One century prior, the Tevinter Imperium mastered the whole of Thedas. So great was their hubris, the Magisters of the capital spilled the blood of a thousand slaves to enter the Fade and take the gods' power for their own.
Their reward was ruin.
Their forms twisted, corrupted with their sin, the Magisters were cast down beneath the crust of the earth. And for a time, the surface world returned to peace. For a time, the creatures hid, burrowed, and grew in number.
The Dwarven Thaigs were the first to fall, and then the Darkspawn returned to wash over Thedas like a plague. The Imperium's furthest outposts were overwhelmed, their armies abandoning the peoples they had subjugated to defend their own. For ninety years, the Blight ravaged the lands. Tevinter borders drew inward with every fallen fortress, and when all looked lost for certain, the Battle of Nordbotten saw the first sign of salvation. Fearsome warriors descended on the backs of griffons, striking down the Darkspawn horde with uncanny speed and precision. Here, the tide began to turn.
The Grey Wardens use the blood of the Darkspawn, the essence of their Archdemon, and the power of lyrium to harness the supernatural abilities of their enemies. These skills are the key to ending the Blight, but their numbers are few, and those who survive the ritual even fewer.
That's where you come in.
Tevinter or slave, only the most able-bodied, the most skilled, the most intelligent, will keep the lives they give to the Grey Wardens long enough to do battle. When you hear the call of the Archdemon in the back of your skull, everything you knew about the world will change.
A chill wind swept between the marching bodies of the slaves. Many, for weeks, had made the trek from Ostagar-across the Waking Sea and through the fields of Ghislain, following the Imperial Highway to the mountains that cradled the Anderfels. In the beginning, their numbers had been few, perhaps two dozen barbarians, a scattering of elven runaways recaptured. When they reached the barges, they met more of their ilk. By the time they had crossed the valley and swept north to meet the road, a thousand more had joined them from the capital. Not all of them survived the winding paths into the heights of the Hunterhorn Mountains, but there was no shortage of bodies to fill the gaps they left behind.
Ahead was Weisshaupt Fortress, a massive construct of white stone cradled at the head of the mountains; whatever purpose it had once served, it was now the focus of the resistance movement, the headquarters of the Grey Wardens. Where the Blight was concerned, it was perhaps the safest place in all of Thedas. For the elves and humans huddled in the snow outside its doors, however, it held great trepidation. They had all heard the stories. Those that went in did not come out again, they knew. Else they came out changed.
"Keep in order. Remain calm." Riders managed the fringe of the column, though none of them had the strength to run in this thin air, with their tired feet. Above, a griffon swooped down towards the rear of the fortress with a haggard shriek. Somewhere near, an elven woman began to quietly weep. There was the sound of stone shifting, and a heavy vibration, before the doors of the fortress began to creak open.
Within, some had already gathered to see the new recruits. One man crossed the marble floor to place a gloved hand on the balustrade overlooking the vast Hall below. Only twelve weeks a Warden, the Constable's uniform was pristine, his studded leather without a dent or a scratch. Where others wore linen cloaks, his was plush and lined with fur.
"This is revolting," Thaedrin Davinius said with a loose gesture at the doors. Slowly, timidly, the slaves trickled in. "This is what the nobility calls a 'donation'? Soporati from the army the month before. Now they send us elves and brigands. Half of them don't have the strength to lift a pail of water, let alone a sword."
He turned toward his colleagues, his distaste evident in his expression. "We haven't the time to bury this many corpses."
'Corpses...' Ulrin could just barely hear the man speak over the sounds of his fellow weeping slaves. He had made sure to set himself as close to the doors as the cluster of tied and tired men and women would let him. Those next to him that heard what was said only showed more signs of grief. They huddled tighter together, their whispers grew louder as they passed the word down to those that sat far off from the doors. Corpses. Soon they would be corpses. He'd be severed from this mortal world and free. Though the other slaves were terrified of death, for him, knowing it was so close was calming, the word had washed a great relief over him.
