To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 24: A Rock and a Hard Place

In which Oghren learns things he’d rather not have known, and acts on them.

Previous Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 23: The More Things Change)

 

Wednesday, 25 August, 9:30 Dragon

Oghren had never been a deep thinker. He knew who he was—a warrior—and what he was good at—making sure the other guy looked worse by the end of the fight. And that had been good enough for years.

Then his family had saddled him with a crazy wife, Branka, who’d gotten herself made a Paragon—the only living one. That had taken some adjustment. But it was nothing compared to when she took their whole house—uncles, cousins, the whole lot—into the Deep Roads chasing a myth.

Their whole house … except him.

At first, he thought he’d get drunk, stay drunk, and wait it out; she’d see the Deep Roads were abandoned for a reason and come right back. But she didn’t. And when he’d argued they should go track their Paragon down, that surely a whole clan of smiths and warriors couldn’t just disappear, the sodding assembly had just laughed. “Accept it,” they’d said. “Branka’s dead.”

Admittedly, he’d gotten a little out of hand, then. He’d fought anyone who mouthed off … until the time he’d been a little too drunk and a lot hungover, and killed some highborn whelp by accident. They could’ve just exiled him, they’d said, so he should be grateful they only stripped his house name and barred him from carrying a weapon within the city, as if it was some great favor to take what little pride he had left.

His life then had been reduced to two things: getting blind drunk, and going into the Deep Roads to search for his family. He’d never minded the Deep Roads, really; when darkspawn attacked, there weren’t any rules about how hard he was allowed to hit back. In those moments, he fell into the flow of battle and let it carry him along. And, if one day they killed him, well … he was mostly dead already.

A couple years had passed. The king had died, and the nobles had all gotten their panties in a knot about whose arse would polish the throne next, but Oghren hadn’t seen much reason to care either way.

But then Grey Wardens had come to Orzammar.

Wardens! Their legend was impressive even to a miserable sot like him. They were the best of the best, recruited from all races, all walks of life, from the highest noble to the lowest criminal … for the sole purpose of killing darkspawn. And they were good at it, enough that even dwarves showed them respect—something otherwise unheard of for surfacers.

So, when that slippery nug-humper Bhelen finally got done giving them the run-around and sent them out to find Branka—hoping to gain a Paragon’s support to break the stalemate—he’d demanded to go along. He been left behind enough; he wasn’t about to let it happen again. And now, he was with the strangest mix of weirdos he’d seen in his life.

Surprisingly, it felt good. It’d been a long time since he’d been part of something; it was kinda nice. And the women weren’t bad to look at either—for humans—especially since their height put some of their best bits right at eye level. As long as he didn’t run out of ale, things finally seemed to be looking up.

Wednesday, 21 August, 9:30 Dragon

The areas close to Orzammar were patrolled, but they weren’t in the tunnels for more than a few days when they ran into their first group of darkspawn. Feeling the need to prove himself for the first time in ages, Oghren cut down more than his share of the creatures. Afterward, the shorter of the two human warriors eyed him thoughtfully. “Heh … impressed, son?”

“I’ll admit, you know how to swing an axe,” Rob said. “I figured anybody that drunk would be more of a hazard than a help.”

“Ale’s just fuel for the Oghren fighting machine,” he boasted. “Besides, dwarves don’t need to be sober to fight darkspawn; it’s in our blood. You want somebody who knows darkspawn, you get a dwarf.”

“Or a Grey Warden,” Alistair said as he wiped the darkspawn blood off the silver griffon on his armor.

“Or a Grey Warden,” the dwarf conceded. He’d thought the boy was kind of a sissy until he pulled off a shield bash that left two genlocks in a crumpled heap; Oghren didn’t care about much in life, but he did appreciate skill when he saw it, and taking out two darkspawn in one hit—even the smaller variety—took skill. “Met a Warden once, years back, before all this business with Branka. He was getting on in years and came down here to go out fighting, he said. Even I had to respect that.”

Tuesday, 1 Kingsway, 9:30 Dragon

After a week of wiping out darkspawn stragglers, they’d finally reached Caridin’s Cross. Oghren was in his element, and of course the dwarven merchant and his boy had been in the Deep Roads before. And Sten never changed; Oghren had met statues more emotional than that hulking Qunari. But the others grew more and more on edge.

The white-haired mage, Wynne, hid it well, though she didn’t seem the type to get flustered easy. Talked like she was older than the Stone itself, for all that she had barely more than a handful of years on him, and her interesting parts were still in the right places. She even had a proper appreciation for dwarven ale. She was all right, for a sparkle-fingers.

