Part Seventeen: The Anvil of the Void


 

Now their job isnt over yet. If they can just go on an excursion into the Darkspawn-infested Deep Roads and find their missing paragon, Brankha, and fetch her back. Not that anyone’s seen her in 2 years. It seems Brankha went chasing some legendary ‘Anvil of the Void,’ which was a demi-magical item used to create the golems.

The group, joined by a grumpy (is there any other kind??) drunken dwarf named Oghren, travels through the dilapidated ruins of the underground kingdoms, beyond the Orzammar patrols, beyond even the tunnels patrolled by the Legion of the Dead. Past a rift, and into the bowels of the earth itself, so it seems. They find Brankha’s trail, but before they find the paragon herself, they run into an insane dwarven woman who explains what has happened to some of Brankha’s kin. It seems the Darkspawn can’t, well, spawn by themselves. All Darkspawn are male. They need surface women, whom they capture and taint, and twist into a huge aberration called a broodmother. Our heroes manage to slay one of these monstrosities, and in the tunnels beyond that cavern, they find Brankha.

Brankha is only marginally more sane — she’s found Cairiden’s lair, but she cannot get into it due to a series of traps. Fortunately, the Grey Wardens and their companions make great new guinea pigs. They successfully navigate these traps and they do find the legendary Anvil of the Void. There is a problem, however… the creator of the Anvil, Cairiden himself, has been turned into a golem, and he is there to stop them!

Cairiden explains how the creation of each golem can only be completed by destroying the body of one of the living — dwarven volunteers — to lock the spirit within the metal or stone. However, the king Cairiden served so long ago grew greedy, and began demanding more golems, made from unwilling victims. Cairiden protested and was slain upon the Anvil, but his apprentices could not make a control rod for him. And so he ran amok and wrested the Anvil from the dwarves’ grasp. But he himself cannot destroy the Anvil; no golem may touch it. He asks the grey wardens to do so for him. Alistair agrees this is the right thing to do, and Wynne concurs. Oghren thinks they should let Brankha have it, ‘just a little while, til she comes to her senses.’

 

Valorien thought it over carefully. He had spent time as a golem, in the Fade. He recalled that he did not care for it, being so large and so loud, but there was no denying the strength and fortitude of being one. And the darkspawn horde would never be quelled, not while they had access to these broodmothers. Finally, he looked up and said, “If only those who volunteer to give their lives are taken, the Anvil can be put to good use.”

“You cannot guarantee that will always be the case,” Cairiden said, “and that they will never force anyone to suffer the hammerblow.”

Alistair said, “You’re talking about Brankha using it, first off. She didn’t exactly give her followers a choice in her prior ‘experiments.'”

“They were my people,” she told him firmly. “They pledged their lives in service to me.”

“My point exactly!”

Valorien said, “Despite the fact the Dwarves cannot seem to make up their minds, we cannot keep making their decisions for them. Brankha is right, they do not deserve their kingdom to be cast-off ruins, turned to rubble and the spawning grounds for the darkspawn. Not when they have the means to defend it.”

“Cairiden is the creator of the Anvil,” Alistair insisted, “and he wants it destroyed.”

Branka said, “The Anvil belongs to his people, now.”

Wynne stepped up to Valorien. “This is Blood Magic! You swore you’d never stand for the existence of such horrors.”

Calmly, the elf replied, “The Dwarves do not have magic, therefore it cannot be Blood Magic.”

“Whatever semantics you use, it’s still barbaric!”

Cairiden said, “Were not your people once enslaved, elf? Would you wish that on any other?”

“Peace!” said Valorien, cutting off any more argument. “The choice is clear.”

Alistair raised a brow. “And that is…?”

“Brankha and Cairiden must face each other in the Provings. The ancestors will decide whose course to take.”

“I thought you didn’t approve of those contests,” said Wynne.

“They are, as you say, barbaric,” he told her. “But you also told me it is their way, and their own choice in honoring their ancestors. And those would would give their lives in the Provings? Would they not better serve their people giving their lives to become guardians of stone and steel?”

“You’re insane,” Brankha spit. “That Anvil is mine, and I can take it here and now!”

Oghren tried to placate her. “Easy, Brankha. Just listen a minute, willya?”

Cairiden said, “I cannot leave my post as the last guardian of the Anvil.”

“You’re not suggesting they fight it out here and now, are you?” asked Alistair. “We can’t just stand by and watch! I will fight for Cairiden, if you won’t.”

“Well, I’m on Brankha’s side,” growled Oghren. “Stone Mother help me.”

The combatants began to square off. “Stop this!” said Wynne.

Valorien held up his hands to both sides. Then he motioned Alistair to come aside with him. “Excuse us,” the elf said, “we have Warden business to discuss.”

