This goes without saying, but here there be spoilers.
Last time we met Perra she was struggling with personal burdens. After being spurned by her mother, Perra'd been forced to kill Leske. Once the closest thing she'd had to a best friend, our hero suffered his betrayal and thus had no choice but to end his life. These events made Perra not only question herself, but made her realize that the home she had once known (no matter how messed up it'd been) was now gone. There was no going back. Coming to this realization, she and her not-so-merry men reported back to Prince Bhelen. That is where we pick up the story.
Just One More Thing - Nothing good ever comes from getting mixed up in politics. While he came across as an okay guy the last time they talked, the prince at this point is simply being a jerk. Not only is he willfully oblivious to the ghosts Perra fought down on Memory Lane for his sake, but his reaction to the Carta's elimination falls very much into the "thank you but ..." category. His response went a bit like this:
Prince Bhelen: Thanks for taking out the Carta and increasing my favor ... but, um I was sort of kidding about that being your only task. Mmm, yeah. I'm gonna have to go ahead and ask you to find a Paragon in the Deep Roads this weekend ... we need her to make me king. That would be terrific, mmm'K?Perra: Excuse me. I believe you have my stapler.
Not only did Bhelen purposefully conceal the fact that the missing Paragon Branka would be essential to his coronation, but he and Harrowmont had both previously sent search parties into the Deep Roads and never found her! Well that's just fantastic. If it weren't for Rica or her Warden duties, Perra would probably just throw her towel in at this point and move on. Sadly, however, that is not an option. With Leske's death still weighing heavy on her mind, our hero yet again seeks out her sister. Hopefully the ever loyal Rica will be able to help her move on and focus on the task set before her.
Letting Go - Bhelen must tell Rica everything, because by the time Perra arrives at the Prince's living quarters her sister already knows about the Deep Roads. Our hero tells her sister about Leske's death, and after a sigh Rica says that she is not surprised. She knew that Leske and Perra had been close, but he was never very strong willed. It had been in his nature to bend to the stronger power (i.e. Jarvia) so that he could stay in favor. After all, he had done the same with Beraht. Deep down Perra knows that her sister tells the truth (she'd guessed as much earlier that day in Dust Town), but that doesn't mean that the truth can't hurt.
You can't let this distract you, Rica warns, because the Deep Roads are dangerous and I need you to come back. Once Bhelen is on the throne "we can all live together in the palace." Our hero knows that settling down in Orzammar with Rica is not in her cards, but she doesn't bother saying so. Why burst Rica's bubble when her sister has finally found happiness? After all, the truth will reveal itself soon enough. For now the best she can do is assure Rica that she'll leave Leske behind and return safely with Branka.
A Helping Hand - Our merry men had not even reached the Deep Road's entrance before they were intercepted by none other then Branka's ex-husband - Oghrin. Viewed by most of Orzammar-ian society as a good-for-nothing drunken sot perpetually buried in his cups (which he is ... drunk I mean), Oghrin has apparently spent the last two years trying to organize a party to search for Branka. These efforts have met with little success. Claiming he knows about Branka's research, he persuades Perra into letting him join her team. Between Perra's map from Bhelen and Oghrin's knowledge of Branka, this quest will hopefully increase its chances of success.
King Business - As one might suspect, the first stop of the journey was largely consumed with fighting darkspawn. The old Aeducan Thaig was overrun with them. Darkspawn were dispatched of quickly enough though, and the team continued onto Caradin's Cross. Once a major crossroads in the dwarven world, Cardin's Cross was the first place that Branka would have stopped to search for the Anvil of the Void. No Branka was to be found, but Harrowmont's hired goons certainly were. Bhelen's political rival must be getting desperate if he has to send thugs into the Deep Roads to rid the world of Perra & Friends. Needless to say, our merry men lived to see another day while their opponents did not.
Also overrun with darkspawn (that is what defines the Deep Roads is it not?), Caridin's Cross had little to offer outside of straight up battle. Our team did encounter a clearing of mysteriously slaughtered baddies, but one can easily attribute their deaths to the late-Harrowmont goons.
Footsteps of a Paragon - Upon arriving in Ortan Thaig, Oghrin informs Perra that he sees Branka all over the place. Apparently she use to cut chunks out of the walls when she went to a new place. This is very good news, because so far Perra and friends have visited one crossroads and are now on their second Thaig. That is a lot of darkspawn, deep stalkers, and spiders (oh the spiders!) to fight. She knows that when a Grey Wardens near the end of their life they come to the Deep Roads to meet their fate. Right about now, dying in her sleep seems like a much better idea.
