Decem Reliquias

The Children

Also unsatisfied with the culinary selection, that evening Marius asks Cathal if she will use her hunterly skills to procure some fresh meat. She obliges, but Tyree insists on a accompanying her, much to her chagrin. The pair wage a friendly competition picking off a rabbit and a doe. As they tread deeper into the forest, an insect-like aberration the size of a small dog crosses their path. They do not hesitate to kill it, but several more crawl out of the brush. The competition turns a little more serious as they attempt to keep the creatures at bay with some well placed arrows. It doesn’t take long to defeat the few that crawl out, but both of them realize the potential that a swarm of those creatures could easily overwhelm even a great warrior. They hasten to leave, but Tyree suggests they take some back to the others so they might learn more of the beast. Cathal seems disgusted, but obliges to carry the game while Tyree takes the corpses of two of the many-legged terrors back to camp.

Marius suddenly loses his appetite when Tyree drops an oozing chitinous corpse in front of him like a pet showing off his kill. By the deformations and pustules, Marius is able to recognize that it is a variety of Darkspawn, but has not heard of anything quite like it. Corryn suggests they take it to the Grey Wardens, since they are going to see them anyway. Everyone agrees that is the best course, but no ones wants to volunteer their blankets, tents or clothes to the tasks of hauling the bodies. Tyree volunteers to see if he can procure something from one of the many nearby camps and slips off into the night.

After a short argument with a man next to an unusually large covered wagon who also seems unusually attached to his rather plain cloak, Tyree returns to the camp empty handed. Broga feels his chances of finding cloth are much better, so the stealthy dwarf disappears into the night. He comes upon a young woman hanging laundry to dry and settles in to observe the camp for a moment. He notices a shadowy figure inside the tent across the way, and considers the potential danger it might pose. The woman turns her back to Broga and the laundry to stir a liquid in a cauldron over the campfire, the aroma reaching Broga, filling his nostrils with a foul stench that he is unable to place. He nearly wretches when the woman takes a sip of the pungent concoction, but keeps his wits enough to grab a robe from the line and melt back into the forest.

When Broga arrives back at camp with cloth in hand, Marius groans as he recognizes the elaborate blue robe of a Tevinter senator. Both glad of the insult to one of his many rivals but cautious of the potential backlash, Marius advises that the robe not be used to carry the corpses and also that they not be seen with it. Unable to verify with certainty if it has some enchantment that would allow the mage-senator to track it but wanting to keep the valuable robe for its protective qualities, they agree to bury it a distance off then retrieve it in the morning if it remains. Broga marks the spot the best way he knows how, then returns for a peaceful night’s rest.

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An Old Friend

Three ooze covered skeletons claw their way out of the ground underneath Armon, between Broga and the fish-laden donkey. He fights valiantly to defend his his dinner, but seeing that he is outmatched by the ravenous undead, is somewhat relieved when they rip out the donkey’s throat and become too preoccupied feasting on its flesh to notice the warrior’s retreat. Broga meanwhile, uses his typical hit and run tactic, trying to draw one of the creatures away from Armon and the donkey, shouting for the camped companions he hopes are near enough to hear him.

While none of the humans at the campsite notice the distant sounds of battle, one of Felayne’s puppies hears Broga’s shouts for help and takes off into the forest. It’s siblings follow, with Tyree and Dog in close pursuit. Reluctantly, Marius gets up as well, and Cathal, the Avar huntress, volunteers to accompany him, leaving Corryn to look after Felayne and the wounded Avar. The puppy finds Broga first, knocking the dwarf down and giving his face a nice cleaning while Tyree engages the nearby skeleton, easily finishing it off. Another puppy locates Armon, but greets him in a less friendly manner. After quickly receiving news from Broga that more of them lie ahead, Tyree runs towards their last known position. He passes up the fleeing Armon, who seeing that reinforcements have arrived, changes his course back towards his fish, still hoping he might have a chance to salvage his dinner.

Marius and his Avar companion casually stroll through the woods until they come across a corroded crumpled skeleton on the ground. Cathal is surprisingly not fazed by the gruesome sight, but Marius recognizes it as one he fought earlier, a creature summoned by a Revenant accidentally released from its prison by a bumbling mage. An eerie voice calls out, confirming his suspicion that the Revenant they thought defeated has returned. He makes haste to join Tyree, Armon and Broga battling the abominations near the slaughtered donkey but follows the dogs’ cues and takes care not to get too close. As Tyree nearly finishes off the last one, it sinks back in to the earth, a sinister cackling fills the air, and the Revenant takes it’s place. The once-mage uses his arcane powers to surround himself with a green fog that saps the energy from the front line fighters. The severely wounded Armon breaks off his attack again, retracing his route back to the campsite seeking the help of Corryn. The undead mage does not relent, inflicting serious damage before Tyree splatters him back into a black puddle that sinks back into the earth. With great effort, Marius fights off the lingering effects of a Curse of Mortality, leaving him emotionally and magically drained. The battered and bloody group traipses back through the trees as a slow drizzle begins to fall.

Corryn takes care of their physical wounds while listening to the account of the battle with their old friend. He curses the incompetent Duon for dropping the vial as they discuss their options for the creature’s inevitable return. Outside of tricking it into being defeated on top of a tarp, they come up with no tactics for combatting the immortal mage. They put the topic away and focus on the task at hand, getting Berchan to the Gray Wardens.

Still unsatisfied with the dry and tasteless trail rations, Armon sneaks out of camp at first light and heads back to the site of his lost meal. In its death throws, the donkey had rolled on its side and crushed its cargo beneath it. While contemplating how to move the heavy beast to get at the fish, a slight twitch in the animal’s leg alerts him that not all is as it seems. The mangled remains of the donkey slowly struggles to stand, then advances on the stunned Armon. Though its bites tear through his armor and flesh, Armon stands his ground this time. Though he may die, at least it is not of the shame and ridicule of being bested by an undead ass. After trading several blows, he finally removes its head with a stroke of Amaar Fin, redeeming himself, in his own eyes at least, from last night’s retreats. Seeing the flattened blood-soaked pack, he at last gives up on his fish and his twenty silver. Upon rejoining the group he does not explain where he has been or what he has seen, nor does he seek treatment for his wounds. They return to the road heading west again, gloomy, unsatisfied and short one donkey.

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Return to Normalcy

The Avar shaman Elorn follows the horrific death of Thane Owyne with the statement that the lowlanders business in Redhold is now concluded. He refuses to answer any questions until they are at the gate ready to depart. Tyree leaves his place to greet his mother, the cheeky old Avar woman that scolded Corryn. He speaks to her quietly, and they leave the grounds in the direction of the Avar dwellings. Their faithful guide Rowenna leads the stunned foreigners bearing their new gifts back to their lodging to gather their things. Marius attempts to make sense of the events he just witnessed by questioning Rowenna, but she seems at peace with the decision, stating simply that Owyne failed in his duty to his people. Realizing just how out of his element he is, the Tevinter mage stops trying to understand the superstitious barbarians and focuses on leaving. Rowenna offers further that though they were successful in fighting off the horde and saving the tribe, the location of Redhold is lost, the farmland tainted beyond use. Clan Redhold will be packing what they can salvage and leave in search of a new home.

Corryn collects Felayne and Berchan, carrying the injured boy with him on his horse. Tyree rejoins the group carrying an uncomfortable looking suit of dark chain mail. At the front gate, an honor guard of the returned hunters lines the road as the procession of outcast, lowlanders and their animals leave Redhold. Hoping to hear an entertaining story, Corryn takes the Avar at their word that they would answer any questions at the gate and asks the newly crowned Thane Treon about how he ended up in the tunnels. He disappoints the mage though, saying only that a Darkspawn force five-hundred strong cut off his route home. When they tried to take the tunnels to avoid the creatures, a cave-in trapped them, forcing them to dig their way through. Marius also stops to have his conversation with Elorn at long last, but it is not as enlightening as he had hoped. Elorn has no miracle cure for the boy Berchan, nor does he know of one. To his knowledge, only the Grey Wardens can survive the blight sickness, but none are in these parts that he knows of. The only help he can offer the boy is a quick death. Passing on that offer, Marius concludes his business with the Avar, leaves the hold with his company and doesn’t look back.

