“One, two, heave!” my voice echoed and bounced off the stone walls around us as Zevran and I braced ourselves and pushed the body off the railing of the stone bridge, sending it pin wheeling into the darkness below.

“Maker’s Breathe,” Zevran huffed as he wiped the sweat from his brow.  “And I thought they smelled bad when they were alive.”

I smirked at the assassin and turned to drag another Darkspawn corpse towards the edge of the bridge.

“Well you only have to deal with the stink once more Zevran.  This is the last one then we can get back to Alistair and Oghren.  Hopefully they’ll have everything set up by then.”

“Was it truly wise to leave those two alone together?” Zevran asked, bending over and picking up the feet of the Hurlock and helping me lift it onto the wide stone railing.  “I fear when we return we’ll find them both naked and singing dwarven tavern songs.”

I grunted noncommittally as I pushed against the lifeless flesh and with Zevran’s help sent it tumbling into the void to join its brethren far, far below.

“I think we could all use a bit of loosening up after being down here for who knows how long,” I replied with a sigh as I sat down heavily on the cold stone, my back resting against the railing.

We were miles underground, in tunnels called the Deep Roads that were mined ages ago by the dwarves.  Once a prosperous and bustling race, the Deep Roads acted as the main roads and connections to all corners of the dwarven kingdom.  But enemies lurked around every corner even this far away from the sun and centuries ago the kingdom collapsed, the cities and settlements abandoned, the Roads eventually crumbling away into ruins.  I only knew of one bastion of dwarven civilization left, an underground metropolis named Orzammar that served as the race’s capitol.  The dwarves lived closer to the surface than ever before, and now the only things that lived down here were the dead, the Darkspawn, and their fellow arachnid and deep stalker vermin.

I don’t think I would have ever come this far down the Roads if it wasn’t necessary.  But I needed the dwarves to honor their treaty with the Grey Wardens.  And the dwarves needed me to find one of their Paragons, a dwarf who made such a contribution towards dwarven society within their lifetime that they were venerated as if they were dead.  If that makes any sense.

The dwarven king had died, and the two strongest claimants to the throne were locked against each other: the king’s youngest son who was rumored to have sent his older brother to his death and poisoned his father, against his father’s oldest and most trusted friend and advisor who only fought for the throne because he claimed it was a deathbed request of the king, made when the two of them were alone.  Only the king or the ruling body of the assembly could decide to uphold or ignore the treaty their ancestors had sworn to so long ago.  A king would not be chosen unless I could prove myself to them and find a third party voice that everyone respected to choose a new king themselves.

That third party turned out to be a dwarven woman named Branka who had disappeared with her entire household –minus her husband– into the Deep Roads in search of a piece of their forgotten lore called the Anvil of the Void.  I was tasked to bring Branka back so she could choose the new king.  Branka’s husband, a dwarven drunkard rumored to be a warrior by the name of Oghren, asked to come along with me.  Despite everyone telling me it was a bad idea to have a drunkard watching my back, I accepted Oghren into my party.  Everyone deserves a chance to redeem themselves.  Well, most everyone.

For a long time the four of us traveled in the darkness, and we found Branka sacrificing her household to the Darkspawn, using them to create more of the creatures, and using the newly bred spawn as fodder to try and get past the traps that led to the Anvil of the Void.  I don’t know if it was the darkness that drove Branka to her madness, or if it was already there when she came to these depths, but there was no redemption for her.  Not after she had willingly allowed the females of the house to become Darkspawn brood mothers, ensuring an endless supply of Darkspawn to use, and allowed the males to be fed as sustenance to the spawn, old and new.

We found Branka and left her again, gaining access past the traps to the Anvil, where we met a golem named Caradin, not knowing at the time that Branka followed us.  Caradin was the creator of the Anvil of the Void, a tool used to create golems by taking a living soul and using the Anvil as a conduit to basically stuff it into a body of stone.  Golems were a large reason why the dwarven race thrived long ago, but once willing volunteers became scarce, the ancient kings raided their dungeons for new souls, and then just raided.  When Caradin protested, he was sacrificed on the Anvil, but retained enough of his willpower to take his creation and seal it away, waiting through the centuries for someone to come and destroy it.

Apparently the Maker thought it appropriate that that someone was me.  Caradin impressed upon me the need to destroy the Anvil, while Branka begged me to keep it, raving about how it was needed to restore the dwarves to their former glory.  I sided with Caradin and agreed to destroy the Anvil, provided he come back with me, or give me something to break the deadlock in Orzammar and chose a new king.  Caradin agreed in turn and made a crown for me to give to whoever I chose, saying he was too tired to care any longer about dwarven politics, throwing himself to his death in a river of lava after I destroyed not only the Anvil, but Branka as well.

Branka went truly mad when she learned I would destroy the Anvil and attacked us.  As much as I hated the task and feared that her husband would turn on me as well, I killed her.  Thankfully Oghren is more sensible than he lets on.  He knew as well as I did that there was no hope for Branka.  I can still see in his eyes that he’s hurt by her loss but it’s a hurt that comes with understanding and the pain will fade in time

That was a few days ago I think.  We were on the road back to Orzammar and were setting camp for a much needed rest.  Thankfully a group of Darkspawn had set up here on an old bridge so it was just a matter of clearing them out and we had a usable, defensible area to rest for a few hours.  Scrubbing my face with my hands, I tried to wipe away my weariness and not focus on how long it had been since I had last seen the sun.  Weeks?  Months?  Time passes differently in the darkness I found, and no matter how swiftly we cut through the pockets of life that wanted to destroy us, I feared that when we returned to the surface it would be too late.

