Tonight saw the small band of initiate wardens set out for the village of Greenthorn, with a few hiccups along the way. Once they finally arrived, a grisly sight revealed greater troubles in store than a simple escort task.
The party travelled along the Imperial Highway towards the Ferelden border in the Frostback Mountains for two days, before splitting off the road to follow a narrow path through a canyon. It was late afternoon when they decided to begin looking for a suitable place to camp, though with the steep cliffs looming either side of them so close, nobody felt too happy about their chances. As the canyon narrowed to a few yards, Roark spotted a strange shadow behind a large rock. As he turned to his companions to point it out, a large, imposing figure popped up from behind the rock. He had the look of an Avvarian hillsman, the large barbarians who lived in the mountains. He wore a suit of mail armour and hefted a large two handed axe in his massive hands.
“I am Forstal Ar Nithig O Frosthold and you are on MY ROAD!” he shouts to the wardens, striking an intimidating pose with his axe at the ready.
Alexandra seemed terrified by the sight. Lenka gave away no sign of her feelings, and Roark seemed particularly unimpressed.
Forstal demanded the trio hand over all their gold, armour, and weapons in payment for using “his” road. While Alexandra seemed ready to negotiate some kind of amicable arrangement, Roark was still unimpressed, and told Forstal exactly where he could shove his demands.
Forstal only grinned, as he replied “I was hoping you’d say that.” And he turned to the steep cliffs that surrounded them. “Show ’em the Avvar way, boys!”
Only silence followed, for several moments. Roark thought he heard a grunt of pain from somewhere up the slope.
Forstal, meanwhile, turned to rant at the mountains surrounding him, demanding his “boys” stop stalling and attack NOW! In response, a dark shape leapt from the canyon walls to pounce on him. He managed to get one swing of his axe just before the shape collided with him, spilling his lifeblood in a spray all over the path.
The party tensed, as the dark shape rounded from behind the rock. It revealed to be a tall, misshapen figure, with long limbs and blades attached to it’s forearms. It’s head was bulbous and bald, with long sharp ears and a deep jaw opened wide showing large sharp teeth. It seemed to be dripping blood, a parting gift from Forstal’s axe, and the trio noticed the blood was black as pitch. The sight of the creature made Alexandra recoil in horror, and the two dwarves knew instantly what it was.
Lenka was the first to react, slinking up the side of the path along the canyon wall as the creature fixed it’s attention on the other two. She tried to get close to stab it but at the last minute it spotted her, and she could only get a glancing blow with her short sword. It retaliated in kind, landing a slashing blow across Lenka’s cheek with released a fine spray of blood. Roark made ready to aid his comrade, but before he could move another creature, like the first only appearing at full health, leapt upon him from higher up the canyon wall.
The dwarves and the darkspawn traded blows, both taking damage from the other, and the wounded was dispatched quickly with Roarks maul. Meanwhile Alexandra recovered from her initial shock and let loose a powerful spell. She wrapped the healthier of the two darkspawn in a constricting sheath of energy, causing periodic damage to it as the others fought on. Before long, as the creature seemed to sag beneath the weight of the magic and it’s wounds, she shouted at the others to get clear. Only Lenka was fast enough to react, however, and praying that Roark’s armour would help him withstand whatever was coming, she launched a throwing knife at the creature, which struck true. It screamed in agony, before exploding in a shower of black bile and viscera, knocking Roark off his feet at the impact.
As he righted himself, Roark shot Lenka a withering glare. She only shrugged, as if to say “Not my fault you didn’t get out of the way.”
The trio decided they should move on to a safer area to camp. As they passed the grisly body of Forstal Ar Nithig O Frosthold, Roark decided to take his fallen axe for himself.
The party made camp a short time later, though they didn’t rest as well as they hoped, even with a watch schedule set up. While both dwarves had seen darkspawn before, they had never seen that particular variant. Alexandra, drawing on the lessons she had received from the Warden’s tutors, had called it a “shriek”, the variety of darkspawn that were once elves. They found themselves waking at every suspicious noise, fearful for a sneak attack in the dark.
The night passed uneventfully.
By mid afternoon of the next day, the trio finally arrive at the outskirts of Greenthorne, overlooking the valley in which it is located. The village stretches out below them, and beyond is a small hill with a defensive looking square tower. They notice that carrion birds are circling above the village, though all three do not grasp the significance at first. Though they do notice the village seems unusually deserted for this time of day.