The return journey to the imperial highway is surprisingly peaceful, with no marauding bears or Darkspawn in sight. Once back on the highway, Tyree is surprised to find Felayne’s wagon undisturbed in the brush where it was hidden. The exhausted group, unsure of where to turn next, decides to make camp early and procrastinate the decision until the morning. Marius takes the opportunity to check on Berchan’s wounds, beginning his observation journal by noting the beginnings of putrefaction at both the shoulder and abdomen wounds. He judges the boy has between ten and twenty days before he fully turns into a ghoul. Still conscious, Berchan responds lucidly to Marius’ questions, and states that maybe he doesn’t want to be a warrior anymore.

Morning arrives all too soon, and the now rested adventurers proceed to discuss where to go next. Armon insists that the boy is a lost cause, and the only sensible courses of action are to go after his sister Izot or desert the Wulff family entirely and continue on their original course to Ventiver. Dismissing Armon’s objections, Corryn recalls that Empress Celene’s caravan that left Val Reaiux the same day they did most certainly had a few Grey Warden honor guards. Although Tyree and Broga are indifferent to Berchan’s fate, neither minds retracing their steps or paying a visit to the Empress. Marius agrees to delay their search for Johannas’ ruined keep and seek the Empress’ caravan, if only to annoy Armon. They load up the wagon with the puppies and the boy, hitch up the horses and the donkeys, turn the wagon around and head back the way they came, abandoning Berchan’s sister Izot to her fate for the time being.

That evening while setting up camp, a noise to the north leads Corryn, Armon, and Tyree to investigate, leaving Marius, Felayne and a sleeping Broga on their own. A few minutes later another noise to the south puts Marius on his guard. Felayne clutches at her battered old short sword, prepared to defend herself if necessary. Luckily she doesn’t have to do so. An Avar hunter that Marius recognizes from Redhold steps out of the shadows and introduces herself as Cathal, sister to Azur. She has come on behalf of the battered lovesick boy to make sure they intend to fulfill their promise to retrieve Izot from the clutches of the renegade Avar Banur. Marius explains that they are first trying to save the girl’s brother who contracted blight disease during the siege of Redhold. Seeming indifferent to the girl’s fate, but concerned for her brother, she tells Marius the boy will go after his love on his own, a death sentence in his condition. Her brother is a strong-willed idiot, but he is blood and she is obligated to help him. Marius tells her to deliver a message to Azur, that once the fate of the boy is determined, they will return to this spot to meet Azur and go after Izot. Skeptical of this arrangement, she nevertheless bids the mage goodnight and heads back south to deliver the news.

The rest of the company returns shortly from their encounter with an overly friendly dwarf salesman and his wide eyed, silent companion. Despite the dwarf’s best effort, they manage to retain Corryn’s bracers and refuse a fire-enhancing magical staff. After Marius relates Cathal’s visit to his compatriots, Tyree mysteriously disappears. No one pays much attention to it, until he sneaks up on Armon during his watch with an unconscious injured Avar lashed to a horse followed by an amused looking Avar warrior woman.

The warm sun and gentle rocking motion of the wagon brings Azur slowly back to consciousness. Not recognizing where he is, he begins to panic. Hearing the commotion, Marius calls Tyree to calm his prisoner. Tyree obliges, coming up next to the wagon and ironically lectures the older Avar on the dangers of running off on his own. Azur gives up on trying to get away or arguing on their path, hoping the outcast and the lowlanders will be true to their word and help rescue Izot after they are done with their fool’s errand to save her brother.

The next peacefully day is interrupted by some commotion from the back of the wagon. Berchan thrashes around in his sleep so much that he kicks Azur’s injured leg, causing him to cry out. Tyree is called in to settle down the passengers, once again having to threaten Azur into submission. The traffic on the Imperial Highway picks up, and the strange caravan passes an increasing number of humans, elves and dwarves. Tyree’s sharp eyes pick out a familiar face in the crowd, the crossbow stealing would-be separatist Linda, heading east right into the Darkspawn infested area of Ferelden. Taking pity on the lone traveler, he decides to warn her of the danger she is walking into. The woman claims she doesn’t know who he is, and continues on her way. Armon breathes a sigh of relief that they didn’t pick up yet another stray, and longs to be rid of the ones they have.

Civilization welcomes the travellers back to Orlais in the form of the little border town of Jadur. They decide it best to keep Berchan out of sight, and so set up their camp a ways off the road away from the general population. Feeling unusually hungry, Armon volunteers to make a supply run, accompanied by Broga and one of the donkeys. A fishmonger relieves Armon’s purse of a tidy sum, sending the confused warrior on his way with enough of the freshest, most extravagant catches for a fine meal for each of their nine human members and their four dogs. After loading up the donkey with their haul, the trio make their way back to camp as the sun sets over the much more civilized country of Orlais. As Armon is salivating over the thought of fried fish, a skeletal hand reaches up from the ground and grabs his ankle, stopping him in his tracks.

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Aftermath

Corryn lets Felayne and Rowenna take Berchan Wulff to the shrine where the wounded are being tended. Now that the boy is safely out of Armon’s reach, Corryn heads back into the cave to meet his cohorts and discuss what might be done about the potential threat tunneling in. Glad to have an excuse to leave the battleground cleanup effort, Tyree, Marius, and Broga soon arrive. Corryn leads the group through the tunnels to the dead end where the incessant tapping can still be heard. Using his fondness for architecture Marius estimates the thickness of the wall based on the sound and guesses that it would take a man four hours to dig through, but also notes that Darkspawn dig faster than men. The walls and floors show no sign of the corruption that usually precedes a Darkspawn hoard, which he takes as a sign that they have some time to prepare. They decide that catching the intruders in a cave-in is the best coarse of action. Tyree, Armon, and Broga head back to gather the explosive barrels that the Avar had placed in order to cover their escape. As always, Marius offers his superior supervising skills. Corryn uncharacteristicly excuses himself and leaves the caves alone on a mysterious errand.

After about a half-hour of slowly rolling the heavy barrels down the rough, winding tunnels, the wall comes in sight. The familiar glow of Corryn’s light wisp overtakes Broga’s torchlight, as he and the visibly nervous dog breeder, Felayne, walk past the barrels and up to the wall. She places her hand on the rough stone and closes her eyes. Corryn watches her expectantly, they exchange some quiet words, then she shakes her head. Disappointed in his experiment’s results, Corryn leads the girl away from the wall. After only a few yards, a small piece of rock falls to the floor behind them and a glint of metal reflects the wisp’s light through the tiny hole. Tyree orders them to run, an order which they gladly obey.

Once Felayne and Corryn are far enough back, Tyree shoves the volatile barrel of black powder forward, hoping for it to roll to the stone wall where Broga will puncture it with a flaming arrow, burying the Darkspawn in a shower of falling stone. The stubborn barrel only makes it half-way though, ruining his grand plan. As he moves forward to help it along, streaks of blue light lance through the small opening, striking him in the chest. This makes him pause, since he has never seen or heard of Darkspawn performing magic. To get a better look at what has actually entered the Avar’s territory without putting himself in more danger, Tyree throws his torch forward to shed it’s light on the opening. Not being proficient in torches, his throw falls well short of it’s destination, landing precariously close to the explosive barrel.

Broga gives up on waiting for Tyree to move out of the blast radius and retreats back to the rest of the group, leaving the Avar alone in the tunnel. Everyone waits anxiously for the explosion, but nothing happens. Marius cautiously peeks around the corner and watches as Tyree hastily snatches the torch away from the black powder, and moves up to the wall. He seems to have a conversation with whatever is on the other side, then backs away and watches as the hole is widened. Seeing Tyree’s annoyed but unthreatened posture, Marius senses there is no threat and moves up.

