Alistair snatched the lantern back and spun around blocking the small doorway. “Alistair, what is it?” Leliana pleaded as she stared into the darkness.
“What’s wrong? What’s there?” Wynne said at nearly the same time.
“By the Stone.” Oghren said as he took a step back.
“The villagers...” Alistair said and then took a deep breath, “...they didn’t leave. They died. They... they are all in there.”
“Oh! Blessed Andraste!” Leliana said.
“What happened to them? Can you tell?” Wynne said.
“I… I… I don’t... I think they are... were… were sick. It could be anything… plague or…” Alistair said. “Please, all of you, get upstairs. I… I’ll check it out.”
“Plague! No, no, if it is that…we must all get out of here. Now!” Leliana said.
“No… I… the taint… it makes me immune to... everything.” Alistair said. “I’ll check it out, but please get upstairs.”
“But, Alistair, I can’t… I’m already….” Wynne started.
“Please.” He said without looking at her.
“Allright.” Wynne said. She started walking back towards the stairs. Leliana looked at Alistair who nodded.
“I won’t be long.” Leliana reluctantly followed Wynne. Oghren didn’t move. He waited till he heard the creak of the stairs, and then he looked up to Alistair.
“No, I’m not going upstairs. They didn’t see. You were blocking their view. They didn’t see what you saw, but I did.” Oghren said. “One of the things they tell you before you go into the deep roads is how to spot the signs. They are tainted, corrupted and... ancestors preserve us, they aren’t all dead.” Alistair nodded.
“I also know there is no help for it. All you can do is make is quick.” Alistair looked like he might be sick. “Come on, son. Waiting isn’t going to make it any easier.”
Alistair said something under his breath and then turned and shone the lantern light around the room.
Bodies were piled up along the far wall of the room, most were no more than skeletons. Others lined the walls, many no longer moved but some reacted to the light and noise, cringing and turning away from it.
The light rested on one woman in the middle of the room who was sitting up, staring into the darkness, singing to herself. It was little more than a dull hum. She turned towards the light.
Alistair walked over to the woman. She turned her head to the side and looked up at him, seemingly confused. “You... you aren’t one of... them.” She said in a voice that was no more than a harsh whisper.
Alistair knelt beside her. Her face that had been so overtaken by the corruption twisted oddly. Alistair realized that she was trying to smile. “You came!” She said. “Finally, you came. But... you’re too late.”
“What happened?” Alistair asked.
She looked into space for a long moment. “They said... we would be safe in here... lock us in with supplies and they would go for help. They said... they said that someone would come... not be long they said... but it’s been so long. We thought... we thought we had escaped but... we still got sick... one by one... so long… so sick... and… and the singing... always the singing... I... I just want it to... stop.” She turned to Alistair. “You will make it stop, yes?”
Alistair swallowed hard. “Yes, I... I promise I… I will make it stop.”
“Thank you.” She said.
“You were hiding from the darkspawn? They are what made everyone sick.” Alistair asked her.
“No, no, from him.” She said. “We hid from him. He... he brings… death.”
“So,” Kathryn said to everyone and no one. “...just to restate the obvious, someone had to been here to light the candles within the last day or so.”
“Does not mean they are still here or at all connected to the village. It could have been someone like us,” Zevran said “...someone just passing through. They lit the candles and then continued on their merry way.”
“Yes, but why light the candles and not even check the contents of the donation box?” She asked.
“Perhaps they are of a religious mind set and stealing from the chantry does not sit well with them.” He said. Kathryn looked at him. “No, I do not think so either but it is a possibility.”
Kathryn shrugged and then looked back to the lights. “Who lit the candles and why?”
“I lit them.” They all turned in the direction of the voice and saw a boy standing just inside the great doors. He seemed to be staring at the floor.
“That was my job, to light the candles every day. The revered mother gave me a silver a week for it. And... I did, everyday. Even when they started getting sick. Most just died but some... just got sicker and sicker and then they came after the one left. The ones that weren’t sick.” He rubbed his eyes.
“I... I had to hide. I hid here, up in the spire. They couldn’t get to me there. They surrounded the village. Some went for help but they... they didn’t make it to the highway. I watched. I wanted to help but I couldn’t do anything. Everyone hid but they found them and they got sick too. I heard them... screaming and then they would sing. They said someone would come. And you did.” He began to cry.
“I tried to wait. I did… but then I... was the only one left. And I… I didn’t want to be alone anymore.” The boy raised his head to look at them and then they could see that the corruption had taken over his face.
