A whole month has passed since I received my current mission. Having to accompany a full-fledged Circle Mage, whilst still in training seemed odd to me, but the chance to prove myself in the eyes of the Templars was welcome. I know I had failed my purpose by performing outside jobs, and I am glad to get a second chance.
My ward is the city-born elf Elias, a mage of some repute even as he just finished schooling. I heard he is a promising mage but with great power comes great danger, as the Chantry claims. He does not speak much, but when he does, his words bare great insight. I am glad I have Thor with me, so I have some good conversation options.
I am very curious to leave the tower with Elias and see where our mission brings us, but doubts linger in the back of my mind. What if I am not ready to contain his power should it prove too much for him? Maker guide us both.
- Landon, Templar in training
The Dalish Curse (UNFINISHED)
A. Late Harvest
The road had been long but uneventful. Landon, Elias and Thor had left Lothering a few days ago, and had entered the woodlands prior to the Brecilian forest. The Circle had, no longer than one week ago, given them instructions to travel to the forest. There, they would search for ruins – Tevinter or older – and secure any artifact they could find. This way, these objects would stay out of the wrong hands.
Landon and Elias had engaged in some banter in the beginning of the trip but had settled to comfortable silence as conversation topics ran out. The monotony of the trip did not add anything worth mentioning. They knew that there was a town near the Brecilian forest called Vintiver. They decided to stop there for a night’s rest and gather some information on possible sites to visit.
Before they came to the village, they passed a farm. They could see the empty vineyard fields, already harvested a while ago, and a faint sliver of smoke rising from the chimney of the farm. While taking the view into them, the two men were surprised when Thor suddenly started barking. They searched for the source of the dog’s distress and saw a few crows circling the fields. Landon knew this meant that something had died, and immediately drew his greatsword in case of emergency.
The two men walked forward and noticed a body lying somewhat from the farm in the field. Blood spatters ran across the man’s back as he lay face down in the mud. Elias inspected the body. “He is dead. Claw marks apparently, big ones.” They walked towards the farmhouse when three wolves ran from the side of the house into the open, growling aggressively and circling Landon and Elias. The mage noticed something was off with the wolves but could not tell what as his mind got clouded by the thrill of fight. He took in a breath and closed his eyes, willing his inner energy to do his bidding. The wolves lunged forward as Landon silently but decisively performed a counter charge. Thor, trained by the fighter, attacked the third and positioned himself so that the middle wolf had no choice than to attack him or Landon, keeping Elias safe from harm.
Thor and the wolf rumbled in the mud trying to bite each other neck and soon Thor emerged on top of the wolf, having its throat pinned between its teeth. Landon’s sword found its target and cleaved through flesh and muscle, his attack answered with a short yelp and a bite in his arm. As the second wolf flanked Landon, it tried to bite in his side. Its attack was halted by a sudden blast of force coming from behind the beasts. Both were smacked to the ground, obviously disoriented from the impact. Behind Thor and Landon, Elias smiled a cocky smile – he had found his focus. The spell gave Landon time to finish the wolves near him, while Thor had no difficulty to snap his target’s neck with a well-placed bite.
“What’s wrong with those things? Wolves don’t generally attack people, do they?”, Landon asked while he wiped the blood of his sword and sheathed it again.
“They look rabid.”, Elias replied, “But they also look as if they should have died already. I believe this resembles the taint by darkspawn blood.”
“That would explain the bodies. Since when are there darkspawn running about above ground?”
“No idea. I don’t know if this is the work of darkspawn. They tend to use weapons, not claws, and to eat the bodies.” At the same time, Elias tended to the bite on Landon’s wrist.
“Nice to know… Let’s check out the farm for survivors.”
Landon and Elias walked into the house to find three women and a baby murdered in the same way as the man outside. Furniture was smashed in the fight but nothing seemed stolen, and the bodies were not eaten from. On the wall across the dining table, a sign was drawn in blood. It was meaningless to both, and while Landon searched the house for survivors, Elias copied the sign, just in case. The house was empty for the rest and four other bodies could be found in the fields behind the farm, with similar wounds.
The two men walked into the barn to find a tenth body in the barn; a young man still clutching a pitchfork in his hand, holding on to it even in death. “Who could have done this?”, Landon asked horrified, “There were children here, a baby even.”
