Penitence

By Moku / ColorMeSu(r)prised


Written for the Asunder Creative Writing Challenge


It soon dawned on you.

It wasn't the killing they enjoyed.

It was the fear.


You first noticed when you were patrolling the gallows. There was something you couldn't define. Something surging through your body, making your fingertips tingle, making your pace more forceful, making your lips widen in a cold smile.

It happened when the mages averted their gazes, shied away and every step of you made them retreat, pressing themselves even closer to the wall.

Like an animal on the prowl. Like a beast on the hunt.

Wasn't it mind blowing?

This overwhelming sense of power?

You noticed, right?

You were becoming like them.

So when did it start?

It was when you were just a recruit and they took you with them. It was about your eyes. The eyes of a wild beast, they told you. Vitriolic, unrestrained, anxious. They liked you.

You were like them.

You were afraid they were right.

But you still followed them, didn't even think about disobeying, new as you were, looking for attention and praise, did everything they asked you to do, did everything you thought they wanted you to do, never enjoying just doing like a dull weapon – oh how you wanted to be lauded.

Tossed on the street, both parents dead, it wasn't like you to seek affection. But there was something about these men, something that intrigued you. After so many years of emotionally starving yourself, it felt like you had a family again; friends you could share laughter, meals and silly stories with, friends you could trust and rely on. They accepted you as you were; ambitious, a tad too willful, determined, strong.

They treated you like a little sister, so precious, so dear; taught you how to fight and how to keep your stance, praised your natural born grace and talent.

It was addictive.

So… why did it change?

How could this bond break apart so easily?

Did it start with the hunt?

Your first runaway mage?

You were excited, though you couldn't admit it. They trusted you to help hunting down a mage. But something wasn't right. There was this obscure feeling of presentiment, hard to define. Someone was watching you. Someone was whispering your name.

A big hand on your shoulder and a reassuring smile had to calm you down.

But something was wrong.

The instructions were clear.

Find that mage and bring her back. If she resists, use force.

The groups soon parted ways. You were allowed to stay with your friends on this.

It wasn't long until you finally found her, a sense of accomplishment.

And there she was.

A girl, younger than you, short brown hair in a mess, clothes dirtied, her eyes tearful, her face fearful.

Do you remember?

Do you remember her screaming, when the men you so admired encircled her?

She didn't fight back, her body shivering as she tried to hide. You thought your job was done. But your friends kept laughing, relishing

They could have killed her.

They could have taken her back to the gallows.

But they did not.

You knew why.

Because the yelling was encouraging.

Because the hunt was so much more thrilling.

Because they weren't allowed to touch, but now they could.

Because the cold air was numbing their fingers, but her flesh made them feel again.

Because her lips tasted like anguish and her body like agony.

You stared at them, unable to walk, unable to look away, unable to comprehend. Your thoughts were running in inconceiveable circles.

As the heavy smell of blood reached your nostriles, you vomited on your boots.

You didn't care.

They laughed at you. Told you, you would get used to the stench. You threw up more, your eyes burning, your body hurting and they helped you get back, one of them supporting your rigid body, whispering that you were not allowed to tell, that you had to keep silent, had to attest she was fighting back.

Do you still wake up, screaming and crying and kicking and regretting?

They were your friends, your brothers, your mentors, your confidents, your supporters. The only thing left in this dark, disgusting world.

How could they?

How could you?

You had been blind to their hatred, their beasts within, even though you had smelled the decay and frenzy. You should have known. Inflicting fear wasn't enough to these men. They wanted not only the smell but the taste.

And you were asking yourself of what color were your eyes that they thought you were the same? What behemoth was living deep inside your soul? What rotten desire made them get close to you?

It was disgusting.

Alrik was wrong.

You weren't like them.

But you were.

For the mages you were.

You noticed, while patrolling the gallows.

There was Ser Lori, amiably chatting with an older elven mage. She was actually smiling.

There was Ser Roderick, walking by a group of mages and they only so much as nodded at him in greeting before they turned back to their conversation.

There was Ser Darian, playing with the little children and making them laugh while imitating a scary dragon.

And there was Alrik, walking towards you.

The smile fell of the elven mages lips as he passed by. The group followed his every step with watchful eyes. The children tried to hide behind the older templar, who pressed his lips together as he acknowledge his superior with a short nod.

Oh, how could you have been so blind?

It wasn't the templars these mages feared.

It was Alrik.

It was you.

But Alrik only so much as smirked at you as he padded your shoulder and told you how well you did, how he knew you wouldn't disappoint him, when Knight-Commander Guylian would call for you.

Did you feel them?

These hateful stares burning you?

You did, didn't you?

There is no need to be ashamed, he whispered to you, as you lowered your gaze. You did fine.

