tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 083-084

There and Back Again Ch. 083-084

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter Eighty-Three: Battle-worn

I crept back across the bridge, glad that I wouldn't have to do it again until after we'd found Branka. Seriously with the walking! I sighed, and then tiptoed up past the Emissary, leaning against the wall behind it, daggers ready.

I didn't have to wait long until I heard the sound of booted feet marching. I strained to see in the dim light, but soon saw the flickering of moving torches in the middle of a mass of dwarves. They marched five across, the outer rows with shields overlapping, the dwarves equipped not only with swords or axes and shields, but also spears for the centre three rows to stab through the shield wall. About halfway back I saw a cluster of taller people on either side, and knew that was my party.

The darkspawn heard them at the same time as I, and there was an aura of anticipation in the air as they limbered up and prepped their weapons. About the time I could sense the other Grey Wardens, the darkspawn started growling; they were silenced by a sharp bark from the Emissary. A few of the archers popped off shots toward the group, but they all bounced off the raised shields, and the Emissary shouted again, what I assumed to be a scathing rebuke.

Just as the dwarves in front reached the end of the bridge, I heard Kardol shout out a command, and the dwarves began to charge forward as a group. The shield wall spread out to maintain the perimeter. The darkspawn, who'd been holding back until the dwarves exited the bridge, rushed forward and clashed with the first row of dwarves.

The Emissary hadn't summoned its magic yet, and I waited to take it out; I wanted all the other darkspawn occupied – they couldn't see me, but I still didn't want them taking pot shots in my direction. So I watched, as did it, as the front line dwarves filed out to the sides, carving a path through the hurlocks on either side; the groups of my companions hustled through the gaps, which then closed so that none of the hurlocks could turn and attack the Wardens' backs. Except for one Warden; I noticed Anders, standing well back and surrounded by dwarves, as he began chanting and sending out shafts of turquoise healing energies to wherever they were needed most.

I saw a couple of dwarves fall, swarmed by darkspawn, but the gap was immediately closed by the dwarves on either side, or by one from behind stepping forward with shield raised, and the protection of the shield wall was mostly maintained.

As the Wardens and companions began picking off the darkspawn archers, the Emissary growled something, and I felt the ground rumble slightly as the ogres lumbered forth into the fray. With that, the Emissary gathered his magic and began to cast.

I reached out through the greasy, tainted aura and seized his mana before he could react. I reached around and slit the Emissary's throat, but not as deeply as I normally would; I wanted it to remain alive, at least for a little while, while I used its mana. Black blood bubbled out through the laceration and spilled out of its ruined mouth, and it slowly dropped onto its knees at my feet. I kicked it over, and hastily started popping shields onto the Wardens, who I could barely see in the dim light, but could locate through the taint, and then trying to isolate individual companions and dwarves as well.

And I was glad I had; I looked to my left just in time to see Alistair bashed by the back of an ogre's massive hand, and go flying, but he popped right back up like a jack-in-the-box and dived back in, largely uninjured.

I turned to head in that direction when I heard a shout from the opposite side. I slowed to look, and could see Sten standing toe-to-toe with the Ogre, Aedan and Faren assisting him, but what drew my attention was the tall person with dark hair and dark skin standing with his hands over his ears, not paying attention, not even holding weapons. Duncan. With one last look over at Alistair's group – relieved to see that the ogre was down and they'd started attacking the hurlocks from the rear – I changed direction and headed towards Duncan. I cried out as I watched him sprout two arrows, one in the shoulder and one in the flank; he didn't react, other than to stagger at the momentum. As I closed the distance, I began to hear the screams pouring forth from his mouth.

I reached his side just as Sereda did; I carefully pulled Duncan down to sit, without disturbing the arrows, and then we both put our backs to him, ready to defend him from any darkspawn thinking to take advantage of his weakness.

Still apparently unable to sense or see me, a couple of genlocks and a hurlock approached, looking for an easy kill with Duncan curled up and Sereda's back apparently unprotected; fortunately they came one or two at a time, and I was able to use my crossed blades to deflect blows, pushing them off balance and getting in a few good swipes. Darkspawn blood poured out over my hands and arms, and soon there were three darkspawn corpses at my feet.

