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Steady as We Go, chapter 3

Title: Steady as We Go, chapter 3
Rating: PG for violence
Summary: Darkspawn blood cocktails are not for the faint of heart and Moira is turned into a pincushion.

“That was…interesting,” Alistair said once they reached Ostagar’s gates.

“Interesting in what way? That we found someone who was helpful or that neither of them turned us all into toads for their dinner?”

He gave her a wry smirk. “Both. On a more serious note, why do you think that Morrigan’s mother would have kept the treaties safe all these years?”

Moira shrugged. “She seemed to understand that they were important, if not to the Wardens, then at least to someone.” Moira was more concerned with the odd way that Morrigan’s mother had looked at her, almost as if she were trying to confirm something. Yes, I think you will do. She didn’t know what the old woman meant by that, but it had left her on edge.

“Whatever the reason, I think Duncan should be made aware of their whereabouts.” Alistair shrugged. “I know that this upcoming battle is serious and that we don’t have any quarrel with them, but…”

“You can take a Templar out of the Chantry, but you can’t take the Chantry out of the Templar?”

Almost Templar, remember? But yes, I guess you could say that. But even if you took out my previous training from the mix, there’s something not quite right about those two, you know?”

“I agree. Then again, if you were to live in the middle of nowhere with only one other person as company, I’m sure that if someone were to stumble upon you that they would think that you weren’t quite right as well.”

“And that’s why I would have created an expansive civilization made out of nothing but knitted sock puppets so that I wouldn’t have just one person to talk to. They would all bow and call me king.”

Moira smiled and let out a laugh at the mental image he presented. The sound surprised Alistair because in the short while that he had known her, he had yet to truly hear her laugh or see anything past the tiniest ghost of a smile flit across her lips. Moira’s laughter surprised herself as well – she thought that it sounded rusty and unused and so unfamiliar to what she was used to hearing. “You should do that more often,” Alistair noted. “I know you said that you didn’t want to be considered much of a girl, but if you don’t mind me saying it, you do look quite pretty when you smile.”

Why don’t you smile more often, Nate? You’re rather handsome when you do.

Oh? So you think I’m ugly when I don’t?

You know what I mean, Nathaniel Howe. See? Now was that so difficult?

No, it wasn’t. Truthfully, I like seeing you smile more, my love. You do it enough for the both of us.

“Thank you,” she said quietly, drawing back from her memories. “We really should get back to Duncan.”

Alistair cleared his throat. “Right.”

Duncan welcomed them as they returned to the bonfire. Daveth and Jory busily warmed themselves by the tall blaze while Moira knelt and vigorously rubbed the sides of Quinn’s face. “Did you miss me, Boy?” she asked, turning her head when Quinn tried to lick her cheek. “Come on; I have a few flowers that I think some of those dogs in the kennel will appreciate.” Quinn walked close beside her as they reached the kennel master and Moira handed over the white and red blossoms, much to his delight. He claimed that they were an important ingredient in curing illnesses the dogs were suffering due to swallowing tainted blood. The man offered to give Moira a reward for finding the flowers, but she waved him off, claiming that seeing the animals well was reward enough for her. Quinn gave a loud bark of approval, his tail wagging.

“We are ready for the Joining,” Duncan said once she returned. Alistair had also come back from visiting the Quartermaster, his satchel where they had stored the gear they had found in the Wilds seemingly empty and the money pouch tied to his belt significantly heavier. “I will warn you; this ritual that we undergo is quite dangerous and becoming a Warden is something not to be taken lightly. There is a price to be had in order to join us and I fear that some of you might pay that price earlier than others.” He stared at Moira first, the look in his eyes one that made her feel as if she was being judged.

“I’m not afraid,” she said, even if anxiety was starting to build. She just hoped that no one would be able to tell. “We’ve come this far; it would be a shame to stop now.” Besides, she didn’t have anywhere to go any longer. While killing Rendon Howe to avenge her family was her ultimate goal, she knew that she didn’t have any means by which to do so at the moment. King Cailan had given her his word that Arl Howe would pay for his crimes, but she was afraid that whatever punishment the king would set for his vassal would be far too easy to find a loophole to slip through. Nothing would satisfy her besides his death, preferably by her own hand or by her brother’s. She might be deposed, but until she found Fergus, she was still the acting Teyrna of Highever. She knew the laws of Ferelden well enough to hold her own and she knew that her father had many allies upon which she could fall back on should she need to.

“She’s right,” Daveth agreed. “I’m not afraid of what happens next.” Jory didn’t say anything, but he crossed his arms in front of his chest and nodded.

