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major system error, cassie
Posted: Apr 9 2018, 09:15 AM
Patience had never been her strong suit. Pacing didn't rush The Warden scouts any and neither did complaining loudly about how long they were taking. Five more minutes dragged by, each as painful as a rusty knife being dragged across her skin, and still they remained absent. Neassa flipped, practically obliterating the man standing in front of her as she charged towards Cassie one final time.
The Warden Commander met her impatience with some frustration of her own and the world seemed to fade around them as their already fraught conversation devolved into an argument faster than Neassa could spell it. It was oddly comforting being chewed out by Cassie, but Neassa made sure it didn't show. The last time she had been so close to Cassie's face had been under very different circumstances. Their proximity kept Neassa from noticing the corrosion of reality around them as a rift opened behind her, even the dull hum could not pull her away from the now childish argument.
Her attention was not required, it wouldn't have saved either of them to notice it. In a moment all Neassa felt was a pull and then, inexplicably, she was falling. It was part instinct and part spite that saw her reach out and grab Cassie, dooming her to share in her fate.
She landed on her back with a heavy thud, the bright Nevarran sky replaced by something dark and indescribable. The warmth on her skin was replaced by a bitter cold draft. She moved to sit up, only to find herself obstructed. Well, that explained the feeling of being crushed. Cassie was far heavier than she remembered, must be her fancy new Warden Commander armour coupled with Neassa's guilt. “You didn't have to teleport us to hell just because you were losing.” Neassa’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light, picking out shapes she vaguely recognised as dwarven in nature, almost like the architecture she had seen in her very recent excursion into the deep roads. Puzzled, she moved again to sit up and was reminded of her passenger.Neassa groaned. “Ugh, do you mind?!”
Posted: Apr 10 2018, 02:24 AM
Footsteps approached, the familiar thumping tread that had Cassie closing her eyes and clenching her teeth. Maker, just leave her alone! Wasn’t it bad enough they’d be cooped up in the Keep together for the next few days?
She whirled to face Neassa, temper already short. Neassa’s continued impatience was the last straw. No, they couldn’t leave right now; they had to wait for her scouts. Because they weren’t full Wardens yet, and she wasn’t going to up and vanish on them when they might assume that meant they’d all been killed or dragged off. No, they might not go back to the Keep on their own, they might go off on an unnecessary rescue mission! We’re. Not. Leaving!
It wasn’t the worst argument they’d ever had, and didn’t even rank as one of their fights. But this one stung more. Like the person Neassa had started to become, back in the Keep, had vanished. All that potential, that... capacity to be a better person than she had been; gone. The person that was still frustrating, but wasn’t angry or antagonistic towards her. One Cassie had... well. That didn’t matter now, did it? It clearly didn’t matter to her.
They were in a full-blown shouting match when the edges of the world started to blur. For that first instant Cassie thought, mortified, that they were tears obscuring her vision. But no – Neassa was clear, solid. The air behind her –
Cassie stopped shouting, shoulders hunching, lifting her staff as she braced, trying to figure out what was –
Neassa was partially inside it.
She reached, snagging the front of Neassa’s light armour, trying to pull her away –
Neassa grabbed her. And she was falling. They both were.
The impact wasn’t too bad, though having Neassa jabbing her in the ribs almost winded her. What she was more concerned with was the sudden lack of light. The chill in the air, the... pressure. You only got that underground. Deep underground.
Cassie pushed herself to her hands and knees, but no further, hunched, eyes adapting, listening. Neassa was grumbling.
‘If you’d paid a blind bit of notice in the lessons you oversaw rather than planning murder, you’d know teleportation isn’t possible. I didn’t do this. I didn’t know rifts could do this,’ Cassie shot back, annoyance so easy to re-find. It was comfortable background noise to think to as she cast around.
Dwarven architecture, yes, but... cleaner, fresher than anything she’d seen in the Deep Roads before. And... grander. Older? There was something different about the style, but she couldn’t place it. She’d walked the entire length of the unobstructed Roads in Nevarra, and some in Ferelden. For her not to recognise where they were, that... that wasn’t good.
Leave it for now. Look. Think.
Small patches of deep mushrooms, providing them with a little light to see by. There was a breeze, so they were near an air shaft, if not a way to the surface. And she could hear... something.
Neassa was still griping at her. Not that. ‘Shut up, shut up and stay still a moment!’ she snapped, clamping a hand over Neassa’s mouth for good measure.
There were whispers. Not in her ears, in her blood.
‘Get up,’ she ordered, scrambling to her feet and towing Neassa with her. ‘We’ve got darkspawn.’ And only the two of them. No one had followed them through the rift.
Posted: Apr 10 2018, 03:35 AM
“You didn’t know?! Finally, something you don’t know. Incredible, I feel so blessed to have lived to see this day.”
