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Situation Normal: All F***ed Up [Closed]

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
350
#1
((19 Haring, 35 Dragon; Deep Roads; Sofia di Castelbuono ))

It had been two days since the Wardens had entered the Deep Roads from Orzammar. Or maybe not quite two days. Or maybe a little more. Already, time had taken on a nebulous quality in the absence of the rising and setting of the sun. Decisions to stop for food or rest were made based upon levels of hunger or tiredness, and such stops were generally no longer than they absolutely needed to be. None of them wanted to linger down here, and according to the maps they’d been given, they had nearly a week of travel ahead to reach Cadash Thaig.

They had encountered little in the way of hazards thus far, a fact that had Cauthrien’s nerves on edge in anticipation. They’d run across a Legion of the Dead patrol several hours ago, and the dwarves had reported with some disgust that they’d seen no darkspawn on this outing, which might have been a relief but for the fact that all of the Wardens could feel the presence of the creatures dancing just past the edge of awareness. Combat was inevitable, and even knowing that the delay conserved their strength and their stores of lyrium and healing supplies, a part of the Warden-Constable was itching to get it over with. The giant rats that lurked around the outskirts of Orzammar and were notorious for attacking individuals and even small groups shied away from nine armed and armored Grey Wardens and a golem.

Dirthon … was still with them, but Cauthrien doubted that even a smaller rat would be intimidated by the cringing dwarf. He’d never before set foot outside Orzmmar, and everything about the Deep Roads, from the impenetrable darkness beyond the light from the mages’ staves and Shayle’s crystals, to the tattooed and profane members of the Legion, to the deepstalkers that attacked mindlessly but were easily defeated, terrified him. He stayed close to Shayle, who ignored him, and Cauthrien could hear him muttering what sounded like prayers when he was within earshot.

Perhaps because her nerves were on edge, Cauthrien heard the first faint scrape of rock on rock overhead as the group moved through a narrow fissure. Cave-ins were a hazard they had all been warned of; they were spread out, with Shayle bringing up the rear, Cauthrien and Sofia taking a turn on point, the mage’s staff providing the light with the Warden-Constable the designated meat shield, and the rest of them spread in a loose line of ones and twos, each mage close to a warrior or rogue, each one able to see the next one before and behind. She was already in motion as the first rock struck her helmet; shouting a warning to those behind, she pushed Sofia forward and to the ground, crouching above the mage to shield her as scrape and clatter grew abruptly to a rumble and roar.

Dimly, she could hear the shouts of alarm from behind and Dirthon’s wails of terror. She gritted her teeth and ducked her head, grunting as a sizable stone bounced into her ribs. Not until the rumble and roar had died back down into scrape and clatter, then to silence did she push herelf cautiously to her feet, waving a hand to clear the dusty air away from her face.

“You all right?” she asked Sofia, holding out a hand to assist the mage in rising, heart still racing at the close call - or perhaps more than close. A few shouts through the rubble confirmed that the others had all pulled back in time to avoid more than a few bumps and bruises, but the pile of rocks that lay between them stretched as far up as the light from Sofia’s staff could reach.

“Shit,” she muttered, glaring up at the unstable heap and thinking with resigned irritation of a term she’d learned early in her time in the military from the seasoned and cynical veterans: S.N.A.F.U.

Situation Normal: All Fucked Up.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
102
#2
No sane person liked the Deep Roads. Even without the benefit of Grey Warden senses warning of darkspawn skittering around on their periphery, they were dark, hot, crawling with deepstalkers, and every sound made sent a hundred eerie echoes through the still air. There was no sense in stealth down here. Nonetheless, they travelled mostly without speaking, save Dirthon’s occasional whimpers and the occasional muttered conversation with the Legion of the Dead. The risk didn’t just come from darkspawn and the other monsters of the Roads; the combination of tedium on the long path ahead could dull the senses over time. Sofia kept a mother’s eye on everybody she could, watching for signs of fatigue.