Duncan looked over at Alistair. “Take them to the old temple, Alistair,” he said. “I will be there shortly once the mages have mixed the potion for the ritual.”

“At once.”

“You know, the more that I hear about this Joining, the less I like it,” Jory said once they had reached the area Duncan had spoken about. Alistair had led them there, but then he had quickly excused himself, saying that he was going to check on Duncan to see if he could be of any use to his senior Warden. “We’ve all tried to ask questions since we were sent out into the Wilds, but everyone has been very closemouthed about the whole process.”

“I don’t like it either,” Moira admitted, watching as the taller man began to pace. “But what are we supposed to do about it? Everything will be revealed in due time. Neither Duncan nor Alistair seem the type of people to lead us astray.”

“What I’m still wondering about is what this price that we’re supposed to pay is exactly,” Daveth chimed in, leaning against a wall. He looked thoughtful for a moment. “I guess that any sort of hardship is worth it, seeing what we’re going to be doing.”

Moira thought about what Ser Gilmore had said hours before that awful night. I’d rather spend my life guarding those that I hold dear. I made an oath to your father and I intend on keeping it. In a way, she thought that she would be able to honor her friend’s wishes by joining the Wardens herself. They kept all of Ferelden safe from the threat of darkspawn, which would mean that she would be keeping the people of Highever safe as well. I will do this, Rory, she swore, looking up at the night sky. I hope that I can make you proud. “You make a good point,” she said out loud. “There is much that I would do in order to ensure the safety of others.”

“But still, what do they expect us to give up?”

“I’d give up a great deal,” Daveth continued. “Wouldn’t you? What price would you pay in order to keep that pretty wife of yours safe? I would have thought that she’d be something worthy of any sacrifice.”

Jory stood up straighter and jutted out his jaw. “She is.” He would have said more, but Duncan and Alistair joined them just then.

“In order to become Wardens, we must take the taint within ourselves and conquer it,” Duncan said, his tone of voice sounding as if he were reciting something by memory. “In doing so, we become immune to the effects of darkspawn.”

“Wait,” Daveth said, looking at the chalice that Duncan held. “Are you expecting us to drink the blood we gathered up?

“It is what has always been done, ever since the first. We speak little beforehand, but there are a few words that should be said before we continue. Alistair, if you would.”

Alistair bowed his head and nodded solemnly. “Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant. Join us as we carry the duty that cannot be foresworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten. And that one day, we shall join you.”

“Step forward, Daveth,” Duncan held the chalice up for him to drink. Daveth made a face as the blood hit his tongue, but swallowed a mouthful. Moira noticed how Alistair seemed to be holding his breath, watching intently for some sort of reaction. Whatever he was waiting for happened quickly after; Daveth grabbed a hold of his throat and started to cough.

“It burns!” he yelled, falling to his knees, choking all the while. He tilted his face up and Moira took a tentative step backwards when she saw that his eyes had rolled to the back of his head until nothing was visible save for the whites of his eyes.

Duncan slowly shook his head. “I am sorry,” he said quietly, watching as Daveth finally fell to the ground and lay still.

“He’s dead,” Moira said in a hushed tone as she knelt beside him, her fingers trying to find a pulse.

This is the price that you’d have us pay?” Jory asked, looking on in horror.

“It is what every Warden must pay, sooner or later,” Duncan said.

Jory shook his head. “No, you ask too much. I have a wife and a child on the way. Had I known…” He was gradually backing up away from them all and he looked behind him when his back hit a wall.

“It must be this way,” Duncan said slowly, drawing a knife. Jory realized what his intent was and drew his own weapon, but it was too late; Duncan’s dagger went through a weak point in his armor and Moira could only stand and stare in shock as Jory’s body slid to the ground. “I am sorry.”

“What have you done?” she demanded, standing her ground. Quinn stood in front of her with his ears pinned flat to his head, teeth bared as a low, threatening growl rumbled in his chest.

“Those that do not partake in the Joining after learning what the ritual is must be dealt with in this manner,” Duncan told her. “There is no other choice.”

“So you plan on murdering me if I refuse as well.” Her hands itched to reach for the sword at her back, but she resisted the urge, especially since Duncan was still holding his bloodied dagger. Her armor was a lot lighter than Jory’s chainmail had been and Duncan had sliced through that as if the metal hadn’t even been there. She knew that she wouldn’t stand much of a chance against an opponent as skilled as he, especially since Alistair was standing nearby with his hand on the hilt of his own sword, looking as if he were ready for a confrontation.