 

Puzzled, Alistair followed him. “I’m not going to like this, am I?” he said, looking at the elf’s expression.

“If we agree to destroy the Anvil, Brankha will fight us,” Valorien told him. “If we kill her, we will return to Harrowmont with no paragon and no Anvil. He may still win the election, but his incentive to pledge his aid to us would be greatly diminished.”

“Still, these are signed treaties. He can’t just ignore them.”

The elf nodded solemnly. “If he is elected. Harrowmont is an honorable man, by all accounts. But if Bhelen wins, he will surely have even less reason to honor the treaties.”

The knight frowned. “But it’s not right,” he insisted.

“No,” the elf agreed. “It is politics.”

“I hate politics.”

Valorien nodded sympathetically. “I will try to reason with Cairiden. If he will not listen, we will have no choice. I am sorry, Alistair.” The knight nodded glumly and they walked back to the others.

 

Valorien faced the dark steel golem. “Cairiden, you are the guardian of the Anvil. If you would see that it is never used to harm another, then step aside now.”

“No!” the golem roared. “Stop them!” He took a swing at Valorien’s head, but the elf dodged back.

Six steel golems ground to life around the chamber and closed on the humans, dwarves, and elf. Brankha screamed in anger and pulled a control rod from her pack. Teeth grinding to force out her will, she caused two of them to turn on their brethren. Oghren unsheathed his axe and charged the nearest. Valorien dodged away from Cairiden and Alistair tried to impose himself between the enraged golem and his fellow Grey Warden. The elf led Cairiden away from Wynne. The mage dodged another golem and did her best to support her comrades.

The battle was bitter, but at last seven steel carapaces lay empty of life and spirit, and five weary creatures of flesh limped onward towards the great Anvil.

 

Brankha makes them a crown on the Anvil, but figuring out how to make golems is going to take some time. The Wardens return to Orzammar and give Harromont the crown, making him king. Bhelen’s forces pull out weapons and try to stage a coup, but are defeated. Weary down to the soul, the Wardens and their comrades return to their camp for the night.

 

Shale imposed himself between Valorien and the campfire. The elf looked up into his glowing eyes. “Am I to understand,” the golem asked, “that you have met Cairiden, the smith who created me?”

“Yes.”

“Only no one will tell me more than that. I would like to meet him, to know more about how I was created and perhaps why.” The stone brows lowered. “Where is he?”

“He has been destroyed, Shale. I am sorry.”

“Destroyed? You mean killed.” He gripped Valorien’s shoulder in a huge stone fist. “Did you kill him?”

Without flinching, the elf answered, “Yes.”

Shale growled and lifted the elf off his feet. “And is there any reason I shouldn’t smash your putrid squishy insides here all over the ground?”

Alistair hurried over. “Put him down!”

The golem glared at him, but Valorien said, “It is all right, Alistair. Shale, I am sorry.”

“Why?” Shale asked, almost sounding hurt. “Why did you kill him?”

“Because he would not speak with us and reason. He attacked us, and we had no choice but to defend ourselves.” The elf did his best to keep his gaze level, dangling as he was in the golem’s grasp.

Slowly, Shale lowered him to the ground, then opened his fingers. “I don’t suppose then that I will ever know….” he trailed off.

“If you wish, we may explore the deep roads further,” Valorien told him. The golem nodded, and the elf went with Alistair back to the fire.

 

They sat down around the fire with Morrigan, Leliana, and Wynne. Tarroth flopped down beside Valorien, and the elf absently patted him. Alistair pulled out a jug of ale he had gotten in the dwarven tavern. He poured out drinks to the ladies, then frowned as Valorien held out his own mug. “I thought you didn’t drink,” Alistair told him.

“I don’t. After seeing….” He swallowed and avoided that topic. “After dealing with the dwarves, I need a drink.”

Alistair topped off his mug. “Careful, it’s pretty strong stuff.”

Valorien took a mouthful and swallowed, then shuddered and gasped. He made a face.

“Good, huh?” Alistair knocked back some from his own mug, with slightly less extreme reaction.

“I do not wish to be prejudiced,” the elf said, “but I hate dwarves.”

“Oh, dwarves are all right,” Alistair said. “It’s their politics that are insane. Different factions, always arguing, petty feuds while the world around them is going to hell — wait…. Isn’t that the same that the humans are doing in the Bannorn?” Valorien was saved from answering by a coughing fit, probably brought on by too strong drink. The knight took another gulp, then said, “I can’t believe you wouldn’t destroy the Anvil.”

“I told you why we couldn’t.”

“Yeah, politics. Which you claim to hate!”

“Do you wish the dwarves to fight the darkspawn or not?”

“Oh, stop it!” cried Wynne.

“No,” said Morrigan. “Let them get it out of their system.”

