She slumped against the wall of the Deep Roads, already exhausted. She wanted to be surprised but it had been eleven, perhaps even almost twelve years since she had journeyed down here and last time she had others backing her up. This time she was alone. She had even left Rico behind in Alistair’s care, unwilling to sacrifice another Mabari to the Blight.
Elodie took a deep breath and slowly let her body relax. The rotting darkspawn carcasses nearby were familiar by now and she could cope with the smell. She set to work to create a small meal, rationing out what food she had. She was already running lower on elfroot and squash blossoms than she wanted, but she could make do – she could adapt.
Her meal was meager, leaving much to be desired, but she needed longevity, not a short, erratic jaunt into the belly of the Deep Roads. She tossed up some wards around her small camp, then leaned back against the wall to rest for a maybe couple hours. When she woke later it was with aches and pains, both old and new. A soft groan escaped her as she rubbed her back – the Deep Roads a second time around for a lone thirty-year old was not exactly easy on the body.
It was the end of her second week in the deep, meaning it had been…seven? Eight? Weeks since she had left Skyhold…since she had seen Alistair.
The first week she fought and exhausted herself, but trudged forward as she saw the black spot on her right hand begin to…spread. Her entire hand and fore-arm were now mottled with the taint. When a Hurlock had hit her particularly hard, she coughed and spat blood, thick, black, and inky. The Hurlock saw it, looked back at her and quickly scurried away. She had been too weak to pursue it.
The second week was spent in solitude. The darkspawn avoided confronting her, but she could feel them – lurking in the shadows, watching her slowly become more like them.
It was now the beginning of the third week. Her will was what was moving her forward, her body and mind too worn to drive her. And that was when she began to hear the voices. Low whispers in a foreign tongue that reverberated off the walls. She flinched back reflexively when she first heard them, moving back to the shadows before she realized how much she was acting like a Darkspawn.
She forced herself to stand, leaning on her staff as she moved toward them.
“Atrast…valla,” she said. The whispers stopped.
“I mean no harm to you or to what you have,” she continued. The quiet persisted.
“I have coin and I will gladly pay for food and water and any healing poultices you may have.” Her voice rang through the chamber and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.
“I do not wish to fight you, but I will have you know I am an accomplished mage. I am also a Grey Warden,” she warned, gripping her staff and assuming a defensive posture. There was a sudden stillness and all she could hear was her own breathing and erratic heartbeat.
She widened her stance and cast a barrier around herself, subsequently illuminating the space with blue-tinged magic. There was a hiss and a rash of sudden movement behind her. She whipped around but the cavern had gone quiet again.
“Please, I do not wish to fight,” her voice was hoarse but she forced it to be loud, a creaking sound that was sure to sound entirely too much like a screech than actual speech. Still, she had to try.
Low murmurs echoed through the space and she could have sworn she heard the words “Grey Warden” tossed around every few words. She lowered her staff and straightened, trying to appear less…hostile.
“I am…Elodie Amell, Hero of Ferelden, vanquisher of the fifth Blight and slayer of the Archdemon Urthemiel!” She decried. The murmurs increased and she smiled. A small figure suddenly dropped in front of her and she gasped.
These…these were unlike the dwarves she had encountered before.
She barely had time to take in the odd pale appearance of the person in front of her before something hard and quick smacked her upside the head, completely bypassing her magic. Pain bloomed suddenly and the world went dark once more.
There was the distinct feeling of movement that was…not entirely pleasant. She was being jostled atop something that was entirely too scratchy and irritating for it to be a proper healer’s cot. Her head throbbed and she tried to reach up and to smooth it with a spell…to find she could not move.
Green eyes snapped open and she experimented with turning her head to find that she was completely paralyzed. She could breathe and her eyes could move, but that was about it. Large bands of what looked like lyrium enforced steel caged her in on top of this…rather odd, scratchy cart. Her heart hammered in her chest from the sudden overwhelming sense of claustrophobia.
Odd prolonged noises of discomfort tried to no avail to escape her lips. Instead of cries, only deranged hums sounded through the chamber.
“Calm down, you’re going to be fine, the cage is for your protection. Can’t have any of the beasties getting at you when you’re starting to look like one,” a voice! A man’s voice actually, deep and brusque. Elodie’s eyes scanned as much of the area as she could, but all she saw were the bars and diffused light with a source from ahead.
“That is not calming down, human,” the voice continued. Elodie groaned in discomfort again.