As with Caridin's Cross, Ortan Thaig has a number of mysteriously dead foes simply lying about. Instead of mere darkspawn though, this Thaig is strewn with deceased giant spiders and even an ogre. When something is going about slaying ogres, you know it's time to stay on your toes.
The Enemy of My Enemy is My Enemy - Halfway though Ortan Thaig, Perra et al. discover just what was leaving their enemies strewn about - other baddies! Her team runs across groups of thaig crawlers, poisonous spiders, giant spiders, ogres, and darkspawn engaged in some form of serious combat at least twice. If she didn't know better, Perra would have thought that this was some kind of territorial war. Who knows? Maybe it is. It is unclear though just who is encroaching on who's territory. One thing she certainly does appreciate,however, is that her enemies don't stop fighting each other just because she enters a room. Sometimes there's something to be said for dissension in the ranks. Now if only the spiders would team up to help her take care of that pesky archdemon ...
Signs of a Paragon - After much more walking in heavy, heavy armor, Perra & Friends approach the thaig's abandoned town center. Or wait, maybe it isn't so abandoned after all. Once they fight their way through even more giant spiders, Perra notices a lone figure hunched over. When she tries to speak to him though, he grows scared, limps away, and calls spiders to his aid. The following fight is intense and fierce, but our merry men eventually triumph and once more seek out the mysterious dwarf.
Ruck, it turns out, is an unusual yet insightful character who has survived numerous years in the Deep Roads by eating darkspawn flesh. Perra knows from personal experiences just how toxic darkspawn blood can be to some people when it is taken internally. She can't even begin to imagine what years of eating darkspawn flesh might to do one's body and soul. In Ruck's case, his diet appears to have warped his musculature as surly as it's warped his mind. While conscious of the world around him, his memory is twisted and he maintains a very intense, protective attachment to his shinies. Moreover, he will only speak and trade with Perra if she, the "pretty lady", promises not to steal his "pretty worms and shiny rocks." After promising to leave his treasures alone, Perra is able to discover that spiders came a while back and collected pages with words to line their nests. When viewed along with the old campsite that Ruck inhabits, Oghrin is convinced that his ex-wife once lived there. Perra certainly hopes so because she's had just enough of the Deep Roads. After trade negotiations with Ruck, our merry men continue onwards in hopes of finally finding their paragon.
Spiders. It Had to be Spiders - Perra & Friends should have paid more attention to Ruck's ramblings about spiders and their nest, for it was not long before they walk right into one. This is not just any spiderian nest. Oh no, this one comes fully equipped with a Corrupted Spider Queen who shoots poison and calls more spidery lackeys to her aid.
Notes of a Paragon - After all that hiking, all the fighting, and all those spiders, Perra and friends finally discover Branka's untouched journal atop an altar like table. (Didn't the spider queen use Branka's journal to line her nest? Maybe she was just saving these notes for a bit of late night reading.) After flipping through the pages, Perra discovers that Branka was in Organ Thaig a while back, but has since moved on to the Dead Trenches. (What a cheerful name that is.) It does not seem like she expected to survive, but she apparently believed that the Anvil of the Void could be found there. Without the Anvil Branka felt that the dwarven race was lost. The following passage from her journal is most telling.
Perra could be wrong, but the very last sentence didn't say "If someone should happen across my corpse please take it home and properly send me to the ancestors." No, it said that if one should find the paragon's corpse, they should walk right on past it and continue to search for the Anvil. By the time of this journal's writing, the Anvil had clearly become an obsession. What exactly was this Anvil of the Void? More importantly, what could be so important about it for Branka to claim that "if it remains lost, then so do we all"? Had the Paragon, as her soldiers feared, truly gone mad? Were Perra and her companions looking for an insane dwarf to sanction Orzammar's next sovereign king? Only the next leg of her trip would tell. As it presently stands though, Perra's princess is in another castle.My soldiers tell me I am mad that the Dead Trenches are crawling with darkspawn, that we will surely die before we find the Anvil ... if we find it. - I leave this here in case they are right. If I die in the Trenches, perhaps someone can yet walk past my corpse and retrieve the Anvil.