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Dragon Age: The War in the North, Book I: Rise and Fall of the Black Wardens

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It was an easy choice, really: Conscription into the Wardens or the hangman’s noose for murdering a human noble right here in Denerim. Murder they called it…couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. But staring across that field at a horde of Darkspawn, I almost wished I had gone for the noose. I watched the King of Ferelden die. I watched the Warden Commander die. I watched as the soldiers of the heroic Loghain Mac Tir heroically quit the field. After that, I didn’t stay to watch any more. I ran as fast and as far as my legs would carry me, but apparently fate had a hard on for me and threw me into the company of two more unlikely Warden survivors of Ostagar, Caoilainn Cousland and Alistair Theirin.

The rest was a story fit for a fucking fairy tale. The triumphant defeat of the Archdemon by an unlikely band of rag-tag heroes, the ascension of King Alistair Theirin, long may he reign, his wedding to the beautiful Caoilainn Cousland, and the rebirth of the Ferelden Grey Wardens. Lovely sodding tale if ever there was one. Except…you see, I have a problem with authority (I don’t much care for it), and I have a problem with violence (apparently I care for it a tad too much), and I definitely, definitely, had a problem with our new Warden Commander: Caoilainn Cousland, or is it Queen Caoilainn Theirin? Before I could be brought up to speed on which titles were appropriate, she drummed me out of the Wardens. She said it was because I told her to go plough herself, but I think the real reason was that she found out I ran at Ostagar. Can’t say as I blame her for that, but some of us weren’t friends with giant eagles or whatever the hell plucked her and King Al from that tower.

So what’s a disgraced Grey Warden with a penchant for violence and no marketable skills do when he finds himself with no line of work? I’ll tell you. He hooks up with his old mate from the Blight, who happens to be formerly of the Antivan Crows. (Yes, that’s him. That blonde-haired tall glass of water sitting to my left. Don’t let the charming smile and dreamy accent fool you: He’ll gut you as soon as bed you. Maybe he’ll do both. Actually, he probably will do both). What’s that? Oh, you’ve never heard of the Antivan Crows? Well lets suffice it to say that they’re an organization that makes problems go away. So my friend and I, we go into the problem-disappearing business for ourselves. And you know what? We’re good at it. So good we start getting a reputation for ourselves. So good we start attracting recruits. So good we even get our own name: The Black Wardens. Cheeky, right? And yes, the name’s meant to draw a bit of a dark parallel. But what was I saying…oh right, we’re so good that the aforementioned Antivan Crows don’t much care for the newfound competition. We’re so good that they put a mark out on us, and those three blokes over at that table are here to collect, but not a one of em is gonna walk out of here alive. By the way, the name’s Feanor, this here is Zevran. Nice to meet you, now might be a good time to duck out of here…

The Antivan Crows were supposed to be the best. They weren’t. Not these three anyway. Feanor put a dagger right between one’s eyes from halfway across the room before any of them even moved. The second managed to get to his feet before Zevran crossed the space and impaled him. The third was actually able to draw his own weapon…before promptly dropping it and racing for the back door. Feanor watched with a grin of amusement as the door burst open right before the hapless would-be assassin reached it and a black-fletched arrow seemed to sprout from his chest. The Crow looked at it dumbly, then at the cloaked figure standing in the doorway before slumping to the floor. The whole bloody business had taken less than thirty seconds.
“Rookies,” Zevran said dismissively with a shake of his head. He was already wiping the blood from his sword off on his victim’s tunic. Feanor shot his friend an askance grin as he casually walked across the room and wrenched his dagger from between the still open eyes of his man slumped against the wall.

“You always told me the Crows beat the ‘rookie’ out of you before you even touched the hilt of a dagger.”

“Well yes generally, that is the rule of thumb. But comparatively speaking, these three were definitely rookies. As in: they survived the initial beatings, got to hold their daggers, and then…well here we are.”

Feanor laughed as he and Zev sheathed their weapons and began patting down the dead men for anything of value, specifically anything that pointed to the origin of this latest hit order. Feanor wasn’t hopeful. The Crows may have been sending green boys after them thus far, but their leadership was always careful to cover their tracks. The cyphers and codes that had been in use back in Zevran’s day had long since been changed. As Feanor and Zev finished up their quick search, the third man in their party closed the door behind him, regarded the man lying on the floor with an arrow in his chest for a moment before nocking another and shooting it point blank into the dead bastard’s genitals.

“Maker damnit, Alderas!” Feanor said throwing his hands up in the air. “What did I tell you about that weird shit!?”

The archer pulled back the hood of his cloak, revealing the smiling face of a handsome young Elf with long chestnut brown hair. The giddy look on the youth’s face belied the gruesome act he had just committed.

“What? It’s my thing. You know, my calling card.”

Zevran shook his head. “Your choice of a calling card is macabre and disturbing my young friend, you should reconsider it.”

Alderas looked at Zevran with genuine confusion. “Why? The guy’s already dead. Not like he’s going to be using it.”

“You are entirely missing the point, Alderas,” Zevran said with an exasperated sigh.

“The point being?”

“The point being that you don’t shoot a guy in his sodding cock!” Feanor yelled. “We’re professionals here and that kind of chicken shit just isn’t done! Tell him Zev!”

“It’s true. It just isn’t done. You can shoot, stab, slice or gouge anyone anywhere while they’re alive, but once they’re dead, you don’t touch the bits.” Zevran shrugged. “I don’t make up the rules, I just follow them.”

Feanor nodded in satisfaction and folded his arms across his chest as if Zevran’s commentary was law on the matter. Alderas just shrugged and rolled his eyes while slinging his bow across his back. “Fine,” he said, “No more cock shooting. I’m gonna have to come up with another calling card.” He strolled casually into the center of the room, looking at each of the dead men in turn as he did so. “Don’t suppose these ones turned up anything useful either?”

Feanor jingled a purse of silver coins, the only thing of worth that had turned up on the Crows, and shook his head. “Same old lot of nothing,” he said. “Coins and Crow cyphers, nothing we can make heads or tails of.”

The three Elves just looked at each other for a few moments, signs of worry beginning to show on their faces. It was Zevran who broke the uneasy silence: “Pretty soon they’re going to start sending more seasoned blades after us, this could get ugly rather quickly.”

“I’m hoping that’s a lead in to some brilliant and/or dastardly plan,” Feanor said.

“Well, next time the Crows send someone after us, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to…I don’t know…take one alive?”

Feanor raised a skeptical eyebrow at that. “The Crows don’t talk. What do you expect to get from them?”

Zevran’s normally cheerful and relaxed demeanor shifted ever so slightly to something darker, and his voice tinged with a coldness that seemed unnatural and alien coming from him. “I used to be a Crow. I know how to make them talk.”

Feanor and Alderas exchanged glances. Deep down, Zevran was a predator, but rare were the moments he showed his true colors. His companions both knew that whenever good old Zev went dark, a rabid Mabari was less dangerous by comparison. Feanor nodded slowly before answering. He himself had never been averse to torture as a means to a justifiable end, a character trait which during the Blight had often put him at odds with Ferelden’s oh-so-righteous future monarchs. But even he shuddered to think of whatever Zev had in store for the next Crow who drew the short straw to come after them. “Alright. We take one alive and see where that leads us. Now unless anyone wants to leave anymore calling cards, let’s get the hell out of here before this dump happens to get another patron.” Feanor, Zevran and Alderas pulled their hoods over their heads and ventured out the front door into the night. As Feanor passed the bar, he paused to wink and shoot a sadistic grin at the innkeeper cowering on the floor behind it. “No offense.”