- Good morning, milady.
Oerik greeted Gaia, who was already having some sort of tea all alone in the main room of the tavern. She gave him a tender smile and closed the book she was writing at. The dwarf could see she used a dried rose as a bookmark.
Later, first Malan and then Keaton, all gathered and got ready to depart. Gaia already managed to get a horse to travel with the agents, so they could get on the road without any delay.
The day travelling together flied. Gaia and Oerik kept talking almost all the way, although in some occasions Malan had some words with the woman about magic. Keaton just smiled with Oerik’s jokes now and then: he was pleased only by listening a nice chat while riding.
It was starting to get dark when they could see the first Vintiver farms in the distance. It was time to say goodbye, so they all dismounted when the crossroad was reached. Gaia was going North to Denerim, while the agents would be going East to the farms. Although it was a short time together, they all felt like the woman was already part of the group.
- Well… – the dwarf tried to start some sort of farewell, as the other two agents where looking at him. He cleared his throat. - I don’t know how to say this but…
All of a sudden, Gaia raised her hand to interrupt the dwarf speech. She got really serious and looked to the farms not so far from where they were standing.
- Do you feel that? – she asked still like searching something between the farm houses.
- Feel what, milady? – Oerik nervously said.
- There’s a taint of magic there… Something evil. – she stated, cautious.
- It’s just the breach. There’s plenty of rifts and… – Malan was trying to calm her down.
- Don’t be fool, Malan. Focus. – Gaia told Malan off. - You’re powerful enough to notice it at this distance.
The other two agents looked at both mages, waiting for an explanation while the elf closed his eyes. Suddenly, he opened them and faced Gaia with an urgency expression. The other two agents had never seen Malan so worried about anything, despite all the perils they’d already been through together. They could even say the elf was terrified.
- Maker’s breath, tell us what’s going on already! – Keaton almost shouted.
Without saying a word, both mages kept looking each other for some seconds, as waiting to hear something. Then, all of a sudden, they started to move to the farms, almost running.
- Wait! – the dwarf claimed, as Keaton was already following the mages.
When Oerik could finally reach the rest of the group moments after they all stopped, he was completely exhausted.
- You guys should know we dwarfs have short legs… – none of them answered. - What are we looking for?
All of them where standing in front of something Oerik couldn’t see. He moved away Keaton in order to understand what was going on. The moment he saw it, he got pale. There were six bodies up-front, all between them and the first big building that seemed to be a barn. They were farm workers, men all of them. There were even kids amongst the corpses.
- Holy Andraste… – Oerik exclaimed.
Keaton knelt down to examine one of the bodies when the mages, again, started to walk quickly to the barn. Oerik went after them without saying anything. When the dwarf was about to enter the place, he run into Malan. The elf had turned around all of a sudden, with a hand in his mouth. He was sweating, and moved away Oerik to throw up at a corner. Oerik considered entering the barn twice. When he did it, he saw Gaia standing in front of a horrible picture. There were three more wretched corpses. By their clothes, Oerik could tell they were women. When the dwarf got closer to check on Gaia, he saw her staring at something with a disturbed face. He also looked there, to find that one of the woman was holding the dead body of a baby.
- What kind of monster did this… – Oerik whispered.
- We have troubles.
Malan was walking backwards to Oerik and Gaia. Four wolves as the ones they saw at Lothering were slowly entering the barn, groaning and showing their bloody teeth.
- Looks like we found the monsters you were wandering about. – Gaia answered Oerik last words, while getting ready for the fight.
When the wolves were about to attack, one of the monster’s head was smashed to the ground by Keaton’s mace. The warrior saw the animals trying to play an ambush, so he planned a sneak attack. With one of the foes out of scene, the fight started.
With magic and sword, the agents got rid of the beasts. Luckily, no one of them was injured during the fray. They were getting their breath back when Oerik talked.
- At least we made them pay for what they did to this poor people. Bastards…
- They didn’t kill the farmers. – Keaton answered. - I saw the bodies outside. All of them have marks of claws and teeth, but they were not made by the wolves. Moreover, the livestock didn’t get any harm, as we saw these creatures did in Lothering. Something bigger… something more dangerous did this.
The last sentence kept floating in the air during a few seconds, filling the silence. Then, Gaia pointed out something up their heads, on the wall in front of them.
- Maybe that has something to do with this slaughter.
A word in elven language was written in blood there.
- Myhtal… – Malan read in a low voice.
- The elven goddess of revenge. – Keaton added.
They all looked at the warrior, surprised. Then, he smiled remembering Yevven, his comrade dead at Heaven.
- An old friend of mine told me about the elven gods.