I was startled to look around and see that no more darkspawn were standing. The dwarves had begun dragging the injured away from the carnage, while everyone else just caught their breath. As soon as I was able, I screamed for Anders and dropped down to check on Duncan.

His breathing was ragged and blood speckled his lips; more blood poured out around the arrows, and his normally dark complexion had gone pale. I cradled his head, crooning reassuring nonsense in his ear; he didn't even seem to know I was there, and still held his head as though in pain.

Anders dropped down at my side.

"What? Oh. Arrows. Okay." He fumbled through his pack, coming out with several handfuls of bandages and some poultices, as well as something that looked like a pair of plyers. "Can you hold him? This is going to hurt."

"I don't think he'll notice. He didn't even twitch when he was hit." All the same I wrapped my arms carefully around his chest, pinning his own arms to his sides. "I think one punctured his lung. He's got blood in his mouth."

"Got it." Anders snapped the end off the arrow in the front of his shoulder, then the one on his flank, before deftly unbuckling Duncan's armour and tossing the chest piece out of the way. He took a deep breath, then reached in with the plyers. "Here we go."

He grabbed the arrow by the steel head and began wiggling it back out, stopping once to widen the hole with his dagger. Duncan's harsh breathing worsened, and I heard a whistling sound from the wound, but otherwise he didn't react at all.

Anders, however, swore. "Andraste's saggy tits! I need some help."

Aedan materialised at my side, startling me. "What do you need me to do?"

Anders soaked a handful of bandaging in something he poured out of a pouch at his belt, then handed it to Aedan. "Hold it over the wound. Hard as you can. It will hurt – maybe," he amended as he eyed Duncan's unseeing stare, "but it's pain, or death, so I'd pick pain. Push as hard as you can."

Aedan complied and the whistling sound decreased, while Anders examined the tip of the arrow quickly. "Not poisoned. Probably tainted, but that shouldn't be a problem. Okay, Sierra, switch sides."

I shuffled around and allowed Duncan to lay sideways against my shoulder as Anders checked out the arrow in his flank. "Thank the Maker, it's not that deep." Again with the plyers, he teased out the steel head. He slapped a poultice over the resulting hole, and I held it in place while he returned to the wound in the front of Duncan's shoulder.

By this time, Duncan's breaths were gasping and shallow, and his skin had taken on a distinctly grey tinge. Anders swore again before slapping his hand over the wound and shoving Aedan out of the way. A blue glow emanated from the area, and the wound closed up. The whistling stopped entirely, but Duncan's breathing didn't improve.

"Anders..."

"I know, I know. I just..." He grabbed his dagger again, briefly heating it with magic before brandishing it in Duncan's direction.

Aedan grabbed his hand as it descended towards the warrior's chest. "What, in Andraste's name, do you think you're doing with that?"

"Trust me. I don't have time to explain. Please, let me save him."

The sincere worry on Anders' face calmed down any distrust my brother had. Aedan nodded, and Anders proceeded to gently but implacably cut a tiny hole in Duncan's chest wall a couple of inches above his nipple. After a minute, I could hear a whoosh of air, and Duncan coughed, expelling more air through the hole and allowing him to draw a deeper breath. I heard cheering, and looked up, dazed, to see all of our friends standing around us, watching and smiling.

Duncan slumped, slowly, his arms going slack, and I lowered him to the ground in relief as his colour improved and he breathed deeply. After a little more air whooshing out, Anders ran a quick scan over Duncan's entire torso, before healing up the tiny hole he'd made without even a scar.

"He needs some rest. And hopefully some food." He cast a worried look at me. "And I've no idea where to even start for what's going on in his head."

A shout from the dwarves gathered our attention. They waved for Anders, and he stood with a quiet groan. "Healing dwarves is so draining! Keep him still, and I'll be back."

I nodded, turning to dig in my pack for some blankets. I rolled one under his head for a pillow, and covered him with the other, tucking him in gently, before we all moved a little ways away. Alistair came up and laced his fingers – still in his gauntlet and just as sticky as mine – through mine.

"What happened?"

I looked to Sten, who shrugged; Faren stepped forward, expression uncertain. "He was fighting – like a man possessed, honestly, cutting through darkspawn like butter – and then the ogre attacked. Duncan got in front of it and was distracting it so we could flank, when it roared in his face and he just..." Faren looked uncomfortable. "Started screaming, like he was on fire or something. He dropped his swords, grabbed his head, and the ogre just ignored him after that. I couldn't stop to help, with that ogre still standing..." he trailed off, obviously feeling guilty.

