The 6th Blight
The First Blight began in -395 Ancient (800 TE) and lasted nearly two centuries, the longest Blight in history. Many thought it to be the end of days, and entire generations lived and died warring with the darkspawn.
In -395 Ancient (800 TE), seven Tevinter magisters, each the High Priest to one of the Old Gods opened a gate into the Golden City with blood magic and entered it physically. According to the Andrastian Chantry, the result was catastrophic; the City turned black, and the mages came back twisted and corrupted, devolving into monsters—the first darkspawn. The taint they carried infected others, turning them into darkspawn as well.
The Memories of Orzammar record that the darkspawn first appeared underground in 800 TE. By chance or design, they located Dumat in his prison and corrupted him, freeing and transforming the Old God into the first Archdemon. The darkspawn multiplied and, in -380 Ancient (815 TE), attacked the underground kingdoms in mass, concentrating at first on the Deep Roads. Although there were early warnings of the advancing horde—travelers who mysteriously disappeared, patrols of dwarven warriors gone missing while on duty—they were subtle at best, nothing to truly indicate what was to come.
The Andrastian Chantry teaches that the magisters were trying to usurp the Maker’s throne and were cast out of the Golden City for their sinful pride. In their depravity they sought the Old Gods, and, finding Dumat slumbering deep within the earth, began the Blight. The dwarves, on the other hand, give little credit to Chantry beliefs, but they themselves have only theories about the origin of the darkspawn. As far as the dwarves are concerned, the darkspawn first appeared underground invaded the Deep Roads and began to attack the more remote western thaigs, at first with small war bands and later with a horde that overrun the dwarven empire in just a few years.
However, if the Chantry’s history and Orzammar’s Memories are both true, then Tevinter mages would have entered the Fade, been cursed, fled, found Dumat, raised an army, and then overrun the western thaigs all in one year. It seems more likely that the magisters had already been seeking Dumat for some time. A few Grey Warden scholars believe they may have even found him by that time, and that it was he who helped them to reach the Golden City. Different groups of mages may have been pursuing different agendas that were later fused.
Despite the advanced technology the dwarves brought to bear, the darkspawn tore through them, first destroying the more remote thaigs, completely unprepared for the hordes that poured out of the darkness, in a matter of days. The darkspawn swiftly overran the sites of their early victories and used them as staging grounds to push further into the dwarven empire, conquering entire kingdoms in the space of decades.
When the First Blight began, Orzammar was caught in the midst of a bitter inter-house war. The greatest members of the Warrior caste were either busy battling in its petty skirmishes, or had been injured in those fights. When news of the darkspawn horde arrived, every noble dwarven house wished to have their own thaig defended, leading to political chaos and a disorganized defense. The Assembly was so tied up with the infighting that the darkspawn spread, unchecked, to the gates of Orzammar.
Aeducan of the Warrior caste, realizing that his entire race was facing certain doom, grudgingly took command of the armies, called upon the Smith caste to supply them with arms, enlisted the aid of the Miner caste to collapse overrun passages, and bypassed the Assembly and the nobles entirely. Eventually Aeducan achieved victory but with the loss of countless thaigs. In reward for his heroism, Aeducan was made Paragon by a near-unanimous vote of the Assembly.
I would say that the enemy’s strategy seems to be changing, but they never appeared to have a strategy before, beyond destroying everything in their path. For weeks, their numbers appeared to be dwindling. There was talk that perhaps we were getting close to wiping them out. We could not have been more wrong. For today we came upon the body of their main force. I cannot give words to it, Anika. I have never before seen so much death in one place. There were darkspawn beyond counting, and at the heart of the throng a great beast, as tall as the palace of Orzammar, with breath of fire. A Paragon of darkspawn, perhaps, for they seemed to pay it deference.
They were leaving. Marching toward the mine shafts which lead to the surface. But I knew when I beheld them that once they have devoured what lies above us, they will be back.
—From The Letters of Paragon Aeducan.
The darkspawn used the tunnels of the Deep Roads to travel to all corners of the continent. The Memories record that large forces of darkspawn began to bypass barricaded thaigs to strike on the surface from unexpected quarters. Although the dwarves sent warnings to the human kingdoms when they could, they had little other assistance to spare.
The darkspawn surfaced on the edges of the Tevinter Imperium in -380 Ancient (815 TE). The armies of the Imperium attempted to face down the darkspawn hordes, but they could not be everywhere at once. While the Imperial troops were more than adept at fighting elves and other humans, their armies were in no way prepared for the unyielding, unrelenting thirst of the darkspawn, and the Imperium began to lose its ability to maintain cohesion. As the hordes continued to rise up from underground, Tevinter was forced to turn its focus further and further inward, leaving its outlying territories to fend for themselves. The armies were called on to protect Minrathous above all else. Whole cities that had once depended on the Imperium’s armies for defense were swallowed by the ravaging darkspawn.
As the darkspawn advanced on the surface, the land around was sucked of moisture, blackening the earth and turning plants to dust. The skies filled with rolling black clouds that blocked the sun. Disease and rot followed.
