Kathryn stretched, rolled over and started to drift back to sleep. She reached for Alistair but he was not within arms' reach. She opened her eyes and saw that he was not in the tent. She wondered where he could be for she knew that he did not have watch tonight. Stranger still, his armor, weapons and pack were gone. And something else was wrong. It was too dark. There was no light from the fire. She put on her undershirt, leggings and boots, grabbed her daggers and stepped out of the tent.
The fire was out. All the wood was ash or charred remains. It would take an entire day or perhaps more for the fire to burn itself out like that. She knelt down, held her hand over the ashes and then ran her fingers through them. They were cold. There was not a single ember left.
She looked around but there was no one on watch. In fact, there were no signs of anyone at all. She looked back to where Morrigan kept a fire but it too was out. Bhoden's cart was gone. She walked over to the nearest tent and tentatively looked inside but it was empty. She checked each one in turn. They were all empty.
The night was clear and cold. All was quiet and still. There was no sound, no wind, no movement. It was like the eerie calm before a storm. The only noise was her own footsteps.
None of this made any sense. She was missing something, a clue or sign, some indication of what was going on, of what had happened. She looked over the camp again, but all was still, so very still. It was unsettling. Her heart beat louder and faster and she had to remind herself not to panic, at least not yet.
Then she saw something, movement, back by Morrigan's fire. A shadow in the moonlight, moving slowly. It was barely perceivable but there. She cautiously started towards the back of the camp. As she got closer, she could see that it was not a shadow but a real being. It's form obscured by the darkness. She was nearly upon it before it turned towards her.
"Duncan!" She cried out. Her voice echoing in the stillness. "You're alive! But how?" He looked at her but didn't respond. "What's wrong? Duncan, what is it? What's going on?"
He bowed his head and sighed. He seemed tired and sad. "I am sorry, Kathryn." He said. He peered over her shoulder back towards the tents. She followed his gaze and turned around, but didn't see anything. There was the camp, the tents and the remnants of the fire, quiet and still, as they had been.
Then, just there and then again over there, the shadows moved. At first it was just a flicker, but then they began to creep along the ground, undulating, swelling and surging forward. They began to take shape and become solid forms. They came out of the tents, appeared in every shadow, crawled up from the ground. Then she realized they were not shadows… but darkspawn.
One after another emerged from the darkness. They gathered together and started towards them. She turned back to Duncan. "Darkspawn! We have to…" but he already knew. As he stepped into the moonlight, she could see that his face was sickly, bruised and blotchy. His eyes hollow and empty. He had lured her back here… into a trap.
He lunged towards her. She dodged, avoiding his grasp. She spun around, daggers flashing and stabbed him in the heart. He fell lifeless to the ground. She starting running towards the entrance to the camp which was also the only escape. She fought her way through them, but there were so many, and every moment more emerged from the shadows.
She was grabbed from behind by a hurlock alpha. The force of the attack and weight of the alpha drove her to the ground and held her there. Her daggers were wrenched away from her. She held her breath and waited for the killing blow but it didn't come. She was picked up, turned over and thrown back down onto the ground. She was surrounded. Hands, many hands from those around her and more from the ground held her. She struggled but there were too many and they were too strong.
She looked around at the dozens of darkspawn watching her. They didn't attack her, in fact, none of them even had weapons. They just stood there. She realized that they had not tried to hurt her as she had attempted to escape but only stop her, grab her, catch her. But why… if they didn't want to kill her…
Fear… true cold terror griped her heart with its icy fingers. A memory… one she could not forget… one she had tried to forget… the rhyme… Hespith's rhyme… now she understood… she understood everything.
'First day, they come and catch everyone.'
That's what had happened to the rest. They had all been captured or killed by the darkspawn. They were all gone, including Alistair. But she had known that already, known that he would never leave her of his own volition. "Alistair, my love." She whispered. "Dear Maker, if he is not free from them, if he did not escape, please I beg you… let him be dead… let it have been quick… let it have been fighting as a warrior's death should be, but please let them not have hurt him. Please."
'Fifth day, they return and it's another girl's turn.'
They had come back for her. They had saved her for last. Why? Because they wanted to turn her… turn her into one of those… No. No! She would not allow that to happen. She would fight. She would resist. She would force them to kill her. She watched the alpha approach her.
It was laughing.
'Seventh day, she grew as in her mouth they spew.'
No! They cannot force her to do that. She would not let them. She would not! She told herself over and over, but she was wrong. Hands, so many hands, held her head and neck, forcing her mouth open, filling it with the taint.