“Not animals, I’m afraid. The claw marks are too large.”
Thor’s barks broke the conversation. The Mabari had found something and stood over a pile of hay scattered across the barn floor. Landon went through it and found another body. “He is still alive.”, Elias noticed. “No,” Landon replied, “she is still alive.” He pulled the girl from under the hay, only to notice it to be a Dalish, an elven tribeswoman from the forest. “What is a Dalish girl doing in the farmstead?”, Landon asked.
“No idea, but she has similar wounds.” Her abdomen was slashed with jagged cuts from a claw, like the rest. “It is a miracle she still lives. The wounds are clearly older than today. Do you see the infection?”
To Landon it was still strange to see Elias, a frail looking elf, talk about sickness and death so casually. Landon knew it was the chirurgeon training Elias had received in the Circle Tower during his apprenticeship. But to Landon there were no bodies here, but people. A whole bunch of lost lives.
After Elias tended to the worst of the young Dalish’ wounds, they lay her unconscious body on Thor and proceeded to Vintiver. The town itself was a typical small village with small houses and a well in an open place, probably used for trade and village meetings. Next to the town square were two larger buildings; the town hall, an inn with a plaque depicting a nug lying sitting on its back next to an empty wine bottle, and a newer building with stained glass and a large, open door, which was clearly the local Chantry temple.
They arrived in the evening, with the sun slowly preparing to set. Villagers saw the group approach and Landon immediately noticed they were less than welcome in the town. Especially Elias and the wounded Dalish were targets of the obvious content. Landon also noticed that there were signs of market stands in the ground, and spots of a camp fire and food stains on the edges of the houses. There had been some kind of celebration, not so long ago.
The group of villagers grew as Landon and Elias entered the town square and approached the temple, hoping to get some additional healing for their elven charge. “You go ahead,” Landon said to Elias “, I want to talk to the locals first.”
Elias went into the temple as Landon approached the townsfolk. One of the villagers immediately came forward, taking an aggressive stance towards the fighter. “Who are you and why are you bringing those knife ears into town?”, the man demanded to know. He was wearing a smith’s overall and had a large hammer tucked in his belt. His right hand caressed the hammer, indicating his willingness to use force if needed.
“Calm down, good man. There is no need for distress and certainly not for violence.”
“You don’t get to tell us what we need in our own town, outsider.”
The crowd mumbled in agreement.
“We are indeed outsiders, but we mean no harm. We are only passing by on a mission for the Chantry, and we found a Dalish woman wounded along the way.”
“Good riddance, those tree rats only cause trouble!”, the smith replied.
“That might be, but any wounded being deserves mercy in the Maker’s eye. Can you explain to me what happened here to get you so worked up over the elves?”
“What happened? I will tell you what happened! We were celebrating the harvest a week ago when those Dalish showed up and started causing trouble. We had to kick them out of town and then…”
“Then they cursed us.”
Several members of the crowd made a sign to the Maker in fear as the smith spoke of the curse.
Landon looked at the smith in disbelief. He knew that Dalish elves were secretive and elusive and that not much was known about them in the human lands, but he had never heard of curses thrown over villages by elves picking fights in townships.
“Ok, I have a mage with me. We will figure out whether or not this curse has any bearing to it.”
“We have seen your pet, stranger, and I do not think that an elf will undo the dark workings of another elf.”
“Listen, my companion is a Circle mage, trained outside the elven culture and can be trusted to side with us. You have my word.”
“Whatever that is worth, stranger.”
In the meanwhile, Elias had entered the chantry with Thor carrying the elf on his back. The sister there was cleaning but stopped immediately upon seeing a wounded elf being brought to her. “Oh in the Maker’s name, what has happened?”
“That’s what we would like to know. We found her at a farmland a few miles to the west from here. The family has been slaughtered to the last and we found her in the barn, hidden under the hay.”
“A few miles to the west? That must be the Fuldor farm. And you say that they are all dead?”
“Yes, even the smallest. They seem to have been attacked by a large animal or something similar.”
“That the Maker may guide their souls to his side. We need to get the bodies and give them a proper funeral.”
“Yes, but let’s first tend to those that still draw breath, shall we? This elf can maybe clear up some things about the attack. Why are the villagers so agitated by the way? It seemed they do not like the sight of elves that much?”