The face showing through the small but ever widening hole appears thoroughly angry, but entirely human. He barks angrily at the heroes of Redhold, demanding to know who they are and why they are in his territory. Tyree explains in short measured words to the Thane’s son that they have just saved his town. Recognizing the impetuous runaway, Treon dismisses him, leaving the opening to let his companions continue their labor. Armon is unanimously elected to deliver the news of his hunters returned to the Thane, and he leaves the caves, grumbling the whole way.

Owyne sends a few of his people back with Armon to help the hunters clear more stone. With the combined effort from both sides, the hole is widened enough to let the sixty Avar through one at a time. Though the immediate danger seems passed, the injured Berchan weighs heavily on Corryn’s conscious. He and his fellow mage Marius leave the tunnels to seek the eccentric shaman Elorn, hoping that he could offer some advice or treatment.

At the shrine where the injured are being treated, Felayne sits next to the cot where Berchan lies with an elderly Avar woman. Corryn questions her on Elorn’s whereabouts, but the severe woman chastises him instead, ordering him to bring the absent mage to help these injured people as soon as they find him. They agree and quickly leave to avoid further tongue lashings. The searches at the sacred animal pit and the site of the ongoing cleanup effort at the front gate are fruitless as well.

Still fearing another assault, Tyree leaves the tunnels alone and plants himself on the wall near the broken gate. Eventually he falls into a uneasy sleep that is punctuated by the macabre sounds of the intense Avar burial ritual and the acrid smell of burning Darkspawn flesh.

While contemplating where to go next, Marius suddenly realizes that he saw no Avar infected with the same sickness Berchan seems to be suffering from. They return to the shrine to investigate further, where thankf. Observing the Avar treating the injured doesn’t reveal any magical treatments or miracle salves being employed, leading Marius to suspect that they are either immune or, more likely, have isolated or dispatched those patients. In the attempt to leave the shrine, exhaustion gets the better of Corryn, who misses the doorway. Deciding he better get some rest, he takes a spot in the corner near Berchan’s cot and quickly succumbs to sleep, leaving Marius on his own.

With no more clear threat to defend against, Armon asks a random passing Avar where he can be the most helpful. First verifying that he has a sharp sword, the young Avar leads him to the shrine where the wounded lie moaning in pain. Instead of taking him inside, the boy leads him around back where the more gravely injured are being treated. Another Avar, a young woman, puts him to work removing mangled legs and arms that have no hope of healing. Blood soaked and sleep deprived, he only makes it through five patients before collapsing on the spot.

Leaving Corryn snoring in the corner of the shrine, Marius leaves to continue the search for the elusive shaman on his own. While wandering the grounds of Redhold, he questions a passing Avar, who informs him of the location of Elorn’s dwelling. His visit to the dark and empty building reveals no leads on either Elorn or the disease. Exhausted and empty handed, Marius heads back to the longhouse to retire for the night, where he finds the dwarf Broga already snoring away.

The sound of knocking brings Marius out of his dreams too early. He reluctantly gets up and answers the door to find blinding daylight and Elorn’s young page. The boy declares that Marius must gather his friends and attend the ceremony at noon, then darts away without waiting for questions or offering any further explanation. He notes that it’s only two hours until the appointed time, so he wakes Broga, who somehow slept through the noise, and leaves the longhouse to begin the task of gathering his scattered companions.

Their first stop is the shrine where he left Corryn sleeping on the floor. Though Felayne is still there, sleeping in a chair next to Berchan’s bed, Corryn is nowhere to be found. Neither Marius nor Broga wish to disturb Felayne to ask where he has gone, so they quietly leave the shrine. Remembering seeing Tyree on the wall during last night’s goose chase for Elorn, the two head there and are easily able to find the big Avar dutifully sleeping at his post. Having no idea where Armon might have run off to, they ask the few Avar they see, eventually finding a young woman that remembers the Nevarrian helping her behind the shrine. Locating the stubborn warrior proves as difficult as waking him, but they are eventually successful. Wanting to be presentable for the ceremony, Armon takes some time to clean off most of the blood before rejoining the group. Tyree guesses that the most likely place for this ceremony is near the sacred animal pit, since the shrine is already occupied. Having no leads on Corryn’s whereabouts and running short on time, the crew heads there, hoping their missing mage finds his own way.

Arriving at the pit, it’s easy to discern that Tyree’s guess was right. A single line of Avar stand with their backs to the pit. Some are familiar; the elusive Elorn, the haggard Thane Owyne, but some are new; the abrupt young hunter Treon, and a young man with a staff, presumably Elorn’s apprentice. The old woman that scolded Corryn earlier stands off to the side with a tired looking Rowenna. Their missing companion Corryn waits, facing the line of Avar men, to the relief of all. Armon and Tyree take their perceived places next to Corryn, but Broga and Marius follow no such protocol. The curious dwarf walks up to the edge of the pit to peer in, wondering if the lion was reimprisoned after its part in the battle. Elorn’s young page sneaks up behind him, pretends to push him in, then runs away laughing at the startled dwarf. Receiving a glare from Elorn, Broga sulks up to his position. The page then shoves Marius until he takes his place in line. Marius then breaks the uncomfortable silence, addressing Elorn, but before he can finish his question, the shaman makes a gesture with his hands, telling Marius in no uncertain terms to be quiet. Rowenna steps forward and takes her place in line facing Corryn. Elorn takes a step forward to Broga, and presents him with a white bow, then steps back into position. Marius receives the young apprentice’s staff, Treon presents a viridium maul to Tyree and Corryn receives a pair of bracers covered in silver scales from Rowenna. Finally, Thane Owyne steps forward to present Armon with the ancient sword, Aamar Fin. He takes it solemnly, and does his best to try not to hear it’s singing.

After the presentation of the gifts, Rowenna leaves the line and returns to the old woman. Elorn finally breaks the silence, proclaiming gratitude towards the lowlander saviors of Redhold. However, his tone takes an unexpected and threatening turn as he shifts his remarks from the heroes to Thane Owyne. He proclaims their leader has failed them, that the gods have visited this misfortune on his people due to his incompetence. Owyne listens to the comments with resigned silence, offering no excuses nor resistance. When Elorn finishes, Owyne unseaths his sword, hands it to his son Treon, then turns to face the sacred animal pit. Without prodding or provocation, he walks forward right off the edge and disappears. The stunned onlookers listen for the sounds of tearing flesh and rending bones, as they expect Vron to tear the man to pieces, but are only treated with a thump as the Avar hits the sandy floor of the pit.

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The end of the tunnel

Thane Owyne declares that he needs to regroup his archers for a possible third wave of attackers, and Rowenna is adamant that they follow the two Hurlocks still loose in the village. The lowlanders decide to split up and escort the Avar, lest either runs into any more trouble. Armon and Corryn follow Rowenna and the tracks west, while Tyree, Broga, and Marius follow Owyne north along the interior of Redhold’s stone wall. The two groups quickly lose site of each other in the thick darkness of the Frostback’s pre-dawn twilight.

Being a skilled tracker, Rowenna easily follows the clumsy Darkspawn tracks with the help of Corryn’s floating light wisp. The scene of a struggle comes into view where one arrow filled Hurlock and three Avar bodies lie on the ground. After a few moments of inspection, Rowenna hurries off to the west without a word, leaving Corryn and Armon struggling to keep up. She arrives at the far west side of town, against a sheer cliff wall near a tunnel entrance, takes a quick survey of the area, then rushes inside. The exhausted and injured Armon offers to guard the entrance to prevent an ambush from behind. Corryn leaves him there to follow the Avar woman into the tunnel.

Thane Owyne leads his group to the banquet hall, where they find the door has been barricaded. Signaling his lowlander protectors to stay back but be alert, he creeps up to the door and makes a series of complex knocks. Another knocking pattern is heard from the inside, followed by the scraping sound of moving furniture. Owyne returns to the group and motions them forward, taking them deeper into town in search of the remaining archers. 