At first, that swishy elf seemed unfazed, but he had a tell; when he felt extra nervy, Zevran held his glove up to his face and took a big sniff. Probably some kinky Antivan perversion about leather. His other hobby was to annoy the others, to try and get a rise out of ‘em … but that could’ve just been his natural so-called charm.

The dwarf got on best with Rob, and not just because of the compliments on his axe work. Other than Zevran, Rob was the most easy-going member of their little group, and to keep his mind off being in the Deep Roads, he plied Oghren with questions about the warrior caste and their training. Avoided talking about his own background like the plague, though. It was strange; kid held his sword and shield as if the balance wasn’t quite right, but he was better than all of them at blocking attacks from range. ‘Eh, everybody’s entitled to their secrets,’ he decided.

Rob’s sister Raven, the cute brunette with the spectacles, had a better figure than her bony friends. She was plainly no fighter, and had to be shaking in her boots, but you’d never have known it from her words. Her strain was all physical … jaw stiff, eyes a little too wide, muscles tensed and ready to run. Her questions were all about boring culture stuff; whenever that started getting on his nerves, he’d switch to propositioning her with a leer. She’d just laugh, but Alistair always found an urgent reason for her to be elsewhere. If the boy had any sense, he was taking her somewhere private to get those knots out of her muscles one way or another.

For all Alistair’s bravery in battle, he was attached to Raven’s hip the rest of the time. Oghren couldn’t blame the lad; if he had the chance to grab on to hips like that, he wouldn’t let go either. Truth be told, the little lovebirds were kinda sweet, not that he’d ever admit such a thing. It hadn’t taken long to figure out how Alistair handled stress: he talked. Nonstop. If the Wardens ever wanted him on a stealth mission, they’d have to issue him a blue and silver muzzle.

And speaking of talkers … he wished Leliana’s crazy surfacer religion involved a vow of silence. The redhead was pretty, but she never shut up. For starters, she went on and on about how nugs were cute. ‘Adorable hairless bunnypigs,’ she called the ever-present cave vermin, and wanted to get one as a pet rather than killing them for stew like any sensible person. On top of that, she had a tale for every hunk of rock they saw. There was something aggravating about hearing legends of your own people from a human who’d never even stepped foot underground until a couple weeks ago. Between her and Alistair, they could probably talk the Archdemon to death.

Aedan, the head Warden, seemed fine. But Leliana was warming his bedroll—sodding Wardens, snapping up all the best womanflesh—and he heard her tell Raven he was acting distant. The poor bastard probably just gave up on trying to get a word in, with her around.

But the one having the worst time of it was Morrigan, the black-haired witch in the skimpy getup. For some reason, the daft creature took issue with having a proper ceiling over her head, and her angry yellow-eyed glare held them all personally responsible. He sympathized with Rob for having to put up with her; she was almost mean enough to remind him of Branka.

“It is simply a reasonable concern,” she’d snapped earlier, when Sten had dryly asked if she planned to continue questioning tunnel stability every five minutes. “Only fools would relax with an entire mountain suspended above their heads, supported only by crumbling abandoned stonework.”

“Eh,” said Oghren. “Dwarves build solid; nothin’ to worry about.”

“And the drunken idiot makes my point.”

In what had the feel of a long-standing feud, Alistair delighted in the witch’s discomfort. He kept commenting about how marvelous it was for the walls to hold after so many years of neglect, and oh look, that pillar is completely gone and yet the whole thing still stays up somehow, isn’t that wonderful?

When Morrigan finally threatened to light his boots on fire, Raven managed to steer him to another subject … but not without her share of giggling.

Thursday, 10 Kingsway, 9:30 Dragon

There was no more giggling when they made it to the Dead Trenches. Just as they reached the outskirts of what had once been Bownammar, a faint rumble began to vibrate through the stone, and it got worse the farther they went. When they reached a narrow ledge over a broad chasm yawning across their path, they discovered the cause … and Oghren wished they hadn’t. No matter how many ‘spawn he’d killed over the years, he wasn’t prepared for this.

At first glance, the bottom of the cavern far below them seemed to be an ordinary river of magma. But it flickered oddly, and he looked closer … and then he swore and gripped his axe. An army of darkspawn crowded into the canyon, thousands in either direction. Genlocks, hurlocks, those stealthy shriek bastards, even a few hulking ogres, all holding torches … and waiting. It gave him the crawling shudders. Darkspawn attacked, fought amongst themselves, even scouted and made armor now and then, but the one thing they never did was stand around waiting. And yet here they were. If there was a more terrifying sight in Thedas, he couldn’t imagine it.