She could not spread her attention everywhere, however, and so missed the meaning of the ominous groan above until something knocked sharply against her skull. Before she could raise her hands to cast something to protect them, she was hit by what felt like an armoured bronto, sending her crashing to the floor. The bronto turned out to be Cauthrien, now crouching above her and shielding her from the debris they hadn’t managed to escape. Sofia flung up her hands against Cauthrien’s breastplate, trying to channel a rock armour spell through the other woman that would hopefully protect her from the worst of it, but by the time she’d gathered her magic it was over. The air filled with a choking dust, although it wasn’t the only thing affecting Sofia’s breathing - having a fully armoured warrior on top of her was not the stuff of romances, and she was struggling a bit to get air in her lungs. Fortunately, Cauthrien got up within moments.

“You all right?”

Sofia took the proffered hand, wiping some of the dirt from her face on instinct as she rose to her feet. “Yes. Thanks to you.” She possibly would have made it out unassisted, but Cauthrien’s instincts had definitely saved her from worse injury. “How are-”

Her own inquiry about Cauthrien’s wellbeing stopped in her mouth as they both looked up at the pile of stone that completely blocked their previous path. The fall stretched all the way to the ceiling, and the rocks that had fallen were not of a small size, either. Cauthrien swore, and Sofia was inclined to agree with her.

It sounded as though everybody had survived, at least, but now they needed to work out how they were going to get out of this. “It would take hours to clear this, even with magic.” And that would cost them not just valuable time, but also energy they needed to conserve in case of a fight. “Do you have a map with you? It might be easier for them to find an entrance further back and for us to find another way to them.”

Assuming one existed. Cauthrien might well decide it was the better option for them to stay put and do what they could to clear the passage; Sofia would defer to the senior Warden. Although - she eyed the other woman critically. “Do you need healing? It sounded as though quite a few big ones hit you.”
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
350
#3
Sofia had sustained no serious injury, and after a shouted exchange through the fallen rock, it appeared that those on the other side were unharmed, as well. Which addressed one concern, but left another very firmly in place.

“It would take hours to clear this, even with magic,” Sofia remarked, studying the barrier.

“And risk bringing the rest of the mountain down on our heads,” Cauthrien agreed. With the initial adrenaline rush fading and her worry for the immediate welfare of the others assuaged, annoyance was assuming primacy. This was time they could ill afford to waste, but there was nothing to be done for it now.

“Do you have a map with you?” Sofia inquired. “It might be easier for them to find an entrance further back and for us to find another way to them.”

“I’ve got one.” So did Mysaria and Siali. Cave-ins were a known hazard in the Deep Roads, and other circumstances could lead to separation; multiple maps served as insurance. She slipped her own copy from the scroll case, angling it to catch the light from Sofia’s staff. A few bellowed exchanges later - interrupted more than once when more rocks clattering down sent them scrambling backward - they identified a branching tunnel that they had passed a couple of hours earlier that took a longer path to the chamber that this one reached, though it looked as though it would take better than a day … assuming nothing else happened to delay them further.

“Do you need healing?” Sofia’s question cut through Cauthrien’s broodings over potential threats. “It sounded as though quite a few big ones hit you.”

Cauthrien lifted her arm, rolling her shoulder experimentally and drawing a deep breath, then wincing. “Wouldn’t hurt,” she conceded reluctantly. “Feels like I cracked a rib or two.” Despite her worries, the others at least had the numbers to best most foes they might encounter. Two alone in the Deep Roads would be at a decided disadvantage; anything that might hamper her fighting ability needed to be addressed.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
102
#4
Sofia generated enough light for them both to study the map - but just that. While the taint drew Wardens and darkspawn together in a fashion that made stealth difficult, there was no need to alert any other type of enemies to their presence either. Especially since it appeared that for the next few hours, it would be just the two of them. It was not a tantalising prospect, especially as this would cost them time, but Sofia had been in worse situations. She wouldn’t fret over it until something really bad happened.

