TEN YEARS LATER
There was no doubt he was nervous as he stood attentively on the stone floor, awaiting further instructions. He watched in silence as some templars added more lyrium to a basin that was situated on a pedestal a few feet away from him. A younger Templar stood silently in the background, arms crossed, taking in the scene with interest. As he watched the templars go about their work, he was joined by his instructor Irving, a weathered old man who was First Enchanter of the Circle Tower in which he had resided most of his life. The man turned to his student to offer final words of advice.
"There is no need to be anxious, Cyrus," he said, "You have prepared for this since the first day of your training. You are ready. Is there anything else you wanted to ask before the ceremony begins?"
Cyrus thought a moment. There wasn't much more he needed to know about the procedure. He had learned the most that he could about it and was familiar enough with the proceedings. He would probably be given an overview on what was to happen nonetheless. He looked to Irving. "Other than the reason as to why this "tradition" is necessary? I see no sense in the notion that tempting young apprentices with corruption will somehow lesser their chances of being tempted again in the future."
"Young one," Irving said warningly, "you know by now that it would do you no good to question the methods established centuries ago to help ensure stability for the benefit of those within the Circle."
"There is nothing beneficial about being backed into a corner and forced to face a demon only to be slaughtered if I refuse or falter," Cyrus said through clenched teeth. "It doesn't change the fact that a possession can happen to anyone whether they posses magic or not. This is only another show of authority by the templars, to display the power they wield over our lives."
"This display," a voice boomed as the templars were finishing up with the lyrium, "is a test of your will and commitment." They were joined by Knight-Commander Greagoir, the overseeing templar of the Circle of Ferelden. He stopped in front of Cyrus as he continued. "This ceremony has been in effect for the benefit of the Circle and all of those involved with it. Your magic," he pointed to Cyrus, "is a gift. But it is also a curse. It makes you a target of evil forces, and this must be kept in check by the Order for the good of mankind. The ceremony forces you to utilize all you have learned in order to overcome the adversary you will face throughout your life as a mage. Therefore, it is not the templars who decide whether you live or die once this procedure starts. Whether you leave this Harrowing Chamber alive or not depends solely on you, apprentice, and no one else." He crossed his arms and nodded toward the pedestal. "Are you ready to begin?"
Cyrus glanced at the glowing lyrium waiting for him and then looked back to the Knight-Commander. "I suppose it is better than being cut down for refusing," he said in a dry manner. He made his way over to the illuminating substance, and prepared to enter the Fade once more.
As Cyrus' eyes opened to a new area, he took in the sights and sounds of a place that, while he'd never felt he actually belonged here, had become familiar over the years. As he observed his surroundings, he became aware of another presence, and didn't bother to turn as he addressed it.
"Come to help me, I see. I guess it would be unfortunate for your precious vessel to fall into another's hands."
A low rumbling was heard behind him, and a voice replied, "I am not a fool to remain undetected for over a decade only to have all put at risk due to an unnecessary situation brought on by the irrational reasoning of ignorant mortals." There was a hissing noise that followed. Cyrus stood and turned around to see a… or rather, three familiar faces looking back at him. The form of the creature seated in front of him was completely unchanged over the years, and any fascination with its appearance had faded with its constant materialization, and also once he had done research and learned of its written depiction. He remembered scouring the bestiary section of the archives during his first months at the Circle, and how his searching had paid off when he finally found a book with the right description along with a picture and an underlining caption that read "chimera".
The beast had also made a point to make itself known since their first encounter, and Cyrus had actually tried many times to get it to leave him alone when it first began to visit his dreams. The creature, which referred to itself as Osmodai, had told him each time that his efforts were futile. The two of them, he had put it, were now individually distinct personalities that had to share the same body, and that the only way to separate them would be to destroy that body. It told Cyrus that he was now what other humans would refer to as an "abomination" and that he would be killed outright if any of his overseers ever found out.