Around the first bend of the winding tunnels, Corryn notices spots of blood on the stone floor, leading to the body of Felayne’s faithful old Mabari hound. He had been violently gutted, no doubt the work of the last Hurlock in Redhold. The pair hurries on, hoping they are not too late. The mage takes the lead around the next blind corner and he feels a slight breeze as a sword swing passes directly in front of his face. Felayne recognizes him with relief, then begs for his help. Appearing not to be injured, Corryn doesn’t quite understand what help she needs, until she points off to his left, where the Hurlock lies on the floor next to the Arl’s young son Berchan Wulff.

After locating the second group of archers, Thane Owyne informs his companions that they must return to the gate to dispose of the Darkspawn bodies and remain vigilant in the event of another attack. Grumbling at the Thane for treating them like common laborers, Marius nonetheless agrees to supervise the activities. He and Tyree head back to begin the long cleanup process. At the mention of work, Broga mysteriously disappears.

Rowenna makes sure that the Darkspawn on the floor is actually dead, while Corryn checks Berchan, hoping the opposite. Small puffs of breath in the chilly cave air indicate that he lives. Corryn pumps the boy full of mystical energy, bringing him back to consciousness. However the color does not return to his face. Even as he opens his eyes and declares that he did his duty by protecting Felayne, Corryn knows there is something terribly wrong. Felayne begs and pleads with him to help the boy, to which Corryn responds that he cannot. Rowenna touches Felayne on the shoulder, offering a stoic show of sympathy, as if the boy is already dead. In that moment of silence, the slightest sound catches her keen Avar senses. She takes off deeper into the tunnels. Corryn follows, calling back over his shoulder to Felayne to wait there.

After a few more twists and turns, the flickering torchlight ahead betrays the location of the Avar refugees. Rowenna stops to have a quiet word with one of the elder Avar, then continues on past the camp to the dark tunnels beyond, slowing as she reaches the edge of the torchlight. Corryn rushes to catch up, finally getting close enough to ask what is going on without shouting. “Don’t you hear it?” she questions him. He admits that he does not, but she offers no further explanation. 

After a few minutes traveling away from the refugees through the chilly tunnels, the sound of limping footsteps echoes through the cave from behind. They turn to see Azur, the wounded, lovesick Avar, struggling with his crutches to catch up with them. He also questions Rowenna, but he states the people have been hearing the unusual sound since they went into hiding this evening. She informs them of their costly victory at the front gate and orders him to evacuate everyone from the tunnels. He limps away to do her bidding, leaving Rowenna and Corryn to follow the mysterious sound. 

Eventually as they get nearer the source of the sound, Corryn is able to make out a repetitive tapping. It becomes loudest at a dead end, where Rowenna presses her ear to the solid stone.  "Something is trying to tunnel through," she declares. Corryn optimistically suggests that it might be friendly dwarves, which is received with a skeptical expression. He learns from Rowenna that barrels of Qunari black powder were going to be used to collapse the tunnels in the event that the walls were breached. Corryn estimates several hours before the unknown miners will break through, so they head back the way they came to oversee the evacuation and inform the heroes of Redhold that the fight might not be over yet.

The eldest Avar explains to Corryn that the barrels of black powder were going to be ignited by an archer with flaming arrows from ten yards back. He bids the old man to tell his friends to meet him in the tunnels. On his way out, Corryn notices that the Darkspawn corpse has been moved. He asks Felayne, who is nearby tending to Berchan’s wounds, what happened. She avoids his gaze and claims she doesn’t know. When Corryn calls her out, she quickly adds that she turned it over so it would stop staring at her. She nearly gets away with that one, until Corryn thinks better of it and asks her again, with a more threatening tone. “He’s going to die, I have to do something!” she pleads with him. She reveals a small glass vial filled with a black liquid, and claims that she knows a little of the Grey Warden ritual that may save Berchan’s life. Now his turn to wear a skeptical expression, he expresses serious doubt in her ability to perform a secret ritual known only to the Grey Wardens. To earn his trust, she reveals her most guarded secret; that her father was a Grey Warden. Since they are not normally allowed to have children, Corryn still doubts her, but she seems to at least believe it herself. He tells her to hold off for now, but keep it with her to use it only as a last resort.

At the tunnel entrance, Armon waits patiently, tending his self-appointed guard post dutifully. As the Avar begin to leave the safety of the cave, most of them pay the lowlander little attention. One wizened old Avar approaches, delivering an approximation of Corryn’s message. He recommends that Armon enter the cave to stop his friend from doing anything stupid, then hobbles off eastward to deliver his cryptic message to Tyree, Marius and Broga. Armon hurriedly enters the tunnel, weaving past the refugees until he comes upon Rowenna, Corryn and Felayne. They are loading the punk kid Berchan onto a makeshift stretcher. Armon recognizes his gray pallor, but asks to confirm his suspicions. Corryn avoids his questions as they take the boy and leave the tunnel, distracting him with some nonsense story about Darkspawn digging through from behind. From his training, Armon knows that if a soldier looked like that, he’d be put down. He lets the stretcher pass, not heartless enough quite yet to put the boy to the sword himself.

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All we need now is a tiger

As Marius continues to blast back the Hurlocks scaling the north wall and Broga rains down arrows from his borrowed longbow, Thane Owyne orders his Avar archers to concentrate all fire on the Bersekarn attempting to smash through his hold’s front gate. Occupied with the Hurlocks surrounding them, Armon and Corryn are unable to assist in stopping the massive bear-creature. Seeing his opportunity to be a savior to his people (or perhaps a martyr) Tyree grabs one of the Darkspawn grappling hooks still stuck in the wall from one of Marius’ victims and ties the rope around his waist. In a reckless act of heroism and stupidity, he runs past Elorn and Marius to the top of the gate, then leaps onto the back of the beast, plants the hook into the rotting flesh, hopes it will hold, then begins hacking at the beast. Being immune to pain of all kinds, the bear takes no notice and continues it’s assault uninterrupted.

As if in response to some unheard signal, the Hurlocks engaging the south wall defenders unexpectedly break off their attack and leap off the platform into the interior of Redhold. Owyne follows, hoping to stop them from reaching the noncombatants hiding in the east tunnels. Rowenna joins him and together they successfully attract the ire of three Hurlocks. Two others ignore them however, and continue deeper into the settlement.

Atop the battlements, Marius and Broga shift their focus to the Bersekarn’s Hurlock handlers, hoping that if they destroy it’s captors, it might notice it’s freedom and lose interest in attacking them. The Tevinter mage, annoyed that Elorn doesn’t appear to be doing anything useful just standing there with his eyes closed, makes the most of the final few seconds of the eccentric shaman’s blooming flower, unleashing his most powerful spells before it sputters and disappears. Killing the Hurlocks holding the Bersekarn’s chains seems to have no effect on the bear’s disposition, which continues it’s surprisingly ineffective attack on the sturdy gate.

The aged Thane, struggles to defeat the three Hurlocks he engaged, and is soon mortally wounded, leaving Rowenna to stand against the remaining Darkspawn alone. Corryn and Armon notice her predicament and abandon their posts on the wall, taking the stolen ladder down to ground level to assist the harried Avar. Armon distracts the Darkspawn while Corryn uses his magical talents to bring Owyne back to consciousness and heal the worst of Rowenna’s wounds. Two of the Hurlocks attempt to flee, but Corryn pursues. Though he dispatches them with relative ease, the chase leaves him separated from the others in the quiet darkness of the empty city.

Frustrated with the stubborn gate’s refusal to yield, the bersekarn ceases it’s attack momentarily, takes a step back, then launches itself forward, using its thick head to ram the gate. It’s Avar rider loses footing, but the grappling hook becomes wedged between two protruding bone spikes and miraculously holds, leaving Tyree dangling dangerously close to the beast’s maw. It snaps at Tyree, but is unable to dislodge the nusiance. It’s frustrated, bellowing roar sends the Avar archers scattering in fear, leaving only the few stout of heart left as Redhold’s last line of defense. 

p. A roar from the interior of Redhold causes everyone but Elorn to turn and fear the worst. A four legged beast, revealed by the light of Corryn’s wisp, races past him, making directly for Armon, Rowenna, and Owyne. Vron, the huge red lion, Redhold’s namesake and spiritual animal, bites his first Darkspawn victim clean in half. Just then the air is filled with the sound of splintering wood and a pained roar of triumph. The huge bersekarn head finally pushes the gate ajar, allowing the remains of the Darkspawn force to enter the hold. 

