Nov 16, 2018 5:02 PM
Three grey wardens are off to kill Malak's mom
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"The king personally requested the three of you, Alistair. The tower will not be the main site of the battle, but it is not outside the realm of possibility that darkspawn will appear there. The beacon must be lit at the proper time, regardless of any hazards you encounter there."

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And she'll just...follow along? At least until someone stops her - lighting a beacon sounds like a wonderfully safe assignment, she can try to make her case about her mother when the battle is over.

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Aria's honestly just gonna assume that Malak is part of their merry band of adventurers until she does something to challenge that assumption. Attrition rates for people associated with Aria and the wardens have been pretty bad lately, but hey, if Malak wants to tag along then that seems like Malak's business.

Night has fallen as the four of them reach the Tower of Ishal. It's big and old and looms ominously above them. The ominousness could have something to do with the weird sounds coming from inside it.

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The Grey Wardens had seen the Archdemon's designs in their dreams, and so thought they could stop it. The darkspawn had emerged south of Ferelden, giving the king time to gather the forces he would need for the defense of the realm. Ostagar was a strong point - if the horde could be lured to battle here it could be broken. The darkspawn seemed willing enough to fight here, and so battle plans had been drawn up.

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Nothing too complicated, of course - The king had come up with a dozen such plans, but Teryn Loghain had managed to talk him down to something that the army's commanders would actually be capable of executing. Even with the simple plan they settled on in the end, Loghain had had to maneuver to ensure that he commanded the only part that needed actual command. Cailan would lead the defense beneath the walls of the fortress, where the morale benefits of fighting beside the king would more than make up for his inexperience. Loghain would lead the band of seasoned veterans waiting to pounce on the darkspawn's flank once the horde was fully committed. Trapped between the hammer of Loghain's veteran reserves and the anvil of Ostagar's walls, the darkspawn would be utterly crushed.

Or at least that was the plan.

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They had underestimated the Archdemon's intelligence. This was understandable - none now lived who remembered the last blight. Every encounter they had had with darkspawn before had been with disorganized creatures, demonstrating some low cunning perhaps but no real thought. Darkspawn with plans, ambitions, *strategies* - though the king and the teryn and the wardens *knew* this was what they faced, they had not adjusted their mindset appropriately. They thought themselves fortuitous that the horde had emerged so far south, giving them time to prepare and gather. (Never thinking that their gathering was the will of Dumat.) They thought themselves lucky that Ostagar blocked the horde's path, and wondered how they might lure the hordes to battle there. (Never wondering whether they were being lured.)

For the Archdemon had seen the Grey Wardens' designs in its dreams, and so knew how to destroy them.

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At first, the battle seemed to be going according to plan. (According to both plans) The darkspawn rushed in at the king's men, but the king's men held. Arrows and spells rained down on the back ranks of the horde, cutting through their numbers. (Expendable, replaceable) A message was dispatched to light the beacon signalling Loghain's charge - too early, of course, but this is why Loghain had given himself the command he had. He could see the shape of the battle unfold from above, and determine for himself when the horde was committed. But before the signal could be lit, everything went wrong as Dumat's plan began to unfold.

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They had underestimated the darkspawn. Forgotten, perhaps, that these creatures were native to the deep roads and sprawling network of caverns beneath the earth. Or perhaps just not drawn the obvious conclusion that creatures that lived underground would know how to tunnel as well as they did. The tower of Ishal was the first to fall when the darkspawn burst through the ground, but soon holes were opening up everywhere, darkspawn flooding into the fortress and up the ramparts.

 

The doors of the tower burst open just as Aria and company were approaching. Four - no, six - twelve - twenty - too many hurlocks to count spilled out of the tower, spreading out. One band moved towards the warden-recruits while others ran for the fortress walls in closely-packed groups, blades out but moving without the howls and war cries characteristic of darkspawn.

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So much for wonderfully safe. She draws her blades. "Um. I think our mission might just be a failure."

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Well, shit. 