The former elven slave lowered his head and closed his eyes. He'd been marched for weeks seeking the sentence of death, he was almost envious of those that did not make it. But now it was before him, promised in a passing conversation by this dark haired human. He didn't have to wait much longer, perhaps within the next few hours. Ulrin pulled his body inward and wrapped his arms tightly around his legs muttering to himself.
"Very soon, Twynne. Very soon..."
If only she'd been more quiet. It was the thought that was foremost in her mind. If she had stayed still there was a chance that the armor clad men would not have taken notice as they passed by. Fear had gotten the better of her; she tried to run and her movement ultimately lead to her capture. There'd been no time or means for her to clean away the crime she'd committed. No doubt, if there had been an excuse reasonable enough to give it would have been ignored. It stood to her reason that these were knights sent after her or at least this was her thought before she was brought to what seemed to be a horde of slaves.
In all the time it had taken to reach the fortress, Sulahn'nehn had plenty of time to consider just how she was to be put to death or sold into servitude under some merciless master. She felt the pain of the cold, the emptiness of her stomach, the dread of what was to come next.
She retreated in her mind, wishing she could throw herself at the feet of the divine. 'Forgive me, Creators. I meant the best. If I am to die, I ask only for forgiveness and accept the fate you guide me to.' Try as she might to stay strong she could not. The sound of her people wallowing, the pleading, it was all too familiar. Fear set in once more and her shoulders shook as she cried. 'This is what I deserve.'
A trio of warden officers emerged onto the battlements, looking down at the trembling mass below. Of the three, only the youngest, a woman named Delphina, showed any sign of compassion upon seeing this scene of terrible misery.
Alrik looked only bored, which is how he always looked. A curious thing-- had he been starved for a month, he would have blended right in with those below-- or with the humans, anyway.
Trajan Vorenus clenched his hands on the rampart, gazing down appraisingly.
"Half of these look likely to die before we can get the cup to their lips," he remarked quietly to Alrik. "Still. Beggars, choosers..."
He beckoned Delphina over. "Separate out the elderly. Those who appear, say... over sixty. Oh, and under ten. They are no use as wardens, but we can use them as stewards and cooks and the like. Perhaps we'll even free those who are family to likely wardens. Put them in the East Hall.
She nodded smartly and headed down the stairs, a pair of broad-shouldered Wardens following. She began to gently herd the elderly and young away; her manner with them was firm, but polite.
Trajan glanced at Thaedrin as though he'd just noticed him. "Oh, Davinius, there you are. Some of them look sick. We can't risk an epidemic. Go down there and pick out all the ones with plague and fever. Put them in the West Hall, won't you?"
No Wardens move to assist Thaedrin, but Alrik manages to crack a smile.
The young Constable bristled at the order. "Plague and fever...!" A refusal was on his tongue when he turned towards his Commander, but the disinterest on the man's face and the silence of his peers made him bite it back, flustered and furious.
He turned back toward the mass of slaves packed into the hall like cattle; suddenly every one of them seemed diseased. Thaedrin shuddered with disgust, his hands clenching into fists as he stalked away towards the stairs. Within moments, he was shouldering his way through the crowd, casting his gaze over the humans and elves only as long as he dared. Lest he catch something.
"You. Through that door and wait." Thaedrin picked over the group, his touch light and gentle if only because their flesh repulsed him. "You. And you. ...Stand up."
He paused before an elf that was crouched and huddled on the floor.
"I said, stand. Are you too weak to do so? Need I place you with the ill or the infirm?"
Ulrin raised his head toward the human. His lips were pressed together into a thin line. He slowly brought himself to stand, and raised his head high. He may have been much shorter than the Grey Warden, but he kept his head up. He wouldn't let the human see he was in anyway exhausted, least he be sent off with the slowly sick and dying. He'd already waited his time, now he was ready to face death.
His chest rose and fell a bit sharply as he took a few deep breaths and waited for the human to decided his fate. Ulrin considered his size. If he tried to tell him he'd be put with the sick, or worse, kept alive to serve, he'd fight him. Force him to kill him if it came to that.