It burned, scorched her mouth and tongue, burning her skin as it spilled over her face and neck. The alpha held her mouth and nose closed. She struggled but it made little difference. She resisted but as the soft blackness started to overtake her, her body's instinct to survive became too strong.
She could feel it as it scorched her throat and stomach, as it spread through her abdomen and then throughout her body, carried through her blood, like fire or lightening, burning all it touched. The pain was excruciating. Over and over, she was forced to take in the poison, as the pain worsened and spread to every part of her. Her tears streamed down her face. The salt burning her inflamed skin.
She had tried to focus on something… anything. She had tried to concentrate… tried to think… but the pain was too much… every fiber of her body burned.
All was quiet and still but far in the distance there was a noise… soft like music but not… more like bells or chimes… the sound of water flowing… of the gentle rain. All peace, all comfort, all joy and serenity was contained in the music.
She tried to listen, wanting to hear, to know something other than the pain but no, not that… that was the Call. That was the archdemon calling to her. She would not listen. That sound was death… sweet, peaceful death… but death. She would not give up. She would not give in. She would fight.
She heard the sound of cloth ripping. The only sound in the stillness. She felt the cold air against her skin as her undershirt, leggings and then small clothes were torn away.
'Eighth day, we hated as she is violated.'
She watched as they gathered around her. She could hear them breathing… growling… laughing. Hands grabbed her legs… fingers pierced her flesh… blood dripped from the wounds… as they pulled and moved them. She tried to resist… but they were too many… and they were too strong.
She would resist. She would not scream. She would hold on. She would not listen to the Call. She would stay strong. She saw the alpha kneel beside her. She closed her eyes and waited.
Then she began to scream.
Alistair finished his brandy. He had been talking to Zevran about what Zevran intended to do with himself after this was over. Zevran said he might stay in Ferelden since Alistair as king may have people he needed killed, which was probably true. It was an interesting idea to say the least but he was getting a bit ahead of himself.
Everyone was huddled close to the fire. It was cold to be sure but the wind was low and next to the fire, it was pleasant. All were talking and laughing and there was far too little of that.
He looked over at Kathryn who was nodding off. That was odd for her. She was normally the last one to sleep. He had never seen her retire this early.
He watched as she slept but it wasn't a peaceful sleep. Something was wrong. She began thrashing about. Alistair ran over to her. He wanted to stop her before she hurt herself. He realized that she wasn't lashing out wildly but fighting. He knew her moves, maybe better than she did and he waited, spin, dodge, thrust… he grabbed her and pinned her to the ground. He started calling her name, over and over but she didn't respond at all.
"What's wrong?" Leliana asked.
"I don't know!" Alistair said. "Grey Wardens have dreams, nightmares, violent, terrifying ones at times, but I've never seen anything like this. She's fighting something." He said.
"'Tis possible 'tis a spell." Morrigan said. "There is such that if cast upon a sleeping person brings horrifying nightmares." Alistair cleansed the area, but she didn't wake up. "'Twas a thought." Morrigan said disappointed.
"No, it was a spell." Alistair said. "I felt it, but it's too strong for me to dispel." Kathryn stopped fighting, but within moments she started gasping for air and moaning in intense pain.
"If it's a spell, someone cast it and they have to be close." Alistair said. He stood and closed his eyes. A moment passed, he looked up and ran out of the camp. Zevran immediately started after him.
"Wait up!" Oghren said as he grabbed his battleaxe and followed.
Alistair ran blindly, following his templar ability to sense magic. He had to find who or what was doing this to Kathryn but he had to be careful. If she was under the influence of some kind of spell, killing whatever was responsible might be the worst thing he could do.
He could tell he was getting close. He ran into a clearing and instinctively dove for the ground. A fireball passed over his head, hitting the tree behind him. He charged in the direction the fireball came from. He felt the icy blast but shrugged it off. He bashed the mage and saw that he was tainted.
He sensed magic off to his side. He turned to see another tainted mage but didn't have time to brace for the impact. The force knocked him back. The mage began to cast again but then an arrow pierced his shoulder. Oghren charged the first mage as he got to his feet. Alistair turned to see a third mage appear behind Zevran.
"Down!" He yelled. Zevran dove for the ground. Alistair smited the mage. Zevran rolled onto his back and began to fire. He got to his feet, pulled out his daggers and charged.
Oghren took three swings at the mage driving him back. The mage cast but the spell had no more effect on Oghren than a strong gust of wind. He took another swing and the mage fell.