After a bit of shouting back and forth, they chose their route, but before they began on their way Sofia wanted to check Cauthrien for injury. The other woman had shielded her from taking the brunt of the damage but in so doing had likely absorbed a bit of it herself, even armoured as she was. Fortunately, Cauthrien wasn’t the type to downplay an injury only to have it come back and bite her later. “Wouldn’t hurt,” she admitted, in response to the query about healing. “Feels like I cracked a rib or two.”

Sofia nodded, stepping forward and resting her hands against Cauthrien’s side. Normally she would prefer to insist on stripping Cauthrien out of the armour and examining the injury visually as well as with magic, but it was too risky.Without a third to watch their backs, it was better to err on the side of caution. At least drawing from the Fade was a comfort - despite the number of times she’d been in the Deep Roads, she couldn’t help but feel that the weight of all that stone might cut her off from it. But the magic flowed as freely as usual, Sofia applying it with a light touch around the cracked bone as she sensed it. As delicately as a seamstress, she knitted the fracture, and then for good measure gave a small extra shot to provide Cauthrien with a boost of energy. “There. It’ll still be a little sore for a few minutes, but a bit of walking will stretch out the muscles and then you should be fine again.”

She straightened up and rolled her shoulders, before looking along the length of the passageway that awaited them. The persistent pressure on the back of her skull caused by proximity to darkspawn was present, but not insistent enough to suggest any were nearby. A small mercy. On the chain around her neck which held her Warden’s Oath was also a small medallion of Andraste; Sofia held it now, offering a silent prayer for protection before they proceeded forwards.

“How long approximately do you think it will take?”
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
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DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
350
#5
At least this time her injuries had not resulted from her own stupidity. Cauthrien kept her eyes turned to the tunnel that stretched into darkness ahead of them while Sofia began the spell of healing. Logic suggested that any living things nearby would have fled from the falling rocks, but the creatures that existed down here had their own rules. She let out a soft hiss as the ribs knit; it was the second time in a short span that she’d had to have broken bones healed, and this time felt no better than the first, but the pain faded quickly as the spell wound on, ending with a gentle surge that pushed back the weariness of half a day’s walk.

“Save some for yourself,” Cauthrien admonished the mage mildly. She was a long way from exhaustion, but the added energy would be a boon if it came to the pair of them having to fight anything.

“There,” Sofia announced with satisfaction, stepping back. “It’ll still be a little sore for a few minutes, but a bit of walking will stretch out the muscles and then you should be fine again.”

Cauthrien nodded, drawing a deep, slow breath and taking a couple of experimental swings with her arm, then nodding. “Thanks.” She bent to retrieve the pack that had been dropped during the cave-in, securing the straps with a single knot that could be released with a tug. From the corner of her eye, she could see Sofia holding the medallion at her neck, head bowed slightly. She had observed the mage in prayer before this, but as with her cosmetics, it had never interfered with her duties. If Cauthrien had been one for prayer, this would be the time; she was not, but she waited for Sofia to finish before setting out.

The mage’s staff provided sufficient light to guide their steps, but beyond its circle was blackness. Outdoors, Cauthrien eschewed any artificial illumination so long as the moons provided light; eyes accustomed to that could see farther, while brighter light left you blind to anything past its reach. Down here, they had no other option.

“How long approximately do you think it will take?” Sofia asked her.

“Four to five hours for us,” Cauthrien replied, thinking back on the map. “The others … a day and a half. Longer if they run into trouble. We can scout forward a bit while we’re waiting.” Sitting in a cave in the dark held zero appeal, even with no darkspawn nearby. The dwarves had equipped them with small metal stoves that produced heat and dim light when two powders were mixed. “Does it drain you to keep it lit?” she asked the mage, nodding at the staff, squinting a bit at its light. She glanced away quickly, waiting for her vision to clear, but a possibility suggested itself. “How bright can you make it?” Creatures with eyes attuned to eternal darkness could be blinded with a flare of bright light; the trick would be keeping from being blinded themselves so they could take advantage of it.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
102
#6
Cauthrien pointedly suggested that Sofia should keep all necessary reserves of magic for herself. Sofia politely ignored her. They were going to be walking for a while; giving Cauthrien an extra shot of energy was beneficial to both of them, especially if an enemy got too close to Sofia. Besides, it was something she’d heard a hundred times from just every type of Grey Warden. They all liked to appear tough and soldier on through any soreness, which only sapped their energy further. Sofia made her own calls on what was necessary. But she wasn’t going to argue the point. They would only have each other for company over the next few hours. Starting it off by being belligerent was pointless, especially given that their clash in the woods had apparently been forgotten.