The humans were moving. Slavers, guards, knights, whatever they were they moved among the crowd and sorted. This terrified the elf. What were they being sorted for? Would they ever be seen again? Was it better to remain in the hall or to be taken into a separate room? She wanted to stop crying, thinking it would only make things worse for her. As soon as the thought entered her mind she began to sob, gulping down air between shudders. Things could have been different. If she had waited or not acted on the one truly violent thought she'd ever had, she may not have wound up miles away, cold, starving, and petrified. No, no. It needed to be done. It was not so much the thought of her execution that made her this way, it was the unknown.
Thaedrin's eyes passed over the elf with annoyance, but no further emotion than that. His gaze settled on the next row, and he moved away down the line without another word. A few of the slaves had wounds so festered, he gagged at the sight. Others had caught pneumonia from the barefoot walk up the snowy mountains.
Delphina had dealt with most of the elderly, and was now rounding up children who looked under ten or so; those who had not yet hit puberty. She shook her head in wonder to think how many of these might have been brothel slaves. All the children she'd found so far were unaccompanied, and filthy as drowned rats.
She was shocked to spot a human woman holding a babe of perhaps a year; she approached.
"You will have to surrender the child, citiz- erm. Ma'am," she said. "We will care for it in the mean time and you may see him again after the Joining."
Hard to say whether the woman even spoke Tevene, but she certainly got Delphina's meaning. She shrieked, recoiling away.
"No!" she shouted. "No take! No take!"
The guards with Delphina tensed. She glanced up at Trajan for guidance; he was watching closely.
He gripped the palisade even harder. They could not spare the woman; she may survive the joining and make a valuable warden, and what good was she to them as a mother whining over a babe? What purpose was there in making an exception? None.
Still, taking the thing risked the mob turning to riot. He scanned the mass again.
There may have been a riot in them once, he realized, but not now. He could likely kill them all himself, if it came to that. As it was, he was going to be killing about half of them.
Soon he'd need to address them, but for now, he needed the ineligible out of the way.
"Take the babe," the shouted down. "Kill the woman if you must. They may reunite after the joining."
He fully intended to allow that, if the mother actually survived.
Ulrin watched the human move on from him. He was relieved that he was not to be sorted out with the sick or the servants. The elf turned his gaze up and down the hall taking in the rest of the captives since they arrived. They all appeared more miserable now than they did during the journey. As soon as he heard shouting from down the hall his attention turned tot he woman and her baby.
'They'll both be killed if she keeps that up. Maybe that's what she wants, for them both to die rather than never see them again.' The elf was perfectly accepting of sacrificing his own life, but he couldn't see himself letting a family member die. At least not intentionally. That would not be the outcome he set out in mind with.
There was commotion enough to make Sulahn'nehn break away from her blubbering. A woman was screaming half in Tevene and half in something she could not understand. Whatever the language was it was very clear what was happening; a family was being torn apart. A child being ripped away from their mother. She looked among the humans, wiping her eyes to see if any would help the poor woman. Then to her brethren. Surely the vast majority of them were slaves. Did they not also know the sting of seeing this or worse experiencing it? She could only imagine what her own parents must have felt when she was taken from them. Human or not, no child should be taken from their mother so young.
Sulahn'nehn stood at a crossroad once more. To let the moment pass or to take action. She'd tossed caution to the side once before, this time it would be for something just. With absolutely no authority in her voice she shouted, "Stop! Please!" immediately feeling out of place her voice dropped. "You can't- ...shouldn't... I-It's not right."
The elves around the outspoken girl were beginning to stir at her words. This would not do. Thaedrin walked briskly down the column to the wisp of an elf, and shoved her back into place in the line.
"Be still and hold your tongue. Did your Master teach you nothing before he sold you?" His eyes passed over the slaves that surrounded her; though young, his strangeness was enough to cow them back into silence. "If I see you raise a hand, it will be removed."
The Constable's eyes returned to Sulahn'nehn's, while the woman's child was finally wrested from her grasp with squalling from both parties. "Have I made myself clear?"
Sulahn'nehn let out a gasp, she had expected far more than a shove. What courage she had from speaking out had drained away when she met with the man's eyes. She looked to her feet knowing that a misspoken word would see her dragged off. She nodded her head her head obediently, the word 'master' causing her heart to wrench. "Y-Yes, Ser."
