“What exactly are we hoping to find up here?” Oghren asked.
“Well, I am hoping to find an immense treasure trove filled with coins, gems and valuables of all kinds complete with bed of softest goose down and a feast of wild boar, all guarded by a dozen beautiful women of questionable virtue who have a deep seeded lust for handsome elven assassins.” Zevran said somewhat wistfully. “But then again, I’m always hoping to find that.”
“Put a lot of thought in to that, have you?” Leliana said.
“How will the Maker know what to give you if you are not specific?” Zevran answered with a shrug.
“Well, fantasies aside, this started with a ‘he’ who brought death to the village.” Kathryn said.
“The boy?” Alistair said.
“No, can’t be. He said that when everyone got sick, he hid, watched them die or turn to ghouls. He said he was the last one to be corrupted, and he looked it. Whoever ‘he’ is, it isn’t the boy.” She replied.
“One more question, what’s up here?” Oghren said out of breath.
Kathryn took another couple steps and emerged from the woods to a clearing.“This.” She said.
They followed and looked up to the remnants of a ruined watchtower that they could now see was part of a ruined fort. The doors had long since rotted away. Walls that at one point had stood perhaps twenty feet high, were at most no more than ten feet high and at some points no more than four or five. But more importantly, they could see that while at some point the forest had tried to reclaim the fort for itself, all vegetation inside its walls was now dead and corrupted.
Oghren walked over to the watchtower, which was still over three stories high and to the right of the front gates. He looked at the tower, with its lose and crumbling stone, “Huh, human craftsmanship!” he said with all the distaste of spitting out a rotten piece of meat. “This one is about to go. One good storm and probably the whole thing will go down, stone crumbling, wood all dry rotted. Dwarves wouldn’t build something like this for nugs.”
“Nothing there anyway, there are still vines growing on it.” Alistair said as he walked by.
The group entered the barracks, which consisted of a long hall along the back wall of the fort. The room was dark and empty with only a small bit of light coming in from the door and windows.
All of the beds and furniture had either been removed or rotted away. No doubt animals had used it as a den in the past but not now.
Zevran suddenly pulled out his short bow drawing it back and aiming it into the far corner. “There!”
The rest reacted immediately. Kathryn and Leliana drew their bows and moved to the sides, while the warriors unsheathed their weapons and moved front and center. They watched and waited, letting their eyes adjust to the light. The form of a human man crouching with his back to the wall began to appear to them. The form raised its head.
“I knew you would find me, eventually. I’m glad really. If I had any courage I would do it myself, but if I had any courage, none of this would have happened.” He said.
The man stood but didn’t look up. “I suppose you want to know what happened. After all you have done to stop it, you deserve that.”
“I was at Ostagar. I was a soldier in the Bann’s army.” He said. “I only joined because I figured it was an easy way to make coin. There hadn’t been a war in years. You just walk around and look tough, maybe you fight a bandit or break up a fight in a tavern but there is no real danger, right? Then... a Blight! A Blight! Everyone knows those things aren’t real. Just legends and stories mother’s tell their children so they will be good.”
“But... then it was real and they attacked, and those weren’t myths but monsters.” He cringed at the memory. “They were so horrible, ripping people apart and... laughing and they just kept coming. I... I ran. I just ran. I left them there, all of them, my friends, men I had known all my life. They called for help and I still ran. I ran until I couldn’t hear the screams anymore. I just wanted to get back home, get back to this little insignificant village in the middle of nowhere. I just wanted to see my family, to forget all I had seen and heard...” He said pleading. “...but... it followed me.”
“What followed you?” Kathryn asked.
“Death.” He said. “As soon as I arrived, people started getting sick and dying, dying in pain, screaming. I should have left or killed myself, but I couldn’t, not that it would have made any difference. It was too late. They just got sicker and sicker and then turned into those... things. And all I could do was watch.”
“How is it that you are still alive?” She asked.
“That was my punishment, for running away from it, from the battle, from my duty. My punishment was for it to follow me and destroy everything, and to watch and know there was nothing I could do to stop it.” He said. “They tried to run, tried to hide, but it didn’t matter. They all died and it’s all my fault.” His voice hitched and cracked “They all died...” he began to cry, sob into his hands, and then he began to laugh. He turned to them and they could see the corruption that had taken him over. “...and now so will you.”