Knowing how she had arrived at this undisclosed destination was of little comfort since the rift responsible was now gone. How was she supposed to get back? Walk? Well fuck that. Fuck this. She had had it with this shit. All she had wanted to do was to plunder some gold from the Deep Roads and be neck deep in booze before sun down. This had all gone horribly wrong, she wasn’t ready for any of this. She wasn’t ready to face Cassie and she wasn’t ready to shut up either, her protests muffled by the hand that closed over her mouth.
She had no idea what Cassie was talking about, there was nothing. No sound but for the silence and Neassa’s continued grumbles.
Soon Cassie appeared to be content with her quiet time and her hand fell away from Neassa’s mouth, the woman giving an exaggerated groan of relief as Cassie dragged her up to stand. Neassa scowled at her, darkspawn? We?! “Uh no, you have darkspawn. I’m not equipped to deal with them apparently.” She dusted herself off, sword stubbornly remaining in her belt. “I might get sick.” The cold air began to gnaw at her, she had dressed for a warm August day, not wherever or whatever this was. Even though her eyes had adjusted, she could still barely see a thing. The glow from the mushrooms helped her find the edges of the walls and the corners.
Her eyes scanned the area, picking up only darkness until she spotted the edge of a sconce on one side. Neassa stretched up to rattle the unlit torch free, and man, did those rattles echo-
She pulled out a very small and poorly cared for tinderbox from her back pocket, putting herself to the task of setting this torch on fire. The scraping sound of her efforts carried around the room. “Gimme a sec-” a few sad sparks flew, amounting to nothing. “Any minute now-” a tiny flame began to spread across the torch, so small, so pathetic so- Neassa breathed out a breath she hadn’t noticed she had been holding and the flame was snuffed out.
“Well. That’s...disappointing.” Internally she began a slow count to ten. By ten she would either calm down or blow her top, she didn’t know which yet. Either she would get over this latest failure or she would snap the torch in two over her knee, from the level of frustration she felt it would very likely be the latter.
Posted: Apr 10 2018, 06:30 AM
There were only so many times she could tell Neassa to shut up before the words began sounding like a meaningless string of syllables to her own ears. She elected to ignore her instead, trusting her hand to muffle out most of Neassa’s noise.
She regretted giving the woman free rein of her mouth back as soon as her hand fell away and Neassa started making noise again. Far, far too much noise.
‘Fine, you can die in a corner while I fight off the rest,’ she snapped, closing her eyes on the dim light and trying to focus on the sibilance in her mind. Still slow, distant, sluggish – not alerted to them yet. They might be able to get out of this without –
Metal clanging on metal put paid to that idea.
Cassie whirled on Neassa, already fuming. ‘What are you doing? Do you want to wake up the entire Deep Roads from here to Orzammar?’ she hissed, before throwing her hands up in defeat. She could feel the alarm, the attention, the eagerness sparking and flowing in the part of her mind that wasn’t hers. They were coming.
So focus. Terrain?
They were in an old but large room, the place picked clean of anything transportable by scavengers. Might have been a dining hall, or receiving room. The statues were grand, too fancy to be anything but a noble’s home or very generous public property. Two exits, the doors long gone in favour of rough holes where the doorways had been battered wider than they used to be. The door ahead seemed to lead into a tunnel, the one behind either deeper into the building or out into a thaig. One Cassie didn’t recognise, so she couldn’t lead them to safety. They’d be running blind. The spawn seemed to be ahead, in the tunnel.
Neassa had failed in making them a torch. Before she could throw the sadly smoking thing across the room and make even more noise, Cassie enveloped the head of the torch in flames, waiting til they caught and held before drawing the fire away and letting it die in her hand, the torch sustaining itself.
‘There. Maybe you can set a few of them on fire when you go down not fighting,’ Cassie growled, turning to face the tunnel. ‘They’re coming from that way. See what’s through the door behind us, whether we can get out that way or if we’d be running into a dead end.’ There could be a cave in just out of sight as far as she knew. She hated not knowing where she was.
The spawn weren’t far. Neassa would be able to hear them soon. But... there weren’t that many, she realised. A small group, split away from the main horde. Not unusual, but it might be their salvation and a way out of a decades-early Calling for her. A few darkspawn she could handle. A horde, she couldn’t.
Posted: Apr 10 2018, 07:43 AM
People like Neassa didn’t die in corners. No, she would die centre stage for all to see and despair. The suggestion rang hollow regardless, Neassa smirked at how testy Cassie was being, clearly she had yet to grasp the magnitude of the situation. Or, more likely, she had taken it in stride and decided it was nothing. “You wouldn’t let that happen.” Cassie definitely would let that happen, especially with the mood she was currently in.
She stared dimly at the woman, the briefest of shrugs building in her shoulders.Torch in hand, Neassa would have thought her intentions clear. “Do you want to be able to see past your own nose or not?!” Neassa growled back in defence. Or perhaps Cassie wanted to fight the Darkspawn in the dark.