It was even more pertinent when Cauthrien pointed out that while it would only take them a few hours, it would take the others some time to catch up. “Longer if they run into trouble. We can scout forward a bit while we’re waiting.”

That seemed sensible enough. Even if they didn’t sense any nearby darkspawn, that didn’t mean there might not be traps waiting further down the road. Darkspawn were capable of rudimentary tripwires and fire traps - or rather, the ghouls their victims could become were capable of it - but the dwarves themselves had also left a few nasty surprises for the darkspawn as they’d fled the thaigs. Not all of those surprises would have been set off by now. Sofia nodded. “Good. I’d rather do something other than sit in the dark and wait.”

Cauthrien indicated the light clinging to the end of her staff. “Does it drain you to keep it lit?” Then, after squinting away from it, “How bright can you make it?”

Sofia shook her head. “The amount of magic needed to sustain this is negligible. It’s like walking - it can wear me out but I would have to do it for a very long time before it drained me. And in a fight when I can’t hold it, I can summon a wisp. They give off small amounts of light, and once summoned they don’t require any concentration. However, they don’t last very long, and I can’t adjust how bright they are.” The glow on the end of her staff dimmed, then brightened again. “Unlike this. I’ve used it to rob enemies of their sight before - if you hear me say ‘blind’, either turn your back to me or close your eyes, no matter what you’re doing, or you’ll get caught by it.” The advantage of light not costing her much energy was that she could make it very bright indeed before it started really draining her.

She turned towards the passage, allowing Cauthrien to indicate when she wanted to start walking. They should travel silently from this point on, but the thought of spending a day and a half completely quiet while feeling the weight of the mountain ominously pressing down on them was nearly intolerable. “Have you fought anything other than darkspawn in the Roads before?”
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
350
#7
Sofia’s face was serious in the pale light cast by her staff, but she did not flinch from the prospect of walking the dark tunnels or exploring a bit while they waited for the others. “Good. I’d rather do something other than sit in the dark and wait.”

She also had a good grasp of her staff’s tactical potential. “The amount of magic needed to sustain this is negligible,” she explained. “It’s like walking - it can wear me out but I would have to do it for a very long time before it drained me. And in a fight when I can’t hold it, I can summon a wisp. They give off small amounts of light, and once summoned they don’t require any concentration. However, they don’t last very long, and I can’t adjust how bright they are.”

Cauthrien nodded, tucking the information away. In the group, they’d had several mages to take turn providing light, so fatigue had not been a significant concern.

“Unlike this,” Sofia went on, brightening and dimming the light at the end of her staff to demonstrate. “I’ve used it to rob enemies of their sight before - if you hear me say ‘blind’, either turn your back to me or close your eyes, no matter what you’re doing, or you’ll get caught by it.”

“Understood.” Even the muted light that it was giving off now left her blind if she looked at it directly. “I figure it’ll do the same for anything down here with eyes. I’ll try to make sure I’m out front with my back to you when anything starts.”

She kept herself slightly in front as they began walking, but maintained a closer distance between them than might have been the case had they been with the group. Two alone in the Deep Roads felt inherently unsafe, and she couldn’t quite dismiss the notion that if she turned her back for too long, something might drag the mage off into the darkness. Then too, being closer together made it easier to converse in the low tones that were a necessity in these stone caverns where any loud noise carried.

“Have you fought anything other than darkspawn in the Roads before?” Sofia asked her.