They could hear the ghouls storming into the hall. The warriors spun at the noise and charged. Leliana and Kathryn shot their arrows into the soldier, one through the eye and the other through the heart. The soldier fell. They turned and began firing into the mob.
Morrigan turned into her spider form and crawled onto the ceiling gaining a clear shot of the door and filled it with webbing stopping any more from entering the room. Within moments they had killed all those inside.
“We have to make a break for it.” Kathryn said. “Zevran, cut the webbing. Then Sten, get us out of here. On his mark. Are you ready?”
“Yes.” Sten said. Zevran took several steps back and ran towards the door.
“Go!” He shouted just as he jumped at the door. Sten started to charge. Zevran slashed the webbing just before Sten hit the ghouls standing in the doorway giving them no time to react. With a growl, he pushed them out of the way. Oghren stepped through right behind him, slashing through those standing and allowing the rest to exit the hall.
Dozens of ghouls lined the walls of the fort, standing, waiting. Directly in front of them, a warrior who was no doubt a mercenary raised his mace over his head. “Oh, dear Maker!” Kathryn whispered. “Something is... so... very... wrong.”
“Besides the fact that we are now surrounded by another army of ghouls?” Alistair said.
“It isn’t another army! It’s the same one!” She shouted.
“What?” He said.
“The mace wielding mercenary!” She pointed to the warrior. “The soldiers from Denerim.” She pointed to the group off to the left. She looked around and then pointed to another group closer to the wall. “The bandits!”
“No, no... ghouls are tainted, corrupted, dying, but they are living creatures. You can kill them... and they... stay... dead.” But then his eye landed on the woman from the cellar.
Kathryn looked around, her gaze finally resting on the boy from the chantry standing by the entrance to the fort.
“Someone should inform this group of that fact and quickly.” Morrigan said.
Then from behind them, the ghouls they had just fought inside the barracks stepped outside lead by the soldier, arrow still embedded in his eye.
“Nothing pisses me off more than something that doesn’t know when to die!” Oghren said.
“This would be an opportune time for a plan B.” Zevran said.
Alistair started to mumble to himself “Dear Maker, Dear Andraste, please let this work.” He put something into Kathryn’s hand and then turned to Wynne grabbing her bag and taking out the three strongest lyrim potions she had.
“What are you doing?” Wynne asked. He looked her in the eye and then turned away continuing to talk to himself.
“Alistair, what are you doing?” Kathryn asked.
“Magic, it has to be. I don’t know if this will work or how long I can keep it up. Normally it doesn’t for this... but if strong enough it... has to do... something. So whatever happens... you go.” Kathryn didn’t understand, didn’t want to understand.
“No, I’m not leaving you.” She said making sure that he understood that she meant it.
“You have to... or we both die… we all die.” He said.
“No! We can fight.” She said pleading.
“We try to fight them and we lose. Please... do this... for me...” He turned, downing the first lyrim potion.
“What are you doing?!” She yelled. “That’s poison!”
He kept walking drinking the other two. Not quite as bad as the joining, he thought, but close.
“Please,” He asked no one in particular. “...let this do something.”
Kathryn tried to follow to stop him but Wynne grabbed her arm. Kathryn looked into her hand and there was his mother’s amulet.
She looked up in time to see him execute what looked like one of his templar abilities. It appeared to be the one he used to cleanse an area of magic, she thought but yet it wasn’t, but it wasn’t smite either... but both... but not, but... it was so much more powerful than either. Both Wynne and Morrigan were knocked back.
She looked at the ghouls. They just stood there, no longer looking at them, no longer moving, no longer waiting, no longer threatening.
“Go! Now!” She screamed.
He watched from his vantage point from the top of the watchtower as the human male seemed to be trying to cast some type of spell. Then he felt the power of the blast. It pushed him back and nearly brought him to his knees. He stood back up ‘Ah,’ now he understood. ‘Templar.’