The torch came to life. Neassa looked across to Cassie and frowned, unsurprised to find her hand aflame. “Well let’s hope you don’t find yourself needing that scrap of mana you just wasted on showing off.” She mock laughed at Cassie’s dig, taking her instruction and muttering under her breath as she turned away to check the door in question. “Set you on fire…”
At the door Neassa paused, holding the torch up to view the carvings in the stone. Something was written there but she couldn’t read the language. Hopefully it said something useful like ‘this way to the surface,’ and not ‘abandon all hope, ye who enter here’. Whatever the case, she moved through the door shaped void and stepped into what appeared to her as some kind of hallway, the walls were marred with scratches and patches of something that looked like mould, at the end there was a further opening through which an amber glow could be seen.
It was definitely hell.
Neassa bravely proceeded towards the end of the hall, passing doors that were caved in on themselves or barricaded from the other side. The air grew hotter as she neared the end and she stepped out into an open cavern. Both the heat and the orange glow were thanks to a few strips of flowing lava that penetrated the stone, falling from the ceiling and spreading around the structures built into the thaig. From where she was there was a natural bridge connecting to another platform where the structures were less and she could just about make out the edges of a tunnel.
Content with her assessment, she headed back to Cassie, moving briskly at first. And then much faster as the sounds of the approaching Darkspawn finally reached her. Surely they hadn’t made it into the room already? They sounded close. Almost on top of them.
She poked her head out of the doorway, unsure as to what she might see. “There’s probably a way out this way.” The ugly face of a Hurlock pierced the shadow of the tunnel Cassie was facing. Her free hand instinctively went for her sword but she stilled it. “Oh you’re busy. I’ll wait.”
Posted: Apr 10 2018, 09:01 AM
‘Wouldn’t I?’ Cassie muttered under her breath. At this rate, she’d stand a better chance of getting out of the Roads alive.
‘And you couldn’t have been any quieter in your efforts to provide us with a light source?’ she demanded, flames licking her fingers as she did what Neassa had failed to.
Cassie snorted. ‘Who was the one insisting we needed light? Now we’ve got it. Besides, since when have you cared if I wasted mana?’
The jab was spiteful, automatic, and untrue. For several years, at least. Or so she’d thought. Maybe Neassa only cared when she was suffering with lyrium withdrawal.
She turned away so she wouldn’t have to see Neassa’s reaction, so she wouldn’t see if she was right or not in her face. She heard the mutter, resisted the urge to snap back. She needed to focus, especially if all Neassa found was a dead end.
She released a tense breath as the ex-Seeker’s footsteps receded out of hearing, oddly relieved at being alone for a moment. Miles underground, lost, with darkspawn bearing down on her, and she was relieved.
She needed to take a sabbatical once they’d gotten out of here. Wardens probably didn’t have those, especially Warden Commanders, but she’d plead ignorance if Weisshaupt wrote her asking why she’d spent a few months in Antiva.
First, survive this. She had a bottleneck she could use.
While she was usually charging directly into a fight with no time for strategy, that didn’t mean she couldn’t use it. She took a deep breath and focused, hand sketching shapes in the air, the floor at the doorway beginning to glow bright red. The completed glyph flared brightly for a moment then faded, leaving a nasty surprise for the first darkspawn through the door.
For the others, she set a series of frost mines just inside the door, designed to catch a group. Beyond that, she could conjure a wall of fire that moved outwards from her towards her targets. Hopefully that would prevent any spawn actually reaching her.
She was breathing heavily after the last mine. While the little fire she’d summoned to light the torch had had a negligible impact on her mana reserves, the glyphs were taking it out of her. She wasn’t as practiced with them as she was her more usual methods of attack – picking them up and throwing them.
Still, she could manage the fire wall without trouble. That should wipe out most of them, if the crescendoing buzz in her mind and the approaching sound of footsteps and grunts was an accurate representation of the group size. Any stragglers she should have enough mana to pick off. Plus she still had her mana potions from the mission. Five. That would be enough. That would have to be.
They were nearly here. Cassie levelled her staff at the doorway, relying on it to take some of the magical strain.
Footsteps, from behind. Neassa.
And a face, looming out of the darkness, dead ahead. Hurlock Alpha, had to be from the size, though with far less armour than she expected.
Cassie snarled silently at Neassa’s flippancy. Come on. One more step. One more –
The hurlock stepped forward, and her glyph exploded.
The creature was hurled into the air in pieces. Perfect.
The noise agitated its brethren, the group flooding into the room as if to dampen out the effect by sheer numbers. Less than ideal.
The ice mines caught five. There were still more behind them, trampling their ensnared brethren.
Cassie dug deep, dragging out the heat, the power down her arm and into the staff. The metal heated beneath her hands, almost too hot to bear – then rushed out and forward, expanding into a wall of fire that rushed to meet the charging darkspawn. That’d keep them busy for a while.
‘Move!’ Cassie bellowed, turning on heel and sprinting for Neassa and the door, hoping Neassa would take the hint and start running before she got slammed into by one hundred and thirty pounds of armoured mage.
She could stay and pick off the survivors, but why waste mana if they could escape instead?