Alistair turned back to the second mage. He could tell he was the strongest of the group, probably the leader. He charged him. He sensed the blood magic and then the pain shot through him. It was a powerful spell but he pushed through knocking him to the ground. Alistair grabbed the mage by the throat.
"Let her go." Alistair said.
The mage smiled. "Too late." He hissed. "Trapped… forever."
Alistair could see the insanity. He wasn't sure if it was the blood magic or the taint, though it didn't matter. Either way he was unable to help them. He ran him through. He could see the relief in the mage's eyes and some measure of his humanity return. "Tell her… so… sor… ry…"
Alistair turned back to see Zevran and Oghren standing over the bodies of the other mages. "Thanks."
"Do not mention it, my friend." Zevran said. Oghren smiled and shrugged.
"But do either of you know how to get back to camp?" Alistair said. Then they heard the screaming.
They followed the cries. Alistair knelt beside Kathryn who was in obvious and intense pain.
"What happened?" He said.
Wynne shook her head. "She was as you left her until moments ago when she started screaming. We've tried everything we can think of to wake her. Did you find the mage?"
"He's dead." Alistair said.
"But…" Wynne said.
"He was corrupted and couldn't help us. He must have been sent to… hurt her." Alistair said.
"Did he say anything?" Wynne asked.
"I said to let her go. He said 'too late' and 'trapped forever'." Alistair said.
"But how?" Wynne said.
"Blood magic." Jowan said. "The mage, he was a blood mage, right?"
"Yes, how did you…" Alistair said.
"With blood magic, a mage can find the sleeping minds of others, view their dreams and influence or even dominate their thoughts." Jowan said. "He could have given her the nightmare, found her sleeping mind and convinced her the dream was real. There would be no way to wake her up."
"But I do not understand." Zevran said. "In most dreams you think the dream is real."
"No, you may not know consciously but you know… I don't know how to explain… but you know you are dreaming and that's why your body doesn't act out the dream, why if you run in a dream you don't move your legs." Jowan said.
"But she is acting out the dream, fighting, screaming and her body is reacting to pain that isn't real. If she doesn't know, truly doesn't know she is dreaming, she can't wake up. She doesn't know to wake up." Jowan said.
"Are you saying there is nothing we can… there has to be something we can do." Alistair said.
"There may be something I can do." Jowan said.
"What?" Alistair said.
"I can use the blood magic to find her sleeping mind." Jowan said.
"Then you can convince her it's a dream. Tell her to wake up." Alistair said.
"No. That kind of spell to influence thoughts or dreams takes a lot of power and is beyond me to do or try to counter." Jowan said. "But with the mage dead, if she can be convinced it's a dream, that should be enough for her to wake up."
"But how? She can't hear us." Alistair said.
"It would have to be inside the dream. Someone would have to enter the dream and then convince her it's a dream." Jowan said.
"Can you do that?" Alistair said.
"I can't. Well, maybe but I'd have no way to get out of the dream if she didn't wake up or even if she did actually. But I could send someone else. That way I can pull them back out of the dream." Jowan said.
"But doesn't that require a… sacrifice?" Alistair said.
"No, not with this. This is a dream, in the Fade but not the Fade itself. I… I know it's possible and I know how to do it but I've never done anything like it before." Jowan said.
"Does the person have to be a mage?" Alistair said.
"No, they'll be inside her dream, they don't need to be able to navigate the Fade. But..." Jowan said.
"What?" Alistair said.
"…there is a risk." Jowan said. "If I send someone into her dream, they aren't dreaming. It's really them. It's like a mage going into the Fade. If they die in that dream, they die for real. Not to mention that the rules of the real world, even the rules of the Fade may not apply to a dream. Time works differently, everything does. Each dream has its own rules set by the dreamer. It is all based on what they believe is going on."
"What about her? What if she dies in the dream?" Alistair said.
"In a normal dream, it wouldn't hurt her. It might even be enough to wake her up, but with her not knowing she's dreaming… it could kill her… or trap her and anyone else in the dream permanently. There's no way to know, but I doubt it would be good."
Alistair looked down at Kathryn who had stopped screaming and only moaned softly. "Do it." He said.