At the threats from the Constable Ulrin's lips pressed tighter together. He knew the slaves gathered were too tired to fight them properly. No matter what anyone said or did, they would try to take that child. It would be best to let the mother die with the infant. But the others didn't see it that way, their interference only solidified their separation. If they had let her fight, they'd have both left the world together.
But the others, he guessed, still some hope of living. Some hope despite knowing that this place meant death. The elven girl the Constable loomed over was certainly one of those that still thought they had a chance for a decent outcome from this situation. As soon as the man moved away from her Ulrin found himself nudging through the crowd to stand beside her. To him she looked to delicate too survive this ordeal. Whatever was meant for the healthy, would surly kill her if it was promised to take his life.
"You 'ought to keep quiet... And maybe they will let you work here, instead of putting you with us criminals."
Having spotted his Senior Warden after peaking in curiously, Diocles adopted a careful but determined walk towards Delphina, his head forward. In moments he was five steps behind and one to the right of her, making no move to catch his superior's attention. He was an expert in the military eye, and a casual glance would suggest he was busy assisting her while infact he lazed about, scoping the new recruits. Like most others, his attention was quickly drawn to the altercation over the babe.
Even if they cooperate, most of these poor things will not survive the Joining. What a waste.
As the conflict developed, his eyes shifted to the pompous Thaedrin, a Bull's eye if there ever was one, and then to the face of the elf he shoved. And, a second later, down somewhat.
A terrible, terrible waste.
Oh, if only he knew who 'us' included. She was not quite so eager to correct the elf, of course. Nor did she want to speak again for roughly the next age, lest she cause someone to strike her. She was appreciative of his concern, if any one else shared the feeling, they must have had the same fear in them as she did for not one of them spoke to her. Something not foreign to her.
"I would be surprised if he has not already decided what will become of me..." she spoke softly. These were the only words she spoke to him. If Theadrin returned, she did not want more trouble. Would she even be worth something to them and what exactly was a 'joining'? Her mind reeled in a number of directions, none of them were comforting given the amount of people present. The uncertainty was not welcome.
Trajan leaned out; most of the sorry lot before him seemed eligible enough, now. There was no sense waiting.
"Eyes to me!" he called out, but their murmuring was too great, and most of them did not seem to notice him. Frowning, he raised a gantleted fist and allowed a cascade of lightning to ripple into the sky, tearing the air with thunder, a startling crash that echoed off the castle walls.
Now he seemed to have their attention. Or anyway, the attention of those with minds intact enough to focus on -anything-.
"Welcome to Weisshaupt Fortress," he called. "It is... regrettable that your journey has been difficult." He paused, as though considering whether further comment on this was required; apparently it was not. He pushed on: "You are frightened and hungry, I have no doubt, and you will be fed soon. Indeed, you must come to realize that great rewards await you! What you are being offered is unprecedented!"
He fought to keep a smile off his lips. Minrathous had sent this tribute, yes, but they did not fully understand how he intended to use it. A slave army was no good, not against Dark Spawn. A slave army would run.
"Elves! Barbarians! If you accept the joining, and if it accepts you, you will walk within these walls as a Tevinter citizen! You will be free and have the full rights of any civilized man or woman! Within these walls, among your brother and sister Wardens, your race and heritage will be irrelevant! On this you have my word!"
He paused to let this sink in. Alrik was impassive as always, but he saw Delphina stifle a gasp in the crowd, throwing a glance over her shoulder at Diocles.
"However..." Trajan continued, frowning now. It had only just occurred to him with the woman whose babe they had taken: was an unwilling freedman any better than a slave? Would that woman ever forgive him for coming between her and her spawn? Pressed into service, wouldn't she be naught but a liability? And what of any others who had too much bitterness festering within them to ever serve a man of Tevinter?
"I know that I cannot take your loyalty for granted," he said, and he wondered if this statement wasn't the most shocking of all. "If you attempt the joining, I will take it as an oath not only to fight the Darkspawn, but that you are loyal to me and to the Gray Wardens. Anyone who shows any sign of disloyalty after that will be executed without mercy. And I warn you now, even those of you who are loyal to the cause may very well die. This is a better life than that from which you have come, but perhaps a more dangerous one. An awful end may await you, and perhaps much sooner than you think."