“You know they’re just going to start killing people to create those golems,” Alistair insisted.

“You do not know that.”

“Oh, now you’re just not being realistic.”

Their argument was interrupted by the rumble of a heavy stone tread. “What did it say?” Shale asked. “Who was killed to make golems?” They explained what Cairiden had told them about living souls animating the golems. Shale’s stone brow furrowed. “Meaning… I was once a fleshy creature like themselves? I can’t imagine I liked that.”

“Many were volunteers,” explained Valorien.

“And later, many were not,” Alistair added.

“Yet all were enslaved by the control rods, is that not right?” asked Shale.

Alistair shot Valorien a hard look. “That’s right. A whole race of slaves.”

The elf ducked his head and rubbed his face. “It doesn’t have to be that way. But if the Anvil were destroyed, there would never be any more golems, for whatever purpose.”

“No more golems?” repeated Shale. “That’s horrid.”

Alistair shook his head. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to become one.”

“I cannot imagine wanting to be squishy and vulnerable,” Shale replied.

“I guess you have a point.” Alistair drained the rest of his drink and refilled his mug.

Valorien tried to emulate him, but choked on the dwarven liquor after two swallows. After the elf stopped coughing and shaking, Alistair topped off his mug as well. “Are you still going to take revenge on me for siccing Tarroth on you?”

“Oh, yes.” Alistair nodded wholeheartedly. “I’m going to get you utterly drunk and then convince you to dance around the camp wearing my underwear on your head.” Leiliana and Wynne nearly spit out their drinks at that one.

“I am not shrunk,” Valorien said steadily. As if to prove his point, he carefully took another drink. He pulled a face and shuddered, but at least he didn’t start coughing again.

“Nope, you don’t look shrunk,” Alistair said, mostly managing to keep a straight face.

They drank a while in silence. Morrigan and Leliana refused a refill of their mugs. Suddenly, “It’s the control rod!” Valorien blurted.

“The control rod made you shrunk?” Alistair quipped.

“No no no. The control rod! Don’t you see? It’s all about the control rod.”

Alsitair shrugged. “What control rod? Shale’s control rod? You’re shrunk and babbling!”

“No, just listen.” Valorien stared hard at his mug trying to martial his thoughts. “You can’t just turn someone into a ten-foot-tall, invulnerable killing machine if they’re going to be spissed at you for turning them into one! They’d smush your head!”

“Yah, but they did have control rods. They enslaved the poor souls–”

Valorien waved at him to shut up about that. “Cairiden lied. If he were only going to use volunteers, he would never have to invent a control rod. What’s he need it for, if the dwarves were all willing to be transformed and would obey their commanders?”

“Uhhm… I dunno,” said Alistair, scrunching his face up in thought. “See, but they do have a control rod, so what’s your point?”

Valorien waved his hands around in frustration and nearly shouted, “No control rod means no people can be forced to become golems!”

“So… we have to take the control rod from Brankha?”

“Yes! And make sure no more can be created.” Valorien nodded. “First thing in the morning. I sleep now.” With that, his eyes rolled up in his head and he flopped over like a sack of potatoes.

Alistair looked over at Wynne. “You think that’s right?”

“It does make a certain amount of sense,” she replied hesitantly. “Though I don’t think it’s an ironclad guarantee. There are different ways to control people and make them do what you want.”

“But if golems didn’t have control rods, and they could think for themselves…?”

“Like Shale?” She nodded thoughtfully. “Then I suppose they are not truly enslaved.” A frown creased her brow. “But I still don’t like it. It smells of Blood Magic, no matter how you try to rationalize it.”

Alistair mused on that a while, nursing his drink.

Leliana said, “Alistair, you should take Valorien to his tent.”

“What, me? He looks cozy right where he is.”

“Can’t you do anything yourself?” Morrigan snapped. “I swear, you really do have the makings of a king — you expect everyone else to do everything for you.”

“Shut up, witch!” Alistair surged to his feet.

“That’s enough!” said Wynne. “Alistair, you’ve had enough to drink.”

“But Wynne…,” he whined.

“No ‘buts,’ young man. Hand over that bottle.”

Groaning, he slapped the cork back into the bottle and surrendered it to her. Then he ducked into his tent and secured the flap.

Morrigan rolled her eyes. “Come on,” she said to Leliana. “I’ll help you.” Together, they dragged the limp elf into his tent, and Leliana arranged him in a more comfortable position. “You’re wasting your time, you know,” Morrigan told her.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s an elf… you’re a human…. He hates you.”

Leliana gave her an icy look. “And you are an expert on the matters of love?”

“No, but I’m a pretty good expert on hate.”

“Then it is you who is wasting her time, trying to sow your seeds of hatred and discord.” The bard swept out of the tent.

Morrigan followed more slowly, shaking her head.

 


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