Dec 09, 2019 2:36 PM
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Well, Acara's not as good as Shiral, but she's not bad.

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Yes. That appears to be true.

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"Well, that was productive. I think," she says, a while later.

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"It was very engaging. Thank you."

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"You're very welcome. We should do this again sometime if we both survive."

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"I agree."

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"Good luck with that."

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"You too."

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And in the evening it will be time for the Joining, and their well-wishes will come to fruition, or--not.

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Ambrose collects the recruits and leads them to an out-of-the-way part of the ruined fortress where they can conduct the ritual in something resembling privacy.

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All of the recruits know about the chance of death, which cuts down significantly on the pre-ceremony chatter about it but rachets the nervousness levels a couple of pegs higher.

"At last we come to the Joining," Duncan says as he walks in. "The Grey Wardens were founded during the First Blight, when humanity stood on the verge of annihilation."

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Not only humanity, Acara thinks in irritation.

"So it was that the first Grey Wardens drank of darkspawn blood and mastered their taint," Duncan continues, oblivious to her thoughts.

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"We carry it tamed within ourselves, and so are immune to it," says Ambrose. "That is why Wardens never become ghouls, why we can sense darkspawn, and why we are the only ones who can kill an Archdemon."

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"Not all who drink the blood will survive," Duncan says somberly. "And those who do will be forever changed. This is the reason why the Joining is a secret. It is the price that we pay. We speak only a few words before the Joining, but these words have been spoken since the first. Ambrose, if you would?"

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"Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant. Join us as we carry the duty that cannot be forsworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten, and that one day we shall join you."

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"Daveth, step forward," Duncan says. 

Daveth does. Daveth takes the chalice of Darkspawn blood and drinks. 

He shudders, and his eyes roll up in his head. He grabs his head, staggers, and falls to the ground. He stops breathing. 

"Such a shame," Duncan says with the quiet tiredness of aman who has seen this many times before. He raises his eyes from the corpse and to the still-living recruits.

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Shiral looks contemplatively down at the body, then shrugs.

"I'll go next if no one else will," she says.

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Duncan hands her the chalice.

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She drinks. It's not just darkspawn blood, there's something else in there, but she can't quite identify the other ingredients. Thinking about it helps distract her from the absolutely horrible taste.

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And when she doesn't die, Duncan offers the chalice to whoever's next.

Acara takes it. Daveth was--he was okay. They had traveled together for some time, and she had--started to get used to him, and now he was dead. She could die. But she couldn't back out of the Joining.

She raises the chalice to her lips and drinks, thinking of her father and cousins and how important it is that she not die. 

And she doesn't. It's terrible, she can hear some kind of awful thing screaming in her head, but she doesn't.

Duncan offers the chalice again.

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Tev shrugs and takes it. Maybe he'll die. Maybe he'll grow to be ten feet tall with horns like an ogre. Who even knows anymore.

Turns out he does neither of those things.

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Jago takes the chalice next. 

He takes slightly longer to die than Daveth did.

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One in six chance. Six of them. Naively, now that two of them had died, the odds that Carlos would were negligible. But that wasn't how it worked. And Jago...

Jago had been warned. Jago had chosen this, chosen to die a Grey Warden rather than a prisoner of the Templars. But Carlos had thought--this one, at least, he could keep safe, could continue to protect even though his thoughtless actions denied the rest of the apprentices his protection.

Carlos could die, too.

For a whole second he considers bolting, but doesn't. Once his impulsive, fear-driven action had ruined everything. Not again. If he weren't a Grey Warden, he would--well, they probably wouldn't let him leave. But supposing he somehow got away, what would his chances be? No one would ever trust him again, and with good reason.

His hands shake more than any of the others' as he took the chalice. But he drinks, trembling and unable to ignore the foul taste.

He does not die.

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Ambrose stands solemnly for a moment, looking down at Daveth and Jago.

Then he says, "Welcome to the Grey Wardens."

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Looking at Daveth and Jago seems to be the order of the day. Probably none of them are feeling especially celebratory.

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