“Oh, some elves came into town to trade and party during the harvest festival. They started to get friendly with some of the local girls and Coalan, the blacksmith, took offense. He started a fight with one of the Dalish, and the Dalish left a while after that.”
“Seems harmless to me.”
“In itself, yes, but one of the Dalish shouted profanities at Coalan and the other villagers. Most of them think the elf cursed them.”
“Is that possible? Was the elf a mage?”
“Strangest mage I have ever seen. Had knives and leather trappings. He seemed more of a regular Dalish to me. I do not believe the curse was real. But word of what happened at the farm would cause the villagers to connect dots that need no connecting.”
“Seems very likely.” Landon added as he stepped into the Chantry. I have kept the situation at the farm out of the discussion, but it seems that the villagers are bent on blaming the elves for every cough and sneeze… Where is the village Warden?"
“Master Dale is on patrol, scouting for elves in the neighborhood or animals that stray too far from the woodlands. He is trying to put some space between the Dalish and the village to avoid any more trouble.”
“Then we wait for him. We need to speak to the Warden anyway, about our reason for being here.”
“Very well. I recommend you stay in the inn, with your Dalish ward. The innkeeper’s wife, Kesla, is the town medicine woman and midwife. She can tend to her wounds.”
In the inn, Landon and Elias were greeted warmly, by the innkeeper Haran Mullin and his wife, who indeed tended to the Dalish woman’s wounds. Upon arrival, Landon rent a room for the party and ordered some food while they contemplated what might had happened at the farm. Sister Arda returned to the Chantry temple, awaiting the Warden’s return. While Landon and Elias enjoyed their meal – Thor had received a rather large soup bone – when suddenly noises erupted from outside the inn.
“Strangers, come out with the elf. We need to speak to it.”
“Right,” Landon said to Elias, “Things are about to get complicated, I am afraid.” Elias stood up calmly, staff in hand. Landon also stood, wiped off his mouth, and proceeded to the door. Behind the door, on the open square in front of the inn, a group of villagers stood with torches and crude tools, intent to perform some mob justice on the Dalish woman. Again, Coalan stood in front of them, hammer in hand.
“You forgot to mention that the Fuldors were slaughtered to the last man, woman, and child. Where did you find the elf?”, the blacksmith demanded.
Landon stepped outside with Thor and Elias next to him. “On the farm. But…”
“You hear this, people. The strangers found the elf next to her victims and failed to see that she was responsible.”
“Yeah, because one tiny elf is a match for a whole farmhold.” Elias softly said under his breath, for only Landon to hear."
“The girl seems to have similar wounds as the Fuldors had. That seems to indicate that she was attacked by a third party, the same person that killed the farmers.”
“Very convenient, that she is found wounded and frail. It is all a trick. And you two are in on it, strangers. I suspect your elf companion, your mage friend, has something to do with it as well.”
“Stop and think for a minute.” Landon felt how he lost his cool. This blacksmith was zealous in his elven hate. “What good will it do to kill her if she holds the answers to what might have done this. We would only rest in insecurity and whatever did kill the Fuldors would be free to attack again.” Some of the other villagers started mumbling. Landon knew how to proceed. “Even worse than that, what would be the reaction of the elves when they discover that one of their own has been killed by mob justice? Would they just leave it?”
“They better. We can handle a few elves in combat.”
“Melee combat, maybe. But what would you do, if it starts raining arrows from the trees?”
With that said, even Coalan did not know what to reply. Some villagers started actively speaking against taking action, but Landon saw that the fire of hatred had not yet dimmed in the blacksmith’s eyes.
“Let me offer you a deal, Coalan.”, Landon said calmly. “We wait until the Warden arrives and when the Dalish girl awakens, we question her together. You can be present to see the truth – or her lies – for yourself. Meanwhile, your friends here, who seem able-bodied men, hold watch over the town to keep any elves or what not outside.”
Coalan grudgingly agreed. “Ok, stranger, I will accept your offer and stay my hand. For now…”
“Call me Landon, please. And this is Elias, and Thor.”
At that moment, a man stepped through the door into the inn, followed by Sister Arda. “Good to know. I am Tarn Dale, Warden of Vintiver. What on earth is going on in my town?”