"Alistair, you can't." Wynne said. "Jowan said himself, he has never done any of this before, there is no guarantee he can do any of what he says. Even if he can, if you die in the dream you die. You don't know what the nightmare is, what you will face, once there. You may not be able to make her understand she is dreaming. She might be too far…" Alistair turned away. Wynne grabbed his arm and turned him back to face her. "Alistair, I'm sorry but she is lost. If you go after her, the most likely result is that you will be too. We can't lose both of you. You two are the last Grey Wardens in Ferelden. You have…"
"…a responsibility. I know." He said with a sigh. "This is completely… reckless and even… selfish. I'm grasping on to one small chance that I can save her, that this will work. And it isn't just me I'm risking but all Ferelden."
"Yes." Wynne said sadly but relieved.
"I know." He said. "And I'm still going after her."
"But…" Wynne said.
"I have to." Alistair said. "Jowan, what do I do?"
"Get any supplies you think you'll need." Jowan said as he sat down and closed his eyes.
Alistair looked at him curiously. "But you're not sending my actual body right? How is that going to…"
"You create yourself in the dream. What you have with you here, is what you'll have with you in the dream. Just trust me." Jowan said as he began to glow with red light.
"Right." Alistair said as he gathered his weapons and picked up a few potions.
Wynne looked thoughtful and then determined. Her hands started to glow with blue light.
Alistair stopped. "Wynne, don't. Please." He said without turning to face her. "I don't want to hurt you." Wynne bowed her head as the light from her hands went out.
Zevran ran to his tent. He grabbed his satchel that contained ingredients for mixing poisons and grenades. He emptied it and then hurried to the cart where the supplies for making potions were kept. He found the empty vials and bottles and filled the bag with them. Then he ran back to where Alistair was.
"Here." Zevran said as he handed him the bag. "It is filled with grenades, all kinds, fire, ice and lightening. There are a several dozen of them. They are small but very potent. All you have to do is toss them at the feet of the enemy and the glass will instantly break on contact with the ground and the effect will disperse away from you. They are very easy to use. The ice are cool to the touch, fire warm, lightening are neither." Zevran said.
"Got it. Thank you." Alistair said as he took the satchel. Zevran nodded and stepped back.
Leliana walked up to him and whispered. "Zevran, those are too small to be grenades or have any power if they are and even then there can't be more than a dozen or so total. Besides grenades disperse their effects everywhere, there is no way to control that and so you must be very careful where you throw them, and throw them hard enough to break the glass, not to mention that you can't tell a grenade by its temperature. Zevran, you know all this!"
"My dear, I know all of that, but you see he does not." Zevran whispered back.
"But… I… Oh!" She said covering her mouth to contain her surprise. "Zevran! I could kiss you!"
"Let us wait and see if the ruse works and if so I shall take you up on that, my dear." Zevran said.
Several tense moments passed, as they all waited.
"I found her!" Jowan said.
"Are you sure?" Alistair said.
"I'm sure." He said grave.
"What do I do?" Alistair said.
"Make sure you have your supplies, then lay down and close your eyes." Jowan said. Alistair laid down next to Kathryn. "Are you ready?" Jowan asked.
Alistair closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "As ready as I'll ever…"
"…be." Alistair said. But he got no answer. He opened his eyes. He could see the night sky. He was in the far back of camp. Jowan couldn't have just sent him here. It was one of the cardinal rules that you can't move anything from one place to another by magic. Then he noticed the fire was out. He waited as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Finally he could make out the beings by the entrance to the camp, dozens of what looked like… darkspawn. Then he heard a moan.
He reached inside the grenade bag that Zevran had given him. He could feel the dozens of small vials, some cool to the touch, some warm, some neither. He gathered two handfuls of the warm ones and charged the group of darkspawn. He tossed the grenades before him. They release powerful explosions, knocking many of the darkspawn back and down. He rushed in, cutting a path through them. He saw an alpha stand. He quickly knocked it back, and then looked down to where it had been.
Kathryn was laying on the ground, semi-conscious. He could tell it was her, but only barely. She was naked, her skin grey and clammy, black tainted blood covered her mouth, neck and the inner part of her thighs. Her eyes were blank and hollow. Much of her hair had fallen out. Her arms and legs were painfully thin, while her abdomen and breasts were bloated.
He picked her up and retreated to the edge of camp, tossing as many of the ice grenades as he could find at the advancing darkspawn. Once there, he set her down and grabbed her by the shoulders.
"Kathryn! Kathryn, can you hear me? It's Alistair. I'm here. Kathryn, look at me." He took hold of her head in both hands. "Please. Kathryn, you have to listen to me. You're dreaming. This is all a dream. It isn't real. It's a dream. Kathryn! You have to wake up! Kathryn?"