“I would rather not do it,” Duncan said, his expression pained. “I do not relish the thought of killing anyone, particularly those that had shown so much talent. And I would rather not do the same for you, especially after I had sworn to your father that I would keep you safe.”

Moira inhaled sharply through her nose. “Do not use my father as a way to get me to do what you want,” she hissed, her eyes narrowing. “And what if the same thing should happen to me that happened to Daveth?”

“There are those that will succumb to the Taint. I have faith that you will not; you have a great strength in you that will see you through the Joining.”

She glared at the chalice where Duncan had placed it. “Stand down, Quinn,” she ordered softly, her back rigid as she walked towards the table the cup sat upon. Quinn gave one last snarl towards Duncan before following closely next to Moira, his hide warm against her legs as he pressed up against her protectively. “There are keepsakes around my neck. Should I not make it through this, do I have your word that you will see them given to my brother and inform him about what happened to our home?”

“You have my word, my lady.”

Moira picked up the chalice and took a tentative sip. The blood was acidic against her tongue and she failed to keep herself from gagging at the horrible taste. In for a bit, out for a sovereign, she thought, holding her breath as she tossed back the rest of the contents and swallowed. She felt Duncan take the chalice from her hands, but she couldn’t say anything because the night air around her had grown heavy. Her vision swam and the world tilted on its axis, making her fall to her knees. Her lungs were burning, almost as if someone had placed a hot coal down her throat. She coughed, feeling something thick slide down the side of her mouth and over her chin. Quinn barked in her ear and she could feel his tongue bathe her face comfortingly, but then he gave a distressed sounding noise and fell silent. I’m so sorry Fergus, she thought, and then the world went black.

Moira couldn’t comprehend what happened next: it seemed as if she were dreaming, though what she was seeing was far more vivid than any dream she had ever experienced. She was standing in the middle of a wasteland, the air around her thick with the stench of death and sulfur. Her hair fluttered in the wind and she looked up in time to see a great dragon circle overhead. She crouched down to make herself as small as possible, shielding her head with her arms. The dragon roared and Moira felt the heat of its breath beat down upon her. She tried to run, but it was as if her feet were frozen in place. The dragon screeched again and Moira could do nothing but kneel there and scream…

Her eyes flew open and she jerked to the side, finding herself unable to lift her arms. It took her a moment, but she realized that she was back in Ostagar instead of whatever wasteland she had been in only seconds before. She blinked; looking up as the night sky slowly came into focus. Duncan was kneeling beside her, his hands on her arms to hold her in place. Alistair hovered behind him, a concerned look on his face. “Welcome,” Duncan said, looking down at her in approval. “It seems as if my faith was not ill placed.” He moved back and Moira sat up, her hands scrubbing at her face. She grimaced as she wiped at her chin, a dark streak of darkspawn blood and Mabari drool marring her fingers. That was when she realized that Quinn wasn’t near her.

“Quinn!” she gasped, rolling to her feet. Her dog lay a few feet beside where she had been, his paws waving in the air as if he were having the same vivid sort of dream that she had just had. He panted, his chest heaving, before he made a squeaking sound that she had never heard him make before.

“It seems as if he got some of the potion when he licked your face,” Alistair noted, crouching down beside them. He reached out as if he wanted to put his hands on Quinn in order to soothe him, but he stopped at the last second, curling his outstretched hand into a loose fist before pulling his arm back to his side. Quinn chose then to wake up, rolling onto his side and facing Moira.

“Will he be all right?” she asked, putting her arms around Quinn and burying the side of her face against his fur, relieved when he gave her a soft whuff as if to reassure her that he was fine.

“He should be. I didn’t know that animals could participate in the Joining; this is a first.”

“How do you feel?” Duncan asked.

She glanced back to where Daveth and Jory’s bodies were. She thought back to Jory’s wife Helena and how proud she had been when she said that her husband had been recruited. As Teyrna, it would fall upon her to inform Helena of her husband’s passing. She might not be able to say exactly how he died, but she hoped that she could think of something to tell her that would ease the newly widowed woman’s mind. “I’m fine. It’s over.”

“When you have recovered, make your way down the stairs. The king is meeting with his advisors about the upcoming battle. I would like for you to be there.” Duncan turned and went down the way that he had just described, leaving the three of them where they were.

“I know that this wasn’t what you had expected,” Alistair said once they were alone. “But I hope you see why we must keep everything so secret. If everyone and their brother knew how Wardens were made then…”

“No, I understand. I will keep silent as to what just happened.” It didn’t make what had just happened any less horrific, but she knew that shedding light on her new Order’s secrets wouldn’t bring her companions back from the dead either.