The man looked strong but the grey streaks in his black hair and the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth betrayed his older age. Landon figured him in his late 40s, if he had not yet lived half a century. Before he could answer, Coalan started firing off instead. “It are those knife ears, Master Dale, the ones from the festival. They cursed the village and started attacking the outlying farms.”
The Warden stared uninterrupted at Landon and Elias. “Silence please, Coalan. Let this man speak.”
“Thank you. As I have already explained today, we happened to pass the Fuldor farm where we found the bodies of the family members. We investigated and it seems that they were attacked by clawed enemies, but larger than common animals. We found this young Dalish woman with similar, but older wounds, hidden in the barn. She has not yet regained consciousness, but we are ready to interrogate her, in your presence, of course.”
“Did you find anything else?”
“Yes.”, Elias said, “This sign.” He showed the markings on the wall to the Warden and the sister. “It was drawn in blood in the dining room of the farmhouse.”
“I have seen this before.”, the Warden said.
Sister Arda added: “It is similar to the tattoos the Dalish bear on their faces. It is a religious thing I heard.”
This was the only reason for Coalan to regain some of his fervor. “See! What more proof do we need? The elves are clearly involved and we have one of the culprits here in our hands.”
“You speak before your turn, Coalan.”, Warden Dale interrupted, “It may well be that elves are responsible, but let’s see what this girl has to say for herself. In the meanwhile, Landon, Elias, enlighten me on the reason of your presence in the area.”
Landon and Elias spoke with the Warden of their mission and asked him if he knew any ruins in the vicinity. He could not help him since he rarely set foot into the forest itself, but he said that the Dalish in the forest could probably tell them more, if they wanted to at least.
And at that point, Kesla came downstairs. “The elf has awoken. You can speak to her.”
The group went up the stairs into the room where the elf still lay on the bad, visibly dazed and confused what was going on.
“I am Landon, and this is Elias. I believe you already know the Warden and the smith.”
The Dalish remained silent.
“We found you at the Fuldor farm, and brought you to Vintiver for healing.”
“And to find out what you did to the Fuldors, you filthy elf.” Coalan added.
A piercing gaze shot across the room. “I did nothing to your humans, smith. They were attacked by… monsters.”
“What kind of monsters?”, Elias asked.
“I do not know. They came from the forest and took us captive. And then I escaped.”
“Start with the beginning, Dalish.”, the Warden said. “We will see whether you speak the truth or not.”
“Good. My name is Eshara and I was here during the harvest festival and the trouble that day. After the fight here in town, we traveled back to the Brecilian. One of our scouts, Harralan, was angry at the humans, especially him.” Again, the elf glanced at Coalan. “Our elders sent him to scout, so he would focus on other things, but he never returned.”
“Did you find out what happened to him?”, Landon asked.
“No. Two other scouts were sent to track him, but they disappeared as well. Soon, other hunters and gatherers started to vanish as well. The elders grew worried and told us to seek refuge in Vintiver.”
“But you never got here?”
“We made camp just outside the forest when they came in the night. They took us with them into the forest, to a ruin. They looked strange, not like any creature I had ever seen. They looked like twisted hounds, with hunched backs and red, glowing eyes.”
“Did they have a leader?”
“Yes. In the ruin, I was brought to it. It was a spirit-made-flesh… I forget the word you humans use.”
“An abomination?”, Elias said.
“Yes, that’s it. It called itself Mythallen, which means ‘child of vengeance’ in our language. It forced me to kneel, when I saw an altar in the chamber and a silver chain link lying on it. It seemed… important. I managed to take it and run from the chamber.”
“Were you followed?”
“Yes. Several of the monsters followed me, and as I was wounded, I hid in one of the farms. I passed out there.”
“How bloody convenient… You passed out while humans around you were slaughtered.” Coalan burst out in anger as he lunged forward. “You must pay for what you have done.”
“Calm down, Coalan”, the Warden interrupted, “or I will do it for you.”
“You surely do not believe what the elf has to say?”
“Her story is strange, but I see no deception in her words.”
Coalan stared at the people in the room and saw his anger found no support. “I will not let the elves go unpunished.”, he said while he stormed out the room, almost banging the door out of its hinges.
“Did someone in your clan have magic abilities, Eshara?”, Elias inquired.