And then he didn’t have to imagine. He saw it.

With a deafening roar, a massive dragon flew in above the darkspawn’s heads and soared toward the cavern’s roof, passing so close by the ledge where they stood that the party lunged back in terror. The monster landed with a thundering crash on the stone bridge over the ravine, and when it looked down, surveying the assembled forces, there was no doubt what it was.

An Archdemon.

Oghren swore a blue streak—quietly, under his breath—and stared at the one thing all the myriad warring peoples in Thedas could agree to fear. A noxious glow emanated from purple lesions along the creature’s black spiny carapace and leathery wings. It opened its toothy maw with a hideous roar and spouted a blast of strange purple fire.

In response, the amassed darkspawn gave a yell that rattled the stone, and as one, they began to march, with the Archdemon flying out above them.

The party stood silent until the army passed, and there was a long, long silence even after the creatures had all gone. Finally, Oghren couldn’t take it any longer. “Bloody sodding stones of the ancestors, you two Wardens are supposed to kill that thing??”

The two men looked at him with wide, stricken eyes, and he realized it probably hadn’t been the best thing to say, especially when Raven gave him a glare. Odd, that; he’d have thought she would’ve been hiding behind her boyfriend quaking. But she was steadier than most of them, despite being white as a sheet. Had to hand it to her, that girl had a lot more guts than you’d think to look at her.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” she said calmly, putting a hand on both Wardens’ shoulders. “And don’t forget, we won’t be fighting it alone. We’ll have our own army at our backs. Don’t lose hope. You can do this. I know you can.”

Her little pep talk worked magic; they both gave her a sharp, searching look, and then exhaled shakily. Aedan gave a decisive nod, and Alistair hugged the scholar tightly. “You’re right; of course you’re right, my dear,” he said. “What would we do without your level head?”

“Curl up in a ball and cry for your mothers, probably,” Morrigan sniped.

“That would certainly be better than crying for your mother,” Alistair shot back.

Aedan interrupted. “As much as I always love the fond sibling rivalry you two have going, can we perhaps not do this right now?” The witch and the warrior left off, then, and the subdued group moved onward down the narrow ledge toward the gates of Bownammar.

When they reached the bridge, they were surprised to discover they weren’t the only people present. A handful of warriors from the Legion of the Dead stood, backs against the stone, fending off a seemingly endless stream of darkspawn stragglers trickling across the bridge. The party pitched in, and soon the last of the monsters were wiped out, finally giving them all a moment to catch their breath.

“Nice little visitor we had, don’t you think?” said their leader, Kardol, with an unnatural level of calm. He supposed for members of the Legion, there was little cause for fear—technically they were all already dead. That was the nature of the Legion, and its strength. Criminals, men and women desperate to redeem their family names, or just to do everything they could to fight off the ‘spawn, they all joined for their own reasons. Truth be told; he’d considered it himself a time or two, but something held him back.

They’d have a big funeral with all their family and friends, just like normal … except for the minor detail that the dearly departed was standing there breathing. When it was over, they went off into the Deep Roads to fight until true death took them. Except for the odd commander who had to come back for orders, they never saw the halls of Orzammar again.

But it wasn’t surprising, really, how many chose the Legion, especially among the casteless. They already spent their lives fighting to survive; reclaiming a little honor for doing it likely seemed a solid bargain. Nothing fiercer than a person with nothing to lose. Oghren had never thought much about the casteless until Branka left; they were just part of how things were. The stone was hard, magma was hot, and casteless were dust. But when the Assembly stripped him of his titles and house, he found himself taking a lot more notice of the poor sods. And it didn’t seem right, really. Sure, somebody who did wrong had to pay the price; he was proof of that. But punishing all their descendants for the rest of time seemed unfair.

Of course, when thoughts like that hit him, he usually took it as a sign he hadn’t had enough ale yet that day. And any sympathy he might have had in the moment vanished when Kardol nodded in his direction and warned Aedan that drunks made poor allies.

Still, though … just like with the Wardens, Oghren had to give them respect. The members of this unit of the Legion were surely all fighters to be reckoned with, or they’d have been long dead before they got this far from Orzammar. They had skills, and they used them for good purpose. It made him think about what his skills were used for … which was an uncomfortable notion, so he pulled out his flask and took a swig, ignoring the other dwarf’s judgmental eye.