Suddenly, Malan rose his staff and was about to throw a fireball to a pile of hay when Gaia took Malan’s wrist to divert the spell course. The fire crashed at the floor without any further effect.
- There’s something there!- the elf shouted to the woman.
- Not something, someone. - she calmly said.
Gaia approached the hay pile and discovered a girl. Malan got closer too when he saw she was a Dalish elf. She was injured by the same claws that killed the farmers. Malan knelt down to check if she was still alive. She was wearing hunter clothes, all dirty and in shreds. On her face she had the Dalish tattoos that indicated she was considered an adult by her clan. Her hair was black as the night sky, and Malan could see a beautiful couple of green eyes when she reacted to his touch.
- She lives. – Malan announced to the rest of the group.
She tried to move although all her injuries, so Malan took her in his arms and sat her up. She looked at him like seeing something in a dream.
- Fen… Fenrraor… – she said, and rose her hand to give Malan a old golden bracelet. Then, she talked in elven. – Run…
After that, she passed out. Gaia got closer to cast a healing spell on her, which took the mage some minutes.
- She’s stable now, but she still needs to be seen by a doctor. – the mage said. - Keaton, Oerik, bring the horses. We have to take her to the town as soon as possible. They need to know what happened here.
They rode as fast as they could. Gaia told the agents that the woman they found at the barn was in danger. The mage didn’t have enough resources at hand to stop the infection of the claw shaped wound the elf had on her right side. Her fever was increasing with every passing minute: she needed a doctor. Gaia could only stabilise her in order to buy some time until she could receive a proper treatment.
Keaton was carrying the elf, and Gaia rode next to him. Malan and Oerik leaded the way to a village they could see not so far from the farms. When they finally reached Vintiver, it was already dark.
Oerik pointed out a Chantry temple. They could probably find some assistance there. Leaving the horses at the door, they entered the sanctuary. Keaton took the elf in his arms with no effort.
- Someone, help us! We have an injured person here! – Oerik shouted, looking around the temple for assistance.
It was a long building with tall, thin windows equipped with shutters, which were closed. The temple was not especially rich. At the far end of the main room there was an altar with fine cloths. Rows of benches were set for services before it , with the priest’s quarters in the rooms at the back. From there, a woman came out.
- Who’s injured? – she said.
She was an old lady, and she wore simple red Chantry clothes. She approached them as quickly as she could, worried about the newcomers. However, as soon as she saw the wounded elf, a disgusted look appeared on her face.
- You must leave this holly place immediately!
The agents felt silent, in shock before that reaction. The woman kept on chasing them out.
- Shouldn’t the followers of Andraste help any person in distress to spread the Chant of Light to every corner of Thedas? – Malan made sure his ears where hidden by his hood before calling her attention.
- Are you going to let someone die at your very front door? – Gaia added.
The cleric babbled something they didn’t understand before giving up.
- Alright, she can stay. But I’m no doctor, so I can’t help her.
- I’ll make you a list of what I need to treat her, every chantry should have the basic healing herbs. You can stay here and pray for her recovery. – Gaia answered her back with sarcasm.
Then the agents moved to a side room the cleric pointed out. Once Keaton put the elf on the bed, Gaia asked them to leave her some space. Oerik decided to set guard at the temple’s entrance and make sure the horses were alright, while Keaton headed to the town plaza to figure out if anyone else knew about the farm attacks. Malan, however, insisted on staying: he had some questions for the elf as soon as she awoke.
Keaton found the town in calm. He could see lights inside the houses, and the smell of dinner came across the streets. The few stores at the plaza where already closing, so he was about to return to the temple when a young lady got close to him.
- Hi~! - she said on a playful tone while weaving at the warrior.
Keaton rose his eyebrows and kept on walking, trying to ignore her.
- You’re a traveller, aren’t you? I’d already know if there was such a handsome and muscular man as you living in the town. – she followed Keaton and took him by the arm, making the warrior impossible to get rid of her.
The lady chuckled and Keaton rolled his eyes with a sigh of disgust.
- Where did you come from? We’re not having many visitors since the incident with the Dalish during the last harvest festival… – she said on a rehearsed sad tone.
- Really? Why don’t you tell me what happened, lady… – Keaton asked for her name.
- You can call me Natalie.
Gaia did a great work with the injured elf: Malan was really impressed with the mage’s skills. After all, she was going to be a great company during their mission. Almost an hour had passed since Keaton and Oerik left, and Gaia was reading a book while waiting the hunter to recover her consciousness. Malan couldn’t take his eyes off her, with a worried look on his face, and Gaia noticed it. She just smiled. Then, she realised that the mage was playing with something on his hands. When she asked what it was, Malan showed her the bracelet the Dalish gave him when they found her.