“I’m sorry.” He said. Behind him the villagers began to enter the chantry.
“What are they doing down there?” Leliana said as she paced the floor of the kitchen. They had come upstairs but were reluctant to get out of earshot, in case they were needed.
Wynne shook her head. Ssomething was very wrong. Alistair’s story had made sense and she would have bought it if... he didn’t already know that she was dead and therefore immune to any kind of disease.
They both looked up from their separate thoughts at the sounds of hurried footsteps and the creaking of the stairs. Alistair appeared obviously upset.
“We have to find Kathryn and get out of here.” He said.
“Alistair, what’s...” Wynne started to say.
“No time to explain!” He said as he left the kitchen but they stopped short as they saw that the place was inhabited by more than a dozen ghouls waiting for them.
“Okay, maybe there is time to explain...” Alistair said. “…some of the villagers have turned into flesh-eating, corrupted ghouls.”
“Oh,” Wynne said, “...is that all.”
Oghren took out his axe and said “Always up to me to make the first move.” With a roar he attacked slicing the nearest one nearly in two. The rest were awakened from their stupor and attacked.
Leliana jumped up onto the bar and started firing and kicking the nearest ones off the bar. “How do we kill them?” She yelled between shots.
“Preferably quickly!” Alistair said before getting behind his shield and pushing the mob back, giving them room to fight.
Wynne got into a position behind the bar, monitoring the health of the others.
“You know this reminds me of this time at this noble’s birthday party, I got the ladies to all dance on the tables.” Leliana said while keeping up her rate of fire. “And then one of the ladies starting auctioning off articles of her clothing…”
“Dear, this really isn’t the time for this.” Wynne said.
“Hush, woman. I want to hear the rest.” Oghren said as he hacked another one.
Alistair took a quick count, there were still only four of them but more ghouls than when they started. They were coming into the tavern faster than they could kill them. This would really be a good time for a plan B, if he had one.
Kathryn started firing as Zevran vaulted the stairs to join her and Morrigan on the higher platform in the front of the chantry.
Sten took out his sword and waited. While he didn’t put much faith in magic or a rogue’s poisons or bombs, he didn’t want to hit by either.
“Morrigan,” Kathryn said as she continued firing, “Anytime!” The temperature in the room dropped as a blast of cold shot from Morrigan’s hands. The blast enveloped the ghouls. A couple seemed slowed by the cold but most continued to march towards them.
“Well, that was… unexpected.” Morrigan said as she wiped the frost from her hands.
“And bloodly useless too.” Zevran said as he threw out several more grenades towards the ghouls.
“Sten, your turn!” with an angry roar Sten charged. “Zev, keep them off him and one more thing…” She said as he pulled out his daggers. “Try not to get eaten.”
“Eaten?!” Zevran said with considerable alarm. “Oh boy.” He jumped from the stairs to the chantry floor, rolled and came up slashing.
“There are too many!” Leliana said. She had stopped firing and was now completely occupied with keeping the ghouls from crawling up onto and over the bar. Alistair and Oghren fell back as the room continued to fill up.
“We have to get out of here!” Alistair said.
“Upstairs?” Wynne asked hopeful.
“Too high.” He said. “Wynne, fireball the door!”
“But… the wood… the place will ignite.” She said.
“If you don’t, we’re overrun. Do it!” Alistair said as he stepped in front of the others, raising his shield.
The explosion rocked the structure and seemed to suck all the air from the room. Everything was on fire, tables, chairs, walls, floor and ceiling but the ghouls had been momentarily staggered and the doorway was clear.
“Go! Go!” Alistair yelled. Oghren ran and swung his axe, knocking down the few trying to get to their feet.
Leliana made it through and then waited for Wynne to go ahead of her and then helped her to maneuver the bodies and reaching limbs.
Oghren forced his way through as the smoke began to overtake him. He got clear of the building. He looked back in time to see Alistair run out as the front wall and ceiling of the tavern collapsed.
Alistair staggered to the others, taking his helmet off. The side of his face and neck were a deep red.
Wynne reached up to heal the burn but Alistair waved her off. “We have to find Kathryn!”
“They were going for supplies… the store?” Leliana said.
“Uh... I’d say the chantry is a better bet.” Oghren replied. The rest turned to see the chantry being overrun. Ghouls were crowding through entrance. Alistair started running.
“Wait!” Oghren said. “I have an idea.”
