Trajan had just debriefed a guard on the events of the chapel. "Put the survivors in a cell; we'll see whose side they're on when they wake up. As for the corpses, pile them in a heap somewhere out of sight. We need to ready the chapel for the rest of the initiates."
A number of junior Wardens snapped to it, and Trajan was moving forward to address the crowd again when Ghil showed up. Trajan's eyes widened in distress.
The barbarian immediately showed herself to be good material for a Warden, but there was still a high chance that the joining would end her--to Trajan the idea that she might kill one of his initiated Wardens was totally unacceptable. He saw Diocles preparing to fire and nodded with grim approval. Meanwhile, Alric headed down the stairs and began pushing slowly through the slaves, a head taller than most of them.
"Give her room, men!" Trajan called down, and then addressed the woman. "I'm sure you have a dirt farm you wish to go back to, replete with slavering hounds and filthy children. But that option is closed to you now. Palaver with me. You must accept your new situation. You can fight by our side, cover yourself with glory. Or you can be put down like an honorless dog here and now."
The archer gave Ghil pause; when he called out his threat, she turned her attention to him with a measured gaze. She had no shield to feather with arrows. Next came the bellow of the man above, which drew a noncommittal shrug from the woman. Words like "replete" and "palaver" were beyond her Tevene vocabulary.
"Tevinters like big words, but they do not use the eyes for seeing." She waved the spear tip in her hand again, and then tossed it carelessly over her shoulder. "If I wanted men dead, they would be. Tell this skinny man to put his arrow down, or I will find a better place for it."
One of the Wardens below spoke, the same one holding his bleeding nose as though it might fall off his face otherwise, "Commander. Magister Tytian sent her as a gift--" Ghil spat upon the marble floor to show what she thought of that, "--She was his gladiator in Minrathous."
The woman shifted her weight to her other foot, seeming amused by the slaves gathered in front of her, "Where is this glory I shall cover myself in, there are only twigs and chambermaids here."
The skinny man relaxed his draw, and lowered his bow, and though he did not un-nock his arrow, he pointed it to the ground. Moving slowly, he drew himself up from his combat stance into his (not nearly so impressive) full height. He eyed the woman up and down, his eyes settling on her breasts. He stared for a moment as if looking at a riddle, then a moment longer. Breathing pensively, he raised his eyes to her and opened his mouth as if to speak, then, as if thinking better of it, returned his gaze to her chest. Another moment passed, and nodding in resolve, he once more looked up to the woman and addressed her again, his tone indicating he was perhaps admiring the quality of his grandmother's knitting.
"You're a woman."
The barbarian wasn't wrong. The great hall was filled with what was left of the weakened slaves. If they sought a fierce warrior, she stood before them all. Still, she could not fool herself into thinking that her prayers were answered. They would not free the slaves for one woman, no matter how capable she seemed. She would join the rest of them, awaiting the Joining they 'chose' to participate in.
Ghil was surprised by the archer's outburst for only a moment before her ire raised. Her expression went from smug to vicious when she looked back towards the battlements accusingly. "Am I to be mocked further!?"
As Alrik was advancing, Thaedrin was quickly retreating.
Trajan smiled down. "Don't mind him; your ways are new to us. I think that we will all learn to get along splendi... good. Get along good."
He glanced over and saw a pair of guards returning form the chapel; it was ready, then. He called down to Alric.
"Let's start the joining. I can't take any more theatrics."
Alric gave Ghil a final look before turning away. He grabbed the nearest elf at hand--Sulahn'nehn-- and began pushing her toward the chapel, gesturing that all the others should line up behind her.
Trajan made his way to the chapel as well. He would have preferred to simply do the joining here, but that would have required hauling out buckets full of darkspawn blood, and that somehow seemed in poor taste to him. This was a joining, not a punch social. An intimate setting was called for.
He made his way to the altar, filled the goblet, and then turned his eyes back to the entrance, awaiting the first initiate.
"Haul the corpses out quickly," he remarked to Alric. "The less they know about the risk, the better."