“Of course you’re scared of small spaces, look at you, a friggin’ giant. Alright, back to sleep for you.” The voice said and she heard something cackle and the world went dark again.
When Elodie woke up again, she launched herself out of the bed. She was not expecting to no longer be paralyzed or hurting. She rolled out of the bed in an uncharacteristic bout of clumsiness, landing on the stone floor in a chaotic tumble of limbs before gathering herself. She stopped herself and slowly maneuvered herself to a sitting position so she could take stock of her surroundings.
She was in what appeared to be a small bedchamber constructed from stone with strange blue lighting. Her brow furrowed, trying to find anything that would signify that she was definitely within Orzammar. Where else could she be? It was the only major dwarven city actually open to outsiders, but she had been nowhere close to it in her travels…even in her weeks spent in the Deep Roads, she had followed maps and had taken a more northward path than southward….
A dwarven man suddenly rounded the bed, spectacles perched on the end of his nose as he stared in shock at Elodie.
“I was not expecting that result,” he said before running back to wherever he had come from. Elodie rubbed her head, finding a small dull ache in the back. She hissed and allowed her magic to wash over her, healing her.
“Fascinating!” The man was there again, babbling as he quickly jotted down notes. Elodie glanced back up at him and quirked a brow. He was…an interesting man, with grey hair sticking out at all ends. Even his beard, a lighter shade of grey, was mussed and a bit wild, but his dark eyes were sharp as he approached Elodie. She leaned back from him.
“Excuse me, but…who are you?” She asked, uncertain of how to proceed. She had no firm confirmation she was in Orzammar. She could be in some weird Tevinter Magister’s sex dungeon for all she knew.
The man startled and backed off quickly enough.
“Oh right, manners! Introductions. Ah…I am Jortung Garoksen, the man who has been working to reverse the corruption in that arm of yours,” he pointed to her arm and her eyes widened. The black, mottled skin of the taint was…not black. In fact, most of the lesions that had begun to develop were almost half the size if not gone.
“Well you don’t spend thousands of years locked with the Darkspawn and not learn a thing or two about them. Surely our cousins in Orzammar must have similar practices? Or do they not? Or please tell me! I have been dying to know what it is like in the great trade city of the former empire,” Jortung leaned in too close and Elodie winced. She moved her long body back up, crawling back onto the bed.
“Um, cousins in Orzammar? Are you saying this isn’t Orzammar?”
“Ancestors, no! This is Kal-Sharok! The great former capital city of the dwarven empire!” He brimmed with excitement, his accent thick and suddenly it all made sense.
The odd accents.
The craft of the stone.
Jortung’s eerie pallor.
She…was somehow in Kal-Sharok.
“How…did I get here?” She asked once sense returned to her.
“First the scouts brought you to their outpost in the Alk-Dark where Prince Wahlin decided to have you brought to the city. After the contact with the Inquisition, the Paragon-Elect has been interested in opening up more communications with the surface, you see, and I assume you presented a very unique opportunity.”
“Because I am the Hero of Ferelden.” She said in quiet disbelief.
“Precisely. Also, it would have appeared…rather bad if we had allowed you to die in the Deep Roads when we were capable of saving your life.”
“And…you healed me?”
“Yes! Normally I work with simple injuries – maulings, dismemberments, large lacerations – it was a delight to work with something so different! The corruption is quite the interesting illness, fascinating in how it infects everything. Normally, illnesses remain with its host species, but the Blight is an equal opportunity corrupter!” Jortung hopped off the bed and wandered over to what appeared to be his desk. There was a large silver bowl with a worn stone pestle next to it. He opened up one of the myriad of jars cluttering his desk and sprinkled a few of the iridescent herbs into the bowl. He swirled the mixture around and then brought it to her for her to look at.
“I have read much about you, lady Hero. You are a healer, like me. But not like me of course because you use the Fade to fuel your power whereas I use lyrium,” he set the bowl down next to her and then grabbed what appeared to be large gloves inlaid with dozens of small runes in specific, detailed patterns. Next, he donned a head piece with similar rune work. He took off his normal spectacles and then brought down a face mask from the headpiece.
Elodie scooched back up the bed and held out a hand.
“Wait one moment.” She said and he cocked his head to the side.
“Is something wrong, Hero?” Other than he looked like some sort of lyrium altered torturer come to imbue her with lyrium?
“I have not encountered such healing techniques before, and I was simply wondering what you are going to do…to me,” she said slowly. Jortung laughed, or at least she believed that was laughter coming from behind the mask.