At any rate, the Legion had been there observing the gathering darkspawn army, but hadn’t been able to do anything with no king to give orders. Sodding typical, that warriors out here trying to protect Orzammar with their lives should be hobbled by useless nobles squabbling about who got the biggest chair.

But then again, nothing much was making sense anymore. An Archdemon. Ancestors have mercy.

Despite Kardol’s dire warnings about the suicidal foolishness of their quest, they progressed into Bownammar, cutting through ‘spawn all the way. There were more of them here than they’d encountered up to that point, but other than that, it was normal Deep Roads work.

Until they heard it. “First day they come, and take everyone.”

The voice echoed weirdly, such that even he, who’d spent all his life in caves and tunnels, couldn’t pinpoint the source. It was … unnerving, was what it was. It sounded female and vaguely familiar, which made it worse. It couldn’t be a darkspawn; they didn’t talk, and Kardol’s group was the Legion’s forward line. So who was down here muttering nonsense at them without showing their face?

“Second day, they beat us and eat some for meat.”

Well sodding balls, that was a bad sign. Anybody talking about being eaten for meat was not having a great day. Oghren wondered if they were finally about to learn the fate of his clan … and couldn’t decide if that was good or bad. But there was nowhere to go but forward, and each dead darkspawn brought him one step closer to getting answers.

“Third day, the men are all gnawed on again.”

Sod it all. His clan, it had to be. Paragon’s tits, what could’ve happened to them? His kin were all warriors, born and bred. Branka’s relations were smith caste, but what they lacked in training they made up for in muscle; life at a forge made them strong enough to bash in a monster’s skull without breaking a sweat. What could have led them to such a pass?

“Fourth day, we wait and fear for our fate.”

Well no sodding kidding.

“Fifth day, they return and it’s another girl’s turn.”

Another … what? Oghren’s skin crawled as they pressed on through Bownammar. Another girl’s turn for what? Stood to reason it was different than what happened to the men; the voice already shared their grisly end. So what did the ‘spawn do with the women? And then their hidden informant told him.

“Sixth day, her screams we hear in our dreams. Seventh day, she grew as in her mouth they spew. Eighth day, we hated as she is violated.”

He blanched beneath the cover of his long ginger beard. Everyone knew the darkspawn took captives. They’d always assumed it was to eat, or torture for, well, fun, since the monsters weren’t smart enough to try to interrogate someone. But this … this was a thousand times worse.

They stopped to process this fresh horror. The men looked like he felt, appalled and sick. But the women… Morrigan clutched her staff with fury in every line of her body as she searched for something to kill. Wynne clenched her jaw, but the rage in the depths of her eyes belied her usual serenity. Leliana was unnaturally still; her cheeks were wet, but her hands were steady on her bow, with an arrow at the ready. Raven shook, losing her calm for the first time he’d seen, but she wore an odd blend of ferocity and resignation, as if it were too late for anything but vengeance.

Oghren tried not to think about what they’d find ahead. Even a deep pull from his flask didn’t help. It only intensified with the last lines of the strange and haunting poem: “Ninth day, she grins and devours her kin. Now she does feast, as she’s become the beast.”

Blood of the Paragons, what had been done to his family in this den of nightmares?

He found out soon enough. They entered a gruesome charnel pit of a chamber, and found the source of the mysterious voice. Oghren gaped in shock. It was his cousin Hespith, the captain of Branka’s personal guard, but … there wasn’t much left of her. Her eyes, filled with a yawning madness, gleamed silver in the feeble light, and her face was covered with peeling Blight sores. He couldn’t tell if the rotting stench of death came from her, or if it was just so thick in the air it permeated every breath. If he hadn’t spent his life in combat, he’d have puked up his toenails. He almost did anyway, when he realized the bodies piled around her—some carved and spitted like a bronto before feast day—were his own kin, people he’d grown up with and fought with and loved. He’d known there was a chance he’d find them dead, but even on his worst drinking binges, he never imagined anything like this.

When they gleaned what information they could from Hespith’s disjointed ramblings, the picture that came together was appalling. The way the ‘spawn made more of themselves was even more horrific than anyone realized, and he was glad dwarves didn’t dream because this was enough to give him screaming nightmares for the rest of his days. The monsters had taken the women of his house, fed them darkspawn blood and the flesh of their own sodding people, and … violated them, as Hespith put it. And with that, the victims were twisted beyond all recognition into huge, hideous broodmothers, forced to birth monsters in litters, dozens at a time, for the rest of their lives.