The despair that the young mage felt upon learning this turned to anger, which eventually led to an acceptance that soon became indifference with the passing of years. He had drawn into himself early on, not because of timidity, but because Osmodai endorsed it as the best course of action due to the constant presence of the templars. Cyrus had always preferred to be by himself in most situations anyway, and had never been fond of other people to begin with, having only one friend during childhood whose company he enjoyed. He spent his time studying or meditating on whatever he learned, and only bothered to interact with others when he thought it necessary. Most of his peers thought him a reclusive introvert with no desire for social interaction. Others assumed he was emotionally unstable, as he was brash and prone to outbursts of anger whenever he was annoyed or frustrated. Though he had never harmed anyone, he had destroyed a fair amount of equipment. Usually not on purpose, but this made the others wary of him nonetheless. He honestly cared nothing for what others thought of him and had no interest in their thoughts or feelings, and while many noticed this, they could also not deny that he was extremely gifted. Cyrus' talents were relevant early on, and he was soon taken under the wing of the First Enchanter when the lessons that others his age were learning proved to be too simple for him.
While he had always learned things quickly, he in truth had a secret advantage over his peers. Whenever it was considered necessary, the chimera would council the young mage, and offered greater insight to whatever he had been learning from his mentors. With its knowledge of techniques that were forbidden or otherwise not widely used, Osmodai would teach Cyrus in the fade, usually while he slept or during meditation, and this led to the mage gaining more experience through different methods of spell casting, while at the same time building his endurance and mana. This he saw as the only real benefit to his predicament, even though it was virtually useless while he was trapped in the Circle.
"I have not invested my time with you for nothing, human," said the beast. "You would be a fool to think that I plan to remain here among these wretches forever."
And there it goes once again, reading his thoughts.
"Your thoughts are no longer yours alone, boy; they have been shared between us for over ten years, if you must be so reminded." Osmodai gazed at his raised paw a moment before continuing. "This redundant thinking amazes me. Do you plan to stay here, contemplating your past, or may we move on?"
Cyrus ignored its comments and began walking in the opposite direction, knowing that it would follow.
He hadn't gotten far when he realized that the area he had been wandering in had no visible outlets or gateways. And the closest islands were floating at least fifty meters away from the edges. He let out a frustrated sigh, and then noticed movement in his peripheral vision. Something was scurrying towards him. He then heard an echoing voice.
"Ahh, someone else thrown to the wolves… as fresh and unprepared as ever."
Looking for the source of the voice but seeing no one, he looked down to his feet at a small creature, which continued to address him in a tone that was unnatural for its size, "It isn't right that the Templars do this. Not to me, nor you, or anyone-"
Cyrus rose his foot and began stamping the ground, trying to crush the thing before it could continue.
"Wait! What are you… what in Andraste's name would possess you to assault someone trying to start a simple conversation?" it said as it hopped to and fro to avoid his stomps. "Cease at once, I mean you no harm!" Cyrus stopped temporarily to stare at the thing with furrowed brows.
"You're a talking rat."
"Well yes, but I…" It looked up at him and wrinkled its nose. "You are in the Fade, mage. This is hardly unusual. In fact, I am not truly a mouse. I take this form to remain unnoticed by larger threats." The mouse suddenly began to glow, and its form quickly shifted into that of a human male. He then extended his arms towards Cyrus and exclaimed, "You see? You're in the same boat I was once. It's all the same."
Cyrus folded his arms and stroked the stubble on his chin. "The same, is it? I'd like to know how."
"Of course," said the young man. "You may call me… well, Mouse. Allow me to welcome you to the Fade."
"Mouse… not you're real name, I take it?" Cyrus was unamused by this spirit's pretentious nature.
"No, most likely not. I don't remember anything from… before. The Templars kill you, you see. Take too long, and they figure you failed your task. They'd rather not risk some entity getting out. That is what happened to me I… I think. I tarried too long, and now I have no body to return to."
"How long have you been confined here?"
"I… do not know. Could be years. Could have been mere moments ago. I can't recall a single thing from whatever past I once had."
"Certainly," Cyrus contemplated. "Yet you are aware that you were a mage from the Circle, and that you've failed you're Harrowing."
"Well of course!" Mouse exclaimed. "What other explanation could there be? I obviously do not belong here, I can feel as much. This place is unnatural, and no mortal can simply enter the Fade without the assistance of magic. I hid when I arrived, so I am trapped here. The same thing could happen to you if you do not make haste."