His eyes traced over them.
"I cannot spare the resources to deliver you back into slavery if you will not fight with us, but I can offer you a swift end here and now. Any who would sooner die than serve loyally here, I offer you a clean, fast death."
He raise his eyebrows, waiting.
Diocles waggled his eyebrows in an exaggerated manner at his superior, a desperate attempt to lighten the stifling mood. Still, tension was evident in him. His body as taut as a bowstring, he kept his strung recurve in hand, arrows not nocked, but at the ready. The drama of Trajan's speech, and the frankness of the chances of the recruits, was likely to invite some violence. Diocles did not want to murder these innocents.
But that did not mean he would hesitate if they forced his hand.
A mage, and a powerful one at that, seemed to be in charge. Trajan seized her attention and this words that followed were of no comfort. She was at least, partially right. She may very well meet her end in this place. There was only the illusion of an option when all that was offered was to serve them or die. Even then, your life was not guaranteed. The Creators could not be so cruel as to make her suffer, could they? Or maybe they meant to show her that her purpose was only to amount to servitude. Though paying for her deed with her life seemed like justice, she oh so selfishly wanted to continue breathing. If Trajan spoke the truth, she could lead a fairly decent life under them. Maybe she would never see Darkspawn. It was the only choice that did not involve an immediate death. She was no fighter, no practical skills, nothing that she felt would be of value. Did that matter to these warriors? Fright crept forward again and she felt near tears again. She could not decide if her Creators were giving her a chance at redemption or damned her.
Ulrin watched the mage as he gave his speech. At the start he was disgusted. Service. Fighting. When he was taken form the prison cells he was told the fate he would be receiving was imminent death. Not a dragged out sentence fighting a war against Darkspawn. However as he ended his speech the elven criminal felt relieved. It was still an option to die.
He stepped forward past the worried eleven girl; his head still held as he spoke up at the end of Trajan's speech.
"I have no intention of serving you. Or fighting against these Darkspawn. You may as well, be done with me now."
Trajan's promises were news to Thaedrin. 'Freedom...' He cast a nervous glance around the mob. The slaves seemed to have recovered some of their energy, at least enough to murmur amongst themselves. Somewhere behind him, the barbarian woman was still weeping. 'Falsehood. A lie to placate them. What is the point, they are already so weak.' His eyes lifted to the balustrade, considering the man above for a moment. 'At the end of the day, you wanted Wardens. Those who have lived a life of servitude ought be well-suited to it.'
The elf from before, the one who had nearly been lying on the ground for lack of will, stepped forward to announce his resignation from the earth. His stomach twisted with loathing.
"Who else desires the peace of death? ...Who else among you has lost their worth?" Most of the slaves fell silent. Surely a chance of life was better than none at all, surely they had not walked all this way for nothing. Apprehension rippled through the crowd, and a few did emerge to form around the elven man. Broken things, all.
Thaedrin turned, casting his glance over Delphina and her scout nearby, "You may as well begin disposing of the elderly. Those who wish to die may follow me to the chapel."
He stalked down the corridor with purpose, his Wardens bringing up the rear of the line of elves and humans who had given up on living through the Blight. The brigand mother without her babe, the red-headed elven criminal. Cowards. How the Commander had dared to offer these worthless creatures what the Wardens themselves had lost, he could not comprehend it. He would not accept it.
The Constable stood beside the doorframe as the lot was led into the chapel; built of the same white marble, it held a simple altar placed before a carving of the old gods in slumber. Thaedrin doubted it had ever been used for prayer, but it was secluded and it was quiet. A good place to die, if that would turn out to be the case for these slaves. He peeled away his gloves and tucked them into his belt, his palms lined with the red of half-healed scars.
"Bring me the goblet."
"Bring it filled and ready," he drew an ornate dagger from its sheath at his waist and laid it across his left hand, "I will not waste a healthy body, be there any here."
