The spirits speak that magic is what befell the human world long ago. But as Salem ar Red Lion overlooked the decimation of her hold, she couldn’t fathom how magic could be nearly as destructive as the darkspawn. She was an Avvar, she’d seen battle. She’d fought foes of nearly every race and background. Before today, she would have counted the Chantry as her greatest enemy. But not now. Even the zealotry of those bigots was no match for the depravity she witnessed.
It didn’t matter who was in their path. Elders, younglings, fishermen, warriors, they were all the same. A few of them had been lucky enough to escape—if you could call it that…but Salem forced herself to watch. She couldn’t stop what was happening, she was just one person after all. She didn’t even have a legend-mark to her name. But she would remember. She would conjure these dark memories when next she battled these foul abominations and again and again until every last one was struck from this land.
The voice of the Elder Shaman called out to her, but she barely heard him. Whether from the dark cacophony coming from the valley below or the thoughts screaming at her in her own mind, it was impossible to tell. “On your feet, we’re moving.”
Salem didn’t turn to look at him, but something in the way he breathed told her he’d finally noticed what she’d been doing. She could practically feel his anger arising. “What. Have. You. Done.”
She didn’t even flinch a reaction to his words. For a moment he worried she had actually killed herself in the process. But as he looked over her shoulder, he saw the object of the sacrifice. A severed Hurlock’s head. Salem’s hunting knife stuck through the skull, pining it to the center of the ritual circle drawn in black blood. Darkspawn blood. His gaze slowly rose to her face, terrified of what he’d see. But it only delayed the inevitable. A single stream of that black blood seeped from the corner of her mouth. Her pale skin appeared irritated by it, but it didn’t seem to affect her. Her once hazel eyes now held an ice blue color that seemed to glow unnaturally.
The shaman glared furiously at her. How dare she bring such a danger upon them. Defiling herself in this manner was one thing, but invoking the god of winter and war? Pure insanity. He opened his mouth to scold her but the tremendous roar echoing across the valley demanded his full attention. Salem simply smirked, her gaze never leaving her ruined hold. She delighted in watching the darkspawn scurry around in fear—if they were even capable of feeling that.
The trees shook violently as the giant, blue dragon suddenly tore through them. Large branches fell in its wake, creating loud booms as they finally hit the valley floor several seconds later. The dragon circled the hold like a predator. Its breath formed a thick wall of ice, trapping the darkspawn inside.
Like fish in a barrel, Salem mused delightfully.
The dragon swooped down repeatedly. Shaman and lowly auger watched as the avatar of their war god froze their enemies solid, shredded them to pieces with its claws, or simply bit them in half. Finally, all that was left was the ogre. The massive monster that broke down their gates and doomed them all. The dragon dived towards it. The ogre attempted to grapple the dragon but it was no use. The dragon lifted the ogre high into the air, only to nose-dive directly for an enormous ice spike. The ogre cried out as it was impaled, but it didn’t fight long. As its body went limp, the dragon swooped up again. It landed upon the ruined building that once housed the Thane and let out a tremendous, triumphant roar.
The Shaman appeared terrified, he tried to pull Salem with him as he fled but she remained in place. It was as if she were made of solid rock. “Spirits forgive me.” He muttered as he took off in a dead sprint up the mountain. He chanced one final look behind him.
Salem stood upright now. Her arms were outstretched and her head tilted towards the dark sky. The dragon rose suddenly in front of her. It hovered there for a moment, as if it were studying Salem. Suddenly its head lurched back, gurgling as it charged its breath once more. The Shaman was certain that it was the end for her, she’d surely be obliterated by such a powerful attack.
But as the icy breath enveloped her, she remained unharmed. He could still see her silhouette through the wind. The seconds ticked by slowly as the Shaman waited for the dragon’s breath to dissipate. Once it did, the dragon seemed to acknowledge Salem respectfully with a nod before flapping its wings and disappearing into the night sky once again.
It was the first time he had seen her move of her own volition. She staggered back once, but caught her balance quickly. She seemed to be studying her hands, a frosty mist enveloped them now. She closed her hands into fists and the magic waned. She slowly turned to the Shaman now. The look on her face appeared forcibly distant.
“Lead our people through the eastern passages. Seek out the Mahariel Clan in the forest. They will suffer our fate if they do not move quickly.”
The Shaman swallowed nervously. Her voice was so certain, almost commanding. This was not the small cub he had watched grow within the hold. “Your spirit told you that?”
“He told you about that ritual too, didn’t he?” He snapped angrily.
Salem took a couple of steps closer to him. He expected her to lash out at him, as was her typical behavior when questioned about her spirit. But instead she spoke calmly to him. “My path diverts from yours here. I…may not return to the hold for some time.”
The Shaman looked upon her bitterly. “You can’t just leave your people!”
“The people that chastise me? Ridicule me? Speak of me only in hushed whispers? Exclude me from our sacred festivals? I believe I very much can.” She took a final step closer to him, a scowl forming on her face. “I’ve never asked you for anything but I am asking now: let me go. Count me as a casualty if it makes you sleep better. But understand that I will leave this mountainside with a purpose. My spirit has spoken and Haakon…” She glanced down at her hand, flexing her fingers as she spoke. “…has granted me his favor.”
Her words clearly angered him at first but the Shaman’s demeanor quickly softened. “This was not the course I wanted for you.”
“My course was never yours to decide.”
“Perhaps not…” The old man looked at his young pupil with sad eyes. He clasped a hand on her shoulder. “May your spirit guide you well. I’ll pray that you keep the gods’ favor…Wintersbreath.”
Salem stared at him questioningly.
The Shaman forced a small smile and a nonchalant shrug. “Well, I don’t see how any of your future heroic deeds will overshadow that display.”
She seemed to consider his words as she looked down upon the ruined hold once again. “Salem Wintersbreath…”
“Ar Red Lion.” The Shaman sighed. “No matter what you become, you’ll always be one of us…We’ve simply lost too many today to exile someone for such transgressions.”
Salem smiled sadly. “Take care of our people, Elder.”
He nodded to her curtly before turning quickly and trekking up the mountain. Salem watched him walk away for a few long moments. A sudden sense of regret washed over her. For a moment, self-depreciating thoughts nearly consumed her.
“Hush, child. You are too hard on yourself.”
The calming voice of her spirit brought no small amount of comfort to her. Her smile wasn’t so sad this time. “Where do we go now?”
“To the north. There’s a city there called Lothering. You’ll find other Wardens there.”
“A lowlander settlement? How will we get passed the wall?”
“Here I thought walls weren’t a problem for avvar.” The spirit chuckled a little once he saw her smile return to her face. “But regardless it won’t be a problem. The darkspawn will have broken through there. The Wardens move to battle the monsters even now as we speak. It is imperative that we move quickly.”
Salem took a deep breath as she looked upon the northern path. She’d never traversed it before, in fact the hold had strict rules to avoid it at all costs. The horror stories the elders used to tell flooded her mind suddenly.
“Be brave, child. You can do this. I believe in you.”
“Thank you, Duncan.” Salem focused her attention on the path again, intent on fulfilling her purpose. She pulled her bloody, tattered cloak around her chest. With certain steps, she began her journey to Lothering.