Alistair visibly relaxed. “There’s another part to your Joining. Every Warden is given this.” He held out a necklace with a flat sort of pendant hanging off it that was engraved with a griffon. “We put a bit of the blood from the Joining into it as a reminder of what we went through,” his eyes went to Daveth and Jory’s bodies. “As well as to remember those that are no longer with us.”

“What happened, is that a regular occurrence?”

He nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. Some people, no matter how strong they are or how good they might be in battle, simply cannot withstand the Taint. There was one death in my own Joining. He had been a rogue, much like yourself. Duncan had picked him up before he had gotten me from the Chantry and we struck up a friendship.” Alistair sighed and bowed his head. “He had a way of telling a joke that even if you’ve heard it a million times it still sounded brand new whenever he said the punch line. He would often leave other Wardens in stitches. His death touched many of us. It was…horrible.”

“I’m sorry,” she told him.

“I’m just glad that you came out alive,” he told her. “Duncan was right; you do have something special about you. And I guess your dog does as well, seeing that he made it through all right. It’s a good thing too, because now he’ll be immune to darkspawn blood as well as the rest of us are and he’ll be able to sense them too. I’ve often noticed how Mabari tend to sense things before us humans do, so with his newfound gifts, he’ll be able to let us know before even we do when the nasties start to creep up on us.”

“You sound like you’re fond of the breed.”

“Yes, I am. I had…” he frowned. “I was around dogs a lot as a boy. It was one of the things that I missed dearly when I was sent to live in the Chantry.” He seemed to think that he was sharing too much with her, because he shook his head, his cheeks taking on a faint pinkish tinge. “You’d best be on your way. The king is not a person accustomed to being kept waiting. We wouldn’t want him to cry or anything.”

Moira felt her lips curl upwards. “Cailan doesn’t cry. He’s far too manly to do such a thing.”

“Oh, so you know him well enough to be on a first name basis? Tell me more.”

She snorted. “Perhaps once we get finished with this meeting. You’re right about one thing; the king does not like to be kept waiting.” She whistled for Quinn, who got up on his feet and trotted alongside her, seeming to be none worse for the wear. Moira glanced at the pendant that she held in her hands. The chain was made out of silver and looked to be strong, especially around the catch. The string around her neck seemed weak in comparison, so she ducked to the side and sat on one of the crumbling steps to quickly pull the string holding her parent’s rings over her head. She picked the knot free and threaded all three bands onto the new chain, feeling a lot easier now that she knew that her treasured keepsakes were better secured. Dusting her hands off, she stood back up and made her way towards the better lit area there she could already see Cailan standing, resplendent in his golden armor.

“I see that congratulations are in order,” Cailan said once she drew near. “The Grey Wardens need as many new members as possible if they are to regain the numbers they once had.”

“You put too much faith in legends,” a man complained. He had his back to Moira, but she instantly recognized his voice as well as the heraldic device on his shield.

“Teyrn Loghain,” she said, waiting until he had turned to face her to give him a deep curtsey. Protocol dictated that he be shown nearly the same respect that was shown towards the king, even if Moira’s new title made her of equal status.

Loghain regarded her for a moment, as if trying to place her face. It was to be expected; his teyrnir was far to the east and he had rarely had any dealings with Highever, even if both teyrnirs were the only ones left in Ferelden. He and Moira’s father hadn’t had many opportunities to socialize in person save for whenever they were summoned to Denerim for Landsmeets. His daughter Anora was married to Cailan; Moira had met with her a handful of times in their youth and only once before the wedding, but she recalled Anora being fair haired and pretty with a soft voice and graceful manner. “You’re a Cousland, are you not?” Loghain asked, tilting his head. “Moira, wasn’t it?”

“His Lordship is correct,” she said, ducking her head. It seemed that no matter what had happened recently, manners that had been taught to her since she could remember were still as strong as ever. She might have been wearing armor stained with darkspawn blood, but she still managed to school her voice into a soft, pleasant sounding tone the way that her mother had taught her without even thinking about it.

“You have my condolences in regards to what has happened to your family. Cailan informed me about what had happened and I agree with him. Once we are done here, we shall turn our attention north and bring Arl Howe to justice.”

“Thank you, my lord. Yet as much as I wish to avenge my family, I would like to offer my help here as well.”

His eyes roved over her, taking in her bloodied armor and weapons. “I never believed the rumors that traveled even as far as Gwaren, but it seems as if they were true. Bryce Cousland’s daughter is no shrinking violet.”