As they reach the village square, they are greeted by a gruesome sight. Humans and their horses lay slain in the centre of the square, looking like they’ve been dead for at least two days. Alexandra is paralized by the horrific scene, never having experienced anything like it before in her sheltered life.
Lenka makes a quick scan of the bodies, and finds an arm band on one of the fellows, which is engraved with the griffon emblem of the Grey Wardens. Their armour too looks well made, though their weapons are nowhere to be seen. This, evidently was who they were sent to meet.
The party does note, however, that there are five slain horses, and only four humans. Perhaps there is hope yet of finding Aldric LaPointe?
Wrapped up as they are in their own musings, the party stumbles up to the inn, not noticing the commotion inside. Roark opens the door to find a woman behind the bar beset by five shambling corpses, reaching for her throat. The woman wields a cleaver with deadly precision, however she stands little hope, outnumbered as she is.
Lenka again proves to be the fastest to react, and quickly hurries to leap upon the bar and stab the nearest corpse. It is taken by surprise, and she quickly brings town her second weapon, her morningstar, and batters it over the head. The fight progresses quickly from that point.
Lenka gets a few more good stabs, setting up corpses to fall to Cally’s cleaver. Roark proves monstrously effective, reducing one corpse to a puddle of flesh behind the bar thanks to a lucky blow with his maul. Alexandra fires off some bolts of magical energy, killing a few including one who got dangerously close to hurting her.
As the adrenaline wears off, it’s clear Lenka fared the worse of all of them, and she slumps against the bar in pain. Roark lends her a fortifying swig from his flask of “watr” (a disguise for his whisky that only he thinks is effective), and she seems to pick up a little. Alexandra suddenly realises it’s her chance to be helpful, and rushes over to tend to Lenka’s wounds. The silent dwarf lets the mage do her work, though her scowl shows how little she cares for the attention.
Once Lenka is tended to, they all take a breather at a relatively clean table. The woman introduces herself as Cally, the bartender and owner of the inn. Cally explains she’s most likely the only one left alive. According to her, corpses came down the hill two days before, killing many on the first night. Then those that died rose up the next night to kill even more… The wardens tried to help, but got overwhelmed as well. She doesn’t know what might have happened to the remaining warden, but suspects the tower has something to do with it, which wasn’t there two days before.
Roark made a show of attempting secrecy while finding out what Cally knew about the wardens, asking if she knew who they were waiting for. Alex, however, in her nievity, blurted out “They were waiting for US, stupid!”. Luckily this means little to Cally, who is still only grateful the trio turned up when they did.
After hearing of corpses and the nearby tower, Roark makes the leap of logic that the Tower should be their next destination, declaring “Corpses are raised by mages, and mages live in towers! Let’s go!”. As he launches to his feet, Cally agrees with his conclusion, but not his theory, and explains that the tower was not there two days before, and suddenly his bravado is gone, and he slumps back into his chair. Alexandra and Lenka ( in her own silent way ) both urge him to take courage, and they decide they will seek the tower. After all, it is their only lead on the last warden.
Before they leave, they negotiate what to do with the fallen wardens, as none feel right leaving them to rot in the streets. Both dwarves seem keen on giving them a “proper burial” – Roark reasoning “Humans return to their stone too, right?”. It takes both Alex and Cally to explain that they should be cremated if they are to be honoured properly, so that their souls may return to the Maker’s side.
It takes a few hours to build a sufficient pyre for the fallen wardens, and another for their horses for purely practical reasons. Cally says a few words, but says sadly afterwords that she is a poor substitute for a revered sister or mother.
As Cally moves to return to her inn, she fends off Roark’s suggestions of joining them. The inn is all she has left, and she will not leave it. In an unexpected display of generosity, Roark gives Cally the two handed axe he took from the fallen Forstal the day before, reasoning she should have a better tool at hand than a cleaver. She takes it gratefully, though she hopes she won’t have to use it.
Lenka gives Roark an appreciative and proud nod, as they turn toward the tower. Roark avoids making eye contact with either woman, looking embarrassed by his own actions.
As dusk falls, the party begin the trek up the hill toward the mysterious tower.