Chapter 1: In the Circle of Magi
Do you ever get that feeling like you're just so completely and utterly trapped? Like no matter what you do, you feel confined and somewhat broken? That's how the Circle of Magi feels like to not only me, but a number of other mages. To me, it's nothing but a big gilded cage, though some feel as if we should be caged like animals...those who think that we're so utterly dangerous before we even do anything to hurt anyone.
Most of the mages are ripped away from their families at a young age, much like I was. I've been a prisoner of the Circle since I was only six years old-fourteen long years ago-and I have made a number of friends, but I still feel little comfort here. The Senior Enchanters say that after a while, everyone starts to feel like family to you, but that seems impossible to me when the templar's cold eyes are always on you-watching your every move-watching for any sign of corruption. And if you were considered corrupted...you would either be slain, or made tranquil. To me - being tranquil is a fate worse than death itself. Not only is your magic sealed off, and so are your emotions. The tranquil I see around the circle are a reminder to us what our fates might lead us to if we are not strong enough to become a full-fledged mage.
There aren't very many pleasures to be explored at the circle, but that doesn't mean they are inexistent. In fact, the times I feel the most joy are the moments when me and my best friend, Jowan, are together. Jowan arrived at the circle a year before me, so I looked up to him for help with my spells. In return, Jowan became like an older brother to me, always looking after me. Even as the years progressed and as I excelled in my studies, our friendship didn't falter. However, even if I thought I knew everything about Jowan, I felt like he was hiding something from me.
* * * * *
"Jowan! For Maker's sake, slow down!" I called after him. Jowan finally stopped running and allowed me to catch my breath. Once I caught up to him, I instantly bent over and started gasping for air. I don't even know why we're running in the first place. My lessons with Irving don't begin until after our daily time in prayer, and that didn't start for at least another hour or so. I didn't dare ask though. If I did I'd get the same answer as always. "You need the exercise," he'll tell me, and after hearing that fifty times in just the past month, it's become very annoying. So all I did was glare at him. Jowan apparently thought this was funny, because he had this sly grin on his face as he walked over to me.
"Awww, is little Ellie tired?" he asked, mocking the way I talk to the younger apprentices at the circle. Which was twice as annoying since I turned twenty over six months ago. Without thinking, I limply hurtled my fist at Jowan. Lucky for him, I was too busy trying to get the air back in my lungs that my physical strength withered. Jowan dodged it with effortless ease.
"Shut up!" I cried, still gasping for air. "I just finished a lesson with Senior Enchanter Sweeny. I swear I was the teaching him." Senior Enchanter Sweeny was nice enough, but his memory was fading, and fast. However, I don't see him leaving for some time, considering that he is one of the most liked Enchanters here-besides Senior Enchanter Wynne. (Wynne is like a mother to most of the apprentices here - including to me and Jowan.) Jowan smiled warmly and waved both of his hands in a warding off gesture.
"Fine, I get it. Hey, we need to get to the library. I need a certain book by the time the chantry starts their sermon or else Leorah will have my head." Jowan said. I gave him an irritated glare. This was just like him. Unlike Jowan, I never put off my studies. I learned that lesson the hard way when I did the exact same thing ten years ago. The only difference was that it Irving's lesson that this happened, and that did not end well for me, at all. Senior Enchanter Leorah wasn't as bad, but I hear that she is just about the same ad Irving when it came to their students studies. Which meant Jowan was going to be in a heap of trouble if I didn't help him. I sighed, and stood up right again, now that I got my second wind.
"How come you never actually do your work until the very last minute?" I asked myself out loud. Jowan decided to hummer me and answered brightly, "Because it's my favorite way of torturing you." I couldn't help but smile a little as I swatted his arm.
"C'mon then, I can't let Leorah ripping off your head now." I teased as lead the way to the library. I heard a chuckle erupt form behind me.
"That's your job, right Ellie?" Jowan added jokingly. I let a quiet giggle escape from my lips before briefly looking back at him and said, "That's right. And don't you forget it!" The smile on Jowan's face grew bigger and warmer, reminding me that the friendship we shared was so absolute.