Aedan put his hand on Faren's shoulder. "You did the right thing. Nice take down on the ogre, by the way."

Faren grinned. I turned to Sereda.

"Thanks for your help."

She eyed me skeptically. "You really just walked past all these darkspawn to stand behind the Emissary?"

"What can I say? It's a gift. Or a curse. Not sure, honestly."

"How did the dwarves fare?" Aedan asked, distracting us from what could be an awkward conversation. I took a visual inventory of our largely uninjured party. Oghren had blood on his face, and a new scar through one eyebrow, but everyone else looked fine.

Jowan joined us. "Three dead, seven seriously injured, but they should recover. Anders has patched up the worst injuries, and I got the rest." He gestured at Oghren. "I'm not as good at healing as he is, obviously."

Oghren belched loudly. "Meh. The ladies like a scar with a good story, kid. Don't get your smalls in a twist over it."

We all laughed.

I sobered up. "Who were the dwarves that died?"

I was impressed; Jowan could answer right away. "Murray, Walder, and Tipper."

I was heartbroken that the energetic, clever-tongued dwarf we'd met the day before was gone. It didn't seem to matter to me that the dwarves didn't consider this a tragedy; I did. They may have seen themselves as already dead, but just a few hours before they'd been alive and well. And somehow knowing one of them, having spoken with her...it made it worse.

I winced, and Alistair put his arm around my shoulders in sympathy. Sereda rolled her eyes.

"Well, come on then." Sereda grinned at me. "I know where there's a sink with a water rune. Let's go get cleaned up before the men get there."

I smiled hesitantly, glad for the distraction, and followed her across the bridge – swearing at it, naturally – and into a little closet of a room. There was no tub, but warm water came out of the rune when she touched it. We both stripped, washing ourselves down quickly, then I redressed in some clean-ish linen under-armour clothing and filled a bucket.

"I'm going to go over by Duncan and wipe down my armour."

Sereda grabbed herself a bucket and joined me; there were already a handful of dwarves and my companions waiting to use the facility as well. I crossed the stupid bridge – again – and sank to the ground near Duncan, piling my armour beside me. As I worked, Alistair, and then Aedan, and then the rest of our companions slowly filtered over to gather around as well. We all re-equipped our armour when it was acceptably clean – I'm going to have to burn mine, once we get back to Orzammar – and then sat watching as several dwarves dug pits into the stone with heavy pickaxes.

The three dead dwarves were lowered in, and we all had a moment of respectful silence, before more dwarves started filling in the graves. Some began singing, something that mixed ancient Dwarvish with the trade tongue, obviously mournful, though I couldn't understand many of the words. It was strange, yet somehow beautiful also. It reminded me a bit of a funeral dirge. I wondered what Leli would have thought.

The gates to Bownammar had been cleared, though the cost was high; we still weren't sure Duncan would recover, and the Legion had lost three Legionnaires. We decided to spend a night with the Legion, before making any decisions. We were all exhausted, after a morning of fighting and an afternoon of cleanup.

Alistair wasn't going to allow us to sleep near Duncan, worried what he might do when he woke; I didn't want to leave him alone. So we compromised, stripping him of weapons and armour, and Aedan bound his hands in front of him, tightly but gently, so we'd have time to react if he woke violently. We were all shocked to see the skin on his forearms blackening and covered in rough blotches, like darkspawn skin. I wonder how long he's been hiding that. I covered it back up and hid it from the newer members, but shared bleak looks with Aedan and Alistair.

I slept curled in Alistair's arms, cuddled up next to Duncan. The dwarves were standing watch, and for once all the Wardens could sleep. I had nightmares, unsurprisingly; between darkspawn and dreaming about Duncan dying, I woke in a panicked sweat several times, each time comforted by a very patient Alistair. I didn't feel particularly well-rested in the morning, but when Duncan stirred, I was wide awake in an instant.

"What...?" Duncan rolled onto his side, trying to sit up, and had discovered his bound hands. He rubbed his face and looked around groggily. "What happened?"

I was kneeling in front of him before he could finish asking, untying his hands. "You got...confused, during the battle. Took a couple of arrows." I pointed at the holes in his linen tunic.