“No. There is no one.” Landon heard a faint hesitation in her answer, but decided not to interrupt. “So I think an outside force has been freed in the ruin.”
“And what about the link?” Landon asked.
“I have it right here.” Eshara opened a small brown pouch on her belt and handed a small bended silver chain link to him. Landon looked at it and casually threw it to Elias. “Not my area of expertise.”
“I’ll see what I can make of it.” Elias looked over the link for a few minutes. “No, nothing special, it seems. Maybe the magic, if any, was lost when it got bended like this.”
“We found a sign at the farm, drafted in blood. Do you know what it means, Eshara?”
“Yes. It means vengeance.”
C. The Elven Ruin
The next morning, a small group of people left the village of Vintiver. Landon and his faithful companion Thor, Elias, and Eshara had packed their things before dawn. Master Dale had agreed that it was better to have Eshara escort them to the ruin she had spoken of while he secured the citizens of Vintiver and focused on the defense of the town. Also, he wanted to give Eshara the benefit of the doubt in the hope of restoring the peace with the Dalish.
For Landon and Elias, this was an ideal situation. Not only could they help the locals with their trouble, but contacting the Dalish tribe would surely bring them closer to their own goals. So the three of them had snuck out town while the sun was rising. They followed the road to the forest east, but Landon stopped after the first mile. He had something on his mind.
“So, Eshara, care to tell me why you lied to us yesterday?”
The elf looked surprised, effectively blindsided by the remark. “I told you the truth.”
“For the most part, yes, and I think also for the important part. However, you lied when we asked mages amongst your clan.”
Eshara stood baffled. She had not thought of that, since it seemed so important in the larger scheme of things. “Oh… That. It is not important to our situation.”
“There could be magic involved. You said it were monsters you had never seen before, that took your people.”, Elias added. “Maybe they were created by magic.”
“Our Keeper, Orellis, knows some magic, but he did not know what was going on either. He was taken with the rest of the clan to the ruins.”
“Did he survive?”, Landon asked.
“He was alive but imprisoned when I escaped. He told me to warn the town.”
“Ok. That’s all I need to know then. I presume that you want us to keep that information to ourselves?”
Eshara just nodded and made a sign with her hand. It was an elven sign, unknown to the others, but Landon and Elias knew what it meant because they had heard the noise in the bushes alongside the road. They readied their weapons as five men walked out of the bushes, weapon drawn. Their leader was a familiar face of anger: Coalan, the Vintiver blacksmith.
“Me and my boys here will not allow that murderer to leave unpunished.”
“Get it in your thick skull…”, Elias began but Landon interrupted with a gesture.
“You get two options, Coalan. You walk away from here and go back to Vintiver to help defend the town, or you fight us, and get your ass kicked.”
“He deserves it.”, Elias whispered.
“Enough talk. If you want to stand in our way, so be it. Attack!” The smith led the charge.
Elias squinted and focused and started whispering his magic while Landon readied to take the charge from Coalan. Thor barked at two of the villagers, keeping their attacks at bay. Coalan’s blow missed and was answered by a strike from Landon’s greatsword. The flat of his blade hit the smith in a swooping arc, also hitting his ally next to him, who fell down. Elias’ spell blew the wind out of the three other guys, who were left reeling and open to Thor’s bite. Landon called out a command and the dog stayed his fangs, instead performing a body blow, knocking one of them to the ground. A few seconds later, of the attackers only the smith was still standing. “You ally with the elves, traitorous dog? You betray your own people?” Landon, his patience already run out, stepped aside. “You’re not even worthy of a decent fight. Thor, take him down.” Thor had no difficulty finishing the fight. While Elias tended to the superficial wounds of both parties, Landon woke one of the thugs. “Wait until they get up and go back to town. Watch over them while they lay unconscious.” Without another word, the party continued on their path.
It took them the better part of the day to reach the forest edge, where the sparse bushes turned into root-covered terrain and trees blocking all view past a few yards. The road turned dark underneath the canopy that blocked almost all the sun. Next to the border between light and dark was an clearing. The clearing had been used as a camping spot, recently. “This is where we were attacked.”, Eshara said quietly, as if respectful to what had happened only four days ago. “They dragged us off into the forest.” She pointed at the darkness between the trees. Landon and Elias tried to pierce it with their gaze, but saw nothing.