Posted: Apr 10 2018, 10:26 AM
Did she care? Of course she cared. Especially since she wasn't equipped to fight Darkspawn, Cassie's mana may as well have been her mana too. It was all she could count on since it was far too dangerous for someone like her to even think of fighting something like Darkspawn. Her longevity was linked directly to the longevity of the Warden Commander in this instance. Neassa did a good job of convincing herself that was all she cared about, up until the moment she actually looked at Cassie who thankfully, had turned away, leaving no space for a reply from the Ex-Seeker. It would be easier for them both if she didn't care and Neassa longed for a time in which that had been the case.
Cassie didn't react to her return, preoccupied with the arrival of the darkspawn. Neassa looked on as the Hurlock Alpha was decimated as he unknowingly stepped into one of Cassie's traps, Neassa was thankful then for the dim light as it kept her from having to witness the extent of his destruction. Some things could not be unseen...like Cassie in the baths. Neassa grit her teeth. For fuck sake. She wanted to scoop her own brain out and beat some sense into it. Now? It wanted to think about that now?!
Ice and fire splashed across the dark of the room beside her and a stampede of Darkspawn flailed on a wall of flame and each other while Neassa tried to regain a focus-
Cassie barked something at her.
"Huh?” Neassa tuned back in, finding Cassie nearing her at an alarming pace, suddenly the hallway felt far too small for the two of them to go through side by side. Or maybe Cassie just looked larger than before because of how close she was- oh fuck. She was an unstoppable force meeting a very slow to react object. Neassa barely stepped to the side of her, back flush against the wall, shoulder erupting in pain as it collided with Cassie's own, the light armour doing absolutely nothing to diminish the blow.
She was left standing in a mixture of pain and confusion while the Warden Commander was already half way down the hall. Neassa looked into the chaos of the room one last time, watching as a small group of stragglers made their way around the corpses of the fallen and managed to outlast the wall of fire by virtue of being the last to enter the space. Neassa engaged her distracted brain and turned to sprint after Cassie finally. She wasn't sure she agreed with the plan to flee but what was she to do? Kill them? Risk getting their blood on her? Nah.
Best to leave all the heavy lifting to Cassie...as if she could keep this up.
She found Cassie outside, a good few paces ahead of her. “We're running?! Isn't it a little late?” Neassa could hear the hurried footfall of the surviving Darkspawn echoing down the hall. She was holding her shoulder with her free hand. “We won't make it across the bridge before they're through-” they moved much faster than she remembered Darkspawn being capable of, but had looked much larger than those closer to the surface, so single file would keep their numbers easier to digest. “Are we going to run blindly through this place while being chased, is that really your plan here?! I want to sight-see!” There was a grunt behind her, she had positioned herself to one side of the exit and just as the first of he Darkspawn breached the doorway, she stuck out her foot to trip him. And he flew. Boy, did he fly, skidding headfirst into the dirt.
The next came fast behind him, Neassa swung back with the heavy torch, clotheslining him and dropping it on his chest. As he fell back, gasping for air between realising there was a burning torch on his chest, the third lost balance and stumbled over him and out of the exit, the momentum meant Neassa barely had to try to cleave his head off as her sword was primed to break his fall. Now there were two obstructions blocking the rest and something was burning and that first, pioneering Hurlock had recovered and was getting back to his feet.
“I think you can take them, now that I've thinned the herd.” She knew exactly who had thinned the herd, but it didn't change her unearned confidence.
Posted: Apr 10 2018, 10:55 AM
Neassa wasn’t moving, instead gawping into the room at the destruction unravelling behind Cassie as she bolted for the door.
Too late she pulled back, their shoulders ramming into each other. It was a rare time that Cassie had more armour on than Neassa, though with it only being chain mail, it didn’t do much to dull what was essentially a tackle.
Swearing, Cassie staggered on; momentum keeping her upright until she’d regained control of her tripping feet and came back up running. She glanced over her shoulder, already shouting at Neassa since she wasn’t immediately behind her. ‘That’s why you need to hurry up!’ They wouldn’t need to be running if someone hadn’t alerted the darkspawn to them.
Neassa had fallen further back than she’d thought, but she was hurrying after her, sniping all the way. ‘We’re buying ourselves some space! We can shop for souvenirs later!’ she snapped, charging through the doorway leading out to the bridge. The air was oppressively hot, making her regret wearing her cloak as much as she’d been thankful for it in the cold room.
She whirled at the noise behind her, slowing to a stop to watch Neassa handle three of the spawn, waiting for an opportunity. Neassa very kindly provided.
'How daring of you,' she quipped. Lightning lanced from her staff, striking the rising hurlock – another alpha from the size, hadn’t all of them been that big? A whole pack of alphas, minus their signature armour? – and leaped from its seizing body to the burning one, skipping the dead one as a waste of time. With the lava around, they didn’t need the torch for now. But they may not have it later, when they’d need light.
The lightning died, and the hurlocks dropped.
‘Come on,’ Cassie said. ‘Grab the torch and let’s go.’ Before any more turned up.