Her eyes wouldn't focus. Her head rolled back and around. She wasn't responding to him at all. He looked back as the remaining darkspawn came closer. He stood and drew his sword. He had killed many already. He would kill the rest and then he would have time to talk to her, to make her understand. He charged, slicing into the throng. One after another fell, but as each expired, it disappeared and another emerged from the darkness to replace it. As their numbers replenished, they surged forward overwhelming him.
They pushed, pulled and beat him to the ground. Hands grabbed him, forcing him on his back, holding him down. He saw the alpha approach. He thought they would kill him, or perhaps they would try to turn him… make him a ghoul or… no, he knew what they were going to do with him. The rhyme… he remembered the rhyme…
'Ninth day, she grins and devours her kin.'
His gauntlets and chestpiece were removed, his undershirt ripped off. The alpha leaned over him and swiped its hand across Alistair's chest. Its nails tore deep gashes in his flesh. The wounds began to bleed. He looked over at Kathryn who looked up and smiled.
Pain… it seemed as though there had only ever been the pain… blinding… sickening… maddening… pain… it had obliterated all that had come before… swept it all away as though it had never been… all memory, all thought, all feeling… all hope and fear… gone… all there was… all there had ever been… was the pain…
Then there was the Call… the beautiful song… the soft voice… the gentle music… that took all the pain away… it was unlike any other sound… it brought peace and serenity… ecstasy and rapture… without it there was only anguish, despair and misery…
But now… there was something new… hunger… it had been small… so very small at first… but then it grew… drowning out all else… even the song… the need was overwhelming… even worse than the pain… her body ached for food… demanded it… craved it… but there was none… only want and need… then the smell… she could smell it… the hunger flared in her… stronger than before… overpowering… screaming at her… forcing her towards it… once she ate… once she fed… then no more hunger… no more pain… only the Call…
She forced herself to move… crawling towards it… it was making noise… she thought it would scream… or cry… but it only… talked… she listened… its voice was… familiar… but how could that be… she looked at him… something stirred in her… a different kind of need… of hunger… he said things… she didn't understand… but they spoke to her… she felt them… she didn't want to remember… remembering only brought pain… he pulled his hand away from those holding it… he reached up and touched her cheek… they grabbed his arm… pinning it back against the ground… she watched as he closed his eyes… once she ate… once she fed… then no more hunger… no more pain… only the call… she attacked…
Kathryn started crawling towards him, responding to the smell of blood coming from his wounds.
"Kathryn. Kathryn, my love, listen to me. I know you remember me. Somewhere inside you, you remember. I know you do." He said.
He took all the strength he had and pulled his arm free. He reached up and touched her cheek, but she didn't respond. The darkspawn grabbed his arm pulling it back down to the ground. He searched her eyes for something but they held only hunger and pain. He closed his eyes and waited.
He heard one of the darkspawn cry out and felt it let go of him. He opened his eyes. She had attacked one of the darkspawn that had been holding his arm and now bashed its head against the ground.
"That's my girl." He said. He pulled his arm free and punched the darkspawn holding his other arm. He reached for his sword and came up slashing. The alpha attacked him. He dodged and rolled away. It came forward, he hit it twice driving it back, and then ran it through.
He grabbed her and ran to the other side of the camp, tossing the rest of the grenades behind them. Nearly all of the darkspawn lay dead but as their bodies dissolved into the air, more appeared from the shadows. They didn't have much time.
"I knew you would remember." He said as he held Kathryn to him, even as the tainted blood burned his skin. He took her head in his hands. "My love, you have to listen to me. Listen carefully. You are dreaming. This is all only a dream. You have to wake up. You… have… to…" He looked into her eyes, eyes that were filled with emotion but not understanding. He realized that while her heart was whole, her mind… was not… not anymore.
"You don't understand me, do you?" He said. "You know me, you remember me but you can't understand anything I say." He looked up to see the darkspawn advancing slowly towards them led by the alpha.
He turned back to her. "Listen to me… I love you. I have always loved you… and I will always… love you. Please, remember that… no… no matter… what."
He stroked her hair. She reached up and wiped a tear from his face. He brushed her cheek and traced her scorched lips with his fingers. She took his hand, closed her eyes and kissed his palm. Then he snapped her neck. He watched through blurred vision as she fell to the ground. At least now, they wouldn't be able to hurt her anymore.
He turned to see the darkspawn nearly upon him. He waited and hoped for a miracle but none came. With the sound of their laughter in his ears, he took his sword and placed the tip against his abdomen. He took a deep breath and watched as the blade sliced into his flesh. Then everything went black.