The incoming enemies are slowed by Marius’ makeshift spear wall set behind the gate, allowing the defenders the time they need to regroup around the opening. One of the Hurlock handlers walking past Marius’ thwarted victim, kicks the still conscious thing, grunting something indiscernible. It rises again but is unable to fit through the crowded  gate opening, so instead it resumes the climb up the wall. Now free of enemies thanks to Vron, Armon heads to the gate to join Marius and Broga in their attempt to stem the flow of enemies. The lion follows, and the group makes a valiant effort to keep the Darkspawn at bay. That soon becomes a secondary priority when the Bersekarn finally pushes the broken gate far enough open to step through, carelessly trampling anything in it’s way.

A deafening shriek makes Corryn pause on his way back to join the others. A dark form seems to materialize out of the darkness right beside him. It’s razor sharp teeth, pointed ears, embedded weapons, and most notably the eerie sound it makes, mark it as a Sharlock, more commonly known as a Shriek, the stealthy assassins of the Darkspawn ranks. The Shriek has a difficult time penetrating the Mage’s formidable defenses, and is quickly defeated. Another one appears next to Rowenna and jabs her with it’s crude blade, causing her to cry out. Corryn is soon at her side when two more Shrieks appear, cutting them off from the melee at the gate.

Finally reaching the top of the wall, the last Hurlock outside Redhold gives the oblivious Elorn a nasty gash before the shaman’s repulsion field knocks it back to the ground. Elorn quickly closes his eyes and begins to concentrate again.  

Using his formidable kinetic abilities, Marius blasts the Bersekarn off it’s feet, crushing the few Darkspawn careless enough to still be underfoot. It growls in frustration, but does not rise, instead choosing to throw it’s weight against the gate, crushing Tyree between it’s considerable mass and the splintered wood and battered stone of his broken home. Rather than attacking the Darkspawn as expected, Vron claws at Thane Owyne, who in turn swings at the lion. Suddenly confused and torn between which beast to attack, Armon reluctantly lets the authority figure fend for himself. His strike at the prone Bersekarn covers his red blade with the black blood of the tainted creature and nearly separates the bear’s head from it’s body. Still not defeated though, the Bersekarn strikes back, nearly murdering Armon with a single blow. Luckily, Marius finishes off the beast with a single arcane bolt, saving Armon the trouble and any further injury. 

Tyree, still alive and conscious, disentangles himself from the bear and the rope while Owyne, not taking any chances, makes sure the trampled Darkspawn are dead by thrusting his sword into each one. The lion and the lowlanders rush to help Corryn and Rowenna with the Sharlocks. No one notices the last Darkspawn outside rise once more to make the climb up the stone wall. Again he reaches the shaman, wounds him and is repulsed back. This time though, it does not rise again.

Aware of their poison using tendencies, Marius keeps his distance from the Shrieks. Armon, in his wounded state, charges right in. Vron takes a swipe at the nearby Broga before running off to join the fray. The frail shrieks are no match for the beast and the seasoned warriors and are quickly defeated. Even after they die, their poison runs it’s course, nearly killing Armon and Rowenna. Corryn is able to stabilize them, then the ragged group prepares for a possible battle with the fickle red lion. However, it gives them a contemptuous growl and bounds off, disappearing once more into the darkness of the silent village. With the immediate dangers apparently behind them, the heroes of Redhold take a short moment to rest and decide what to do next.

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The Last Stand

The break in the attack offers everyone a moment of respite, allowing Corryn the opportunity to mend a few wounds, using up all of his remaining magical reserves. The mysterious Elorn appears to assist as well, soon followed by the leader of Redhold, Thane Owyne. He had been protecting the southern wall and appears battered and bloody, but declares that the Avar successfully fended off the Darkspawn attempts to enter the hold. Just like at the front gate, only the common Genlocks attacked, neither the scout’s reported Hurlocks nor the larger unidentified creature anywhere in sight. Taking this to mean a second wave is forthcoming and seeing the ragged state of the lowlanders and the small number of archers they have left, Owyne heeds Armon’s advice and calls up all of his reserves to help them defend the front gate. 

Deciding not to let a second wave reap the fruits of the first, Tyree and Broga haul up the crude ladders, placing one on either side of the gate on the inside to expedite the route between platforms. Another ladder is deconstructed in an attempt to build a device to assist with pushing any further ladders off the wall. Elorn, sensing that his fellow mages are exhausted, conjures a large floating flower near each of Marius’ and Corryn’s designated positions. The green glowing bloom made entirely of light continually blossoms and dies, reinvigorating the nearby mage with each cycle. As he finishes with Marius’ and warns them that it won’t last long, another horn sounds, signaling  the arrival of the second wave. 

 p. Large humanoid creatures wearing heavy armor and wicked grins saunter out from the trees in  five groups of three. They are immediately peppered with arrows, but take almost no notice, and arrive at the wall much quicker than their predecessors, except the pair Marius catches in his blast of kinetic energy. Armon suggests that the archers fall back, but since their Thane is now present, they pay Armon little mind. Elorn takes the opportunity to surround himself with a pulsing energy that will repel any enemy that tries to get close, which the nearby Marius is also grateful for. Expecting to have the opportunity as before to throw down the grappling hooks, Tyree is unpleasantly surprised when the first Hurlock easily scales the wall with nothing but his bare claws. 

Several other Darkspawn follow suit, but they do not all seem as adept at climbing and some do toss up hooks. Marius is able to keep his section of the wall clear by knocking back the creatures as they climb. They seem undeterred, however, and repeatedly climb the same section despite the futility. Between his blasts, Tyree’s devastating arcs, Broga’s precision strikes, and the formidable power of two mages, the north wall stays relatively clear. The south side, however, does not fare quite as well and is soon embroiled in a chaotic melee.

By making excellent use of the Avar archers, with Corryn and Rowenna in support, the first few Hurlocks to arrive at the south wall are easily killed. A few more creep out of the forest and join the attack, putting on more pressure than the archers can handle. Armon and Thane Owyne stand together against a pair of Hurlocks that slipped past the rain of arrows when Owyne notices more of the creatures advancing on Rowenna. He orders Armon to break off and protect her, but Armon is reluctant to do so. He finally relents, but just as he turns to go, one of the Darkspawn opens a wicked wound in the Thane’s side. He makes the move to assist, but is ordered again to protect Rowenna. He soon has no choice but to stand his ground half-way between Owyne and Rowenna as two Hurlocks engage him. Corryn, this time, stays put, needing Elorn’s bloom to replenish his reserves, and does his best to assist the swordsmen by thinning out the ranks of Darkspawn. 

Amidst the din of battle, something moving in the forest catches Tyree’s attention. He shouts out a warning, but it is unnecessary. Soon everyone is staring at the hulking monstrosity crashing through the trees, a fifteen foot creature that may have once been a bear, but has been twisted into a hideous charicature of it’s former self. Marius recognizes the rotting torn flesh, protruding bone spurs and pain filled expression from his research, though he has never been face to snout with one. This is a Bersekarn, one of the results of the blight sickness spread by the Darkspawn. It exists in constant pain and therefore is not affected by it. Four Hurlocks lead the beast by chains, goading it forward directly towards Redhold’s main gate.

At the Thane’s orders, the archers direct all fire at the new threat, now ignoring the Hurlocks directly in front of them. Though many shafts hit home, the beast does not have any visible reaction to the rain of arrows. Marius tries the tactic that has proven so successful thus far, sending a powerful blast of kinetic energy to slow it down. Though knocked from its feet, it still moves frighteningly fast, arriving at the gate much sooner than the defenders anticipated. A single powerful swipe of a huge, claw-filled paw shatters Marius makeshift table-crossbar, but at least for the moment, the gate holds.