Their size worried her. If not for that, she’d take them for normal darkspawn. And to have so many alphas travelling together, rather than each commanding their own packs... something was wrong here. Alphas didn’t travel together. So either their pack systems were changing, after all this time. Or...
Maker. Don’t say they were evolving. Don’t say these bigger, stronger spawn would become the norm.
Posted: Apr 10 2018, 12:07 PM
Neassa smiled, “I try...” She shook the blood off her sword and stuck it back in her belt. Or thought she did. Until it clanged to the ground, “...my own patience as much as everyone else’s.” Her expression flattened and she sighed. It was fine, she was going down there anyway to get the torch. She could get both, but she doubted she would find any dignity mixed in with the Darkspawn bodies. Didn't stop her from looking anyway, only realising then that these Hurlocks looked like they had skipped the armoury on their way out to fuck shit up. That was good news for her should she feel like helping Cassie out again at any point, no armour meant every strike would count.
Sword finally fixed in place and with the torch reclaimed, Neassa moved around the fallen and still smoking form of the only Hurlock to escape the doorway. They crossed the bridge without incident, it was a standard bridge, nothing spooky going on and it had stood for hundreds of years long before they had set foot upon it. It would stand for a hundred more, even though Neassa was half expecting it to give out just to mess with them, it never did.
That makes a change.
Now all they needed was a set of stairs leading all the way up to the surface.
At the other side of the bridge the suspected tunnel opening she had seen before was confirmed. It was the only thing around that wasn’t just another crumbling structure for them to duck into. “Do you have any idea where we’re going.” Neassa couldn’t attest to whatever whispers Cassie might be hearing in her head regarding the spawn, but she had instincts of her own and her gut did not like this tunnel for some reason. Maybe she was just finding out she didn’t like small spaces. “And does it have to be in there.”
Well, she already knew that, having felt suffocated by the four walls of Cassie’s room all those years ago, but perhaps it was no more sinister than that. Then again, there really were Darkspawn around every corner down here.
Short of leaping into the lava they had little option. Neassa resigned herself to the discomfort and went ahead into the tunnel. It made sense she should go first since she had the torch, the dark fled around it as she lit up the way. “How is your shoulder?” She regretted the seemingly innocuous question immediately, realising that it sounded like something someone who cared might ask. “I mean. My shoulder is pretty hard so, you’re probably hurting.” Was that making it better or worse?
Worse. It was definitely making it worse. At least if she stayed ahead she didn't have to see Cassie rolling her eyes.
Posted: Apr 10 2018, 03:51 PM
Cassie shook her head wearily as Neassa’s sword hit the ground, silently agreeing with her sentiment. It didn’t make as much noise as the torch had, and the noise was less likely to carry here, but it was still less than ideal.
She considered taking a mana potion now they were out of immediate danger, but decided against it. She’d already had one today – Maker, less than an hour ago. While she wouldn’t get addicted off having a couple in one day, they would still have unpleasant side-effects if she had too many in a short space of time. She’d take one if they hit more trouble and she absolutely had to.
She fell into step with Neassa as they headed across the bridge, Cassie flipping her cloak back off her shoulders as much as she could to try and stop overheating. She checked her water skin. Mostly full, she’d barely had any on the ride out to the site of the darkspawn report. Better to conserve that, too. Especially since she had no idea how deep they were, or where the closest source of fresh water was. Though she could probably make that if she used a gentle ice spell. Food, on the other hand...
There was a scary thought. Survive the darkspawn, but starve to death.
Neassa’s question broke her out of her maudlin chain of thought, but it was the one question she was hoping to avoid. She winced. ‘No. I don’t recognise this stretch of the Roads. I know where we aren’t. Which doesn’t help much, except to rule out Nevarra as a whole and a small section of Ferelden. The rift has transported us to another country, or else a completely blocked off section of the roads in Nevarra that is in no records either modern or ancient.’ If it was the latter, they were dead, bar another rift opening up.
Cassie sighed. The tunnel made the back of her neck prickle, but not with her darkspawn sense. Just good old, bog-standard unease. ‘Our only other option is back the way we came, towards the darkspawn. This, at least, doesn’t make me think we’re about to find more of them.’
Reluctantly they headed in, Cassie letting Neassa and the torch take point. She glanced sharply at the question. That almost sounded like concern.
Then Neassa continued, and as predicted, Cassie rolled her eyes. Not because she bought the stupid excuse – that’s what it was after all, just like stealing her button all those years ago had been – but out of a kind of... begrudgingly tolerant resignation. Neassa didn’t know how to express concern half the time. Cassie supposed she should be flattered. Maybe this was Neassa’s awkward attempt at apology, at rebuilding the tenuous positive relationship they’d had back in the Keep.
Don’t be so naive. If she cared, she’d have said something before she left, or sent word during the years since. This is just another set up to a stupid joke or boast. Nothing more.
‘Given I have more armour than you at present, I should be asking after yours,’ she said, deliberately not giving Neassa what she wanted. Petty, yes. Satisfying?
Not as much as she’d hoped.