- I sense a slight magic on it, but I can’t understand what’s wrote on it… – he explained while letting Gaia take the item.
She examined it carefully. There were letters carved in the inside.
- This is old Tevene, the language of the Imperium. – she stated on a solemn tone.
- Can you…? Where did you…? – Malan had so much questions on his head, and he was trying to say them all at once.
- I studied several years at the Calenhad Cirle of Magi, and I was always interested in foreign languages. I can manage to read contemporary Tevinter documents but… this is much older. It says something like… “Do not fear the blood”. - she smiled sarcastically - What a cliché, don’t you think?
- So there’s blood magic involved in all this? – Malan stood up from the chair he was sitting at, concerned. Then, he approached to the bed where the elf was lying at and got close to her face. – Where in this damn word did you get this, da’len…
Then, as she had just heard that, the elf opened her eyes slowly. Those eyes where green as jade stones. She looked with sleepy eyes at Malan, and she seemed to recognise him. She tried to sit up while reaching out her hands.
- Isa’ma’lin! - she said.
- Ir abelas, I’m not your brother. - he helped her to sit down. - My name is Malan, we’re in Vintiver. My friends and me found you gravely injured at a farm.
She looked around, like coming back to reality. Gaia stood up from her chair slowly, but anyway she gave the Dalish a start. Then, the young elf looked back at Malan.
- She’s Gaia, one of my friends. She is the one that healed you. – he explained to her.
In that very moment, Oerik and Keaton entered the room.
- Hey there, seems that our quiet warrior found some information about… – the dwarf was telling when he saw the injured elf awaken and hugging Malan. - Wohoho, wait a minute, what ’s going on here.
The Dalish was scared about the two newcomers, so her first reaction was to hide in the arms of the only one she trusted on that room: an elf like her. Malan, on the contrary, was so shocked about having her so close and Oerik’s comment that blushed a bit. Gaia and Keaton laughed, and once all of them where inside the room, Malan introduced their mates to the Dalish and managed to calm her down. Then she begun to talk.
- I… I’m sorry about all the problems I may have caused you. Thanks for saving me, but I… I…
She tried to get out of the bed, but she almost fell due to her injury. Malan was able to catch her before she hit the ground. He helped her getting into the bed again.
- You’re not going anywhere with those wounds. You should get some rest first. - he said.
- You don’t understand! I have to leave right now!
- Does that have something to do with what happened at the festival some days ago? – Keaton asked.
By the Dalish’ face, it seemed that the warrior was right.
- Calm down, child. Tell us what happens, maybe we can help you. - Gaia said on a maternal way.
The young elf squeezed the sheets with a helpless look. Her eyes glowed as she was about to cry, but she repressed her feeling and started talking.
- My name is Eshara. My people and this very town is in danger. And Fenrraor, my brother, he… he…
- Easy, easy. Start from the beginning, lady Eshara. - Oerik tried to calm her down, as her tears appeared once more.
She took a deep breath and started over again.
- As you may know, our band visited this village just two weeks ago, during their harvest festival. We were welcomed, then, but there was a bit of trouble: some of the locals had too much to drink, and there was a confrontation with some of our young men. Harsh words were exchanged, and Harralan, one of our hunters, attacked the big blacksmith. The village warden separated them before it could get out of hand, but still the damage was done. We were no longer welcome here and we moved on as soon as the festival ended. Harralan was angry at our treatment, but our elders assigned him the duty of scouting as we made our way through the Brecilian Forest, to give him time to cool off. He was the first to disappear—he simply didn’t return from his scouting one night. Then other scouts and hunters began to go missing, as did the ones sent to look for them. My brother Fenrraor was one of those hunters. The elders decided we should go back, but by then, it was too late. Three days after Harralan disappeared, before we could reach the edge of the forest, they attacked our camp: darkspawn emerging from the trees in the dead of night. My people were taken. Those who fought were beaten or killed. I was captured along with the rest, taken to an ancient ruin in a rift valley deep in the forest, off the trails. The master of the darkspawn is a creature, an abomination. He calls himself Mythallen, which in our tongue means “child of vengeance”. Some of us, including my brother who was imprisoned there with the rest of the missing hunters, were brought before him, and then to his chambers, where I saw a dead man’s body. His hand was cut off, and I found it laying out as if on a shrine. There was an strange bracelet with the hand. Then, my brother decided to attack the creature, in order to give me the chance to scape. I took the bracelet and I run as much as I could. The darkspawn pursued me, accompanied by a pack of baying beasts. I was wounded, but managed to avoid them, hiding among the trees and gullies in the forest for more than a day, always moving, never resting for long. I stumbled upon the farm where you found me and managed to conceal myself in the barn. I heard some of the farmers coming… The darkspawn must have attacked. I remember the terrible screams… Then nothing until you found me. I… I shouldn’t have ran away without Fenrraor… I’m afraid he can be… Please… You must help me! Mythallen and his creatures must be stopped!