“Nothing affects them!” Morrigan called to Kathryn who had abandoned the bow for the daggers. “All entropy useless! Nature does nothing and cold is nearly as so!”
“You could try batting your eyelashes.” Kathryn said. Morrigan wanted to glare but Kathryn was too occupied to look at her.
“Well,” Morrigan thought “I still have one trick left.” She jumped off the top step and landed crushing three ghouls beneath her bulk and then slammed the nearest two who had stopped attacking, apparently surprised at the sudden appearance of a bear in the chantry.
Kathryn knew that Morrigan had only bought them a little time. More and more poured in and they were losing ground. These things were stronger than normal people and harder to take down. Most only fought with hands and blindly but they made up for it in sheer numbers. A few however had heavy armor and fought with weapons. They simply couldn’t keep this up and no way to get to the door.
Then the sound of breaking glass drowned out all else as one of the great stained glass windows shattered. They looked to see Oghren cutting through the window pane weakening the supports.
“Morrigan! The window!” she yelled. The Morrigan-bear brushed a couple ghouls out of her way and then put her entire bulk into the window frame. They heard the crack of the wood as the wall and supports gave way and Morrigan-bear pushed through.
“Zevran! Go!” Zevran looked to her and hesitated but knew that was a voice not to be questioned. He dived and rolled and then followed Morrigan.
“Sten! Go!” Sten looked back but made no move to the door. “Sten! Now!” Sten still made no move towards the opening. “Sten! Together on three.” Sten nodded. “One, two, three!” both of them turned and ran to the door.
Kathryn got there first and stood waiting for Sten when Alistair grabbed her arm and pulled her through. Sten was a step behind. Alistair kept pulling her farther away from the building. As they ran past Wynne she unleashed a fireball through the window. They kept running as the screams from the burning and dying ghouls followed them.
Leliana made her way to the market square. She knew that together they had a chance but still they needed a position to make a stand, to control the attack of these creatures. She surveyed the area. Sten ran up behind her. After a beat they both pointed to a space between two houses that opened up behind them to what was once a field and was backed by a steep hill. There was enough room to fight, only one entrance and a wall behind them. “There.” They said.
Sten looked around and then said “Tables.” And ran towards the market circle. He picked up two tables and carried them to the alley setting them up as barricades. Leliana grabbed an empty crate and followed. The rest were close behind and followed them down the alley and began to set up behind the buildings.
Wynne fled to the far back and began setting up potions for ease of use. Leliana set up her crate off to the left, stashed most of her supply of arrows and then made her way back to the front. Zevran took position by the entrance, lining up his remaining grenades. Oghren and Sten took their positions on each side of the clearing entrance and applied salves. Morrigan was behind them.
The last to arrive were Alistair and Kathryn. She stopped at the entrance, clenching his hand for a moment before releasing it. He then took his position in front of Sten and Oghren.
She turned to Zev, but before she could speak he said, “I was thinking, a nice firestorm when the mob reaches the entrance to the blacksmith shop. Then hit them with the rest of these.” He motioned to the grenades he had lined up. “Then bow till I can smell them and then retreat to hide behind the warriors and then be my normal charming backstabbing stealthy assassin self.”
“Good plan.” Kathryn said as she got out her bow. “Add to that a bit about watching the girls.”
“Don’t I always? Oh, I guess you mean keeping them safe. I can do that too.” He said with a smile. “Of course that leaves you to watch the boys as it were. Nice. Wynne! Now!” He yelled.
Leliana came up and stood next to Kathryn. They brought their bows up. They watched as a firestorm engulfed the market square. Everything flammable thing burst into flames. The ghouls there caught fire. They screamed and fell to the ground.
As the storm dissipated, Zevran hurled the last few grenades. As they hit, Leliana and Kathryn let lose their arrows. More ghouls crawled over the fallen bodies and barricade but they were slowed and staggered.
“Fall back, now!” Kathryn said as the three rogues ran back to their positions behind the warriors. Kathryn caught Alistair’s eye as she passed, throwing the bow aside and drawing her daggers.
Leliana jumped up on top of her crate while Zevran positioned in front of her and Wynne. Morrigan could see the mob approach and shapshifted to her bear form.
As the first of the mob got to the entrance, Alistair made sure that he had their attention watching as head after corrupted head turned to target him. “My mark.” He said as Sten and Oghren nodded. He watched as the mob hit the entrance falling over the barricades and then crawling over.
“Alistair?” Kathryn said.
“I know.” He said.
The first ones emerged from the alley to the field. “Now!” He said.