"There was an ogre. It seemed to...do something to you," Alistair supplied helpfully.

Duncan looked thoughtful, but his expression was haggard and his complexion a bit grey. "I remember sending you after the Emissary, and then...nothing."

"It's okay. Anders healed you, and you're fine now."

"No, I doubt very much that I am."

I winced, and covered it by handing him a water skin and digging through my pack for food. I shared out some deepstalker jerky and biscuit, and settled in to munch my own. I was distressed to see Duncan barely pick at his. I knew what that meant. Darkspawn don't eat normal food. I tried not to draw attention to it, not to think too much about it.

Once we'd finished (and Alistair ate most of Duncan's, too), Duncan had us gather all the Wardens, while he went off a little ways out of earshot and spoke with Anders for a few minutes. Then he walked over to the dwarven camp, pulling Kardol aside for a moment. He came back, face somber.

"It has become apparent that I am...not well. I have been injured, and have been advised not to overexert myself for a few days, in addition to..." he trailed off, shrugging helplessly. "I will not be accompanying you through Bownammar; I will remain here and help the Legion as much as I can, until you return."

Everyone started shouting at once, Aedan and Alistair loudest of all, complaining and begging him not to leave us. I just watched him, silently, drawing my gaze from his worn, tired expression to his bloodshot eyes to the slight stoop in his shoulders. I slumped, knowing he was right. But yet, there was something that just didn't sit right.

I took him by the hand, dragging him away from the group who'd started debating amongst themselves. I got him isolated, and looked up at him, apprehensive. A slight smile played around his lips, like he was a proud teacher and I his star pupil.

"You're planning on taking your Calling while we're gone, aren't you." I bit my lip, upset.

"No." He reached out to touch my cheek. "I considered it, but no. I knew you'd think that though." He sighed. "I wouldn't leave you all during a Blight. I will be the one to make the killing blow on the Archdemon, if I possibly can. I swear to you, Sierra, that I will be here when you get back. I just cannot risk the mission or my Wardens' safety if I get...confused, again."

I reached out for him, and he pulled me in for a hug. "Okay. But if you aren't here when we get back, I'll find you in your afterlife and kick your ass."

He laughed, then led me back to the group, where I slipped under Alistair's arm and gripped his hand. The anger and shouting had apparently finished, and Aedan's face registered nothing more than exhausted acceptance. Alistair's eyes were suspiciously red-rimmed, but he examined my forlorn expression for just a moment and kept his opinion to himself. The newer Wardens seemed to be watching Aedan and Alistair, expecting objections, and when none were forthcoming, they all just hunched over and avoided eye contact.

Duncan cleared his throat. "Aedan is in charge while you're there. Alistair is second, and Sierra is third. I expect you all to act like Grey Wardens in my absence, understood?" There was a round of nodding. I was surprised to find myself in the chain of command, but supposed it made sense. I was the third-most experienced Warden in the group, even if most of them hadn't been told. Though I wonder how many have put it together, from my appetite and ability to sense darkspawn, as well as the improvement in my skills... Some of them must have, because no one questioned Duncan on granting me the authority.

Duncan did the rounds, saying something to each Warden or companion in the group. He shared a whispered conversation with Sereda, which apparently pissed her off, going by the thinning of her lips and the scowl; I wondered what he'd said. Finally she nodded, however reluctantly, and he moved on.

I took the opportunity to have a word with Kardol.

"Nice job, topsider," he said to me as I approached. "I never thought we'd see you again alive when you walked, plain as day, right across that bridge."

I smiled. "Call it a talent. Sadly only works on darkspawn." He chuckled. "Listen, I need you to do something for me when we're gone. Did Duncan tell you he's staying here?"

He nodded. "And I'm grateful. If we're to establish a new base, we need to do some tunneling and move supplies. It will be much easier, and safer, with a Grey Warden to warn us when the 'spawn approach." He gestured loosely at the massive gate to Bownammar. "This is the furthest the front has pushed in generations. The Legion is thankful for the assistance."

"Right, well, listen. Duncan's not going to admit it, but he's not in good shape right now. Can you try to keep him out of the fighting? It's bad enough being this close to so much taint, I think. You must protect him, if you can. Will you do that?"

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