“I am removing the corrupted and necrotic flesh from your arm, then placing a healing mixture composed of herbs, lichens, and a dash of distilled lyrium, to encourage pure growth. It is to stymy the effects of the Blight, you see.” He took a step forward and she scooched back.
“And how are you going to remove the necrotic flesh?”
“You are a healer? There is only one way…unpleasantly,” he supplied and well…he wasn’t wrong. She glanced down at her hand that was still covered in black spots and mottled skin and she sighed. She supposed she needed the removal and if he could do it and actually encourage the growth of healthy skin….
“Very well, but you must tell me how you are achieving this as you do it. There are many who suffer from Blight sickness on the surface, this technique could help save lives,” she told him. Jortung stumbled back, as if taken by surprise.
“You mean to say that those on the surface do not do this? Ancestors, how do your people survive Blights?”
“We tend to have a lot of children,” she said blithely.
“I would think so! No wonder you are so frightened. Here, I am sure I have a numbing draught I can give you…” he then began to rummage behind his desk. She craned her neck to see what he was doing, curious as to how his poultices were concocted. Growth of herbs was different underground and she had found, even in Orzammar, who traded a great deal with surface, had concocted their own array of potions, poultices, and healing practices.
She crawled to the edge of the bed, needing to see the various tools and instruments Jortung had at his dispense. She recognized a few, but most were unfamiliar. There were runes on everything, even the simple instruments. And the lyrium seemed to pulse more vibrantly than any of the other runes she had seen previously. Interesting.
Jortung suddenly popped back up with an accomplished, “AH-HA!” In his hand he held a flask full of a milky liquid that had a faint glow. But then everything here seemed to glow from various amounts of lyrium.
The lights were constructed of lyrium, Jortung’s instruments were heavily inlaid with it, Jortung’s very skin had a faint lyrium like glow to it. Not even the dwarves in Orzammar had used this much lyrium, but then again, their lyrium had been almost completely restricted to trade and privileged enchantment.
Jortung waddled back over to the bed and uncorked the mixture. The faint smell of moss filled the room and then he was smearing the concoction on her hand. Her skin tingled and burned for a moment before going numb and limp.
“Oh!” She…had seen poultices that numbed, she was fond of an elfroot and deep mushroom mixture, but none with the potency that rendered the entire affected area limp.
“The lyrium enhances the potency!” He said excitedly, brushing more onto the affected area before setting the flask aside. He then produced the small blade to cut away the flesh.
“Prepare yourself, this is old growth, probably got clotted black blood,” was her only warning before he began to cut away the flesh.
She felt…nothing. But there was a certain unease in watching him cut into her skin while not feeling it at all. All the same, Elodie leaned in closer, watching his technique as if he were teaching her with a mannequin.
“Walk me through this please?” She asked quietly. Jortung beamed and gladly began to babble his way through removing the flesh, cleaning away the blood that inevitably spurt up in dark enthusiasm. He then springkled what looked to be dust onto the now open wound.
“Gritta’s Moss Dust, helps with clotting,” he exclaimed, then opened up one of the compartments on his gloves, procuring a bottle of more herbs.
“Olmer’s Lichen and Irga’s Moss washed in a lyrium bath encourages healing,” he pressed the concoction to her skin then wrapped it in a plain bandage.
“Finally, we wash it with boiled lyrium and dragon’s blood.”
“Dragon’s blood? You have access to a dragon?” She asked, incredulous. Jortung laughed as he brushed the dark mixture onto the bandage.
“Every now and then, a dragon wanders into the city and we are forced to kill it. We bleed it dry and store the blood to help with Blight treatments.” He finished by wrapping one last bandage around her hand, keeping it immobilized. She stared at the entire bandage and marveled – this really wasn’t that complicated of a procedure, the ingredients were the difficult aspect of this.
“I will have to find suitable substitutes for this on the surface. Perhaps elfroot can take the place of one of the mosses or the lichen. But I doubt the dragon’s blood can be substituted.” She murmured, watching him begin to set his instruments away.
“No! Definitely not. We tried many things, but dragon’s blood is the only real catalyst for all of this. Dragons are somehow immune, or at least extremely resistant, to the Blight, and we can harness that through the blood. We simply need an activator – that is where the lyrium comes in. “
“Dragons are immune to the Blight? But the Archdemons…”
“Aren’t dragons! They’re something else, because of all the dragons we have seen and recorded in the histories have been completely Blight free. And I thought you surfacers thought they were gods or something, not dragons.” Jortung huffed, banging around once again to put away his gloves and headset.