Posted: Apr 11 2018, 01:30 AM
Her talent for overthinking had been eased some once she had left the lyrium behind but it had never truly left her.
Still, it was a new kind of anxiety that found her as The Warden Commander admitted quite plainly that this was new territory to her. That wasn't exactly what you wanted to hear on any given outing into the Deep Roads with the one Warden who was supposed to know everything. Unexplored. Unknown. Blocked off. Neassa tried to keep the mounting concern for their situation from entering her voice as she replied, keeping her flippant tone. “That's a lot of words to just say we're fucked Cassie. Don't know where we are, don't know where we're going...or when we'll next eat.” Maker...they are going to die down here.
Neassa eyed the earth, her neglected tracking skills at least telling her that others had come this way before, there were tracks not as recent as today but not as old as ancient. "We can't be the only people in Thedas the rift has tossed out.” There was no evidence to suggest otherwise but the rifts were so volatile that there was no predicting if others had found themselves transported as they had. Neassa was just thinking out loud, a common fault, but it helped her to process things.
"It's still attached.” Neassa replied flatly, realising with uncomfortable clarity that she wasn't just talking about her shoulder. It was looking less and less likely that she could get away with just resuming regular programming with Cassie after such an absence. It wasn't the time spent apart that made it difficult to just pick up where they had left off as so much as where they had left off.
The tunnel seemed neverending and unchanging until Neassa spotted something white masking the walls. Her stomach turned as it became clearer. Webbing masked either side of the tunnel, sparsely at first and then it was so thick that she could barely see the stonework beneath it. There were tears in it at some points, like whatever had been caught before had managed to break free, further confirmation that they were not the first to travel this way. “Well. There might not be any Darkspawn this way but there are definitely spiders.” There was a squelch as she trampled on a dead spider, it was on the smaller side but it was in no way the size a spider ought to be. "Ugh-” Neassa paused, stopping abruptly to inspect her boot. She made the mistake of putting a hand on the wall to steady herself as she scraped the spider gore off her boot with her sword. Even as she did so, there was a voice at the back of her head telling her why she shouldn’t. Something about vibrations. Something about webs-
The webbing beneath her palm vibrated back and Neassa finally clicked. Oh. She pulled her hand away with no small amount of effort as the web was insistent on keeping it, leaving a sticky residue on her glove. She clicked her fingers in a eureka moment, a goofy smile on her face at her own genius. It faded quickly as she realised what this new information meant for the pair of them. “That’s why I didn’t like the look of this tunnel.” Neassa looked at Cassie grimly. “It’s a burrow.”.
As the webbing on the walls twitched rhythmically with the locomotion of eight legs scurrying across it, Neassa decided then that she hated the Deep Roads. “Maybe it’s a baby one?” A wave of harried clicking sounds filtered down through the burrow towards them, sounding like it was coming from something much larger than the one she had stepped on. “A baby giant one?”
Posted: Apr 11 2018, 04:13 AM
Cassie grimaced when Neassa called her on her rambling. ‘I know. Water I’m not too worried about, I can create that with an ice spell. It’s the food I’m concerned about. I’ve only got a few rations with me – this was only meant to be a short journey. Everything else was in the saddlebags on my horse.’ She knew how to prepare deep mushrooms so that they were safe to eat – in the Wardens, that was a survival skill since things so often went wrong in the Deep Roads – but the issue would be getting enough to sustain two adults for however long they needed. If they could find some nugs, that would be better. Deepstalkers were also a possibility, though she’d prefer nugs. Less hassle. ‘We’re not completely out of options where food is concerned, it’s just finding it.’
Theoretically they could be the only ones, but if the rift had transported them then statistically it was likely others had been as well. The only question was if they all ended up in the same place or not. ‘Hopefully,’ Cassie said.
‘So I see.’ And now everything’s awkward. Great job, Cassie. Couldn’t just answer her straight and avoid this, could you? Just... think of something else. ‘I’m surprised you’re in such light armour, even after leaving the Seekers. I always thought you preferred the heavier style.’ That was a safe enough subject, wasn’t it? Something to get them back on a more normal footing?
She narrowed her eyes at the tunnel ahead, foreboding tickling her back as the webs started to thicken. ‘Generally the less deadly of the two, if I had to pick,’ she murmured absently, listening inwardly to see if any of the creatures ahead were tainted. Not that she could tell, though the whispers were a lot quieter when it was merely blighted things, rather than the spawn themselves.
She turned at Neassa’s noise of disgust, only to freeze, staring at Neassa’s hand on the webbing. ‘You didn’t,’ she said in disbelief as Neassa realised her own folly.
‘You did,’ she groaned, turning to face whatever was coming to inspect its new food source as Neassa put the pieces together for them both.
She snorted at her optimism. ‘Oh, you think there’s only going to be one. And they’re all going to be big,’ she said, as the giant spider came into view. Untainted, not that it mattered much when it was the size of a small pony.