Alrik was fond of you.

And you were disgusted with yourself.

But still, you didn't dare to betray, who cherished you this much. You couldn't turn your back on those that treasured you the most.

As Guylian asked for you, you repeated everything the friends had told you. Word by word. Emotionless. It must have sounded like rehearsed. You were mumbling about the mage trying to fight back. That you had seen her trying to slit her wrist. That all you could do was to kill her before she killed you.

You were a coward.

And so you returned back to friends, who behaved like nothing had happened, who could share laughter, meals and silly stories, friends who trusted and relied on each other.

The food tasted like nothing.

Insipid.

Weeks later another mage escaped.

And there it was again. This feeling of arbitrary dread.

You weren't in the same group as the friends.

And you had lost contact with your group.

But they didn't care about you. After all you were one of them.

Your feet became heavy, your body was struggling with just lifting your arm. So you couldn't keep up with the others and you felt so tired and scared and strained. However you were listening expectantly into the air, awaiting appalling screams. The escapee had been a man, but it seemed a woman had helped him.

Your boots left heavy prints in the muddy soil, your breath was coming in short gasps. You had been running around for a while, looking for your group, for Alrik's group, for the escaped mage, for anyone.

It was then, as you rested to catch your breath, that you heard hushed voices and as you turned around, you could see them, the moonlight illuminating their dark silhouettes.

A man and a woman – no, a girl.

You didn't recognize the girl as one of the mages of the tower. Her demeanor screamed spoiled rich kid, as well.

The mage spotted you.

Your sword was drawn before you even thought about it.

It was not your intention to kill or torture them. You would bring them back to the gallows, where they had to repent for their sins. Guylian should decide how to handle them.

But before you could say a word, the man attacked you.

You were taken aback, you screamed he should stop as you tried to block his spells.

That you wouldn't lay a finger on them, if they would quietly follow you.

Who would believe Alrik's pet?

The words made you freeze and his fireball hit you with full force, loosing grip of your sword. You could smell your own burning hair. And the mage was fast. So much faster than anyone you had to fight before. Ignoring the pain in your shoulder you got back on your knees, fumbling for your sword.

What did he say?

You bit your lower lip, hard, angry.

You were not Alrik's pet.

You weren't.

You were not like them.

I am not!

You screamed, dashing at the mage. Everything was a blur for you. Pain strained your body. Tears were running down your cheek. Your lips tasted of salt and blood – Alrik would have loved that taste.

But why did his words sting more than the pain?

Why did these words fill you with so much anger?

In a moment he stared at you, in the next you had him pinned down, your sword on his throat, your hand gripping his robe, almost tearing it.

I am not like them! I am not!

He blinked.

There was no fear in his eyes.

Your tears dripped on his cheek and he looked up, meeting your gaze.

I will not hurt you. I will take you back to the gallows. I will not hurt you!

You won't? His voice was of a pleasant bariton. It was not shaking. He was calm. Why?

No. Your grip on his clothes loosened. Will you follow me?

He nodded and the girl was crying out from her hideout. You removed your sword, slowly, watching his face.

I wonder, he suddenly spoke as you were about to get up, his hand lightly touching your knee and you felt something shaking beneath you. Didn't Alrik teach you to never trust a mage?

Crushing pain hit your body as your knee was shattered by stones and you were pushed of the man. As he stood up, he picked your sword off the ground and then leaned over you, a sardonic smile palying on his lips.

With one foot on your ribcage, he pushed you down.

You are. You could hardly process the words, you saw merely blurred specter, your brain clouded by pain. A monster just like them. You opened your mouth, to breath, to protest, to rectify, to - you didn't know what. But nothing passed your lips. He shifted his weight. Like he wanted to break your bones. To redeem, why don't you burn? He continued, spiteful. Just like your beloved Andraste?

Before you could even comprehend, the mage left and fire was all around you. Your armor intended as protection became a trap, burning your flesh. You tried to move your body, to get away, but your strength had almost left you, your body didn't listen to your thoughts.

In your mind, you were clawing your fingernails into the soil, heaved your body out of the center of the fire, coughing and hurt but alive.

You were not allowed to die, you thought.

There was so much you regretted, so much you had to atone for.

But you layed there.

Still.

Curled up.

As the flames raged around you.

Oh but how fortunate you were.

The Maker had been smiling upon you on that fateful night.

You woke up in your chambers, Alrik by your side, treating your wounds. A healer close to him.

You were saved by magic you wanted to destroy.

Saved by the man you learned to despise.

But were given a second chance.


Now, a lifetime later, standing in front of your Maker, do tell me:

Did you use it?

Your second chance?

Did you atone for your sins?

Did you, Meredith?