Once we got to the library - and searched for that one book for what seemed like forever - Jowan settled into a nearby desk and immediately started reading. Since the sermon was going start soon, I decided to browse the shelves filled with books on every subject imaginable. I guess I wasn't aware how close one of the desks was to me, because I walked right into one. I yelped as a dull pain shot into my thigh and spread out through the rest of my leg.
"Hey, watch it!" someone hissed at me. I looked up and at the irritated glare one of the elven mages, who apparently didn't like the fact that I interrupted her studies. I actually recognized the elven girl. Her name was Annria Mahariel, a presumably dangerous city elf. I'm not sure if it's true or not but according to the templars she was found in the Arl of Denirum's estate with a river of blood running completely through the estate with the fifteen year old Annria sitting in the middle of it. They also said that the bodies of the Arl's men were strewn about but the Arl's son managed to escape.
It was more than obvious that she was there to kill, yet she was holding the body of a young elf woman. It was strange. She has only been at the tower for about five, maybe six years now-only a fraction of the time that most of the other mages have been here-and as far as I know, she's very smart, worldly, and has a slight attitude problem when it comes to most humans, oh and cocky, very cocky and sneaky, but somehow managed to pass her harrowing at the end of her fourth year here, so she's been a mage for about one or two years now. As I came out of my thoughts, I noticed that Annria was continuing to glare at me through her short black hair.
"I'm sorry. I wasn't watching where I was going." I said as I picked up some of the papers which had fallen on the floor. Annria soon joined and started angrily gathering the papers. When she was done, she snatched the papers that I had collected out of my hand then returned to her seat. I can understand why she was angry with me at first, but that was unnecessary. I stood up and crossed my arms.
"You could've just asked for the papers. Or better yet, let me help." I suggested with annoyance creeping into my voice.
"Or you could just leave," she said flatly. "I don't need the First Enchanter's favorite pupil to tell me everything I do isn't right." At first, I was shocked, but that didn't stop me from peering over her shoulder to look at her notes.
"Hey, these are really good." I said absent-mindedly. That one little comment seemed to cause her pointy little ears to perk up.
"You really think so?" She asked with surprise coloring her voice.
"Should I not? I would suggest you fix this equation here." I said pointing at one of the complex formulas of the papers. "And you got it." Annria re worked her formula and actually smiled a bit.
"I never thought of it that way. It's ok, I guess." She said to me with a soft smile that I don't think she wanted me to see. I smiled warmly back at her.
"That's me. I'm a helper. Anyway, good luck." I said to her before turning around and looking for another book. After a few moments of silence, Annria spoke up again.
"Hey...Shan girl." She called. I can only assume-despite the fact that she calls every human here 'shan girl'-that by this, she was taking to me. I looked back at her to see her rest her chin on intertwined fingers.
"You can call me by my name you know. It's Elena." I said a little too irritably to be considered nice but the elven apprentice didn't seem to notice. She just removed one of her hands that was supporting her head and flicked her wrist a few times, waving my concern away.
"Yeah, nice to know, anyway, I was wondering if...you could answer a question for me." She said slowly, as if she had to really think about what to say as she replaced her supporting hand back in its original position. "It's not anything from the tomes or anything it's just a...question." I knew that Annria wasn't telling me something, but my curiosity got the better of me.
"Sure. What's the question?" I asked finally answering her question. My confidence that this was a good idea was diminishing fairly quickly as Annria showed me a sly smile.
"Ok, you know about abominations, right? Well, I've been thinking about them recently...about what truly makes an abomination an abomination."
"Isn't an abomination just an abomination? Or are you saying that there's like some new kind of..."
"No, no, no, it's nothing like that. It's just...what if an abomination still had its control over its sanity and compassion and emotions, you know, things like that...would that still count it as an abomination?" I'll admit I had to think hard about what she was saying. It's true that the templars tell us that an abomination is an ugly creature, misshapen and twisted by the demon possessing that person, and was fueled by evil and death, but what if they really did retain their mind? What would that be? Eventually, Annria got tired of waiting for my answer and called someone else over.
"You there! Shy red-faced templar! Can I speak with you for a second?" She shouted. It didn't take a genius to know that she was calling over Cullen. I heard a low groan behind me as heavy boots shuffled closer.