Elodie leaned back against the bed, trying to think.
“Yes…and no. The Chantry says one thing, that they’re old gods, but the Grey Wardens always believed they were tainted dragons. This new information is…disturbing to say the least.”
Jortung cocked his head to the side as he sprouted back up from his pile of trinkets.
“But wouldn’t that mean there is a finite number of Archdemons for you to kill?” He picked up a curiosity that what appeared to flying glowing bugs inside of it, but instead of the warm yellow that fireflies made, it was an electric blue.
“But that would also mean that the Blight, what it is, fundamentally, is more complicated than we want. It means that the solution, the long term solution, may not ever be attainable. We may not suffer Blights, but the Darkspawn will remain and grow, tainting this world.” Elodie leaned back against the headboard and sighed.
After becoming a Grey Warden and seeing the Archdemon in her nightmares, hearing its call…she doubted the stories. It just didn’t fit. How were the Archdemons were tainted while the Magisters were the ones who tainted the Golden City – how did that spread? The Archdemons could not be scions of the Blight, merely effects of it. And she still believed that.
But knowing that the Archdemons could not possibly be dragons seeing as the beasts were immune...then the Blight was not merely magical, but divine. How was the world supposed to combat something divine?
“Perhaps, perhaps not.” A new voice suddenly said. Elodie sat back up to find Jortung engaged in a deep, awkward bow facing a regally dressed woman. She was stout, even for a dwarven woman, with intricately plaited black hair and long side-burns.
She took a step forward and made a small gesture for Jortung to rise. She was silent, not even her embossed leathers rustled overly loudly.
The woman turned her dark, steely gaze to Elodie and smiled.
“Hello, Hero of Ferelden. I hope that my healer has not…perturbed you over much.”
Elodie shifted awkwardly on the bed until she was sitting straight up, bowing her head in recognition. Whoever this woman was, she was apparently important and highly ranked. Noble? Queen?
“On the contrary, he has provided me with much valuable information. I owe him my gratitude…and I suspect I owe it to you, as well, my lady.”
There was a long pregnant pause before the woman burst into boisterous, and decidedly unladylike, laughter.
“Oh! You surfacers are great, always with the ‘my lady’, ‘your lady’ – well I am my own damn woman, but I see no lady here but you. But yes, I suppose you owe me gratitude for not being stupid and leaving you as food for the crawlers.” The woman’s grin was broad, her face wrinkling in mirth.
Ah, she was the queen then.
Elodie returned the woman’s smile with an equally broad and honest one.
“Well then, your majesty, let me be clear in my sincere gratitude for not leaving me for dead in the Deep Roads.”
The woman regarded Elodie for a moment before clasping Jortung on the shoulder.
“This one is quick, healer, she may yet live. Come with me, surfacer.” The woman turned and began walking without bothering to wait for Elodie who scrambled out of the bed and grabbed the robe Jortung tossed her.
She mouthed a quick thank you to Jortung and followed the queen, or whatever rank the woman held, through the halls of the…palace? And as she walked, Elodie couldn’t help but notice the clear differences in construction between Kal-Sharok and Orzammar, even in such a small space.
The halls in Orzammar had been large, lit with fire illuminating large carvings of paragons. The stone was cold, but bright and polished in a clear form to always appear regal and in control to any who walked the halls.
But these halls were rounded and seemed to curve naturally with giant, bright runes covering the walls. There was a distinctive hum in the air and the further they drew down the passages, the more Elodie’s teeth began to buzz. The hairs on her left arm stood on end and she felt her magic…bunch within her.
Maker, the lyrium was everywhere.
And the woman had disappeared around some bend that Elodie couldn’t see the end of.
“Your majesty?” She called hesitantly.
“Keep up, tall-legs! We don’t have all work-time,” the woman called back and Ellie picked up the pace. She could inspect the inscriptions and details of the halls later hopefully.
Thanks to her long legs, Elodie was able to catch the dwarven woman rather quickly, though she did manage to bang her head against a particularly low hanging chandelier.
“Where are we going?”
“Some place where I can explain to you what is going on.” The woman offered no other explanations.
The tunnels suddenly had small windows carved into them and softer whiter light began to illuminate the walkway. But the woman kept her quick pace, not allowing Elodie to even look out the window to what she suspected to be one of the most amazing cities she had ever seen.
They turned a corner to face a large round door. The woman stopped and looked back at Elodie with a knowing grin.
“Prepare yourself, surfacer,” was all the warning given before she opened up the door and they stepped into the light.