Thaedrin kept close to his commanding officer, lest the slaves gathered forget his station. Though those that stood in the chapel had already chosen this path over death, he would not have hesitated to make another display of his powers if it was needed.
Ghil followed the other recruits into the chapel, tense with apprehension. The sight of the altar and the wall of dragons behind it caused her to take a step back in revulsion. "What is this..."
Had she a weaker heart, she might have collapsed as soon as Trajan touched her. If she was frightened before, she didn't know what she felt now that she was being edged into the chapel. She looked behind her to see there was a queue lining up behind her and then back to see an altar with not much between her and it. It was what she chose, but she was not particularly eager to be the first at it. On second thought, perhaps first was best. She had wanted the ordeal over and having to anticipate anything further seemed more than she could take.
Fiddling with her fingers, Sulahn'nehn took two tiny steps forward with her eyes cemented to the floor.
Trajan began to speak, loudly enough for all inside the chapel to hear.
"Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant. Join us as we carry the duty that can not be forsworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten. And that one day we shall join you."
He held the goblet out to Sulahn'nehn.
"Drink, elf sister."
The fluid inside, a viscous purple-black, sloshed up and down the sides of the cup.
"Just.. Thought someone should tell her."
Diocles followed solemnly into the chapel, eyeing the carved dragons with disgust. After so much lawful service.. Did Dumat truly betray his people, even his mages? Such a being was no god. The darkspawn were the true demons, whatever 'fade' creatures the mages blathered about, and any price would be worth destroying them. It would have to be.
The sacrifice of hundreds of elves and humans, slaves and soldiers, mothers and fathers.. It will be worth it, won't it?
He watched on with a dour and uncharacteristically serious expression as the first volunteer was presented with the goblet-It would be the shapely young elf he'd noticed earlier.
She tensed at the command, taking the offering from Trajan. The cup was heavy and ornate, nice. It might have been something she would admire if it were not for the questionable, dark fluid inside it. An uneasy feeling dropped from her chest to her stomach as she brought the cup closer to her lips. There was hesitation and she could barely keep the thing steady. A brief question of what it actually was crossed her mind, but had she known what it was, would she actually drink it?
Her eyes closed and she took the plunge, allowing herself to drink it's contents. Within the very first second she knew something was wrong. It was more than foul and seemed to worsen by the second. Was it possible to have something so cold melt away your insides? She certainly thought that was the case. Sulahn'nehn stumbled backwards, dropping the cup she grabbed at her throat, each couch making it seem harder and harder to breathe. When had she actually met the floor? She couldn't recall the exact moment she touched it though it couldn't have been more than a few seconds before. And the pain. The pain was excruciating, she screamed and seized, something within her was fighting. It thrashed and roared just as she did but was silent to all but her. It encased her in a faint light that burst forward as quickly as it had shown. Then there was blackness in her mind, it took her over until there was nothing.
"Fasta vass!" Thaedrin recoiled from the energy that burst forth from the elf girl in alarm, "She's a maleficar! ...Someone put a sword through her, before she wakes!"
On the other end of the group, across a floor of writhing, agonized bodies, Ghil struck the stone goblet out of the hands of the man who offered it to her. "Get that blood magic away from me!" The barbarian woman pressed herself against the door, eyes wild. The tightness of the space, and the threat of what appeared to be a vicious poison was driving her to panic. A hilt in the corner of her gaze seemed a lifeline. She lunged for it with a howl of rage.
Everything began to fall apart at once.
"Don't overreact" Trajan growled at Thaedrin. "She's just reacting to the joining. If a shade explodes out of her body, you have my permission to strike it down. Otherwise, stay your tongue!"
He was still watching the contorting elf, wondering if she would survive, when he saw the bare-chested barbarian making her move.
"Alrik! Stop her!"
The man beside him reacted with lightning speed, bull-rushing down the aisle toward Ghil, intending to tackle her to the ground.
Trajan followed after at a slower pace, a full goblet cradled in one hand.
"Hobble anyone who tries to flee without drinking," he growled to Diocles as he passed. "And put an arrow in that bitch's throat if she puts any Wardens in danger."