Not only had the Blight ravaged the countryside, but Tevinter citizens had to face the fact that their own gods had turned against them. Gifts and prayers to the remaining Old Gods went unanswered, and many began to question their faith, some going as far as murdering priests and burning temples. The people of the far northern and eastern reaches of the Imperium rose up in rebellion. The magisters summoned demons in response, leaving corpses to burn as examples to all who would dare revolt. Still, the Imperium began to fall apart from within, angry and disillusioned citizens doing what centuries of opposing armies could not.
In -305 Ancient (890 TE), at the height of the Blight, the Order of the Grey Wardens was born. The Wardens were all seasoned veterans from darkspawn battles; humans, elves and dwarves who abandoned their allegiances, titles and families and dedicated themselves to end the Blight at any cost. A fortress was built at Weisshaupt in the Anderfels, a region not as hard hit by the darkspawn but still strategically close to Tevinter.
Led by the legendary Carinus, the first Wardens actively searched for more effective ways to fight. Records say that Nakiri of the Donark Forest was the first one to suggest consuming darkspawn’s blood, as his people were known to consume the blood of their enemies to absorb their power. The first Grey Wardens consulted many Tevinter mages, who confirmed that there was power in blood, as blood magic was far from uncommon at that time, and the Wardens began studying Donark and Tevinter practices. Some secret knowledge from ancient Arlathan was provided by elven slaves as well, on the condition that the Grey Wardens would hold elves equal with the other races, and turn their efforts to elven liberation once the Blight was over. Several notable dwarven warriors, led by Paragon Moroc the Maul, were also present at the Grey Wardens’ founding. They shared all they had learned about the darkspawn with their Warden allies.
Those discoveries led to the developing of the Joining ritual, that proved instrumental to their success. Those who underwent the ritual became nearly-immune to the taint, could sense the presence of darkspawn, and could “overhear” their unspoken communication. This was also the first real proof that the darkspawn were driven by a centralized motivating force.
Invention of Golems
In -255 Ancient (940 TE), the dwarven smith Caridin discovered a method to forge a construct of steel or stone with great strength and survivability. Those living engines, named golems, became one of the dwarves’ most effective weapons against the darkspawn. For the first time since the start of the Blight, the dwarves were able to reclaim thaigs and sections of the Deep Roads that had long been given up for lost. Golems became the backbone of the dwarven armies, and some were even exported to Tevinter and a few groups of mages.
However, to bring each golem to life required the soul of a living dwarf. Initially, volunteers gave their lives willingly, but controversy arose when there were no more volunteers to be found. The dwarven monarch at the time, King Valtor, became greedy and forced casteless, criminals and his political enemies into the Anvil. When Caridin opposed the king, after six years of continuous production, he too was made into a golem.
In -248 Ancient (947 TE), just when dwarves believed they were winning the battle against the darkspawn, Caridin vanished, taking the secret of the golems’ construction with him. Many were accused of having a hand in his disappearance, but no culprit was found. Many expeditions were sent into the Deep Roads to search for him, but all were pushed back by the darkspawn. After years of debate in the Assembly, Queen Getha sent the entire Legion of Steel, a legion made up of 126 golems, into the Deep Roads to recover the Paragon. No one returned. The Shaperate declared Caridin dead, extinguishing the last kindle of hope. Due to the incalculable loss of the Legion of Steel, all-golem regiments were forbidden to ever again fight in the Deep Roads and Queen Getha was deposed.
Slaying of Dumat
Meanwhile, in the surface, the Grey Wardens met with great success in their early years. A group of Ander soldiers even managed to slay Dumat while he was on the run from a Warden offensive. The celebrations were cut short when Dumat returned unharmed, however, a few days later. In the years that followed, Grey Warden scholars learned that the Archdemon’s death had only forced its soul to relocate into the body of the nearest darkspawn, whose form it then twisted back into the shape of a corrupted high dragon. It seemed that as long as a single darkspawn remained, Dumat was immortal. The Grey Warden despaired.
Eventually, Grey Warden scholars proposed that if Dumat were slain by a Grey Warden, due to the Wardens’ subtle ties to the darkspawn, his spirit would rush into the body of the Warden that had killed it. Unlike the darkspawn, a Warden’s body already has a soul, and the resulting paradox would destroy both Warden and Archdemon.
Battle of The Silent Plains
In -203 Ancient (992 TE), the Grey Wardens formed a formidable force made up largely of Tevinter, Rivaini and Ciriane soldiers. In a coordinated attack, they slew Dumat and routed the darkspawn forces at the Battle of the Silent Plains. A third of all the human armies fell in the battle. Records do not say who exactly gave up his soul to destroy Dumat, for many Wardens struggled against him, and the Archdemon’s very death throes slew seven or more of them.
Dumat did not return in the years that followed. Although the darkspawn horde remained large in number and the battles persisted, without the Archdemon to lead them, they became disorganized and by -195 (1000 TE) were forced underground. For the surface world, the Blight was over.