps when Bethany turns to look at her the sinister glow slowly fading from her eyes.
“That way,” the mage holds the crystal out towards the passageway to their right.
Tavish draws runes on the stone floor before rushing back to the safety of his hiding place. Zinaga’s group tense when silence fills the air; they strain to hear for footsteps in the shadows. Archers ready their bows and swordsmen draw their blades at the faint sound of armoured feet shuffling against the earthen floor.
“Stay here,” the elf needlessly advises Bianca.
“Where would I run to?”
“Shut up,” Zinaga hisses as the footsteps grow closer. She carefully peeks over the rock she is hiding behind and waits. This is her least favorite part of an ambush. She would much rather be bait or attacking, the waiting is always nerve wracking. She looks around at the fifteen remaining people in her party each in their place waiting for the order to attack.
The darkspawn are getting closer.
The elf momentarily allows her mind to drift back to the last ambush she took part in; it was when she murdered Corrin, one of her long time rivals. Of course no one in the Guild knew Zinaga took part in this, as far as they knew he was caught by some unsavory types whom he owed a great deal of money to. It took Zinaga nearly a month to plant the rumor in such a way that it wouldn’t get back to Corrin. She still remembers the look of shock and the satisfaction she felt as she buried her blade in the human’s heart.
Footsteps are echoing in their cavern now, but there is no sign of the darkspawn.
She bites her bottom lip in anticipation of the upcoming combat. None of her men had ever seen a darkspawn before; she hopes none of the freeze up at the sight of the monstrosities. Suddenly the beasts start filtering in but they must wait until the Tavish’s wards are triggered.
Zinaga, like most in Thedas, had heard tales about the blight in Ferelden, but none of the descriptions could have prepared her for what shambled into their view. She wrinkles her nose in disgust at the sight of the grey skinned, milky-eyed monstrosities.
Finally the spell was triggered and half of the group froze in place, paralyzed by the apostate’s magic. Zinaga shouted her attack and her men unleashed a volley of arrows, while those with blades rushed forward into battle. Zinaga herself charges towards one of the paralyzed creatures and quickly liberates its head from the rest of its body. Empowered by the kill she moves to another target, this time one of the moving ones.
She blocks an incoming attack with one blade while she swings her second at the genlock’s neck. The creature blocks the blow with an armoured arm; it then punches the elf, catching her in the eye. She stumbles back and it presses the attack, but she recovers quickly blocking the next blow.
She’s surprised by the fighting ability of this thing the Chantry refers to as mindless beasts. She is forced to block and parry at the same time. She leaps back, crouches and then lunges forward, her blade slicing into tainted flesh. The darkspawn roars with pain and slashes back, catching the elf in the arm, but just barely. She uses both blades to block a downward strike and from the corner of her eye she can see a second darkspawn rushing in for the kill. It suddenly stops moving and collapses to the ground, an arrow protruding from its left eyes.
She places her foot on her attacker’s chest and pushes him back, giving her enough room to lunge forward and drive her weapon into the genlock’s throat. She looks around for her next advisory only to find that her group had won.
“Well,” she wipes the black blood off her blades before returning them to their sheaths. “That wasn’t so bad. I wonder if the Wardens are deliberately drawing out their war against them.”
“You take down a small, badly wounded group of ‘spawn and you think you’re better than the Wardens,” Bianca can’t keep the contempt from her words. Zinaga kicks the dwarf in the gut and knocks her to the ground, holding one of her small dagger to Bianca’s throat. She wants to kill the red head here and now, but she can’t, she still needs the mouthy dwarf for the next few days. The look in Bianca’s eyes tells the elf that she is aware of her value.
“What happened to ‘it’s so unfair going up against an unarmed opponent’?”
The elf’s eyes narrowed at having her words thrown back at her. “My reputation speaks to the contrary, remember?”
“You still need me.”
“Not for very much longer.”
“They’re close,” Bethany leads the way through the tunnel following the pull of the magic.
“How far,” Isabela asks.
“I can’t tell. I just know they’re close.” They come to a crossroads Bethany holds up the crystal. It sways on the edge of the twine, and then suddenly jerks towards the passageway to the left. She escorts them in silence, her mind a flurry of thoughts. She’s betrayed everything the Circle and her father taught her. She’s now a Blood Mage, a creature loathed and reviled more than darkspawn. Even the Maker couldn’t forgive this crime.
She’s takes a small measure of comfort in Fenris’ words that his feelings of her won’t change because of this spell. She even allows herself the smallest of smiles as she recalls his kiss; with her free hand she gently touches her lips. They still burn with the need to feel his. She cannot deny her feelings for the elf, but she still doesn’t know if it’s right. She still can’t answer if man and woman can be married if they swear themselves to each other or if they must do so in the Chantry.
She’s racked with guilt and it’s making her sick. Her stomach moves in rolling waves, she takes several deep breaths trying to calm her queasiness.
“Are you all right?’ Fenris asks.
“No,” her voice cracks, but she refuses to cry again.
“How can I help?”
“Ask me again when we camp,” she wants him to hold her and assure her that she’s not a monster, but right now they have to get to Varric and Isana.
Isana yawns and stretches, keeping watch is boring and she doesn’t understand why Varric and Fenris refuse to share this dull duty. To pass the time she counts the cracks in the floor and then her father’s breaths as he sleeps. She’s counts up to 150 when she hears footsteps in the distance.
Her heart begins to race and she holds her breath wondering if she really heard approaching feet or if her mind was playing tricks on her. Isana reaches over and shakes Varric gently, raising a finger to her lips when his eyes open.