She tilted her head to the side but didn’t reply. Instead, she turned her attention back to Cailan, who was listening to one of the Circle mages argue with the Revered Mother about just how the mages should be utilized. The mage was clearly agitated about not being able to lay waste upon the battlefield, but Moira could see how he bit his tongue and finally let the matter drop. Plans were made for the Wardens to take the brunt of the battle and Moira glanced over across the table to see Duncan’s expression. He added his own suggestions, but seemed to be willing to go along with Cailan’s plans as they were. The Teyrn’s own army was to hide a little ways away to provide a new wave of fresh fighters that would flank their enemy and take them by surprise. Loghain informed everyone that he would keep a small party of soldiers at the Tower of Ishal who would light the beacon at the very summit that would signal his troops to advance.

“I think that it would be best if the Wardens were to do this,” Cailan said suddenly. “In fact, I know that it would be best if we place this important detail in their capable hands. Duncan, I want Alistair and Moira to be the ones to light the beacon.”

“It shall be done, your Majesty,” Duncan said, sounding a bit surprised. A few minor details were ironed out before Cailan dismissed them all.

“There was something unusual about him,” Moira said once she and Duncan were by themselves. While she still resented the fact that he had killed Jory in cold blood, she thought that it would be best if she nursed that hurt in private and began to try to see just what sort of man she had allied herself with. “He looked most distracted.”

“I would guess that it had to do with his part in the battle. Cailan insists upon fighting alongside the Wardens, much to his personal guard’s dismay.”

“He always did like the legends surrounding the Order,” Moira remembered, recalling a time in their childhood when her family had stayed in Arl Eamon’s estate in Denerim when she had been twelve. The Arl was Cailan’s uncle and the then prince hadn’t been able to stop talking about the stories of Grey Wardens that he had heard. He had been fourteen at the time and she could remember how he had gotten Fergus to play fight with him, both of them claiming to be Wardens bent on righting wrongs and slaying evil.

Fergus had loved the change of pace. He and Moira had often played games of Dragons and Knights or they pretended to be the Black Fox and his band of merry men. Even though there had only been the two of them, Fergus was often cast as the villain. Having the chance to play the hero alongside the prince had been a breath of fresh air for him, Moira wagered.

“What did you two learn?” Alistair asked once they reached the bonfire. Duncan told him of the king’s plans for him and Moira to climb the tower and light the beacon. Alistair was a bit put out, to say the least, once he found out that he wouldn’t be part of the main battle.

“Lighting the signal beacon is just as important as fighting on the main lines,” Moira tried to reason.

Alistair ground his teeth. “I’m sure it is. All the same, I’d rather…”

“It doesn’t matter what you’d rather be doing, Alistair,” Duncan said patiently. “We all have our parts to play in this fight and the king chose you specifically.”

“I…I understand,” Alistair said, sighing. “When shall we light the beacon?”

“Keep an eye on the battlefield. We will give a signal that will let you know that the time is right. I want the two of you to stay at the tower until further notice.”

“We will do our best,” Moira promised. “Where shall you be?”

“I will be with the king. As Commander of Ferelden’s Wardens, it is my duty to keep Cailan safe and free from harm.” He looked at both of them. “I know that this doesn’t need to be said, but the two of you are Wardens now. I expect you to act in a manner that will make the Order proud.”

“Duncan…” Alistair looked up at him, seemingly at a loss for words. “Maker watch over you,” he said instead.

“Maker watch over us all.”

Alistair watched as Duncan went back down the hill to rejoin Cailan and Loghain. “We can probably watch the beginning of the battle from nearby,” he said. “The tower is just over the main bridge, so if we stay near there, all we will have to do is sprint over and climb a few flights of stairs.”

“Cailan said your name specifically,” Moira said, watching as the armies that had gathered marched in a practiced formation. “Do the two of you know the other?”

“No,” Alistair said, his tone flat. “A boy from the Chantry and a young king move in very different social circles, you know. He must have heard Duncan say my name and it stuck with him.”

Moira felt as if there were more to his tale than he was letting on, but she let the subject drop. She shivered, feeling the first spatters of raindrops fall. “Awful weather to be fighting in,” she said, staring out into the darkness. Her hand went to her chest and she shivered even more violently. Alistair’s warning about what sensing darkspawn felt like came to mind when she felt something tug at her, making her head turn to the right where the battle would take place.

“You feel it too, don’t you?” Alistair asked quietly, his hands tightening on the low wall they were standing by.

“This is certainly a far cry from the faint tug you said it felt like.” It felt awful; instead of a rope around her chest as he had described it, it felt as if someone had grabbed her by the front of her armor and yanked.

“There’s more out there, hundreds. This is no mere raid like the king thinks that it is; this is a Blight for sure.” His face had lost all traces of its usual good humor and Moira could see how deathly serious he was. “There are too many; this is going to turn out bad.”