"And proceed with the joining!" he shouted to any Warden close enough to listen.
Ghil swung her arm wide to strike the Warden down before she found herself on the marble floor with her head reeling and half the wind knocked out of her. She was all elbows and knees then, seeking out jaw and ribs and groin as she bucked under the weight of the large man. Her eyes widened and her fight renewed tenfold when she saw the commander approaching with another goblet.
"No!" The woman twisted under the warrior, attempting to find the leverage to throw him off, "No! I was made for battle! I will not die like this!" She thrashed and screamed her hate, cursing Alrik in their tribal tongues.
Diocles did not verbally acknowledge the order-He was already wheeling around, putting an arrow through the calf of a slave who had thought to escape during the confusion. Striking down deserters was one dirty task to which he was well-accustomed, and he quickly drew and nocked another arrow.
The archer had had no real reaction to the elf's display, though he was glad she seemed to survive. Thaedrin's reaction was amusing though. Whatever kind of magic upset the sensibilities of the bloody mage was fine by him, and he decided to try to get closer to that one-If they both survived the barbarian's rampage. Best to focus on that danger for now.
"Hold you cowards!"
Alrik took Ghil's knee to his groin and emitted a low grunt, the loudest sound the man had emitted all day. Trajan pushed him aside and kneeled on Ghil's chest, grabbing her chin in his gauntlet, attempting to contort her mouth open. He began slopping the hideous fluid from the goblet onto her lips, trying to force it down her throat.
"Drink, you filthy savage, or are you too afraid!?"
The concoction gargled from her lips as she tried to yell; if she'd been sitting upright, she would've spat the blood into his face. Instead she choked on it. Her fingernails clawed at the plate on the man's thighs, hands clenching into fists as her eyes rolled back. The convulsions began, wracking her nerves in such a foreign way that she cried out more in surprise than pain. Soon, her fight left her, and she lay staring blankly at the stone beneath her head, twitching.
Thaedrin shuddered with relief when all the recruits had settled into their nightmares. His heart was still pounding with anxiety. "Some of these are not worth the trouble they have caused. I had less trouble with the ones who wanted to die!"
Ghil's consciousness surrenders itself to the black dreams just experienced by Sulahn'nehn and Ulrin. Deep beneath the earth, a massive tunnel, scrawled with runes she cannot read, teems with Darkspawn; there are so many that they crawl atop and over each other, a great surging mass, pushing through the tunnel like a swarm of insects, their jagged, ruinous weapons clutched in their hands.
She flies over and through them. Their legions descend far, so far, miles into the earth, tunnel after tunnel; who might have known that there was so much room beneath the world? And all of it seems to be filled.
Somewhere deeper, much deeper, in a chamber so large that she can barely comprehend it, she sees the beast. A dragon beyond doubt, but big, so big; she might recognize it from an engraving in the chapel, as the elves may have known it form the master's homes; it is a god, and it turns its head to face her. Its eyes gleam with awareness of her presence. She can see it-- and it can see her.
Its roar is as much a greeting as a warning.
Then, blackness takes her.
With a wave of his hand, Constable Davinius signaled to his men to begin checking for pulses. The dead were removed from the chapel. This time, it was nearly two thirds of the gathered. The Soporati had had better luck than this, however, they were also military men. With this many lost, he had a feeling he would not be reprimanded for salvaging the few that had expected death and lived.
"The maleficar still breathes... As does the brigand. Place these two under careful watch until they wake." One Warden was able to sling Sulahn'nehn over a shoulder to take her to a cell. Ghil took two sets of arms.
His men moved the living next, laying them out in the Great Hall on bedrolls. A handful remained behind for a casual patrol of the new Wardens, though the threat was small enough. They had survived, as well, and knew of the disorientation involved.