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They mostly come at night...

The smell of breakfast greets Corryn, Marius, Broga, Tyree and Armon as they rise to the chilly mountain air. Already finished with her food, Felayne sees to her puppies while Berchan eats his second helping, leaving not quite enough for the rest of them. Tyree asks after Rowenna, but neither Felayne nor Berchan have seen her. After finishing their meal, the men head out into the village, seeking Thane Owyne to learn what his plans for defense are and what role they might play. Recalling the building from the previous night’s feast, they easily locate the Thane’s quarters. The guards do not give them any trouble, and they enter to find a young, sweaty, dirty scout giving his report.

The Avar scout estimates the night-ganger force is two-hundred fifty strong, most of which are the squat genlocks, but some the taller, more muscular hurlocks. He also caught a glimpse of something bigger, but did not dare get close enough to discover what it was. He expects the horde will be here within three days. Owyne thanks the boy and dismisses him, turning to his small war council to discuss the battle plan. Looking over a crude map of Redhold he points out some tunnels that burrow under the Frostbacks on the west side of the hold. Those unable to defend with bow or sword, he says, will wait there. That will also be their destination should the walls be breached and Redhold lost. They can collapse the tunnels behind them, hopefully buying them enough time to escape. He asks Tyree and his company if they would be willing to defend the main gate. He can only offer twenty archers in support. They stoically accept and leave immediately to start reinforcing the gate and constructing a strategy.

Since most of the loose stone had been used by the Avar as building material, Marius is unable to locate boulders of sufficient size to block the gate to his satisfaction. He settles for using one of the wooden banquet tables, but is unable to produce anything more advanced than pointy sticks. He places the stakes behind the gate to slow down and injure enemies should they get through and uses another table to add a second cross bar. On the advice of Tyree, Broga disables the gate’s opening mechanism, trying to make sure he can re-enable it without much difficulty should they need to escape. Armon spends his time organizing the few archers Owyne has allocated him and checking for sewers the Darkspawn might use to circumvent the wall and defenses altogether. He finds none, nor any other obvious flaws in Redhold’s architectural design. Almost without notice, the three days fly by in the flurry of preparations. The entire hold waits restlessly in morbid anticipation of the coming battle, but they do not have to wait for long.

A few hours after dusk on the third night, a horn sounds, indicating the arrival of the horde. Felayne, not a combatant herself quite yet despite Armon’s efforts, asks Tyree if he will take Osric, her faithful Mabari hound, to the defense of the front gate where he might be of some use. Verifying first that the dog will actually listen to him, Tyree gratefully accepts. Berchan grabs his short sword and makes to go with them, determined not to be left behind. Corryn, anticipating that might happen, holds him back, gives him a very serious look and solemnly entrusts him with keeping Felayne safe. Stunned by the gravity of the request, he nods and gives his vow of honor that he will. Without another word, Berchan, Felayne, and the puppies leave for the western tunnels, while the defenders head east to the main gate.

Rowenna, their former hostess, longbow in hand, greets the defenders, who take up their positions on the wall either side of the gate. Marius, Tyree, Broga and the canines take the shorter north wall, while Armon and Corryn join Rowenna on the longer south side. Corryn casts his protective Rock Armor, expecting to be in the thick of the fighting. Several groups of the heavily armored, squat, deformed genlocks slowly advance from the tree line out into the clearing around Redhold. As they do, the Avar archers, Broga and the mages do their best to pick the night-gangers off before they reach the hold. Their thick armor proves difficult to penetrate though, so the majority of the beasts successfully make it to the base of the fifteen foot wall surrounding the hold. Upon arrival, each Genlock tosses up a grappling hook then scales the wall. Their slow speed gives the stronger defenders, namely Tyree and Armon, the opportunity to toss the hooks down, unfortunate for those Genlocks who happen to be mid-climb. Eventually though, a few make it up, draw their wicked barbed blades, and begin to wreak havoc among the Avar archers. 

Soon after the Genlocks gain purchase on the wall, a second wave emerges from the forest carrying several crude fifteen foot ladders. Between swordstrokes and parries, Armon directs the archers to take out the new arrivals, but being just as heavily armored as the first wave and with half the ranged defenders under direct assault, the ladders are soon firmly in place, allowing the remainder of the horde quick access to the top of the wall. Now pressured by the foul creatures, Rowenna and Broga drop their bows, preparing for close combat.

Defending a position near one of the ladders, Corryn and Rowenna are quickly surrounded and cut off from Armon. Though his protective spell keeps him going longer than would be possible otherwise, Corryn is nevertheless overwhelmed.  Armon fights his way through to aid his companion, taking some pressure off the mage. Soon after, a barbed blade to the stomach causes Rowenna to cry out. Seeing that she is gravely injured, Corryn abandons Armon to assist her, bringing attention back to himself. Rather than fleeing, as Armon advises, the stubborn and chivalrous Corryn stays at Rowenna’s side, healing and slinging spells as best he can with what little resources he has left. He downs his lone lyrium potion, steeling himself against it’s addictive effects and fights on. 

Faring a bit better across the way, Tyree sweeps the attackers off the wall with mighty swings of his two-handed sword, longing for his maul with every blow. Meanwhile, Broga weaves in and out of the attackers, precisely stabbing with each move, infuriating the Darkspawn with every cut and narrowly missing being toppled off the wall himself. Content to let the archers, dogs and Tyree take the brunt of the assault, Marius sits behind using his ranged powers to inflict as much damage as possible while still conserving his resources. Osric and Dog, while not very effective at damaging the heavily armored foes, are able to distract and occasionally knock down a few enemies. In the confusion, Broga knocks one of the creatures off the platform into the hold, hoping the fall would kill it, then darts back into the fray. The Genlocks soon cut down all but one of the Avar archers on the north side of the wall, leaving Tyree, Marius, Broga and the dogs to contend with the seven remaining Genlocks. Knowing that if Tyree falls he would soon be surrounded, Marius rushes up behind him to apply bandages. As soon as he does though, more barbed blades inflict further wounds, making it a losing race. Pulling the red potion from his satchel, he hopes he identified it correctly and pours it down Tyree’s throat, revitalizing him a small amount. At Tyree’s behest, the last Avar archer finally flees down the stairs, but meets his end by the Genlock Broga had knocked down earlier, leaving Tyree the last Avar defender of the north wall.

Just before the strike that would end Corryn’s life, Elorn, the eccentric Avar shaman, unexpectedly appears as if out of thin air, heals Corryn, offers a few words of encouragement, then vanishes just as quickly. Knowing that retreating would be prudent, but also that Dog would not follow, Tyree holds his position against the remaining enemies. He orders Osric to leave and return to his master, knowing that if the Mabari stayed, he would surely be killed. He obediently follows orders, but appears displeased at being dismissed. Tyree and Dog, valiant to the last, take out most of the Darkspawn but eventually succumb to their wounds.  

The last remaining Genlock on the south wall is dispatched by Rowenna, allowing Corryn and Armon to disengage and head north to aid the others. Knowing that time is critical, Corryn makes the daring decision to run along the top of the gate rather than take the longer but safer route down and back up the stairs. Broga and Marius finish up what Tyree started, leaving only one Genlock alive. The last creature flees, using one of the ladders still in place to make it safely back over the wall out into the field. He does not make it far though, going down half-way across with a dwarf-shot arrow in his back. Marius rushes to help Tyree, finding his companion unconscious, but still alive. Having successfully made the journey across the gate, Corryn arrives just in time to heal Dog. Seeing no further enemies at this time, the defenders take a moment to catch their breath, evaluate their resources and decide that if any more Darkspawn are out there, they are doomed.