So ready to have their lives taken away. Their suffering must have been beyond what Sulahn'nehn could grasp or perhaps they knew something she didn't. She was surprised to see that the shaggy looking elf who had cautioned her earlier was among the ones who wished to be run through. If she spoke out again, she could very well be forced to go along with them or be made an example. Instead, she silently hoped that the men were true to their word and would give these poor people a quick, painless end.
When the elf stepped forward and declared his intent to die, Alrik reached for the greataxe strapped to his back. Trajan signaled him to stop when Thaedrin began to speak.
"Interesting," Trajan murmured. "Let's see what he has planned. If I don't end up liking it, nothing of value will be lost, and I can always make him clean the stables as penance."
Delphina winced at Thaedrin's choice of the word "disposing", but did turn back to her work; once the young and elderly were fed, she'd let them rest. In the morning they would begin their lives anew as slaves, albeit hopefully under better conditions than before. She began ushering the final batch into the hall.
"I can handle this," she told Diocles. "Perhaps see if Constable Thaedrin requires help."
Constable Thaedrin requires nothing short of a kick in the trousers.
Diocles hesitated for a split second, then nodded to the Senior Warden. The archer threw his bow over his shoulder and marched sharply after his most hated comrade, broad shoulders and a determined stride keeping the slaves out of his way. He kept his composure, for the most part, throwing in a sharp military salute as he stomped to attention near the hemophilic arcanist.
"At your disposal, Constable."
Ulrin did not feel his death would be so simple by the orders the Constable was issuing. The mage had assured them a quick death if they would not serve loyal. And yet now there was talk of a goblet. Perhaps it was a poison? To perish the same way as Twynne in away put a smile on his face. Whatever it was, he would drink it.If it meant freedom from this place and the burden of his guilt he would drink it.
'But if it is a lie... Should I let another drink first, to ensure they plan to kill us? And that this is not some spell...?'
"Komnenos," Thaedrin's voice betrayed his distaste, "Good. My men will bar the door, and you can continue to be of no use whatsoever."
Soon, one of the Wardens under his command returned with a stone goblet; it was heavy in his hand, immense, and the liquid within was a viscous black substance, shining red in the light of the sconces. Only six months in service, and it already seemed a relic. Thaedrin reviewed the contents, nodded, and placed it on the altar before the slaves. His bare fingers flexed around the handle of his dagger.
"You wish to die so badly? Drink."
There was a stunned silence among the walking corpses, but the first to step up to the task was the brigand woman. Her hands trembled as they lifted the goblet to her lips. She gagged, but clapped a palm over her mouth to keep herself from vomiting.
The screaming that came next was something very familiar to the Constable.
Diocles rolled his eyes, slouching out of attention with obvious contempt. He was quite fond of Delphina, but every time she ordered him to accompany this leech, he was tempted to slap her. He frowned, watching the Joining commence. Komnenos was no honorable warrior, but the methods of this witch were absolutely despicable. Still.. There was no point in speaking out, and no price too high to defeat the monstrous darkspawn.
Steel yourself, bowman. This is the first of many, many deaths today. Do not draw the string unnocked.
Sulahn'nehn jumped in fright. Screaming. It was muffled by the door, but she knew what she had heard. The sound brought back memories she'd hoped she could forget. What had they done, what was behind that door. This was not the death that was promised to that lot. If the humans lied about that, they could be lying about the joining too. She pressed her palms to her ears. She began to wonder how many of them would be standing come the morning.
May it be quick for me. May it be quick.
Ulrin watched the woman sip from the goblet. Part of him wondered if she would never really see her child again. Surly a babe that young would die without their. But then he remembered, when was it last the Twynne and he saw their parents? Could even recall their faces? Were the not just shadows with names to him now? They were better off apart, dying than living never knowing one another.
Watching her scream and crumble to the floor only raised his concerns. Her howls of pain made this end seem like it was anything but what he had requested.
"That does not look like a quick death to me," he scowled looking at the goblet being offered to them. "Why not just run us through and be done with it! What kind of place is this, that you keep murderous criminals alive for so long? Put us to death. Put her to death!"