‘Burn the webbing,’ Cassie said, nodding at Neassa’s torch. She extended her hand to the opposite wall, setting the web alight. Once that was burned away and the spiders dealt with, they’d have a relatively clear if charred path. She hoped.
Posted: Apr 11 2018, 07:11 AM
“How long before cannibalism is an acceptable option?” She was only half joking. Neassa hoped they wouldn’t be stuck down here long enough to find out but with the way her luck had been recently (all her miserable life) it wouldn’t be a total shock to her if she never saw the surface again.
Neassa just nodded, this was painful, and she still wasn’t talking about her shoulder. It’s not like the tension between them was new, there had always been some kind of tension from the beginning, but this felt different. Thankfully Cassie plowed on with a quick subject change, which meant she noticed it too...which somehow made it worse. Neassa shrugged, "A good suit of heavy armour is very expensive and, mercenary work doesn’t pay that well. Especially when you have to share it out.” And you have other things to pay for that were once catered to by The Chantry, such as food, medicine and lodgings. Also wine. That last part hadn’t been explicitly a perk of the job as a Seeker but, those Chantry folks did like a nice bottle of Orlesian red quite frequently. “I like yours-” what? "I mean, you look good-” what?! "It suits you.” Fucking fuck fuck shit fuck. Neassa palmed her own face and had picked up her pace then in an effort to run away without actually running.
The click clack of spindly legs carried ahead of the creature announcing its arrival long before they had to lay eyes on its hideous form. Neassa felt itchy all over just looking at it. It was large, just as Cassie foretold moments before it came into view. She had almost sounded happy about it, like crushing Neassa’s misguided hopes of finding just a single regular sized spider at the end of this web gave her some joy. “Missing that heavy armour right now.” And her shield, Maker, did she miss her shield.
Cassie had barely finished the thought before Neassa held the torch to the webbing, the fire and the silk making fast friends. Orange spread across the walls of the burrow, stretching towards the so far unexplored dark and marking out one long tunnel they were forced to share with the approaching beast. There were smaller ones pouring out from behind it, screeching all the way. Neassa cut one in two as it leaped out of the dark at them, then another, then one she didn’t manage to get flew past her but by then the largest was upon them, mandibles twitching as some sort of ooze dripped down from its maw. Wonderful. It was the poison type too.
It reared back to fire a blob of acid and Neassa’s fighting instinct told her to roll towards it to make sure she was too close for ranged attacks to strike. But then there were the legs. So many legs. Neassa dodged one jab, then another, then her luck ran out and her leather armour may as well have thrown down the welcome mat for as little resistance it gave to the claw that tore across her side. Eye for an eye, she threw herself against the wall to pin the offending leg beneath her so she could hack it off. The noise the spider made was deafening as it stumbled clumsily trying to regain its balance. It moved quickly for such a large thing, scurrying up the wall to hang from the ceiling where Neassa’s blade could not reach it.
She stomped its babies instead since many of them had decided to start climbing her. "Feel free to kill them all whenever you're ready!"
This could have gone better.
Posted: Apr 16 2018, 04:46 AM
‘After we’re out of options and when one of us gets hungry first,’ Cassie said mildly. Then, since Neassa couldn’t see her grinning since she was marching ahead, ‘same as usual.’ She’d never had to resort to it, but she knew of some Wardens who hadn’t been so lucky but had survived. They’d found the bones of dozens more in the Roads who hadn’t: bodies stripped of most clothing with clear tool or teeth marks, and often one corpse without, still in its armour. It was a fact of life in the Roads, but one people tended not to talk about.
Cassie sighed. ‘Hence plundering new entrances to the Deep Roads for riches?’ she asked. It had still been a stupid idea, especially when Neassa knew the risks associated with darkspawn. It was just an understandable stupid idea.
Cassie’s brain stalled for a moment, trying and failing to process. She squinted at Neassa’s retreating back. ‘Are you in withdrawal again? You only compliment me when you’re having symptoms. Or want something. Or you’re a really shitty demon who swapped places with Neassa when we came through the rift.’ Okay, she was exaggerating. A bit. But compliments from Neassa were vanishingly rare when she could dish out insults instead.
The spiders soon distracted her from whether she was dealing with a lucid Neassa or not – never mind the fact that even when Neassa was in complete control of hr faculties, she could still barely be considered as ‘lucid’. ‘I’ll bet,’ she muttered, glancing over with a small frown. It wasn’t one of her favoured spells, but she could and did use it when necessary...
As the flames caught on the webbing, Cassie focused, channelling her magic through her staff to give herself that bit more control. Rocks cleaved away from the ground and walls, whirling around Neassa to find a place that fit them, nestling into the shape of armour that, while looking bulky, had as much mobility as the plate armour Neassa was used to.
‘You’re welcome,’ she added unprompted, nodding in satisfaction at the slash the armour blocked before turning back to her own batch of spiders.