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Avar Hospitality

Tyree speaks up, addressing Thane Owyne by name, informing him of their intentions. Upon finding the slain Avar on the road and noticing the unusual makeup and number of guards they have come to see what problems the Avar are facing and offer what help they can. Questioning what sort of help these ‘lowlanders’ could offer and unsure of their true intentions, the Thane nevertheless consents to at least discuss it further in a more comfortable setting. He orders the gates opened and the strangers admitted. Several guards work pullies to swing open the massive iron-bound gates, welcoming the company into the chilly stone settlement. 

Thane Owyne suggests that they rest for a while before discussing business. He instructs a handsome young women to be their guide and show them to their accommodations. She introduces herself as Rowenna, but offers no other information. The weary group gladly agrees and after Tyree has a quiet word with the Thane, follows Rowenna through the village. Not having what the city-dwellers would traditionally call roads, they wind between seemingly haphazardly placed stone buildings. As they pass through, Armon notices that many houses stand empty, no smoke rising from their chimneys despite the bitter cold. The Avar residents they see in front of several houses, mostly women, children and elderly, are fletching arrows, sharpening swords, and repairing suits of leather armor. Noticing her unease, Marius makes an effort to find out why but is scoffed at. She can’t believe a lowlander would care about an Avar’s troubles, and bluntly tells him so. However, she makes a visible effort to be cheerier for the remainder of the walk. She explains that the hospitality agreement Tyree secured with the Thane protects them from overt hostilities, but that doesn’t mean they should expect to get a warm reception.

The longhouse Rowenna leads them too is a squat stone structure large enough to accommodate all of them comfortably. Corryn makes straight for the bath, and Rowenna unexpectedly takes a seat near the door, watching everyone settle in in awkward silence. Berchan busies himself with his favorite puppy, while Armon laments not having gone to the bath first, now having to wash in the slightly used water. Hearing his complaints, Rowenna offers to have his armor cleaned. Reluctant to part with it, he finally relents when Corryn returns. She takes the smelly leather armor and her leave. Tyree, relieved that the spy finally left, gathers everyone together to formulate their next move. He admits that he is actually from Redhold, but does not go into details about the circumstances of his departure or his reluctance to return. Determined to uncover what exactly is going on in Redhold, they decide to wait for the meeting with the Thane before making any decisions. Tyree then excuses himself to take care of some personal business, leaving Armon to his bath.

Some hours later, Rowenna returns to the longhouse with Armon’s armor, a small boy, and a message. Elorn, Redhold’s shaman, would like to speak with them. With Tyree still absent, Marius, Armon, Corryn and Broga leave Felayne to look after Berchan and follow Rowenna back out into the hold. This time she leads them west of the main gate to a grassy clearing free of buildings, a site, she tells them, known as the sacred animal pit. In the center near a large stone-lined circular hole, a tall thin man draped in ill fitting black robes leans on a gnarly staff. Curving up off his back are ornately decorated antlers, upon which is perched a sleepy little owl, at his feet a small white goat on a short leash . “I am Elorn, shaman of Redhold. The sleepy one is Sisilia. I believe you’ve already met,” he says, directing his last comment towards Corryn. Sisilia opens her eyes briefly to inspect the newcomers. Corryn winks at her. She winks back, but quickly tires of the game and ignores the multitude of additional winks he sends her way.

The disheveled shaman questions each man in turn, learning what he can about their past, present, future and character. Who are you? Where have you been? Where are you going? What is the difference between a brave man and a fool? He takes particular interest in their encounter with the red lion as angry rumbles from the pit punctuate the conversation. Mostly he nods sagely, but he seems unsure of Armon’s answers. Using his staff, he traces a circle of green light in the air near Armon’s chest. Corryn recognizes it as a magical attempt to reveal untruths, but surprisingly does not leap to accuse Elorn of his obvious apostate status. Seemingly satisfied with their answers, he deigns to answer some of their questions. 

Corryn  asks how he avoids spiritual possession without formal chantry training. Elorn laughs heartily, claiming he invites the spirits in and sends them away at his whim. Armon peeks over the edge of the stone circle to see Vron, a massive red lion, the spiritual animal and namesake of Redhold. In response to Armon’s inquiry about the beast, Elorn muses “As Vron goes, so go we all.” Unable to comprehend the spirituality of the statement, Armon repeatedly insists that since Vron is a prisoner of the Avar he doesn’t go anywhere. Exasperated, Elorn suggests that Armon obtain a spiritual animal of his own, so that he might become enlightened. Curious about the lack of able-bodied warriors, Marius asks where all the men have gone. Elorn indicates that Thane Owyne had sent the hunters out later in the season than usual, and he is obviously bitter about it. Not one has returned, except the pitiful Azur, and the wayward boy Tyree. They decide to have a little chat with this Azur to see what intel he might have.

Rowenna agrees to show them to Azur’s home, and leads them to a nondescript building much like all the others. Marius knocks on the door, and a young man answers. He looks a frightful mess, with one arm in a sling, a cane in the other, several cuts and bruises covering his face. He politely invites his visitors in, then hobbles back inside to take a seat next to them. Armon leads the charge by immediately asking him where the missing Izot is, but Azur vehemently denies knowing anything about it. Taking a different tact, Corryn asks how he received his injuries, and offers his healing services. Although relieving some of his pain, only time can heal his broken arm and dislocated ankle. Azur tells him that a rival Avar named Banur caused his injuries, only letting him live so as not to start a centuries long fued by killing Redhold’s Thane’s nephew. He does not have any information about the Darkspawn or the slaughtered farmers. Putting the pieces together, Corryn comes to the realization that the trail of the injured man heading south of the air burial must have been Azur. Stating that Izot must have been a pretty prize, Armon provokes Azur into blurting out that Izot isn’t anyone’s property. Caught in his own lie, Azur admits that Izot voluntarily left with him since neither his people nor hers would approve of their marriage. Banur ambushed them on the way out of the country, killing two of his friends. Izot managed to take out one of Banur’s men during the conflict, impressing Banur enough that he decided to keep her rather than kill her. Convinced that Izot is still alive and in no condition to search for her, Azur asks if Armon and his friends would be willing to go after Izot. Having already decided to for Berchan and Felayne, he accepts the request.

Leaving Azur to rest, they find Rowenna missing, and so return on their own to their lodging. In the longhouse common room, wearing proper Avar clothing, Felayne and Berchan play with the Mabari puppies. She informs them that the Thane has invited them all to a feast in celebration of their guests. Four Avar outfits have been left. Surprisingly, even Broga’s clothes are sized perfectly. Marius hesitates to change, wondering if it would be considered an insult, but not wishing to attend the feast without his cloak. He settles for wearing it over the Avar clothing, giving him a mismatched awkward appearance.

Rowenna arrives to take them to the feast and leads them to the Thane’s hall where the celebration has already started. They take their place of honor and nervously eat the foreign food. Armon notices that the majority of the Avar are devouring the meal as if they haven’t eaten well in some time or expect not to again anytime soon. Before the final course, Owyne discreetly asks them to join him in his quarters, leaving the people to finish the feast without their guests. Few of them even notice, being so intent on the meal.
 
p. Owyne speaks plainly, not wanting to waste any time or risk a misunderstanding. An army of Darkspawn are massing in the forest, the same that slaughtered his farmers. With his hunters still gone, Redhold is extremely vulnerable, which is where they come in. Elorn has assured the Thane that these adventurers are the Trickster god’s answer to his prayers. Being the trickster god, his solutions are unorthodox to say the least. He asks them directly if they would be willing assist him in defense of the hold against the coming army. Armon is quick to offer an exchange for his help in locating the kidnapped Izot. Agreeing, but not believing that this is enough incentive, he continues with his proposal. From a wooden box, he produces a large bundle of burgundy velvet. Slowly unwrapping it’s contents, a warm light escapes the fabric, until a glowing golden blade is revealed. He holds it forth, naming it Amor Fin, an ancient blade from time before remembering. This he offers in exchange for what lives they can spare by defending Redhold. Without consulting his companions Armon, eagerly agrees. The Thane then dismisses them to return to the feast, retiring for the evening. Leaving the Thane’s quarters, Armon immediately begins planning the defenses, while Marius looks around at the faces of the Avar women, children and elderly, pessimistic about their chances of survival, and makes a mental note to check for escape routes.