She's not a proper soldier, but she's been outgunned before, both in the Arl's estate and in the stupid cave where she died the first time. They can try cutting through the horde, but she doesn't think she can fight dozens of darkspawn simultaneously; odds are that ends with the rest of her party killed and her being taken alive, provided the spirits weren't bullshitting her. She's not entirely sure they weren't bullshitting her. 

Their other option, of course, is to flee. Fleeing means abandoning their mission and leaving the Teryn without a signal, at which point the battle is as good as lost. She's also not entirely sure where they'd flee to, given that darkspawn seem to be swarming over the entire landscape, but maybe if they had some altitude they could identify an escape route? She wouldn't even be considering escape if not for the feeling at the back of her mind that there was no way they were going to hold Ostagar, in which case the darkspawn would move north, in which case they needed to be able to form a force that could defeat a horde this size, in which case they were gonna need the warden treaties.

In which case - provided Malak wasn't bullshitting them - they needed Malak to tell them where they were.

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Draconis's magic crackles through the air, lighting half a dozen darkspawn on fire as Aria and Alistair move to defend him from the horde. 

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"How many of these things can you incinerate?!" she screams, burying her sword in one of the monsters.

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"Not this many! Not without lyrium - half of this group at most, and only if they stay close together - "

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That's something, then. Not enough, but something.

"Gonna have to cut our way through them! If we can get a decent angle on the tower we can maybe light it from the ground, but we're gonna need enough space to shoot an arrow up - "

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Malak cuts down two darkspawn, but one of her daggers catches in the second's collarbone. She leaves it and scoops up a darkspawn blade off the ground. "That sounds better than trying to fight through all of them! Draconis, what's your range?"

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"Not far enough to light the beacon from here. If I were in, like, a tree or something - ?"

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"So climb a tree!"

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"I don't know how to climb trees!" 

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Malak can climb trees. Malak has a crossbow. This probably won't work, but - 

She runs for a nearby tree, vaulting a Hurlock along the way, climbs - down below they're shooting at her but she hasn't been hit yet - 

She gets three-quarters of the way up, props herself in the last fork she thinks will support her weight, and holds a single bolt as far from the tree trunk as she can.

"Draconis!"

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" - if I hit you I am really fucking sorry," he says, and then shoots his flames at the crossbow bolt.

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He hits her. Her left hand is burned pretty bad, but she slaps the bolt into place, aims as carefully as she can - given the pain, her position, and the arrows flying past her this is not very careful at all - and pulls the trigger.

Without a left hand to support her, the recoil knocks her backwards out of her perch. After crashing through several branches on her way down she hits the ground and everything goes black.

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She takes the head off a darkspawn and glances up at the tower. Something up there is on fire, and she's pretty sure that's all they can really be expected to do here.

"Beacon's lit! Grab her and fall back to the fortress!"

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Alistair picks Malak up and carries her; Draconis isn't strong enough and is also occupied with incinerating whatever darkspawn they run into. Aria takes the rear. They manage to make it back to the ruined fortress, and when it's also overrun, they make a beeline for the massive stone bridge to the north.

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As the hordes flooding up into the fortress took the walls, the archdemon let loose its ogres onto the field. The brutes charged between the darkspawn lines and crashed into the defenders. Faced with such foes, Cailan's forces - mostly fresh recruits - broke and fled back to the safety of the walls. But the walls were no longer safe. Trapped between the anvil of Ostagar's walls and the hammer of the darkspawn hordes, the defending army was crushed as thoroughly as they had hoped to crush the horde.

 

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When he saw the ogres rushing in, Loghain ordered his troops to ready for their charge - the Archdemon had been cautious thus far, but it was committed now and Loghain would close the trap around it. As the beacon went up in flames just moments later, he adjusted his estimate of Cailan's sense of strategic timing upwards. But then, by the light of the beacon and the smaller watchfires atop the fortress walls he saw the disaster unfolding. He saw the darkspawn take the walls, saw them firing down on Cailan's men trapped in the pass. And he did the only thing he could. He sounded the retreat and called his captains to him to plan their next steps.

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