‘Nice try,’ he thought but templar abilities don’t affect re-animation spells. He looked back down to the army of ghouls and told them to attack, but they just stood there. They were still re-animated or else they would have fallen to the ground, but somehow whatever the templar had done it was interfering with his control of them.
The rest of the group ran past them and out of the fort.
‘Impressive.’ He thought as he looked back to the male human. The templar had at least saved the others but it didn’t matter. There would be more.
He looked back to watch the retreat but the group was gone. He heard something and turned in time to see the dark haired rogue dive over the low wall at the top of the watchtower and roll to the other side and to her feet.
“Welcome.” He said as she stood up. “That’s a good trick your templar does. Too bad he can only do it once. I really had no idea templars could do that. No doubt, neither did he. He will make a fine captain of my army, and if the lyrim doesn’t kill him outright. I promise I’ll make it quick. Trust me, after the lyrim gets done with him. He’ll be better off. “
Kathryn looked at him with eyes calm. “That was a good story the soldier told.” She said.
“Yes, it was.” He said. “And that’s because it is true, well mostly. At least he thinks it’s true or thought it was when he was alive. The part about him running from the battle at Ostagar and coming back here is, but he didn’t infect the villagers. He never got close enough to a darkspawn to get tainted and if he had he would have died long before making it here.”
“You infected them.” she said.
“Oh, yes. I wanted an army of undead. You have no idea how hard it is to be a necromancer in a country that burns its dead. I traveled to Ostagar. I figured after such a battle I could have my pick. Then I discovered the ghouls, stronger, more resilient and after their death much easier to control. And the blood!” He smiled. “You have to use blood magic, of course, nothing else is powerful enough to sustain a whole army of undead and the ghoul’s blood is the most powerful I’ve come across. There is power in that blood, but you already know that, don’t you?”
“I saw the coward run and followed him to this wonderful little village. I infected it with the taint and then I watched and waited. Snatching up those unfortunate to wander into the place.” He said. “And really I must thank you. I was going to have to wait till the taint killed the rest of them, but you have taken care of that for me.”
“I was also hoping to get your entire group. You are all very impressive but you and the templar will do. Oh, but you are here to kill me, aren’t you?” He smiled. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to kill a necromancer? You can’t even hope to fight me, and believe me your skills are impressive but I can kill you before you even draw your weapon. Now the question becomes ‘How to do it?’ Don’t want to do anything to destroy those beautiful features of yours.”
“No, you misunderstand. I’m not here to kill you.” Kathryn said with a smile that had charmed half the nobles in Thedas. He looked at her curiously. “I’m the distraction.”
He heard a noise as something flew by his head. He looked up to see a flask twisting in the air above him and then an arrow whistled by shattering it.
Zevran looked with satisfaction at his toss and raised a hand to Leliana who upon watching the effect of her perfect aim said to herself “Yes, I am ‘that’ good.”
As the bottle shattered, its liquid contents rained down upon him. It smelled of piss and vinegar and tasted of... dwarven ale. Oghren watched and while he hated to waste his good ale, in this case he would make an exception.
The mage looked back to Kathryn who had not moved. He heard a noise behind him and turned to see a small boy, tainted and corrupted, standing there and holding a lit candle. The boy dropped it at his feet. The ale instantly ignited.
He raised his arm to cast a spell and an arrow pierced his hand, then another went through his arm. He looked up to see Kathryn shooting as fast as she could, putting one through his other hand, crippling his leg, piercing his shoulder, into his stomach, shattering his knee, puncturing his chest, through his neck.
He heard the fire ball crash below him. Suddenly everything was on fire. Flames shot up from the floor. He made it too his feet and began to cast a spell, but then the building began to move.
Oghren had been cutting through the key stones, weakening the tower. As it started to buckle, he nodded to Sten. Sten put his hands on the tower wall and with a low growl put everything he had into the push. He heard the brittle wood snap and felt the weakened and broken stone give.
The mage was knocked down as the flames overtook him. Kathryn ran to the other side. She looked back to the boy and held her hand out for him. He shook his head and turned away.
The building continued to shift. She took aim and fired, putting an arrow through the boy’s heart. Then she turned and jumped.