It seemed that no sooner than he had said it that the first volley of arrows arched towards them. Alistair and Moira were still out of range, but she flinched nonetheless. “We need to get to the tower,” she told him, already making her way across the bridge. She didn’t wait to see if he followed, but Quinn was already running ahead of her, his hackles raised and body in a threatening stance. There was a loud boom and then a horrible cracking sound behind Moira that had her spinning around to see what had happened that had made the ground shake under her boots. The darkspawn had catapults and were lobbing flaming boulders towards them, one of which had taken out a large chunk of the bridge.

“This is bad,” Alistair repeated. “I just wish that I was down there helping!”

“I think you’ll get your chance to fight sooner than you think,” Moira said, unsheathing her sword and running towards an injured guard. “What’s going on?”

“The tower is under attack!” the mage said over his shoulder as he completed a healing spell on the guard. “They came from the lower floors and took everyone unaware.”

“Are you able to fight?” Alistair asked.

“I am.” The mage stood up and flexed his fingers. Moira nearly dropped her sword when flames surrounded the blade yet left the hilt and cross guard completely cool to the touch. “They seem to be adverse to fire,” he explained, doing the same for Alistair’s sword. Moira was concerned when she saw Quinn’s breath puff out in clouds of smoke, flames licking at his teeth, but it seemed as if her dog was suffering no ill effects or was even aware that he had a mouthful of fire at his disposal.

“Then let’s use it against them,” Moira said, taking the lead. She felt the nauseating pull that alerted her that there were several close by, followed by a second weaker tug that told her that the first group wasn’t alone. “Quinn, attack.” Her hound growled and bounded off, his teeth sinking into the neck of a genlock. Moira didn’t see it go down, but the noise it made told her that Quinn had struck a vital blow to his adversary.

“To your left!” Alistair cried, raising his shield to take the blow that had been meant for her.

I always beat you because your left side is weak. Rory’s last few words to her rang in Moira’s head and she resolved to improve her defense. The Captain of the Guard had often tried to train her to fight with two full sized swords, but she had never gotten the hang of it. She made a silent promise to herself that should she live, she would try her best to put the skills he had taught her to good use. Lunging to her right, she plunged her sword into the gut of a hurlock and twisted, causing entrails to fall from the creature in a sick pile. The stench of burnt flesh added to the nauseous feeling and Moira had to swallow hard to avoid retching. Don’t be so weak, she chastised herself as she threw her body into fighting off the attack of yet another hurlock. This one was larger than the others had been and also better armed. Throwing up right now will only get you killed. Keep it together, Cousland. She let out a yell and spun around, using all of her momentum to power her attack and give her the strength needed to slice her enemy’s head off its shoulders. Blood spurted up in a fountain from the stump of a neck, spraying her with gore.

“Anyone ever tell you that you’re a messy fighter?” Alistair commented, falling into rank beside her. Quinn flanked her right side, the fur around his mouth matted with dark blood and thicker tissues.

“Are you talking to me or my dog?” Moira asked, wiping at her brow. Blood that wasn’t her own seeped under the leather of her fingerless gloves, making them feel tacky and uncomfortable.

“Both, actually.”

“I’m afraid that my tutor failed to cover battle etiquette when he taught me to fight,” she quipped, tossing back a health potion that took care of the painful gash that she had suffered at the hands of the Alpha hurlock she had just fought. These might come in handy, she thought, kneeling down and gathering the poison flasks the hurlock had attached to its belt. She knew that one of the ways to poison her foe was to coat the blade of a weapon and introduce the toxin to your victim through a cut or stab wound. She didn’t want to waste the poison, nor did she want to accidentally infect her companions, so she threw the flasks into her bag for safekeeping.

“Wait here,” she whispered. Something was not right; there were flaming barricades blocking their way, and it seemed to Moira as if they had been purposely set ablaze to lead them to a certain point. “This looks like it’s a trap.” She quietly crept closer, keeping her eyes open for any signs that she was right. The fire might have herded them to a choke point, but it had also inadvertently given the main trap’s whereabouts away. Had the light from a nearby barrel not been there, Moira would have never seen the faint outline of a tripwire. Now that she knew where to look, she saw that it was connected to yet another barrel full of something dark. Crouching down and using the barrels as cover – she felt the pull of at least three darkspawn in the room and didn’t want to alert them to her presence yet – she carefully disarmed the trap. From her position, she could tell that the barrel that had been poised to tip over was full of oil. Had the trap worked, it would have caused the barrel to fall and spill its contents all over the floor. It would have only taken a single spark from any of the nearby fires to set it, as well as whoever had been hit with the oil as it fell, on fire.