"That will not happen to me," Cyrus replied gruffly, "I am no sniveling coward. Why have you approached me to tell me these things that I am already aware of?"
"I was once an apprentice, like you," said Mouse. "I have no desire to see another mage fall victim to the Templars and their so-called "test". There is something here." He looked around ominously, "You must find it and confront it as quickly as possible. That is your way out, if you can defeat it."
"Anything can be slayed. I do not fear whatever adversary is nearby. Where is it then? You seem so knowledgeable."
"You would be a fool to simply attack everything you come across. Your pursuer is powerful. But there are also other spirits nearby. They will be able to tell you more. I can lead you to them. My chance was taken from me long ago. But you may still have a way out."
Cyrus sighed heavily. "A way out indeed. Lead if you wish then, Mouse."
His new acquaintance returned to its smaller form, and led him through to a concealed space and past a circular area that was bordered by flames. "That is where the test will take place. Your adversary is nearby. It can manifest anywhere it wishes however, so be on your guard. Do not approach it until you are certain you're ready."
"I don't see why it cannot simply reveal itself to me now then," Cyrus said as he followed the rodent. "Wouldn't taking me by surprise give it the upper hand? I've never understood such careless logic."
"Well," replied Mouse as he scurried along, "your world and the Fade are not the same. Perhaps the logics you are used to do not apply here. Wait!" he suddenly halted. "There are hostile spirits ahead. They block the path in front of us. Be careful when you engage them."
He couldn't see what the mouse was talking about at first, but then he was caught off guard when an electrical force struck him in the chest. He was stunned for a few seconds, then looked up to the source of the attack, and saw a glimmering light in the distance.
Cyrus' countenance darkened with hatred.
Mouse stood perplexed as the single wisp that was attacking them violently combusted under a vicious torrent of savage infernos. "A-Amazing!" he exclaimed, twitching his whiskers. "You have been trained well for an apprentice but… that much force was a bit overkill, don't you think so? Surely your mana should be conserved for much stronger enemies."
"I have plenty," Cyrus tersely responded as he continued down the path. They encountered more of the things, which Cyrus maliciously obliterated without restraint or hesitation. This apprentice was definitely peculiar, thought Mouse. But he didn't bother to question the mage's apparent deep-rooted loathing for these orbs. The sheer power he possessed was all that mattered…
As they came up to the end of the pathway, a shining figure clad in armor seemed to be waiting for them. "Another spirit up ahead," Mouse warned. "It doesn't seem to wish us harm, but be on your guard."
The figure called out to Cyrus in a regal voice as he approached. "Another mortal thrown into the flames and left to burn, I see. You have arrived under the command of your fellow man, have you not? A cowardly trial for those such as you to endure."
"As if I had any choice in the matter," Cyrus responded. "But I see that you are aware of my purpose here as well."
"I am," replied the spirit. "That they would offer you up as prey to demons is beyond rational reasoning; would be better of them to pit you against each other instead. That would be an honorable test."
"The likes of the Circle are not trained to be combatants. Such a thing would undermine the reason for keeping us subjected."
"I see. Your presence here must also mean that you have not yet defeated your pursuer. Nevertheless, I wish you a glorious battle to come. I am Valor, a warrior spirit. These weapons you see behind me," it gestured towards several racks of various blades, maces and staves, "are the fruits of my ambition to create the perfect expressions of combat."
"And don't we all have ambitions…" Cyrus pondered aloud, stroking his chin. "What would you ask in return for allowing me to use one of your weapons to help in completing my task?"
"Ah, of course," Valor nodded sharply. "You are not the first mortal to request my aid. Assisting you is not why I am here, however. My purpose is to seek perfection for battle. But…" the spirit seemed to contemplate, "were you able to defeat me in a duel, I would allow you use of one of my armaments."
"Are there any other terms to this fight?"
The spirit stood confidently and said, "Only that if you win, I give you a weapon. If you do not convince me of your power, then I will slay you. I wish only to test your mettle; to know if you are worthy to wield one of Valor's blades."
"Yes yes, very well Valor," said Cyrus as he uncrossed his arms, "I accept your duel."
"As you wish, mortal. We begin now. Fight with all that you have!"