Consciousness slowly returned to the elf, darkness slipping away. There was a dull achiness throughout her body still. Something was returning to her mind, flashes of darkspawn and a fearsome dragon. Sulahn'nehn gasped, shooting forward with a start. The first thing she saw were the Wardens watching her. That put as much fear in her as the darkspawn did. She scooted backwards with one hand forward to suggest keeping their distance. Soon, she remembered where she was, but not quite what took place. Still cold, still hurting, and with more hunger than she'd ever known.
"W-What...What has happened?"
When Ulrin's consciousness returned the only thing on his mind was the pain he had endured. His body and mind were in shock not to feel the crippling agony any more, as if such hell was at some point natural. It was certainly more natural to feel pain than to be plagued by those terrible nightmares. The images of Darkspawn and their master were still vivid in his mind. He felt that if he let his eyes close again he would surly wake up in that hell next time. And so Ulrin forced his eyes open and tried to concentrate on what has happened. The elf wearily reached up to touch his face, he did still ache, but not like before. He could at least move of his own free will. The longer he lay looking up at the ceiling over head the more he recalled what had happened.
He was supposed to die. Yet, here he was. That blood mage cast a spell upon him and the others. He'd been robbed of his freedom and his choice to die.
Slowly, Ulrin pushed himself up into a sitting position. He leaned forward and hunched over taking a few deep breaths.
Diocles did not trust the tact of any men Thaedrin favored, and so he made to address the new recruits himself as the elves awoke.
"You have drank of the darkspawn taint, and overcome it. It is one with you now, as are we.. As are the darkspawn. We are joined. This is how we sense them, and how we fight them. You are Wardens now.. It isn't an easy life, but it is rewarding. And you are equals now, as Warden, though still fresh and junior. It.. It is preferable to death."
He frowned slowly, pulling himself off the wall to approach his elven fellows, an almost apologetic frown coming over his face. He had unstrung his bow during the interim, anticipating no more combat for a time, and he came to them empty handed and unthreatening.
"If it helps any, you can get away with telling Tevinters to go screw themselves."
There were a lot of things coming out of Diocles' mouth, most of which she was sure were supposed to make more sense to her. What she gathered from it that she was a Warden and that somehow tied her to the darkspawn. She was not entirely certain about how the drink connected her to them, but his words had to have been true or that nightmare was a very convenient coincidence. If there was a plus side to any of this, it was this one Warden did not seem particularly oppressive.
Sulahn'nehn looked shocked. What was it he said about Tevinters? "O-Oh, no, I would never!" she spoke as if there were a magister just behind her listening to her every word. And did she just address this man improperly? "S-Ser!", she added quickly. "Forgive my manners, Ser." If it were at all possible to curtsy while sitting, she would have tried it.
Diocles' frown turned wry, as if it was trying to imitate a drawing of a smile he had once seen. This one would make a powerful warrior indeed, smiting darkspawn enmasse while squeaking apologies from underneath her bedcovers. He leaned forward, offering the quaint thing a hand up.
"You wouldn't? So you haven't met Constable Thaedrin, how delightful for you. My name is Diocles Komnenos, and you may address me as such. Welcome to the Grey Wardens, sister."
She looked like a halla frozen in place by the light of a lamp. That was a hand. A hand offering to help her to her feet. Did that sort of thing ever really happen with anyone outside her race? And she thought she heard the human suggest to call him by his name. Informally. A few seconds passed before she realized she was on her feet considering these things and that is had been in silence as she stared forward at him. When they said equals, they actually meant equals.
"Sorry, Ser." Finally, she was able to drop her head and curtsy properly. "Oh. Sorry. Ser Komnenos." There was an awful battle going on in her as she tried and failed to drop honorifics and pleasantries. "Thank you for your kindness. It is...unexpected. I am Sulahn'nehn. You may call me what you wish, Ser."
Ulrin's jaw clenched as he listened to Diocles relay to them what had happened. The news did not sit well with him. They were joined to the Darkspawn? How was that better than death? He did not ask for this- nor would he ever! He shook his head as the female elf sputtered out her responses to him.