All of the breath left Elodie as she stepped out onto the stone balcony. Her head lifted and eyes widened as she took in the great space around her.
Orzammar was huge, housing nearly twenty-thousand dwarves, all stacked up on each other. Everything was orderly, compact, with hard edges of squares, rectangles, and definite angles all cast in warm hues of light from the massive lava flows and torches. Orzammar was polished, with clean edges that had been purposefully and carefully shaped by hundreds, if not thousands, of artisans over the years. The stone had been shaped by the will of the dwarves.
All that Orzammar was, in all of its clear beauty – this was nothing like it.
Kal-Sharok was cavernous, built into the stone but not shaped. Its growth was organic and winding, with buildings built on natural platforms and nestled into caves. The buildings tended to be stout, with ceilings that often continued the contours of the stone the building rested against. And everything seemed to shine in the light from the large, winding veins of lyrium that reached up from the center cavern. Particularly massive veins divided the city into districts, separated in height and how opulent the buildings were. Mosses and lichens grew on the buildings and cave walls while harvesters stood on moving platforms that appeared to be…powered without the use of other dwarves.
Never in her life had Elodie seen anything like this. Kal-Sharok was…gargantuan was really the only appropriate word for how large and deep the city appeared to be. She looked down and the city continued as far as the eye could see, those same moving platforms connecting the numerous levels.
The woman was speaking, Elodie realized, in a dialect of dwarven she did not understand. It sounded similar in tone and basic sound to what she heard in Orzammar, but the cadence was completely different.
She stopped and grinned.
“Welcome to Kal-Sharok, jewel of the dwarven empire – or at least what it is left of it. I am Paragon-Elect Karega Ungthark-Sharok.” She said proudly, watching her city.
“Your city is amazing!” Elodie gasped, moving around the balcony, eyes bright and wide as she beheld the city.
“Of course it is, we have been working on it for centuries. Now come, there is much I must tell you.” Karega gestured for Elodie to follow her to the edge of the balcony where a large platform was currently descending to. There were four guards in shining armor standing on the platform and two other dwarves dressed in simple but clearly well-made clothing. The dwarves moved about to secure the platform temporarily to the balcony. Karega stepped up with the aid of one of the dwarves and turned to Elodie.
“Are you coming or not?”
She quickly followed suit, stepping onto the platform. Her legs shook slightly from the worry that the platform would fall but it was surprisingly sturdy as the workers moved it away from the balcony and over the chasm.
With a few words, the platform began to descend and awe returned to Elodie. She looked up to see what appeared to be steam coming out of the main mechanism. Fascinating.
Karega’s voice then distracted Elodie from the mechanical workings of the lift.
“From what I understand, Orzammar and its Shaperate believe that it was their king, all those ages ago, that locked this city away, sacrificing it to the darkspawn. They are only partially correct. The decision to seal off Kal-Sharok was made by a leader…but not by their king. You see, this great city can only be fully controlled by one entity, and one entity alone. It was that entity that shut Kal-Sharok off and it was to protect Kal-Sharok, not to damn it.”
The lift continued down into the belly of the city, halting with a jerk when it reached the end of the wire. Another lift was waiting for them, however, and the operating dwarves on the lifts organized themselves to latch the platforms together. Once secured, Karega and Elodie walked across to the new platform. The descent angle changed and they headed deeper into the city.
It was more like a gigantic tunnel compared to the massive open cavern the balcony had been overlooking. There were buildings built practically on top of each other, leaving just enough space for the lifts to pass through.
“Welcome to the Trade District! You can buy almost anything here – well, except those dogs you Fereldans seem so fond of.” Karega said dryly. Elodie chuckled in response, leaning over the railing to watch the dwarves bustle about in the roads, buying and selling and loading their…giant nugs up with goods.
“This entity…was it a Paragon-Elect like you?” Elodie asked.
“No, it is something else entirely. And by shutting Kal-Sharok off, it protected itself as well as the city – and see how that has benefited us.” Karega gestured wildly to her clearly prosperous and happy city.
“How…did you manage to seal yourself off?”
“Simple – pure dwarven ingenuity and trusting that same entity. It has guided us through where the stone would receive us best, and we fell back on the knowledge it had gifted us previously – with the mosses and lichens. We have improved what we knew and strengthened the stone as we went.”
