Dagna wore a version of the Imperial Army uniform that had never been seen beforehand on the battlefield – trousers, knee-high leather boots, and a lightweight leather jerkin tailored for ease of movement rather than protection or style. Then, there were the goggles upon her face – thick spectacles decorated with various lenses of various magnifications that could be slid into place or removed at a moment’s need. The collection of men and women behind her – elves, dwarves, humans, and one single Kossith male, wore identical uniforms. Four of them, including the Kossith male and Dagna herself, held one side of a massive canvas in one hand, the bulk of which covered some great monstrosity the size and shape of a High Dragon.
She stared across the plain that would, within an hour’s time, become a battlefield.
“Of course I don’t agree with the Harrowing process as ordained by the Chantry, Imperial or otherwise,” Lucius had said a week ago, as he sat in his great velvet chair, his pipe dangling from the fingertips of his right hand. “Their definition of failure is far too restrictive. But, I do think that some sort of initiatory rite is critical in any civilized society. I am of the belief that we all crave it, no matter who we are or what gods we believe in.”
The Orlesian armies moved as one, as did the black clouds rolling over their heads, churning in the wind, and slipping up and over the border between the Anderfels and the Imperium. A single word – undoubtedly, a command to halt – rolled through the air, and at that moment, tens of thousands of booted feet silenced and stilled.
Next to Dagna and her gathering of specialist soldiers stood a figure clad entirely in a black garment. Only a pair of sad brown eyes could be seen beneath a black veil attached to a plain black cloak and hood. A set of long black robes covered his body completely.
“I don’t think I have the strength,” Anders said in a wavering voice from beneath all of these layers of clothing. “If I let Vengeance take hold of me, I may not be able to change back.”
“You will,” Lucius Quintus said only as loudly as he needed to. He himself wore full armor, complete with an ornate silverite helmet that displayed a spray of bright red horsehair. “I have complete confidence in you.”
“I think many of the philosophers have it a bit wrong,” Lucius had noted a week beforehand, placing the stem of his pipe at his lips. “It is not that mortals reach a boundary between childhood and adulthood, and we must put away our toys and draw up our grownup clothes. On the contrary, a person who forgets that they were ever a child casts aside an invaluable set of experiences, in my opinion.” Nipping at the pipe for a moment, Lucius seemed to collect his thoughts before he spoke again. “I think it’s more of an apex we reach, when we touch the point of no return, then move past it. Play becomes conscious deed. Idle word becomes action.”
“Confidence,” Dagna murmured to herself, looking up at the hidden bulk that lay quietly next to her. To have such a thing within arm’s reach stilled her nerves. She only hoped that the soldiers that had acted under her command for the past six months had made very sure to secure all of the delicate parts that would not withstand moisture.
The sound of hooves upon the open plain caused Dagna to return her attention to the battlefield. An Orlesian commander rode forward, a large white flag attached to his horse’s saddle. He paused halfway between the two armies, raised his head, and began to speak:
“Armies of the Tevinter Imperium,” he shouted in a broad, clear voice curling with a thick Orlesian accent. “You are acting in direct violation of the Treaty of 5:10 Exalted. Your aggression, coupled with the harboring of a dangerous creature in your ranks, places you in dire threat of invasion by the armies of Orlais and her White Divine. You will stand down immediately and hand over the Greater Darkspawn known as Anders.”
“No,” Lucius said in a soft voice tinged with amusement. He swung himself up in the saddle of his horse. “I don’t think we’ll be doing that.”
“Stand by.” Dagna’s voice shook as she addressed her own troops as loudly as she dared. “Be ready.”
“If we have expended such energy in our thoughts and feelings – and, mind, these things are the very foundation of who we are – we shouldn’t toss aside any of it. We owe it to ourselves to turn potential into power, and all we need to do that is our own minds.”
“Greater Darkspawn.” Anders’s voice sounded somewhat stronger than before. “That’s not a very nice thing to say, is it?”
Dagna looked up at Lucius. Slowly, Lucius raised his right hand, unclasped his staff from his back, and curled his left hand around the reigns of his horse.
From the thick black clouds overhead, thunder rumbled a warning, and the wind seemed to shift at its very command.
“Dagna? Anders?” Lucius did not look in their direction, but his voice was loud enough for the nearby troops, as well as the Orlesian officer, to hear. “Go.”
All at once, into the thick, humid air flew Anders’ cloak and the massive canvas that covered the great structure standing next to Dagna and her soldiers.
A look of horror crossed the Orlesian officer’s face as his gaze fell first on Anders – there, in the dim light of the overcast day, but in full, unobstructed view. Dagna was not sure if tales of the Architect or rumor of Corypheus had made its way to Orlais – perhaps only in stories intended to frighten children that sat around campfires at night. But here he was – here was one of them – once a human mage, now something twisted by the Taint and infinitely more powerful, with eyes that now glowed a cold and deathly blue.
Then the roar – the unmistakable roar of something most unnatural and not alive – rose up upon the battlefield, and the attention turned away to Anders and to it. For behind Anders stood something that looked like a catapult, but it uttered the growl of an angry animal and filled the air with steam and the smell of burning sulfur. It trembled as the arm rose up, then let out a series of loud clicks as molten lyrium ran up the transparent veins built into its sides.
“Welcome to the Machine Age,” said Dagna in a firm voice, drawing the first of many grenades strapped at her belt. “Year One.”
Lucius then uttered one single word: