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Becoming - Chapter 3

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Title: Becoming
Author: Freckles04
Game: Dragon Age: Origins
Character: Alistair
Disclaimer: Originally posted on BSN and FF.net. The world of Dragon Age belongs to Bioware, and many thanks to them for encouraging community creations.

Chapter 3: Darkspawn in the Night

It was surprising how effective adrenaline was at clearing one's head. And thank the Maker for it. If the tension pouring off of the Grey Warden was any indication, Alistair was going to need all of his faculties for this battle. He let the fear come and sharpen his senses, as he'd been taught. Fear was natural, so one might as well use it. Mastering one's emotions in battle gave maleficars one less weapon against a templar.

He frowned. Except he wasn't destined to be fighting apostates anymore, was he? No, his future held much darker, more meaningful battles.

"Some darkspawn can wield magic," Duncan said softly, his eyes on the darkness before them. They'd crouched behind a pair of boulders at the end of a wagon trail, where the two ruts met the more travel-worn highway. Alistair could see nothing in the gloom, but the Grey Warden was focused on it, almost like he could see movement. "They're called emissaries. If you see one as we're fighting, attack it. Your templar skills will be just as useful against darkspawn casters as apostates."

"Understood." Alistair took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"There's a lad." Duncan clapped a hand on his shoulder. "This won't be like a tourney. These aren't men you'll be facing. Humor and wit won't help you here, just your skill with sword and shield."

"Right." Funny, he didn't think he could make a joke right now if he wanted to.

Duncan squeezed his shoulder through the scale armor. "Let's go."

The Grey Warden crept forward and Alistair followed. He could see no more than a few feet in front of them. The woods around them were silent--no rustling from small creatures, no sleepy birdcalls, nothing. Almost like the forest was holding its breath.

They rounded a corner in the road, and a shadow moved. Duncan leapt forward, his sword and dagger in his hands as though by magic. With two quick strikes, he removed the creature's head from its neck.

And Alistair hadn't even equipped his sword and shield.

"Maker," he breathed. The dead thing…stank. He'd smelled death before, and this wasn't the same. Rancid, yes, but corrupted too. It burned his nostrils and set his stomach to roiling. He couldn't see many details of the thing in the dark, thank the Maker. The smell alone was enough to give him nightmares.

"They'll know we're here now," Duncan said. "Be prepared."

No sooner had the words left the Grey Warden's mouth before half a dozen figures stormed out of the trees, weapons raised. Grunts and inarticulate cries filled the air. Alistair shoved the surprise and the terror aside and charged. He bashed his shield against the nearest target, sending it thundering to the ground. He slashed downward with his sword, finishing it before it could rise again. He spun, lifting his shield and angling it so the edge caught the next darkspawn across the face. It froze, stunned. Alistair ran it through, then pushed it off his blade with his shield.

"Emissary!" Duncan shouted.

Alistair looked up, his eyes drawn to the colorful flashes that indicated magic. A darkspawn took advantage of his distraction, knocking him back with its own shield. Alistair staggered and shook his head, trying to clear his vision. He raised his shield in time to block a sword, and the impact shot along his arm. He shouted his fury at the thing that had attacked him and, sweeping his sword in an arc, decapitated it.

He rushed the emissary, wincing as electricity sizzled through him. He gritted his teeth and summoned the abilities he'd spent the last decade perfecting. They responded eagerly, easily. He felt the emissary's mana disperse as he struck it once, twice. It screamed. The air tingled as it began to cast another spell. Alistair shoved his shield against it, interrupting its attempt, then sank his sword into its gut. The thing leaned forward, and Alistair found himself staring into its black, dead eyes. With a cry, he disengaged himself from it and lurched backwards. The emissary toppled to the ground, motionless.

Something landed on his shoulder, and Alistair spun, his sword and shield at the ready. Duncan stepped back, his hands raised in a placating gesture. "It's over," he assured the younger man.

"Over?" Alistair blinked. He cast his gaze around the area, but he could see little. "You're sure?"

"I'm sure." Duncan placed a hand on Alistair's sword arm and pressed it down gently. "You did good, lad."

Without a word, Alistair led his sword and shield clatter to the ground. He stumbled away, bent at the waist, and vomited.

###

The morning sun brought with it additional evidence of the darkspawn's malignancy. Occasionally, as Alistair and the Grey Warden walked, they would come across a black trail etched into the land like a knife wound. Invariably, Duncan would stop and survey the damage for a moment, before rising and pushing onward, faster than before.

Alistair's hands itched to hold his sword and shield, but Duncan assured him there were no darkspawn about, not any more. How the Grey Warden knew, Alistair had no idea. They shared few words as they walked. The joyous feeling of freedom that had buoyed Alistair's mood the day before had dissipated entirely, replaced instead with fatigue, trepidation, and disgust. Despite the brightness of the day, every time Alistair closed his eyes he saw again the emissary's ugly, twisted face inches from his own.

Maybe this whole Grey Warden thing was a mistake.

"How many darkspawn are there?" The question tumbled from his mouth, unbidden, and hung in the silence of the road.

"No one knows for certain," Duncan replied after a moment. "Tens of thousands, perhaps. They have held the Deep Roads in the dwarven kingdom for centuries, since before the last Blight."

"So they could be walking around beneath us? Right now?" Alistair eyed the weathered grass. "Creepy."

"They're not likely to burst to the surface." Duncan frowned and cast a glance to the south, then shook his head and continued on. "We see infrequent raids, like at the one we defeated last night. But the darkspawn rarely appear in any numbers unless a Blight occurs."

"That's when they discover an Old God, right? One of the Tevinter Imperium's dragon deities that the Maker imprisoned underground?" Alistair shrugged at Duncan's raised eyebrow. "I did more in the Chantry than learn to swing a sword, you know."

"Essentially, yes. That's a Blight. The darkspawn are compelled to search for the Old Gods. When they find one, their touch taints it, and it becomes an archdemon. The archdemon organizes the darkspawn into a horde, which then attacks the surface." Duncan stopped and looked to the south again.

Alistair paused too, his eyes travelling from Duncan's frowning face to the southern horizon. "You're making me nervous, Duncan," he said finally.

"What's that?" Duncan glanced at Alistair, then shook his head with a rueful smile. "Sorry. I've been trying to decide if my senses are deceiving me."

"Deceiving you how?" Alistair squinted through the trees. "I don't see anything."

"All Grey Wardens can sense darkspawn. And I'm sensing…" His eyes grew unfocused again. "A lot of them. Enough that I can feel their taint even though they're far to the south." His gaze cleared. "I'm not sure what it means, but we need to get to Denerim as soon as possible. I'll need to arrange for a scouting mission so we can discover the meaning here. That many darkspawn…"

"You don't think it's…it's a Blight, do you?"

The Grey Warden shook his head. "No. There would be other signs. Come, we haven't the time to waste standing about talking."
Alistair, bastard prince and former templar, embarks on a new life as a Grey Warden.

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kitiaramajere's avatar
Well written as usual! You have a good take on Alistair, I think.
Freckles04's avatar
Thanks very much! I had a lot of fun writing him.