The others gathered in the room refused the goblet as well, shouting curses. For what little will they had left inside them to live, they did not want to suffer. The dagger kissed Thaedrin's palm and blood burst from the wound in an arc, too much, and too forcefully. The magic hit the outspoken slave hard, pressing down like some great weight on his body and mind, controlling muscle and suppressing thought.
"I said to drink," Thaedrin said, to all of them that were gathered, their stubborn refusal replaced with horror. The cup began to pass again, through reluctant fingers, until it was once again outstretched to Ulrin.
The elven criminal cursed him and his magic as the goblet was passed to him. "B-bastards. Lying, disgusting humans!" Even when the brim of the cup came to his lips. Ulrin still protested. He tried to will himself to choke, to force his tongue to gag on the dark fluid.
As he felt it trickle down his throat, he did start to choke, but not from suffocation. But form the horrible taste and the prickling pain that started in his throat and followed the liquid down to his core. The elf grabbed at his throat coughing and stumbling. Perhaps he really would die, if only from the pain. His eyes tried to stay set on Thaedrin as he started to lose his focus. Ulrin attempted to reach out, thinking perhaps if he grabbed at the blood mage, he'd be attacked in defense. But he could barely mange to do much more than shuffle forward before falling over and to gag and cry in agony before the pain overwhelmed his senses and his consciousness.
Thaedrin released his spell, taking a slow breath to stabilize himself before he stepped over the bodies of the suffering to join his comrades at the door once more. There was little need to supervise the dying, but in the event that some survived, he ordered his men to remain behind. To Komnenos, he gave no instruction. He walked past him into the corridor, and returned to the Great Hall.
When he returned, he saw the slaves were stirring. It seemed there was only a third of their original number remaining, now that the ineligible had been filtered out. He could hear the wailing of his own victims down the hall... Order needed to be restored.
"Those that are left will be given the opportunity to ser--"
The doors burst open, and snow swept inside with the wind. Two Wardens appeared to be wrestling with a creature between them, thrashing and snarling. It took Thaedrin a moment to realize, it was a human being.
"Get off!" The voice was female, but harsh and guttural, "Get! Off!" The woman stomped down onto one man's foot and jerked her arm free of his grip; the second got an elbow to the chest and again to the nose. One soldier came to the aid of his fellows, whipping up the butt of his spear to catch the woman across the jaw. She paused, turning her head back towards him slowly before ripping the weapon from him and snapping it over her knee.
She was covered in blue and white, her hair a nest of knots and twigs that hung down around her shoulders. Her chest was bare but for the paint that was cracking and peeling away from her skin like bark from a tree, and the only clothing she wore was a torn piece of cloth knotted around her hips. She was a giant of a woman, a head taller than the Warden in front of her.
Thaedrin could have blended in with the slaves just then, his expression mirroring the shock on their faces as the woman stalked forward toward the frightened soldier, waving the pointy metal bit of the polearm at him like a mother scolding a child.
"I will shove this between your ribs. Yes?"
Diocles had no inclination to follow Thaedrin, instead intending to stay to wait and see if any of the slaves would awake-But the commotion changed his mind quickly. He whipped an arrow from the quiver at his side, nocking it to the bow as he twirled round the doorframe, quickly surveying the situation and drawing a bead on the giantess. His blood up, he dispensed with all humor, shouting a response to the barbarian's rhetorical question.
"No! Hold! Stay your hand or I will pierce it."
He swallowed slowly. the woman was enormous, and clearly powerful.. but even with legs her size, he doubted she could reach him before he put an arrow or two in her.
Had she not had her chest bare, Sulahn'nehn would have believed the person making short work of the Wardens wasn't a woman at all. She could scarcely believe it was not a Darkspawn. She looked as if she crawled from the same hole as the creatures did. That could not have been hair on her head, surely it was a shrubbery or a moss that had overgrown.
The barbaric woman could not have come at a worse time. She would be trouble and the Wardens would have to deal with her first before tending to the remainder of the slaves and captives. Just that much longer in the unknown. She wanted to tell the newcomer not to struggle, but it did seem more like the men struggled with her than the other way around. As long as they did not manage to carry her off to that other room, she'd had enough of the screaming to give her quite a few nightmares.