She couldn’t hold her tears anymore. The agents where troubled by Eshara’s words, and Malan noticed then that all his comrades where looking at him, waiting for him to do something. He had to hug her despite his reluctance.
- There’s no need for you to worry anymore, da’len. We’ll find your brother and bring him along with your people, you’ll see.
In that moment, they could hear strong knocks on the temple’s door, and many voices shouting.
- Let out the witch!
- Bring her out, she has to answer for her crimes!
- Justice needs to be done!
The agents stood up and got ready for whatever was going on outside.
- Gaia, stay here and protect Eshara. – Malan said.
Gaia closed the room’s door behind the agents with a serious look on her face. They all knew that Eshara was in good hands.
- Many of the common folk believes that the Dalish cast a curse on the town after the confrontation Eshara told you about. - Keaton explained to the agents while moving to the front door. - Specially Coalan, the blacksmith she mentioned. He’s been blaming the Dalish for every single thing that went wrong on the town since they left. Be ready for anything, and let’s try not to get to arms.
When Oerik opened the door, they found what Keaton predicted. Angry people with torches and farm tools was demanding seeing Eshara. At the front of the crowd, a tall, strong man was leading them. He was the blacksmith that Keaton warned the agents about.
- We know you brought a Dalish to the town. Where is she? – the man shouted.
- She’s resting from her injuries. What issues do you have with her? – Malan asked as calmed as possible, always with his hood over his head.
- Their people brought a curse to this town! – someone yelled.
- Please, be reasonable. She was close to her death, what harm can she do to your lovely town? You haven’t even saw her to decide if she’s dangerous or not. – Oerik tried to calm everyone down, and in fact many people started to have doubts.
- We need to purge her to get rid of that curse! Burn her! – suddenly, the cleric appeared between the crowd.
The mob was out of control again, and if the agents didn’t act quickly, those people would enter the temple and take Eshara by force. Malan stepped forward.
- So, are you going to believe this woman? She, who is meant to be the most kind of souls and leader of the faithful? By Andraste, she didn’t move a finger when she saw a young girl dying at the very front door of the Maker’s house!
Somehow, those words made some of the people stop yelling, so Malan went on.
- Thanks Andraste that we had a healer with us and she could make it, but not thanks to this woman nor her prayers. And not happy enough with chasing us out, now she poisoned you all to believe that the poor girl is a witch! She’s not even a mage, or an apostate, or anything like that. If she had took a look at the person she was supposed to help, she could see the Dalish was nothing more than a hunter. Do you really need more reasons to not trust her words?
When the mob was still in shock, an authoritarian voice came from the back of the crowd. Someone was trying to put some order there. In less than a minute, the mob was dispersed, and a man approached the agents.
- Are you the ones who were at Fuldor’s farm? – the man was quite old, but by the rich leather armour and the tone he used, he looked like someone important in Vintiver.
- Yes, and we’re taking care of an injured person we found there. I guess we’re to thank you for saving us from those enraged people. – Oerik said.
- I’m the Warden of this village, my name’s Tarl Dale. I’ve been investigating what happened with the Fuldor and I would like you to give me the details of what you saw there. I want to make sure nothing like that happens again, and find those responsible. But first, let me grant you some help by keeping your horses at the stable and making you a place at the Arbor Inn. The Mullin, it’s owners, are already informed about your arrival. I’ll make sure no one else bothers you tonight.
After thanking Tarl Dale, they got ready to move with Eshara to the inn. It was, in fact, a much better place to rest, and as the warden said, it was all reserved for them. The Mullin, a lovely couple called Haran and Kesla, helped them with Eshara, and prepared them something for dinner. Gaia had her food with Eshara at her room.
Before Tarl Dale came, the agents agreed on not telling him all the truth. They’d first investigate the place Eshara saw her people for the last time. The agents didn’t want to create more rumours about the Dalish, so they would not mention the elves to the warden. And so they did.
- We’ll scout the forest tomorrow in case there’s more wolves. You should set some patrols around the village surroundings, just in case. - Keaton stated when they told everything they could to Tarl Dale.
The warden expressed his gratitude to the agents, and made his leave. They took the rest of the night to plan the journey they had ahead for the next day. They didn’t know what dangers they would encounter at the Brecilian Forest.