"I wish you'd stop calling me that." Cullen said somewhat irritated and at the same time, a little disappointed and tired. Annria seemed to take joy in Cullen's discomfort and smiled devilishly.
"Well I'm not going to stop any time soon." She said teasingly. Cullen seemed to already know that he was going to lose this argument and gave in early with a sigh.
"What do you want?" He asked. Annria's playful smile quickly turned into a disappointed pout.
"Oh, you're no fun." She joked. "But alright. I want you to answer a question of mine."
"Which would be...?”
"Is an abomination truly an abomination if it still has its sanity or anything that gave the impression that it wouldn't want to kill, like the ones you say they are?"
"Yes." That one was immediately answered, causing Annria's playful smirk to deteriorate into an irritated scowl as she glared at the templar.
"Cullen, you may possibly be wrong." I said meekly. "You should at least think about the possibility-”
"An abomination is an abomination, nothing else, no exceptions." Cullen said flatly, cutting me off. Without another clue what to say, I glanced over at Annria, who was staring at Cullen with cold, calculating bright green eyes until she finally smirked.
"Just goes to show what the templars think. You're still no fun, templar." She said teasingly before looking over at me, as if expecting me to say something. It might not have been that but I still had something to say.
"You know Cullen, she has a point. Maybe we should play hide-and-seek with the young apprentices again like we did a few years ago." I joked. Cullen, however, seemed to think I was being totally serious and blushed fiercely.
When Cullen first came to the tower, he came at an interesting time. It was six or seven years ago and some of the younger apprentices wanted me to play hide-and-seek with them. So I did and started hiding when one of the children started counting. Cullen apparently saw this and thought I was leading this secret colt of blood mages or something and followed me. He actually followed me to the closet I decided to hide in. I remember him opening the doors, demanding that I tell him what I'm doing only to have me shush him and dragged inside the closet with me. That's when I explained that it was a simple child's game and his face seemed to immediately flush out.
Unfortunately, it was Greagoir who found us and we both got into a little trouble that day, though I was laughing most of the time about it. Now, Cullen can't talk to me without stuttering and I can't talk to him without fulfilling the urge to make him nervous or making his cheeks flush with a bright pink tint. This was no exception, and it seemed to work as well. Annria started laughing when she noticed Cullen's blush and soon, the Knight Commander came in. After briefly glaring at us, he turned to Cullen, said that he needed to speak with him about something-alone-then left the both left the library. After a few moments of silence, Annria started giggling.
"Did that really happen?" She asked me through her quiet giggles. As I thought back to the memory, I couldn't stop from smiling too.
"Believe it or not, it actually did, but I think that was before you came to the Circle." I explained. Annria stopped laughing to show a playful smile.
"It seems like I missed all the fun." She said brightly. After a few more moments of silence, I was about to say goodbye and go back to my reading when Annria continued.
"You know," she started quietly. "You aren't half bad...for a shan, anyway." It took me a second before I realized that she was trying to compliment me. When that realization came to me, I couldn't stop myself from smiling, which seemed to make Annria slightly uncomfortable.
"I'm only saying that because you agree with my theory. Nothing else. You're still an untrustworthy shan in my book." She added quickly, but my mood still didn't darken.
"Good to know. Well, I should go. Take care." I said before walking away, happy that I might've gotten her to open up to me a little. With my social affairs taken care of and with Jowan still reading up on his studies, I decided to read a little. After browsing the shelves for a while, I settled on a book about the Grey Wardens. Some people think that the Grey Wardens are just a bunch of warriors that that themselves higher than the rest of us, but that's not in a single book I've read about them. In fact, I envy the Grey Wardens. They're elves, dwarves, even mages that travel the world, keeping the world at peace, killing darkspawn, and everyone respects you. I really wish I could be a Grey Warden, but that was just wishful thinking. How could I ever meet-let alone join-the Grey Wardens?
It wasn't long after that Jowan came to get me for the sermon. The sermon at the circle was basically a priest would come up and tell us that our gifts were a sign of the Maker's hatred, magic was meant to serve man and not rule over them, things like that for an hour. Usually, neither me nor Jowan really paid attention to the talking, but recently Jowan has been really into it as of late. He pays attention to every word and detail...or at least I think so. He's defiantly focused on something, but I wasn't quite sure what he was so intrigued by.