The buildings were carved from dark and light stone, imbued with brightly glowing rune work. What Elodie would give to have her sketchbook with her so that she could record the various runes – runes that she had never seen before. For instance, there were light runes in Orzammar, but they were all the same and gave off the same amount of light. But the light runes here were the same in base, but had trailing differences that altered the amount of light and even in some instances, the color of the light.
The people of Kal-Sharok had more than survived the Blight and Darkspawn…they had thrived.
Elodie’s brow furrowed. How exactly had Kal-Sharok survived? The stories spoke of a massive horde of darkspawn and that sealing the city off was the only way to survive.
“What exactly happened all those centuries ago, Paragon-Elect? It was always told that Kal-Sharok was sacrificed to the darkspawn.”
Karega only smiled as the lift came to a staggering halt at a fork in the tunnels. Another platform was waiting for them in the right tunnel…that ominously went down. They transitioned to the new platform and slowly began their descent. But the city surprisingly never stopped. There continued to be buildings built into the sides of the sloping downward cave.
The buildings were more clustered here, with fewer wide walkways and merchant stalls. It was quieter too. A residential area then.
The lift carried them quickly and silently through the slightly descending cave before coming to a halt. Dwarves brought the platform to dock at the corner of the residential area right before the beginning of a new district, marked only by the sudden grandeur of the buildings.
“And where exactly are you taking me?” She asked, following Karega down the road.
“The Shaperate must decide what to do with you, and one does not ask the Shaperate to come to them, one must go to the Shaperate.”
“That…is not how it is done in Orzammar.”
Karega stopped in her tracks and turned around to stare Elodie down with stone cold eyes.
“Does this look like the dying arm of a once beautiful and great civilization? We are very much alive, Warden, and our Shaperate does not move for anyone.” The Paragon-Elect turned from her and continued down the path, making Elodie wonder.
Orzammar was dying? The Darkspawn had encroached more than they had hoped during the Blight but the city was hardly dying.
The buildings grew taller and more ornate and a strange…vibration entered the air. Runes on the sides of the buildings glowed with blue power and she felt her hands itch with the desire to let her magic out.
“Forgive me, Paragon-Elect, I did not mean to insinuate anything negative. I was only curious, my only experience with dwarven culture has been with Orzammar and her outposts, and some of the surface dwarves.”
“Your ignorance is not insulting, surfacer, especially since Kal-Sharok has kept herself quiet and held back from the rest of the world.” Karega gestured to the world around them.
“This is Kal-Sharok.”
“Yes, I gather that –
“I don’t think you do, Warden. But it should become clearer in the Shaperate.”
They turned a corner and the tunnel opened up to another gigantic cavern that seemed to be bottomless. Water cascaded down over on the cliffs and into the deeps while a fog rose up and obscured the view of what Elodie assumed to be the greatest dwarven structure she had ever seen. Gigantic runes glowed through the mist, and the power vibrating off from it nearly brought her to her knees.
Karega took a deep breath and let out a resounding song-like sound. She held a hand out and began to…sing, was the closest approximation Elodie could think of.
Another song-like sound echoed from the mist and a loud creaking noise took its place moments later. Another lift appeared from the fog and they were once again ushered onto it.
They made it to the center of the cavern before it began to shake.
“What is this?” Karega growled before letting loose another note, but the cavern only continued to shake.
The platform swayed as a loud groaning filled the cavern. Rocks began to split from the walls, falling down, down, down… Elodie did not hear them hit the bottom.
“MOVE!” Karega shouted and the dwarves began to row the lift faster and faster across the chasm.
Elodie tossed up a barrier around them to keep the rocks and debris from falling on them. They reached the other side just in time for a large rock to break free from the waterfall overhead, plummeting down and taking the rigging for the lift with it.
A stream of old, foreign curses flew out of Karega’s mouth and she turned toward the older men suddenly approaching her.
Karega proceeded to yell in frustration at the men while they took her frustrations and tried to offer calm explanations.
At least, that was what Elodie could infer.
“Excuse me, but…we are still standing out here in potential danger, could we at least move to sturdier ground? You can argue once you know you will not get crushed by a random rock,” she interjected. Karega whipped around, about to bark out some order only to stop herself and rein it back in.
“The Warden is right, come, the Shaperate offers protection.” The men turned to go back into the building, and while she was still flushed and clearly still irate from the near death experience, Karega followed them.
Amazing how quickly Elodie fell into the old habit of getting herself into these situations.
They stepped into the Shaperate and her eyes drank in every little detail, from the intricate metalwork to the runes decorating almost every inch of stone. The floors were free of lyrium, but the patterns remained.