“Some deep stalkers,” Cauthrien replied, grimacing. The creatures were small, and even a pack had posed little threat to a dozen Grey Wardens. The creatures had seemed to know it, lurking at the fringes of the group and making cautious passes at any that straggled until they were driven off. She doubted they would show much restraint for two. “I’ve fought tainted creatures on the surface during the Blight,” she added. “Blight wolves, bereskarn, ghouls. Giant spiders a couple of times. We always had to guard against becoming tainted ourselves, then.” She kept her eyes turned forward; looking back at her companion and the light would rob her eyes of the gains they had made against the darkness. “You?” The Antivan had spoken of multiple excursions into the Deep Roads, compared to Cauthrien’s one; if she had tactical advice to offer, the warrior was more than ready to listen.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
102
#8
Cauthrien accepted her tactics easily enough. “I figure it’ll do the same for anything down here with eyes. I’ll try to make sure I’m out front with my back to you when anything starts.”

When, not if. They didn’t present the same temptation to darkspawn that two untainted women would, but the chances of them going undiscovered for the next few hours were slim. And once the darkspawn realised they were close, they would start to hunt them. Prior experience helped, but it was hard not to feel a slight twinge of fear. Sofia had no intention of letting it show in front of Cauthrien. She would have to be completely reckless not to be even a little wary in these circumstances.

Cauthrien took a small lead, Sofia angling a little to the side of her so the light cast from her staff wouldn’t be hampered. The close proximity they kept to each other helped with the fear. Cauthrien was a capable warrior, from what Sofia had seen in the training yard, and Sofia knew she didn’t lack for ability either.

Cauthrien didn’t shush her when she broke the silence. “Some deep stalkers. I’ve fought tainted creatures on the surface during the Blight; Blight wolves, bereskarn, ghouls.” Sofia shuddered at that. Ghouls were no longer the people whose bodies had been distorted by the Blight, but it was still horrifying to think there might be an inkling of consciousness buried deep beneath the pain and rage. She’d always found them harder to stomach than any other blighted creature - other than broodmothers, of course. And she had come so close to becoming one herself. “Giant spiders a couple of times. We always had to guard against becoming tainted ourselves, then.”

Which made Cauthrien all the braver. While darkspawn were not to be underestimated in any circumstances, Wardens could become a little cavalier in regards to the fact that they could no longer face a slow death by poison. Sofia still remembered the agony as she started succumbing to blight sickness a little too vividly to share that attitude.

“You?”

“As you, deepstalkers, giant spiders. A few ghouls.” Sofia’s lips thinned. “A broodmother, once. Some treasure hunters stumbled upon it while looting a thaig. One made it out to tell us about it. We set up an expedition to take it down immediately.”

The memory was unlikely to ever leave her. The overlapping layers of flesh, mottled pink-purple and pimpled with rash from the rolls of adipose chafing against one another; the slimy, lightning-fast tentacles, the tiny arms that were almost baby-like in their plumpness in a manner that made them somehow more obscene. And the tiny black eyes, almost obscured, entirely lost to madness, that nonetheless screamed for a release that Sofia was happy to give. Who had that poor woman been, before the darkspawn had turned her into that?

“If we encounter one down here before we meet up with the others, we shouldn’t engage. The tentacles more than make up for the fact that they can’t move their body. But we should have plenty of warning long before we stumble across one, anyway.” The sacs that would eventually birth more darkspawn would clue them in. “Other than that? Be wary of traps. And ghosts - I’ve seen almost as many rips in the Fade down here as on the surface, and while they don’t tend to cause harm, they can attract unwanted attention.”
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
350
#9
After two years in the Grey Wardens, on top of the year of the Blight, Cauthrien had fought darkspawn aplenty, but mostly on the surface. The one extended foray into the Deep Roads beneath Redcliffe, their numbers had been enough to ward off attacks from anything but the darkspawn and a few bolder deepstalkers. Sofia, with a few more expeditions below under her belt, had faced some of the other dangers:

“As you, deepstalkers, giant spiders. A few ghouls.”