“Emissary!” she yelled, catching the sight of one in the process of casting a spell.

“Oh no you don’t,” the mage muttered, lobbing a bolt of lightning at it. The genlock flopped around as electricity coursed through its body, the spell interrupted. Alistair quickly ran towards the stunned foe and finished it off. Quinn bounded into the room and took out one of the archers, his teeth closing over its throat, his head shaking vigorously from side to side as if the darkspawn was a chew toy.

“Good boy,” Moira praised, taking on the archer’s companion. All the enemies in the room cleared, the four of them hurriedly climbed the stairs to the next floor.

“There wasn’t supposed to be any resistance here,” Alistair huffed, leaning against the wall to catch his breath. He might have made fun of the way that Moira had gotten bloody in the fighting, but the torchlight in the corridor showed that Alistair was just as gory as she was, if not more so.

“Perhaps we should tell them that they’re in the wrong spot,” she suggested, arching her eyebrow.

“Yeess, because this was all just some great big misunderstanding. I’m certain that once they get over their initial embarrassment at being at the wrong battlefield that we’ll just stand around and laugh about it later.”

“Well, at least you don’t have to worry about being left out of the fighting any longer.” She rotated her right shoulder to try to rid it of the beginnings of fatigue. She gave the mage and Alistair a questioning look to see if they were ready to continue, and at their affirmative nods, she pushed open the door leading to the second floor.

“We have to get to the top of the tower,” Alistair said. “If the upper levels are taken, then we’re the only people that can light the beacon. The lives of everyone below depend on us.” He kicked open a door to the left where two darkspawn were hiding while Moira kicked open a door to the right of their hallway, exposing two more enemies. They weren’t hard to dispatch, but had they left them alone, Moira was certain that they would have ambushed them later on.

“Use the ballista,” the mage offered, already running towards one of the large firing mechanisms to the right. Both giant crossbows were conveniently aimed towards where a large group of darkspawn were. Surprisingly, they hadn’t noticed the four of them. Alistair manned the other one while Moira snuck towards the corner where she had seen a chest. The lock was broken and she lifted out several healing poultices, storing them in her pack. Quinn stayed beside her as she ran from the chest to a nearby open crate containing more healing supplies, protecting his mistress until she could rejoin the battle.

“This is far too easy,” Alistair told them, adjusting the grip on his sword, his gauntlets slick with dark blood. They entered yet another room, dispatching the darkspawn that they encountered there with ease.

“And that makes you nervous, doesn’t it?”

“Incredibly. It almost seems as if there’s something higher up the tower; can you feel it?”

Moira nodded her head. Now that he mentioned it, the pull at the center of her chest was growing stronger as they climbed the stairs. She dreaded what awaited them once they reached the top, especially since they were starting to come across what had happened to the poor guards Teyrn Loghain had sent to light the beacon. She covered her mouth and nose with the back of her hand as they passed a macabre tableau, soldier’s heads on pikes and bodies torn to pieces. Her boots squelched against something thick and she refused to look down, afraid that if she did that she would lose the thin thread of composure that she was trying desperately to hold onto. I’ve never seen such horrors as this, she thought, trying not to look too hard at the body that had been set upon a spear very much like a hunter would have put his quarry on a spit for roasting. Quinn seemed to sense her distress, but before he could attempt to offer any sort of comfort, he tensed and ran ahead of them, pinning a genlock that had been hiding in the shadows to the wall as he mauled it. Alistair took down the other genlock waiting on the opposite side of the doorway, leaving Moira and the mage to deal with the others that were straight ahead.

The next room contained other Mabari hounds still locked up in their kennels. Moira quickly ran to a lever that opened all their cages. She didn’t even have to yell out any orders to attack; the dogs acted on their own accord, taking down darkspawn with a ferocity that Moira had never seen. Like other dogs, Mabari were pack animals and they worked in unison to take down their enemies in a quick, near systematic manner. She had never seen a number of Mabari fight together before; Highever’s kennel master had poor luck breeding the animals and when one of them did have a litter there were only two or three per birth, which was highly unusual. As a result, most of the pups bred would be sent off for training elsewhere. Quinn had been the exception; Gerard had trained him as a puppy, refusing to send him off with the rest of his littermates. He had originally been meant to be Fergus’ name day gift from their father two years ago, but Quinn had other ideas, choosing Moira over her brother as the person that he would rather be a guardian for. He was still in that playful stage of life, but one would never know it now, seeing as he was ripping every single darkspawn that he came across to shreds without balking.