But while there were glowing runes all over the walls and ceilings, there were torches for added directed light. The leader of the old men took one of the torches and lead them through amazing chamber after amazing chamber until they came to the grandest chamber of them all. It was built over what appeared to be another natural chasm, smaller and refined by the Shaperate over time. It was…at least ten stories of a maze-like library with thousands of ancient tomes and records. Shapers bustled through the space, quiet like Shades. The only consistent noise came from the scratching and etching into stone of events, echoing strangely in the chamber.
They walked through the chamber until at last coming to a smaller, and less echoing, room. The door was shut behind them and Karega resumed her growling and pacing.
“So what exactly is causing that mayhem?” Elodie asked before any yelling or shouting could commence.
“A Titan,” the head Shaper said, standing…surprisingly proud of the fact.
“And what exactly a Titan?”
“It is and is not lyrium and the stone. It is…the being that brought the dwarves, the very first of us into existence. It shaped us from lyrium, stone, then breathed life into us.”
Elodie blinked at the man who was practically grinning over the fact that there was this being that could potentially be wrecking the Shaperate and the city. She had encountered stranger beliefs than this before, however, and she kept the thought to herself.
“The Titans…made the dwarves…” she said instead, wrapping her mind around it. The dwarven…Maker of sorts?
“There was…a threat of some kind, many of the records were either lost during the Blights or written in overly grand metaphors.” One of the other Shapers said. They produced a large tablet from their robes, where they had hidden it, Elodie could hardly guess, but they pointed to parts of the text.
“’It sings, it breathes,
“’Life into which, it creates.
“’Breath and song, together
“’Fashion strength and
“’That which is needed.’”
“That is…more direct than what you are saying. The Titan created dwarves for protection perhaps?” Though if it created them for protection, that hardly explained why it would be responsible for the earthquakes suddenly rumbling through the city.
“Not exactly. It gets complicated after that because the next recordings are simply…recordings of them learning but not what was learned.”
“So you have information of information being transferred without the actual information…but if the Titans created the dwarves, why not tell their creations what they need to know?”
“Your Maker abandoned you, got any explanation for that?” Karega asked.
“Yes, actually, he was disappointed in us.” She answered automatically.
“So he abandoned his children out of disappointment?” The woman snorted, “Sounds like a shitty father.” Elodie frowned at the remark but conceded the point. This was not the time for a theological debate on the merits of the Maker and her religion.
Elodie turned back to the Shapers, “So this Titan is shaking the cavern?”
The man nodded, “Yes. It is rousing from its slumber for some reason…perhaps your magic has awakened it?” He supposed but the other Shaper shook their head.
“Do you not see? She is infected with the Blight, it senses the corruption and seeks to protect itself. The Warden must leave Kal-Sharok,” they said, pulling out another tablet (where were they hiding them?!). They pointed to another section.
“’And it came to pass that the infection spread,
“’In desperation, She cried, like a mother weening a child,
“’And tore her own child from her breast,
“’Clutching her own wounded breast to her.
“’Sealed away. Separated. Protected.
“’Child damned to blindness.’”
They pulled back from the tablet to stare at her.
“The Titan seeks to protect itself once more from corruption. You brought her too close, Paragon-Elect.”
Elodie took a deep breath, the lyrium tainting the air still so much that her fingers twitched and she felt her magic barely held in check. But the taint…was quiet within her.
“Is my presence not required to be recorded?” Elodie asked and the Shapers grumbled there affirmation, “I am here and the Titan is apparently…roused? Not awake?”
The head Shaper shook his head, “It has slept for ages almost unending. It awakened only to sever Kal-Sharok from the outside and it was asleep before that.”
The discussion took a very speculative turn after that, asking what if after what if, wondering if it was possible for Elodie to leave even with the lift broken.
There were apparently tunnels leading out of the Shaperate and back to the city. Many of the Shapers were of the same mind that Elodie should be removed from Kal-Sharok as soon as possible, to protect their Titan. While disappointing, Elodie understood their desire to have her gone. She was an outsider in a city who had not had an outsider in thousands of years. And now their Titan, their deity for lack of a better term, was reacting violently. By all rights this was a sign that she should leave.
So the Shapers and the Paragon-Elect moved her quickly through the various tunnels leading back to the city and the only entrance and exit of the city. And every single one of them was collapsed. They were trapped in the Shaperate.
Elodie touched the rough stone and wondered why it would collapse the passages if it wanted her gone.
“Perhaps it wishes to keep the Warden here, instead of sending her away,” Karega supposed.