Cauthrien grimaced. She’d encountered only one tainted individual far enough gone in mindless aggression to be considered a ghoul, but she had given mercy to far too many in the early stages of the transformation. Each one had been a grim warning to take care when fighting darkspawn, and an equally bleak reminder that it could happen even if you were careful.

“A broodmother, once.” Cauthrien didn’t turn to see Sofia’s face, but the sudden grimness in the mage’s tone mirrored the feeling in her gut as the word stirred up memories best forgotten: grotesquely swollen bodies and ululating screams and the stench of burning flesh. “Some treasure hunters stumbled upon it while looting a thaig. One made it out to tell us about it. We set up an expedition to take it down immediately.”

“Aye.” Cauthrien’s voice sounded strange in her own ears. “We’ve encountered them, too. One of them was in the tunnels just below Denerim. She … hadn’t fully changed yet, but there was no saving her. We were able to find her family, at least, and tell them she was dead.” And spared them the horror of the details.

“If we encounter one down here before we meet up with the others, we shouldn’t engage.” The quiet horror lingered in Sofia’s voice. “The tentacles more than make up for the fact that they can’t move their body. But we should have plenty of warning long before we stumble across one, anyway.”

“Agreed,” Cauthrien replied without hesitation. “We can reassess once we’ve met up with the others. If nothing else, we can mark the location and return later with reinforcements.” Not dealing with it, not freeing what had once been a woman from a hellish eternity of imprisonment and madness was simply not an option. “I hope we don’t find one,” she said quietly. Cowardice, perhaps, but she could live out the remainder of her life content if she never saw another broodmother.

“Other than that?” Sofia concluded. “Be wary of traps. And ghosts - I’ve seen almost as many rips in the Fade down here as on the surface, and while they don’t tend to cause harm, they can attract unwanted attention.”

“Understood.” The warrior considered this for a moment before asking, “What causes rips in the Fade, anyway?” She wasn’t much for small talk, but silence in these caverns made the darkness seem more impenetrable and the tons of rock overhead even heavier.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
102
#10
Cauthrien had also encountered broodmothers, which was comforting after a fashion. People confronting them for the first time had a tendency to vomit, Sofia herself included. She’d already seen quite a few horrors in her time as a Warden and as a chiurgeon, but certainly nothing left such a visceral imprint as the broodmother and the straining sacs containing her offspring. It was also comforting that Cauthrien had the good sense to agree with her that the two of them shouldn’t attempt to fight one if they encountered it. Not without backup.

“We can reassess once we’ve met up with the others. If nothing else, we can mark the location and return later with reinforcements.” A pause. “I hope we don’t find one.”

“Agreed.” That topic covered, she hastily moved away from it to cover the other things she had encountered in the Deep Roads. In theory, the Maker’s light touched all things, but maybe all the rock blocked His view down here. It would explain why there were so many horrors hidden away in the dark.

Cauthrien took note of her warning about the ghosts. “What causes rips in the Fade, anyway?”

“Usually, excessive use of magic,” Sofia admitted freely. “The bad sorts, that kill or cause harm. As more souls pass through the Veil it becomes more and more thin, and then demons, attracted by our world, shoulder their way through. Or some of the spirits and their memories leak back out. Magic isn’t required, however.” She gazed into the darkness ahead. “People can cause enough slaughter to attract demons without magical assistance.”

So many dwarves had died in the thaigs at the hands of the darkspawn, it wasn’t surprising there should be rips down here. However, most of what Sofia had seen come out had been relatively benign. Perhaps the endless dark and the presence of lyrium in the Deep Roads didn’t prove an attractive enough aspect for wandering spirits.

It wasn’t the best topic of conversation at the moment. “Apologies for being grim. Sometimes, of course, the Veil is torn intentionally, in order to channel magics or send mages into the Fade to speak with spirits and gain wisdom. The templars don’t like it much, though,” she added, a touch sardonically. "They don't tend to like much at all."
 
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