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An Unexpected Visitor

Although the Darkspawn patrol lies dead at their feet, Corryn surmises that this couldn’t possibly have been all of them.  Even though the slain are obviously not warriors, Avar are a hardy folk and would not have been overwhelmed by such a small number of opponents. Marius estimates at least five-hundred corpses lay on the mile long swath of destruction, so a much larger force of Darkspawn must have been responsible. Corryn suggests that they investigate the nearby Avar settlement of Redhold indicated on Marius’ map to see if it is still standing. Fearing a Blight, he is anxious to gather information and report to his superiors immediately. However, Tyree is adamant that the Avar residents will not welcome them. Before they have a chance to argue further, a scream from behind them steals their attention. 

The men quickly rush back to defend their charge to find Felayne, sitting in her wagon perfectly safe. She sheepishly says that she thinks she saw something moving in the fog, slightly embarassed at having panicked. Armon, Marius and Broga grumble about Felayne’s overreaction to such a minor incident, while Tyree slips silently off into the mist. The reality of the tragedy that lies ahead of them on the road is broken indelicately by Corryn, and Felayne does not take the news well. Eventually noticing Tyree’s absence, Armon tries to follow, but only suceeds in losing sight of the wagon and all his companions.

A small solitary figure crouches in the fog, straining to hear the voices nearby. Suddenly large hands grab him from behind, lifting him from his feet. Able to reach his short sword, he yanks it free from it’s ornate scabbard and stabs blindly at his huge assailant. Clawing, biting and kicking, the boy does everything in his power to break the iron grip, but is unable to escape. Seeing that his captive is no real threat, Tyree tries to calm the boy, but to no avail, so he drags him back unwillingly to the wagon. Still vehemently struggling, he’s plopped into the back of the wagon near the puppies. Now finally seeing his face, the boy opens his eyes and mouth widely in surprise, points at Tyree, and yells, “You did it! You kidnapped my sister! Give her back right now!”

No matter how much Tyree denies it, the boy is convinced he found the culprit he’s been looking for, the Avar that kidnapped his sister Izot and his band of accomplices. Tyree tries to explain that he and his companions have been nowhere near Elmridge, but that he’s come from the north, helping a woman take her puppies south. The well dressed boy, obviously privileged and used to getting his way, changes his tone quickly, demanding to see this woman. Armon finally wanders out of the fog and back to the wagon while Tyree calls for Felayne to come around from the front of the wagon where she was waiting. At the sight of the young boy, in confused recognition and shocked surprise, she hesitantly asks “Berchan? What are you doing here?”

All eyes now on Felayne, she blushes and explains quietly that this appears to be Berchan, the youngest son of Arl Wulff of the West Hills Arling, who by now should be about eleven years old, although she has not seen him in many years. She also adds that Arl Wulf is the intended recipient of her Mabari brood, and the missing Izot is her childhood friend. Berchan asks where her father is, but Felayne does not answer. Used to the myriad titles of Nevarra and Orlais where anyone can call himself a lord, Armon is not impressed by this ‘Arl’, until he recalls the Ferelden nobility structure. Arls are just two steps away from the king, the second being the Teyrns, of which there are only two.

Now reluctantly convinced that Tyree has been telling the truth and able to relax a bit, Berchan tells his full tale. His sister was kidnapped, he claims by Avar, several days ago. His father, Arl Wulff, was not able to spare any men to look for her due to the recent Darkspawn attacks. In fact he had already marched with his army to go out and meet the hoard. His mother, he says, has been dead for many years. Berchan easily slipped past his stupid guards and tracked his sister north, until he lost the trail in the wake of the Darkspawn’s handiwork. With a burning passion, he declares that his beautiful sister Izot couldn’t possibly be dead when Armon suggests that they search among the bodies for her. 

They leave Berchan to play with the puppies to discuss their plans out of earshot. Tyree is reluctant to believe that Izot was actually kidnapped. Being an Avar himself, he knows that while raids on low-landers and kidnappings are commonplace it, winter is passed, so the season is wrong. That, the sigil of the Mountain Father carved into a tree and the lack of blood at the crime scene makes him think it could have been staged to frame the Avar, or perhaps Izot went willingly. Even with those possibilities, Corryn believes that they should at least try to find out the truth. With Ferelden having only two Teyrns and five Arls, and King Cailin being childless, Corryn muses that this obnoxious boy might be in line for the throne, or at least some position of power (if he doesn’t get himself killed first). With the potential for great reward and recognition from the undoubtedly rich and powerful Arl for the return of his daughter, Broga and Armon vote in favor of trying to find her. Felayne is surprised when Marius asks her opinion as well, but she timidly expresses in favor of searching for her friend. With night descending and the road blocked, they decide to camp for the night just where they are, then determine the best course of action in the morning.

While camp is being set up, Marius approaches Felayne to discuss what Berchan said about her father. She says plainly that her father is dead. Old age and sickness caught up with him. He usually made this journey with her, explaining why Berchan would have known him. Not comfortable with prying any further, Marius leaves her to her work. Of course, Berchan volunteers to take a watch, confident that he will be a great help. He is paired with Marius for the last shift. Rather than paying attention to his surroundings, he does his best to prove how smart and tough he is by talking the whole time. Marius confuses the boy by simultaneously threatening to leave him behind, telling him that the sleeping Avar would just as soon kill him, and using the cloak to fill him with hope. Doing his fair share of pestering, Marius makes sure Berchan does not fall asleep on duty. Neither of them notice anything out of the ordinary.

Morning dawns revealing tiny shimmering snow crystals lightly covering everything in sight. North of the field of death, Berchan and Tyree compete to try to locate Izot’s trail. They are unable to do so, and in frustration Tyree scolds Berchan for not bringing something of his sisters to give Dog the scent. Armon and Corryn, though lacking in tracking skills, try to assist by looking for clues off the road. Feeling like they’ve done this before, they suddenly recall the footprints a few days back at the scene of the air burial heading southwest that belonged to a woman or elf. Now even more convinced that Redhold should be their next destination, Corryn finally persuades Tyree to visit the hold but only just to take a peek and verify if it’s still standing.

The pair strike out east off the road into the forest, leaving the rest of the company to try to figure out how to get the wagon through the obstacle ahead. Having no shovels, Armon suggests perhaps looting some farming tools off of the fallen to move them. Marius reminds him of the blight sickness and the danger of too much contact with Darkspawn blood or their tainted victims. Not wanting to become infected, Armon abondons that tactic, but can’t think of any other way to pass through. Determined not to be a burden, Felayne claims that her puppies are big and strong enough to walk the rest of the way to Elmridge, although now knowing that the Arl isn’t there, she is not sure what she will do once she gets there.

Tyree and Corryn arrive at the location of Redhold without any difficulty. Forty yards of forest have been cleared away from it’s fifteen foot high stone walls so the guards manning it would have no difficulty seeing, or shooting, anyone approaching. Seeing no signs of a battle, Corryn is satisfied and turns to go, but Tyree holds him back. Taking a closer look, he notices that fewer guards are patrolling the battlements than expected, and also that a higher proportion of them are women. Sensing something seriously wrong, he grudgingly suggests they head back to the wagon and return with everyone to find out exactly what’s going on.

The increasingly unusual band of companions, leaving the wagon hidden among a stand of coniferous trees off to the side of the road, head off into the forest towards Redhold with Berchan and Tyree in the lead. With four horses, two donkeys, seven dogs, 
four men, a woman, a boy and a dwarf, the are hardly stealthy. Approaching Redhold with weapons drawn, as is the Avar custom, they are at least not shot on sight. One of the guards shouts down for them to halt half way across the clearing, and blows a horn. Some minutes later, a man arrives on the battlement and greats them in a deep booming voice, “We don’t usually accept tourists until at least Drakonis. What is your business here?” Corryn wonders allowed what kind of tourists would visit an Avar settlement.

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