The grumpy Shaper scowled, “But why?”
The purveying question of the day.
“Will Kal-Sharok suffer from not having its Paragon-Elect present?” Elodie speculated as they turned down the tunnel back to the Shaperate.
Karega shook her head and puffed her chest out with pride, “No. My eldest son will act as the interim Paragon-Elect when I do not return in time for any of the upper decisions to be made. In the meantime, there will be excavations to get to us. We are hardly stuck.”
The Head Shaper nodded, “We have supplies to last the week, that gives the main city plenty of time to blast their way to us.”
“And then you must leave,” the other Shaper groused.
Elodie wasn’t sure of that.
Once back at the Shaperate they supped and she remembered exactly why she was always hesitant to visit Orzammar or any other subterranean dwarven outpost. The cuisine of lichens and nugs were…acquired tastes. But she ate her fill, remembering that she had worse – both at the Joining and in Val Rayoux.
The Shapers watched her carefully which she supposed was wise – the taint was still very foreign to most people, let alone those who had been essentially locked away from it for centuries.
And perhaps…perhaps they did not fully understand what exactly she was.
“Grey Wardens do not spread the Blight, you know.” She said tentatively. Several of the shapers arched their brows at her while another discretely produced a notebook where, readying themselves to take notes.
Right, speak a bit slowly then.
“Then why are you infected?” One of the shapers asked.
“It is to combat the Blight.”
“How does that work? Why infect yourself with what kills everything else?” The shapers were all going to ask questions then.
“It is…complicated. Much of what I am about to say must be kept secret, you understand? Your general populace is not allowed to know these secrets.” She said earnestly, eying the note taker.
There was a pause and the shapers nodded collectively as well as Karega, “Very well, Warden.”
And so she launched into an explanation of exactly she was, but she left some…key things out. They didn’t need to know the bit about the Archdemon, she faced enough questions from Weisshaupt about that whole bit. The note taker blew through ten pages of notes in no time and soon she was recounting the entirety of the fifth Blight.
An audience had gathered and there was even sighing when she spoke of her and Alistair’s relationship. There was a collective gasp when he agreed to marry Anora, but she assured them that her and Alistair were still very much together, it was just…behind closed doors.
“And now you wish to free yourself of the Blight so you can have his babies!” One of the shapers squealed.
“Awwww!” They chorused. Elodie blushed but nodded.
She then caught them up on everything that happened with the Breach and the Inquisition.
“Last I saw and heard, Corypheus was left army-less and it was only a matter of time before the Inquisitor fought him.”
“Oh I wish I knew if she succeeded!”
“Yes, you must write to us and let us know if she succeeded!”
“And if she married that Solas fellow.”
“I don’t know; he seems kind of worrisome to me.”
Elodie giggled and nodded.
“I will let you know, even better, I will speak to a writer I know to send a big shipment of his books to Kal-Sharok, will that do?” There was some emphatic nodding but also some grousing. Ah, a formal letter to corroborate the story Varric told would be necessary.
Before they knew it, hours had passed. She was yawning and stretching her back, the fatigue running deep.
A hand tapped her shoulder and she turned to see Karega gesture with her chin, “Come, it’s time to rest anyways. It has been…a long day.” The Paragon-Elect was frowning, the lines in her face becoming more pronounced as the light was slowly adjusted for the sleeping times.
Elodie nodded and a couple servants appeared and took them to the sleeping quarters, which were…not what she was used to. It wasn’t what Karega was used to either, judging by the frown and narrowed eyes when she was directed to a barely concealed cot.
“These are emergency quarters, there was a cave-in in the lower wing, preventing access to the nicer chambers,” one of the servants explained sheepishly. Karega simply glowered at him until he scurried off to finish his duties.
Elodie was lead to another cot and she supposed this wasn’t so bad, it was certainly better than the little bedroll she had been carrying around at the beginning of her journey.
She threw an opaque barrier up to conceal herself while she changed into the robes provided…which were rather short, yet loose on her wiry frame. Thankfully, the blanket provided was not an issue. She climbed into the cot and brought the barrier down just in time for the lights to be dimmed completely, dousing the space into darkness.
Falling asleep in the Deep Roads as a mage was always weird. The Fade was…more distant here. There was no low hum in the back of her skull from the Fade, but rather a different feeling vibration from the lyrium and the stone.
Elodie created a hypothesis that there were two different magical spheres of living in this world, one consisting of the Fade and the other consisting of the Stone, until she fell into an oddly quiet sleep.