“Something’s coming,” she whispers, handing him his crossbow. His body is sluggish to react as he pushes himself to his feet. He can’t extend Bianca’s arms just yet; the sound of them locking into place could alert the intruder to their presence. They hide in the shadows, peering into the dark as the footsteps grow louder. He’s relieved beyond words when the threat turns out to be his friends.
“Sunshine,” he waves the group over with a large grin on his face.
“Varric,” the mage shares his enthusiasm and rushes towards him. “How badly are you hurt? We saw the blood.”
“It’s Isana,” he sheaths Bianca and points to his daughter. “She took an arrow to the leg.”
“It went clean through,” the girl adds.
“Oh,” Bethany crouches down next to the teen. “That should be easy enough to heal. Let me take a look.”
Varric, Fenris and Isabela speak quietly off to the side while the young women tend to the injury.
“How are you doing,” Fenris asks.
“Exhausted, but I’ll manage. Let me show you what I’ve found,” he pulls the map from his coat, and points out their location.
“With Isana’s leg healed we can reach the thaig,” Verric points to their destination. “But we do need to be careful,” he points to a rune near their current location. “Apparently even when this map was made spiders were an issue.”
“I suggest we have Bethany set up some magic wards and all of us get some sleep,” Isabela rests her hand on her hip.
“I still think we should keep watch,” the elf protests.
“I’ll wager that those men,” she points off towards the thaig, referencing Zinaga and her men. “Will be well rested when we encounter them. Why not us?”
“I hate to point this out Rivaini, but we’ve encountered deepstalkers, darkspawn, and giant spiders. I don’t think it’s wise for us to let our guard down.”
“That’s why we’ll use magic,” she waves her hands as if her logic were inescapable.
“She does have a point Varric. We all could use a solid night’s sleep.”
“Fine, but not here, let’s see if we can make it to the thaig.”
Isana looks over at the speaking trio and then returns her attention to the mage. She’s never been this close to magic before and is enthralled by its mysteries.
“Will this hurt,” she asks, watching Bethany remove the bandages.
“No, but it might feel odd,” she carefully studies the wound with eyes and fingers. “There’s no infection, that’s good.”
“Would that be a problem?”
“Not for a healer,” she places her hands on the teen’s leg. “But I’m not a healer. I just know a few healing spells.”
“What’s the difference,” Isana stares at mage’s hands, her eyes widening as a pale blue glow surrounds them.
Bethany purses her lips as she tries to think of the best way to explain. “Are you an archer,” she suddenly asks.
“No,” the girl is confused by this line of questioning.
“But you can shoot a bow?”
“Yes, but not very well,” she bites her lips to keep from giggling. Muscle and flesh are healing at a rapid pace and the sensation tickles.
“It the same with mages. Each mage chooses their area of study and we tend to gravitate towards the school that comes the most natural,” she sits back, the healing is done. “While I can heal, I’m not the best at it.”
“Holy balls,” with wide eyes the girl runs her fingers over the smooth skin. Not even a scar was left. “What school did you go to?”
Bethany giggles. “Not that kind of school. There are four paths of magic, called schools. There’s creation, spirit, entropy and primal,” she counts them off on her fingers. “I studied primal which has to do with fire, ice and lightening, but there are certain spells that every mage is taught.”
“Like healing,” she bends and straightens her leg, in awe that there is no pain.
“Like mage light,” Bethany summons a small glowing light which hovers happily over her palm. “I learned healing from Father because my siblings were always getting into some kind of trouble.”
“Was your father a healer?”
“Are you harassing her Precious?”
“No, I’m learning about mages.”
“It’s all right Varric,” the mage laughs. “I don’t mind. It reminds me of teaching the children back in the circle.”
“So what have you learned,” he quizzes.
“There are four schools of magic entropic, primal, spirit and creation. And while every mage can learn to heal not every mage is a healer,” she beams proudly.
“What the difference between a healer and knowing how to heal?”
“I can take care of injuries, granted the more severe the injury the more magic I need to use and the more taxing it is on me. A healer can take care of things like disease and infection. That’s why I’m trying to get to wounds as soon as I can. I don’t want infection to set in.”
“What should be done if infection sets in,” Varric is cautious to keep his expression neutral.
“Health tonics, change bandages, and keep the wound clean are the things that immediately come to mind. Beyond that I’m at a loss.”
“We should probably get moving, I’d like to make it to the thaig before we set up camp,” Varric takes in the mage’s words, there’s nothing she can do to help him and he doesn’t want to worry her.
As they walk Varric listens to Isana interrogate Bethany about magic while Isabela busies her herself by trying to guess the color of Fenris’ underclothes, much to the elf’s displeasure. Varric’s side burns, but there’s nothing the mage can do about it so he keeps it to himself, but he decides that when they set camp he’ll use some of his health potions and change the wrappings. Once they return to the surface he’ll have to seek out a physiker.
“I, uh…I think we’re here,” Isana’s voice pulls him from his thoughts. He looks up and sees a matching pair of Paragon statutes towering over them. Each stone effigy standing at least twenty feet in height, each figure is holding its hands overhead as if they were holding up the mountain above. Runes are carved into the smooth rock on either side of the figurines and between them the expansive thaig.
Bethany’s eyes widening at the sight of the lyrium crystal growing up and, in some cases, through structures, illuminating the place with a pale blue light. The gentle sound of running water can be heard echoing through the massive cavern. She rubs her arms; the feel of so much lyrium is making her skin tingle.
“Welcome to Torkver Thaig,” Varric says as he leads the way into the thaig.