The moment the sermon ended, I was to see Irving. From what I can tell, it was big. I said goodbye to Jowan and hurried to Irving's study. But when I got there, I was greeted by Cullen. I'll admit, suddenly walking into a room expecting to find a mage and get a templar instead was startling, especially when he looks likes like he's about to go into battle.
"Cullen, is something wrong?" I asked nervously. For a moment, he looked just as nervous as me.
"No...Um...I just need you to come with me." he responded. I wasn't sure about how I felt about this, but I followed him anyway. It was better to listen to whatever a templar tells you to do, unless you want to either wind up in serious trouble...or wind up dead. I silently followed Cullen up to the third floor of the tower, the entire time I walked up that spiral staircase I wondered what was going on, and contemplated whether I should ask Cullen if he knew or not. My conscious got the better of me, so I stayed quiet until we reached the top. When we got there, I see Irving and Knight Commander Greagoir were there; both were looking at me as if I was supposed to be doing something. Irving was the first one to speak.
"Elena," he started. I already didn't like where conversation was going. Not when Irving had such sympathy in his voice. That almost always meant something bad. However, I kept my eyes locked on his, then nodded for him to continue. But he didn't. Irving just stared at me with intense concern coloring his light green eyes.
"Elena, do you know what the 'Harrowing' is?" he said finally. That was a strange question to ask, but I answered him anyway.
"It's the ritual for an apprentice to become a mage, right?" Irving nodded and let the Knight Commander step forward. He looked at me with something that resembled hate but that was normal. Greagoir absolutely hated me, but I think he's channeling his frustration with Irving on me.
"'Magic exists to serve man, and to never rule over him,'" he said as he walked closer to me. "Thus spoke the prophet Andraste as she cast down the Tivinter Imperium, ruled by mages who brought the world on the edge of ruin. Your magic is a gift...but it's also a curse. For demons of the dream realm-the Fade-are drawn to you, and seek to use you as a gateway into this world."
"This is why the Harrowing exists." Irving explained. "The ritual will send you into the fade, and there you will face a demon, armed only with your will." Irving paused, letting me speak since I got up here.
"So, I have to face a demon, right? What happens if I don't win?" I asked Irving, but Greagoir answered my question instead.
"You will become an abomination, and we will be forced to slay you." he said bluntly, as if my life was no more important that tat of an annoying fly to him. That immediately earned a glare from me.
"Lovely." I muttered under my breath, but I think I said it louder than I intended to. Because I could've sworn I heard Irving chuckle after I said that, but Greagoir didn't appreciate me cracking smart comments at a time like this.
"You do realize that if you fail, we templars will have to do our duty," he started in probably the most ominous tone ever. "You will have to die." I sighed and rubbed my eyes.
"I guess the alternative is to be made tranquil." I inferred.
"Yes but surely you're not considering giving up your magic." Irving questioned. "You have so much potential; I know you can do this." I smiled up at Irving and smiled. True, he put me up to this, but his faith in me was reassuring. He reminded me of what I imagined a father would be.
"Of course I'm not giving up my magic." I stated confidently. Irving gave a slight nod to Greagoir, and redirected my attention to the small podium that was in the middle of the room.
"This is lyrium, the very essence of magic." He stated, as if I didn't already know what lyrium was, but somehow, this was different. I patiently waited for Greagoir to continue. "It is your gateway into the Fade." I was about to walk forward when Irving stopped me to give me one last piece of advice.
"The Harrowing is a secret out of necessity, child." He explained. "Every mage must go through this trial by fire. As we succeeded, so will you. But keep your wits about you, and remember that the fade is a realm of dreams. The spirits may rule it, but your own will is real."
"The apprentice must go through this test alone, First Enchanter." Greagoir said suddenly. Then, he did something completely unlike him, he smiled. "You are ready." was the only thing he said before ushering me to the podium with lyrium. I slowly walked up to up, determined to succeed. When I got to the podium, I wasn't quite sure what to do, so decide to be spontaneous and just touch it.
Big mistake. The moment I touched it, something happened. I'm not sure what, but pain surged through hand. When I looked at my hand, a fierce blue glow surrounded it. The pain suddenly spread to rest of my body. Soon, everything was white.