"I don't need to be one of you to tell a magister how I feel about them... Nor do I need to be one to tell you!" He pushed up form his seat, only to stumble still a bit disoriented. "You- you lying! Human bastards! Y-you- you promised me death! Not to be cursed!" Ulrin continued to shakily make his way to the edge of his cell and Diocles, determined to force the archer to shoot him or to steal his bow and do it himself.
"Sulanne-anne? I'll try to remember."
The archer deepened his frown once more as he turned his head to the other elf, the poor thing struggling to stay on his feet. It almost would be a kindness to put him down, but all hands were needed. He hoped the male elf (He was male, wasn't he? Still shapely though) would come to his senses before he turned Thaedrin and spilled his blood all over the floor.
"-I- promised nothing.. For what it's worth, though, I am sorry. Still, I cannot see how a life of monster hunting could possibly be inferior to death. Perhaps you are simply afraid to face the darkspawn?"
"Afraid!" Ulrin stopped walking, he put his strength into stand up as straight as he could manage. "I do not fear Darkspawn. But I do not want to be one with those monsters!" He glared at the human his mouth tight with anger as he studied him. "And your blood mage promised us death. I am a criminal. A murderer. Is that not what I deserve? Instead he tricks us, curses us to serve you in battle. I'd rather be dead."
He knew just from the few feet he manged to walk, that he was in no condition to steal his weapon. And he doubted the archer felt threatened by his weakened appearance. Still, he would not idly sit back and listen to him tell him that this life was better than death. They had to think they were fools to believe that this was truly a better life for them.
"Sulahn'nehn...It is often a difficult name for the human tongue. Many do not bother. I am used to being called many things. 'Girl', 'elf-girl', 'you'. Any that you see fit, I will respond to." She had hoped things would have settled down after what the lot of them had gone through just hours ago. Yet there was one who still had a literal death wish. It was the elf who had spoken to her, the same one who chose to give up his life rather than go through the Joining voluntarily. "Why are you so eager to die? You have tried, Serah. The Creators have given you a second chance. Perhaps you have something you must do. I am grateful to still breathe, if I am meant to help...I will do what I can to atone."
A deep rumbling came from her stomach and she placed her hand over it as if it would suppress the sound. She did not want to overstep, or interrupt Diocles, but they had been promised a meal at some point. "It is not my place to ask and forgive me for my forwardness, but I feel the need is dire. If it is not too much trouble...M-Might...I have a bite to eat?"
Ghil stretched her legs and sat upright. She'd been awake for a short time, listening to the drivel nearby... But if the skinny man was going to fetch meals for the knife-ear, he may as well only make one trip.
"The taste is still on my tongue," she turned her head and spat, as if to illustrate the point, "And I have, in my head, the feel of a million teeth biting."
Ulrin now turned his attention to the outspoken elven girl from earlier. He was somewhat surprised to see she had survived. She did not look the type suited for battle in his eyes. Though he supposed none of them did after the walk here. "A second chance?" He scoffed at her shaking his head. "The Creators have kept me alive for punishment more likely..." The elven criminal gave Diocles one last angry glance before turning his back to him to return to the wall of his cell.
He put his hand on the wall and used it to steady himself as he took a seat. "Perhaps you are happy with the knowledge that this is now your life. But for me, this is a fate worse than what I desired."
"Sulain'nein, yes, my apologies."
Diocles eyed each of them in turn, keeping his eyes on the giantess for more than a moment. She could still be a threat, even now. Still, she seemed.. Calm. Remembering his own Joining, he nodded at the reasonable requests, leaving to fetch rations and water-perhaps some mead, if he could find it.
"I'll be back in a moment with sustenance."
Ghil glanced through the bars at her neighbors before snorting in disdain; it was all she did besides continue to sit.
She thought Ulrin a fool and was utterly amazed that the Wardens were so desperate for able bodies that they did not oblige the elf's insistent pleas for death. The Creators truly had purpose for him if he was still standing, of that she was sure. When he himself would see that was beyond her. Maybe he did not believe in them or something occurred that shook his faith in the elven gods. She would have pondered this for some time if her stomach wasn't so empty. It felt like she'd been waiting for Diocles' return for hours.