He was so stunned by that revelation, he almost missed it when Hespith mentioned Branka. The mad woman ran off before they could get the full story, but what was clear was that they’d been lovers. He stared into space as the eyes of the party swiveled to him. ‘Yes, fine, take a good look,’ he thought bitterly. ‘Crazy drunk Oghren cut through mountains of ‘spawn to rescue a woman who’d been a moss-licker behind his back all along; what a pathetic fool.’

It seemed like he should feel more … well, something … at learning the truth, but alongside everything else, it just didn’t seem important. Any pride he’d had was gone a long time ago. All he wanted now was to find Branka and bring her back to Orzammar. Oghren wasn’t much of a dwarf anymore, but he still had respect for the Paragons … and bringing the dwarves’ only living Paragon back alive was the one thing he’d latched onto to give his miserable life purpose.

Wordlessly, they continued forward, stepping gingerly over a growing web of veins that grew over the floor like a disease. And then they turned a corner, and…

Great sodding balls of the Ancestors, it was … horror beyond words. Hespith had said this broodmother had once been his cousin Laryn, but there was no sign of that calm, fierce fighter in this monstrosity. The thing towered over even Alistair and the Qunari, wider than nearly the whole party put together, its short arms supplemented by slimy waving tentacles. A few wispy tufts of golden hair clung to its scalp as the only reminder it had once been a person. If there was ever a fate worse than death, it was this.

In a bloody battle, he and the others put the thing out of its misery, despite the waves of darkspawn that rushed in from every direction to protect it. When it was finally down, Hespith reappeared, and they learned what his crazy bitch of a wife had done. She hadn’t just escaped this; she’d allowed it to happen to her own people, to gain an endless supply of foot soldiers for her mad quest.

‘Ancestor’s tits, Branka,’ he thought, eyeing the broodmother’s mangled corpse with revulsion. ‘How could you? How could you do this to your own kin?’ Before they could think of what, if anything, to do for Hespith, she made the decision for them. As soon as she’d shown them the way Branka had gone, she leapt from a nearby ledge to her death. He couldn’t blame her; he’d cut his own throat if that was his fate.

They returned back through Bownammar to update the Legion on what had happened. Swallowing hard, Aedan related how the darkspawn reproduced, and after a flash of horror, Kardol’s tattooed face hardened with even stronger resolve. The grim warriors gave them space within their camp, and pledged to guard them for the night while they slept.

The party sat silently around the small fire the Legion had built for them. Raven sat cradled in Alistair’s arms, and Leliana rested in Aedan’s lap; even Morrigan had unbent enough to sit beside Rob, their shoulders touching. He thought fleetingly of Branka, and realized he’d never have a moment like that with her again; even if she lived, he could never forgive what she’d done. Standing abruptly with flask in hand, he walked off alone to find a quiet place to not think.

To his surprise, Raven rose and followed. “Oghren,” she began, “I … I don’t know how you must feel right now, but I’m sure it can’t be easy.”

He snorted. “Not easy? Wife’s not dead, turns out she likes women and left me for my own cousin … and that’s the part of the whole thing that’s not sodding insane. Yeah, I’d say ‘not easy’ covers it.”

“How do you think it got this far? Surely all those people wouldn’t have left Orzammar with her if they thought she’d abandon them to the darkspawn …?”

He scratched his beard thoughtfully. “Branka, she had a way of making it seem like whatever she wanted was just how things had to be. She was always so sure of everything; made it hard to argue.” He chuckled. “I still managed it, mind. Nobody pushes Oghren around.”

She smiled. “I don’t doubt it. Anyway, I just wanted to say I’m glad you joined us. You’ve been a big help, and we wouldn’t have been able to do this without you.”

“Why you telling me this? If you’re trying to get a piece of this action, lady, you just gotta say the word.”

She rolled her eyes and laughed, and though the sound felt out of place, he joined her. They both knew his exaggerated leering was a reflex at this point, not a serious attempt—though he’d have taken her up on it if she ever reciprocated, of course; he still had a pulse.

“No, I just think you were a respected warrior before Branka, and it wasn’t fair how she left you to get treated that way. No matter how she felt for you, that wasn’t right. You deserved better.”

The dwarf blinked. Respected, that was the right of it. He’d been a champion, on top of the warrior caste. That’s how he’d gotten saddled with Branka in the first place; her family thought it was a valuable match for her. He supposed it had been, at that; if she hadn’t married a warrior, nobody would have made it through the Deep Roads to find her crazy arse.