“Ah, Lurianna my dear,” Zevran sighed as he sat down next to me.  “You are thinking of Caradin and Branka again are you not?”

I nodded.  “What gave me away?”

“Well it must be a matter of great importance and concern to carve such lines of worry upon the face of a beauty such as yourself,” he said with a smile.

“And the Blight isn’t a matter of great importance and concern?” I asked him archly.

“It is my dear, but the Blight is much like the clouds or that stone far above us,” he said as he gestured to the cavern ceiling.  “Always there, always present, but taken at face value and for granted until it starts to rain.  It is only on immediate matter that I see that look on your face, most recently before this Anvil business in the Circle tower with the mages.”

“So when did you become such a poet?”

“A talent I picked up along my travels.  It goes a long way to charming any eligible partners that attract my interest,” he eyed me speculatively.  Zevran has been an incorrigible flirt since I met him, vying with Alistair for my affections, albeit Zevran’s approach was more open and direct.  Words and charm against looks and constantly following me.  But as I did not have the time or luxury to seriously contemplate such things so I chose to ignore them both.  Perhaps one day things would change.  But not here, and not now.

“Why did you destroy the anvil?” Zevran asked suddenly.  “It seems rather odd.  You could have kept it intact and used it to sweep the Darkspawn and the Archdemon away.  And yet you listened to Caradin and destroyed the one thing that could guarantee us victory.  Do not misunderstand,” he said quickly, holding up his hands in defense when he saw me looking at him.  “I know I owe my life to you and have little grounds to question your decision.  I am merely trying to understand.  You do not last long in my profession without learning how to read and understand people, and you are infuriatingly hard to read”

“Is that what you would have done Zevran?” I asked.  “Kept the anvil and used it?”

“Even you must admit it would have been a valuable tool.”

I shook my head at him.  “I don’t deny that it was valuable, and powerful.  But if you had to make the choice to use the anvil, would you have been the first volunteer for it?”

Zevran blinked in surprise at my question and chuckled nervously.  “I would not make a very effective assassin if I were a golem which is something I take great pride in.  So no, I have to say I would not have been the first to volunteer.”

“Then why keep it?” I asked with a shrug.  I leaned my head back against the railing, the cool dampness of the stone and the air around us seeping into me.  “My father always told me that if you won’t be the first one willing to sacrifice for something you want then maybe you don’t need it.” I said to the ceiling far above us.  “I wasn’t willing to put myself on the anvil.  The thought of sealing my soul away for eternity in a false body of magic and stone?” I shuddered.  “I’m surprised it hasn’t driven Shale mad by now.”

“Caradin believed in his work, and so did others.  Enough so that they were willing to sacrifice innocents to it,” I reminded Zevran in a grim voice.  “Say I did use the anvil and we won the war with it.  What then?  What do I do with the anvil?  Leave it, seal it away like Caradin did, guard it every second of the rest of my life like Caradin, and pray to the Maker that no one ever throughout eternity uses it without good and honorable intentions?” I snorted in disbelief.  “You know as well as I do that would never happen.  We bring the anvil back, and history will only repeat itself.  I couldn’t live with that.”

“We could have destroyed the anvil once we were done with it,” Zevran offered as he began to clean his nails with a small dagger.  He was trying to be nonchalant, but I knew he was starting to see my reasoning.

“Ah yes.  Bring something out of dwarven myth and make it a reality, show them a solid link to their lost and forgotten past, and then they would simply let us destroy it we were done with it.”  Sarcasm dripped from my voice with every word.  “You know as well as I that they would never have let us do that.  And even if we did destroy it, with or without their consent, do you think it would end there?  No, it wouldn’t,” I answered for him as he opened his mouth to speak.  “They would try to recreate Caradin’s work with good intentions.  Reclaim their past, restore their glory, so on and so forth.  But then, as the years and generations passed, those intentions would change.  And then everything would be back to square one with more innocents being sacrificed in the name of security, research, and the advancement of civilization.”

I sighed and stared out into the darkness of the Deep Roads.  “No Zevran, the Anvil of the Void was too dangerous to keep, the outcomes of its use too unpredictable.  Caradin created the anvil out of pride and arrogance.  His people sacrificed a river of blood to it.  He was right to ask me to destroy it.”

We sat in tense silence together for a few moments, listening to the echoes of Oghren and Alistair talking quietly at camp further along the bridge.

“A shame, it would have been a glorious sight.  Ah well,” he sighed.  “Can I at least inquire as to where our fearless and selfless leader is taking us next?”

“We’ll go back through the tunnels to Orzammar and then to use that damnable crown to elect a new king.  I only wish Caradin would have spoken to me about this and that he could have told me who had the right to wear it. The fate of an entire race rests on my shoulders now,” I sighed.  “One more boulder to add to my burdens.”

“A race, a world, what is the difference?” Zevran asked merrily as he briskly stood up and offered me his hand.  “I know that you will do what it best –hopefully what is profitable as well– and in the end so long as we all live to tell are tales, then what more could I ask for than a full stomach, a mug of good ale, and a beautiful woman in my bed?” Zevran cocked his eyebrow suggestively at me as he helped me to my feet and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Tempting my friend,” I said with a wink.  “But first let’s get back to the surface and get you a bath.”  My nose wrinkled in mock disgust.  “Weeks underground in stale air, fighting Darkspawn and crazed dwarves aren’t doing you any favors in the romance department.”

Zevran chuckled as he clapped me on the shoulder and we turned to the warm, inviting glow of camp, and the companions who waited for us.