‘Alright, alright,’ she muttered, reaching out with her free hand and clenching her fingers into a fist, all the spiders in the vicinity dragged inwards towards a centre mass, even the one hanging from the ceiling mourning its lost leg. With all of them effectively pinned into one large knot, Cassie quickly swapped the pressure from pushing inwards to crushing down, like a stomped boot. Not the most elegant of solutions, as the spiders splattered across the floor, but it was fast and relatively humane.
And she started to wobble, lights bursting behind her eyes as her hearing receded, like her ears had raced down the tunnel ahead of her. A sharp pain between her eyes, resolving into a heavy, throbbing pound.
She leaned heavily on her staff for balance, blinking hard and breathing steadily in and out of her nose to try and convince her brain not to dump her on the floor in a dead faint. You are not the fainting type. You are not some damsel. Neassa will throw you over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes again. Just don’t.
When she felt like she could move her arm without losing her balance entirely, she managed to slowly reach for her waterskin, uncork it and take a few sips to steady herself. It helped a little, enough for her to move her head and look into her bag for a mana potion.
Though... lyrium. Neassa. She hesitated with her hand inside the bag, resting on the bottles but hiding them from view. She wasn’t sure what Neassa was like these days, so far as willpower against lyrium went. But she needed the potion, or else to sit down and rest a while. A burned-out, guts-spattered spider nest in the Deep Roads was not a great place to do the latter.
‘Go on ahead, I’ll be right behind you. I just need a moment,’ she said, trying for a compromise that didn’t sound like she was lying through her teeth. Not that she was lying, she just needed the moment for something other than standing still and pulling herself together.
Posted: Apr 16 2018, 11:07 AM
“Oh no, the riches had nothing to do with it. I just have a death wish.” Neassa teased. It was easier than thinking about how quickly her men would help themselves to her share, or fall into chaos as they tried to elect a new leader. If they didn't kill each other first.
Withdrawal? Her jaw tightened as she struggled to understand why that hurt so much coming from Cassie. It was as much a dirty word for Neassa now as lyrium. No one liked to be reminded of their greatest failings and though she was clean now, she knew all too well how easily it could fall apart. All it took was a single moment of weakness and opportunity and all of her hard work would be undone. Cassie had been unfortunate enough to have front row seats to what her struggle had looked like and had been instrumental in helping her through it, she couldn't really believe Neassa would make it all mean nothing once she left The Keep. “I must've hit my head in the landing.” She was thankful then for the distraction of the impending spidery doom, she understood things that were trying to kill her far easier than she understood Cassie.
She assumed the lack of pain from her suspected injury was down to adrenaline, or whatever poison this arachnid peddled, too busy hacking off its leg to notice the rock armour enveloping her form. It was only when Cassie spoke that Neassa realised.
The spiders clambering over her shoulder were drawn up into the air by an unseen force, Neassa swiped at a few before they went out of her reach. Looking up to find the ceiling crawling she glanced at Cassie, predicting what her next move would be. Neassa grimaced, she was going to get splattered. “I miss my shield too-” she managed, mere moments before the whole clump of spiders came crashing down. She had stepped to the side, made herself as small as she could and turned her back to it instinctively but it didn't save her. The rock armour took the brunt of it, Neassa could feel the vibrations through the magic surrounding her as chunks of spider pulp clattered against it. It was over in a second and the protective spell waned, at first Neassa thought it was just because the danger had passed but then her eyes found Cassie.
Her staff and unwillingness to falter in front of Neassa were the only things keeping her up.
It was the second time in only a few hours she had seen Cassie so depleted. At another time she would have watched her with an almost predatory interest, knowing that this was a mage at their weakest, always the best time to capitalise on an assault. Cassie, of course, tried her best not to look like a strong breeze could knock her over and if Neassa wasn't as much of an expert on hunting mages, she may have been convinced.
Neassa stepped through the gore towards Cassie, eyebrows knitting together as she stilled her hand in her pack as if the mere acknowledgement of the lyrium would drive Neassa into a frenzy. Instead of caving in the Warden Commander's skull just for the few mana potions she had on her, Neassa crossed her arms (couldn’t pick up a skull bashing rock if her arms were crossed).“Just take it if you need it.” She already knew what Cassie was reaching for in her pack, already knew that she had been in close proximity to lyrium this whole time, her resolve wouldn't break just by looking at it. “But it's not been long since you took that last mana potion, and I know a thing or two about what happens when you overdo it,” Because of course she had noticed. Neassa was a bloodhound for two things; apostates and lyrium. “Especially if you're not used to taking so much over a short period of time.”
“Just saying, you can take it now or take it easy and I guess I could carry you.” Neassa eyed her up, guesstimating how much she weighed with the armour and her equipment. “For a little bit, at least.” She figured that would be the last thing Cassie wanted right now but at least one of them had to remain sane and the bulk of Neassa’s sanity had long skipped out on her under the strain of her substance abuse. “And if we run into anything else or you start sensing Darkspawn you can take a potion then.”
“You can even pick which shoulder I throw you over.” That was supposed to make things less awkward but even as the words came out of her mouth, she could tell she had missed the mark. “I’m kidding. I’ll probably put you over both.”
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