“We have to make better time,” Moira muttered, holding onto her side. Even though they had the help of several dogs as they cleared the halls free of darkspawn, she had still gotten hit. The mage that had come with them – and how she wished that she had asked for his name instead of just calling him that mage or hey you – had done the best he could to heal her injuries, but he was running low on mana, drawing as much reserves as he could from the dead bodies that littered the floor. “Duncan could have already given the signal and we’ve missed it. Whether the fight is ready or not, we need to inform the Teyrn’s men.”

They skidded to a halt when they finally reached the top. Moira’s breath seemed to catch in her throat as she stared dumbly at the large, hulking being crouched in the center of the room. It had a soldier’s body in its hands and with a single chomp, it bit him in half, armor and all. It must have sensed them, because it turned around and roared.

“Can you slow it down any?” Alistair asked, circling the room and banging on his shield as if to draw the thing’s attention.

“I can try.” Magic flared around the mage and Moira felt a blast of cold air from behind her. Quinn didn’t need any prompting; he ran towards the monster and began to attack, moving out of the way as it tried to kick at him.

“Ogres don’t have many weak spots,” Alistair warned, dodging a meaty fist as he slashed at the ogre’s unprotected middle. “I’ll keep it occupied while you run around to the back.”

Moira did just that, sneaking behind the ogre and performing a flawless backstab. The effect was immediate; the ogre howled and pivoted around, trying to see who else had entered the fighting. Moira was smart enough to circle with it, keeping close to the body to avoid being detected. While she did that, she continued to make critical hits, which between Alistair’s taunts and her backstabs, was enough to distract it so that the mage could cast a blizzard spell. While his spell slowed it down a great deal, it also affected the two of them. Moira’s teeth chattered together and her hands tingled as they grew numb from the cold. Alistair shrugged it off, taking a flying leap towards the ogre, his sword catching it in the face and his momentum knocking it onto its back. Alistair used both hands to jam his blade deep into the ogre’s eye, not letting go until he was certain that the thing was dead.

“The beacon is right over there,” Alistair said, pointing towards a chimney stuffed with lumber. Moira grabbed a nearby flint and frantically tried to make sparks, finally creating a small ember that quickly grew into a blaze.

“I hope that we weren’t too late,” Moira told the two men, going over to the window overlooking the battlefield. From their vantage point, everyone was merely a speck in the distance, the light from the tower not bright enough to illuminate the battlefield. She whipped her head to the side just in time to see another door burst open and darkspawn flood the room. Moira turned when she heard the strangled cry from behind her, looking back to see the mage collapse to the ground with an arrow stuck in his throat. Moira barely had enough time to turn back around to the fighting when something hit her right shoulder near her collarbone. White hot pain rushed through her side and she staggered from the blow. Her boot slipped in the large puddle of blood from the ogre and she fell backwards, hitting the back of her head hard on the stone floor. The last thing she saw before the room went dark was Alistair reaching towards her just as something large and leathery looking blocked the entire window overlooking the plains, blotting out the night sky.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 21st, 2010 07:27 am (UTC)
Mwahaha, today I win. I wrote 3,000 words AND I got new fanfiction.

Totally love the moment at the beginning of the chapter were Alistair clearly was starting to fall for her while she's off thinking about Nate. Knowing their beginning and their end just makes the middle all the better. :-D
Nov. 21st, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC)
You and your 3,000 word day are awesomecakes.

This whole mini-crush that Alistair has on her is going to be one of those things that they'll look on later and laugh. "Oh yeah. I was so smitten with you back then and I was sure that my dashing good looks and sense of humor would win you over. But no, you had to ignore me because you were still stuck on a guy that was an entire ocean away."

"You only knew me for less than a few days, Alistair. I knew Nate for years."

"But...dashing good looks. My expansive knowledge of cheese." *looks at Gwen* "You married me for those reasons, right?"

"Oh yes, your extensive knowledge of cheese was what won me over, dearest." *grins and rolls eyes at Moira*

"You say that in such a sarcastic manner, love. I don't think I quite believe you."

Nov. 24th, 2010 07:21 pm (UTC)
Ahhh! I'm sorry it takes so long to comment - with my incredibly busy schedule these days it takes me several days to actually get to the ends of these chapters! Suffice to say that I loved it - all the descriptions of what happens, Moira's reactions and perceptions of others are just sublime. I mean - when she's feeling nauseous, I'M feeling a bit sick too. X_X Good girl. We're lucky to read your stuff, we are! <3
Nov. 26th, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
Yay, glad you like it! :D
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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