“My point is, you shouldn’t define yourself by who she made you. Under all of that … and possibly several dead animals, by the stench,” she teased, “is the fighter all of Orzammar cheered for. You’re still that person. Don’t let her make you think otherwise.” Oghren had no response for that. He’d been used to getting ridiculed for so long it was almost hard to remember a time when he’d been anything else.

She continued. “When all this is done, we’ll be going on to lead the battle against the Blight. Orzammar probably won’t forget your history, but on the surface, you could start over. Just something to think about.”

And it was.

Sunday, 20 Kingsway, 9:30 Dragon

Finally, last night, they’d found Branka. She’d located the Anvil of the Void, the device ancient dwarves used to create golems—the thing the fool woman had come down here hunting in the first place. But its creator, the Paragon Caridin, had plainly not wanted it found; it was protected by a gauntlet of deadly traps. Branka had flung her own kin at the hazards, trying to brute force a way through, and when she’d started to run out, she’d sacrificed the rest to the darkspawn in return for more lives to spend. Oghren had known she was crazier than a clumsy lyrium runner, but this … this was just monstrous.

Branka flatly refused to go back without the Anvil. So that night they camped in a cavern just outside the bloodshed, resting up for the ordeal to come.

The next day, the Warden figured out all the traps, and the party was stunned to find the ancient Paragon Caridin at the end, still alive … after a fashion. Turned out the golems so lauded for protecting Orzammar were made by taking dwarven volunteers and putting them, still awake and aware, into molten lyrium-infused metal. Though the process was horrible, Caridin had deemed it necessary for their survival. But when his king started sending him dwarves who hadn’t volunteered, he’d put his foot down. So the king had made him the next victim.

Caridin urged them to destroy the Anvil, saying it would only be used to harm others. Branka finally turned up then, screeching that it was the salvation of the dwarves. The Warden, with a sideways glance at Raven, told Caridin they would do as he asked. Of course, crazy Branka wouldn’t let that go without a fight. At first, Oghren wasn’t sure how to react to that development, but when the harpy tried to remove his head, it made up his mind.

When it was all over, his wife, the only living Paragon, lay bleeding on the floor. It would’ve been nice if she’d had a kind word for him at the last … but that wasn’t Branka’s style. She simply glared at him and turned away, and then she was gone.

Saturday, 17 Harvestmere, 9:30 Dragon

Caridin had made them a crown to give to the fool nobles back in Orzammar, to settle the question of who’d be king once and for all, but Oghren hardly cared. Instead, as they made their long and largely uneventful trip back through the Deep Roads, he thought about what the scholar had said. Who was the Oghren that remained, now that there was no house left, no Branka to find? Introspection wasn’t really his thing, so it had to be lubricated with a lot of ale, but by the time the Warden crowned Bhelen and was ready to leave Orzammar, he’d made up his mind.

“I’d like to go with you, if you don’t mind,” he said.

“Are you certain?” Leliana piped up in surprise. “If you leave, you will be made casteless. It is not a decision to be made lightly—or while drunk,” she added.

“I know what I’m doing, girlie, don’t you worry about ol’ Oghren. Best I’ll get if I stay is a lot of pitying looks and bad jokes, and I’ve had more than my fill of that. At least on the surface, there’ll be something new.”

“Bathing, for instance,” Morrigan snarked.

“Oho, should I get all freshened up for you? I knew it; the ladies can’t resist the beard.”

“Only if they get inadvertently stuck to it,” she scoffed. But in the end, the Warden agreed to his request.

As they neared the great gate, he slowed. Raven came to walk beside him. “All right, Oghren?”

“Yeah, I … just never thought I’d be making this trip, you know? Had an idea what my life was gonna be, and this wasn’t any part of it.”

She snorted. “Oh, I understand, believe me.” Then she nodded at a statue of Branka as they passed by. “But you don’t want to sit in that shadow forever, do you?”

“Nah, I’m not backing out; it’s just a big deal. You, ah … you’re sure nobody can fall up into the sky, right?”

She smiled, and it was a kinder look than he’d gotten in years. “Nobody can fall into the sky, I promise. You know how your feet stay on the ground in Orzammar, instead of letting you fall up to clunk your head on the roof? Same thing works out there. You won’t fall.”

He nodded, and with a deep breath, took his first step out into the sun.

“Bloody Stone, you didn’t warn me it was so sodding bright out here!”

 

Next Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 25: In Glass Houses)

[A Dragon Age Fanfic – All canon Dragon Age characters/material remain property of BioWare.]

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