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A Timeless Blight

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It’s an experience one can scarcely describe, losing your livelihood and being recruited to an army of zombie killers in one day. But Talia had led a rather colorful life in the undercity of Orzammar up until this point, so this was more akin to a particularly rowdy weekend than a life altering cataclysm. So far, anyway.

Existing entirely underground, Orzammar was completely separate from the cities of the surface in more than just proximity. It boasted its own system of government, and for efficiency’s sake, its own brand of organized crime. Talia, being previously employed by a rather influential branch of said crime people, had yet to decide if it was worth being exiled from such a world.

“Are you feeling any regrets, my friend?”

Her consciousness was thrust back into reality as her companion spoke up. She looked over to the driver’s seat, where the human known as Duncan sat. He kept his eyes on the road, but Talia noticed the car’s speed slightly lower after he spoke. She paused briefly, trying to decide the proper response.

“Depends on the context,” she eventually decided on, “do you mean leaving my glamorous life of petty crime or making a lifetime commitment to monster hunters on a whim?”

“I see you’re much more talkative since we reached the surface,” Duncan replied with an audible grin.

“Cause there’s definitely a regret,” Talia decided to continue for some reason, “but I haven’t decided which one.”

“At least your sense of humor appears intact,” Duncan said, with just a touch less whimsy.

“Sorry,” Talia sheepishly answered, “I’m just… scared. And if I keep talking, I don’t have to think about it.”

Duncan finally looked over as they reached a stop sign. His face was a mix of concern and understanding. Or maybe disappointment. Talia admittedly knew nothing of reading faces, but she was used to that one.

“You aren’t the first, and surely won’t be the last in that regard,” Duncan said softly, “the Grey Wardens draw more than simply awe and reverence to their reputation.”

“What do you mean?”

“No doubt you’ve heard tales of Wardens disappearing or going mad and fleeing into the hills,” Duncan spoke in a lowered voice, as if imparting a well-kept secret, “although I imagine they get lost among the legends.”

“I’ve spent my entire life literally living under rocks,” Talia dryly answered, “let’s assume I haven’t.”

“Fair enough,” Duncan said with a chuckle, then adopted a noticeably more grave tone “I suppose it’s not a subject often shared in pleasant conversation. Suffice it to say, being a Grey Warden is among the most hazardous of occupations.”

“Yeah, I figured that much when you told me I’ll probably die young,” Talia said, deciding to ignore the fact that Duncan never explained what he meant, “not the best sales pitch.”

“And yet,” Duncan said warmly and knowingly, “you did not refuse my offer.”

“I... had nowhere else to go.”

“Indeed, I think you will find that motivation to be not so uncommon among your new comrades.”

The ride continued in an uneasy silence as Talia considered this cheery notion.

Before long, the scenery changed from a green countryside to a decidedly more beige landscape of sand and dust. The dull colors oddly felt more familiar to Talia than the previous environments. Not that she had much time to enjoy the comforting color of “eh,” as a giant assortment of dilapidated structures soon obstructed her view. Looking closer, she noticed that there were a large number of people, soldiers by the look of them, moving about the ruins.

Duncan pulled the car smoothly into an empty area just inside the perimeter, then exited, beckoning Talia to follow.

“Welcome,” he said, “to Ostagar.”