In war, victory. In peace, vigilance. In death...
The warrior held a blade to his companion’s throat. With a flick of his wrist, he ended the speaker’s recitation with a fountain of blood. His companion’s armored body fell to the ground, the blood swiftly pooling on the stone floor. The dark puddle reflected the glow of the red lyrium that grew from the walls and ceiling. The lyrium flickered, making the cave appear like a chamber in a glowing heart, pulsing with pleasure and anticipation.
A small troop of soldiers stood in the center of the cave. Their faces were blank, as expressionless as the Tranquil. In the center stood a creature that towered above the rest. The creature had the rough shape of a human, yet he was twice as tall, his flesh grown long and pointed and sinuous. The red glow in his eyes might have been a reflection of the lyrium, from some other inner magic, or perhaps it came from a burning disappointment so deeply ingrained that it had turned into a living thing inside of him.
His gaze was fixed on the obstacle ahead. The Deep Roads were full of doors like this one: heavy slabs of stone set with intricate locks, all meant to keep the darkspawn at bay. Such precautions were easily circumvented. All it took was one life for each door. The creature found it a fair exchange. His followers were too enthralled to care about the price.
On the other side of this last door lay caverns that had once housed a dragon cult. Beyond that was his destination. It had taken years of planning, months to grow the lyrium. But now, everything was in place.
The spell was in the creature’s mind, the words of invocation rested heavy on his tongue. But this would be no cry to the heavens. He had banished the names of the gods from his lips. This time, the creature would call upon nothing but his own will.
The ritual required but two more pieces, two fragments to create the final key. One piece took the shape of an orb, and the creature held that in his hand. His thin, claw-like fingers gripped a metallic sphere that hummed faintly with dreams of magic. The other piece would be found in the halls above. The heart of the Divine would fuel this blood ritual.
There was sweet irony in this, the creature believed. The Maker was to blame. And so the servant of the Maker would suffer most. Furthermore, the Divine would make a potent sacrifice. After all, the blood of the pure held the deepest power of all.
The tall figure stretched out his long arms toward the door. With his empty hand, the creature made a flicking motion. The blood from the fallen body shot forward in a cloud. The huge door began to tremble and shake as the locking mechanism shuddered open. The soldiers did not flinch at the thunderous sound. The door groaned outward.
“The mages shall proceed with me,” the tall figure commanded. His voice was deep in pitch, stilted in accent. A filter of magic lay heavy on the words, the translation spell making them thick and oozing. “But you,” he said, turning to the last of the warriors, the one with the dripping, sacrificial knife. “You shall remain behind. I may require…an exit.”
The warrior said nothing. All around him, armor shifted and boots softly padded away into the darkened corridor. The small company of mages followed their master out of the Deep Roads and into crypts below the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Their passing was masked by both blood magic and shadow.
Only the drained body and the executioner remained. The only movement in the corridor now was the steady drip, drip of blood from the tip of the warrior’s knife. In the glow of the red lyrium, the blade looked like a crimson talon. And etched along it’s bloody edge were these words:
In death, sacrifice.
Later, Kate forgot for a time. But what happened was this:
She woke and it was dark. The candle had gone out, and she could not tell how much time had passed. She might have slept for a few minutes and a draft had blown the flame out. She might have slept for hours, and the candle had burned all the way down. She did not know what had woken her.
All she knew was that she now heard screaming.
Kate shot off of the cot. She gathered ice in her palms, ready to fight. From the slight glow of her magic, she saw she was alone in a small closet. The door was firmly shut, and now the screaming had stopped. It took Kate a moment to remember where she was. Then it all came back: the Temple of Sacred Ashes, the peace talks. She was still trying to decide if she’d really heard a scream or if she’d just dreamed it, when she became aware of something else - something far more chilling than the ice in her hands.
The Veil felt wrong. The barrier between the worlds stretched thin and fibrous - as though someone were tearing apart balls of cotton until they squeaked. The very sensation of it made Kate’s teeth hurt.
She was on her feet in an instant, pushing the door open with her gloved right hand and holding up a shard of glowing ice with her left.
The corridor was dark and cold. The lanterns were out. Kate smelled something iron-like, and she heard nothing but her own breathing. There were no bells, no chant, nothing at all. As her small light cast a bluish sheen over all the stones, Kate felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
What in the Void was going on, she wondered?
Just then, the hall echoed with another scream.
“Someone, help me!”
The sound came from the end of the hallway, where a pair of double doors were half-hidden in shadow. In that moment, Kate realized two things: First, that panicked, accented voice belonged to the blue-eyed cleric. And secondly, there was no one else around to help.
Kate took off running toward the end of the hall. She nearly fell on her face when one boot slid along the wet stones. Later, she would realize that she had stepped in a puddle of blood.
Kate skidded to the door. She dropped her hand and the glowing ice melted. Kate placed her hands on the door and pushed, but it did not budge. From inside, she heard the cleric begging for an explanation:
“Why are you doing this?”
Somewhere in the back of Kate’s mind, in the place that was not completely numb with panic, the woman’s words struck Kate as incredible. Even when she was in agony, the cleric did not beg for her life, but for understanding.
Kate heard other voices now, low murmurings, the auditory hum of magic that accompanied the sickening, twisting feeling that ran through the Veil. And then there was another voice, deeper and laced with magic and wrong.
“Keep the sacrifice still,” it thrummed.
Kate registered only that one word: ‘sacrifice.’ That was enough to explain why the Veil was torn, why there was blood on the floor, why the cleric was screaming. Kate didn’t know who these blood mages were or how many they numbered. All she knew was that she could not run away from this - from any of this.
Kate took hold of the shredded Veil as best she could and gathered magic into her palms - ice and fire and whatever else she could think of.
And then, with all her might, Kate blasted the door open.