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"Never befriend them, never turn your back on them, and most of all never forget that they are the cause of our Maker's absence. They are the accursed ones. They shall find no rest in this world or beyond."

For years Ser Maurevar Carver had been so certain of those words, spoken to him by the Knight-Commander on his first day at the Kirkwall Circle of Magi. Back then he was freshly knighted, his eyes gleaming with a fervor that was nearly as bright as his highly polished templar's regalia. He also remembered his equally certain response.

"Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and wicked and do not falter."

A dozen years later, he still believed wholeheartedly in that verse from the Canticle of Benedictions. His faith in the Maker had never wavered. Yet doubt had crept into his heart over the years nonetheless. And at the heart of that doubt was one fundamental question.

Who were the corrupt and wicked?

The answer used to be so easy, so automatic. After all, Maurevar had been groomed for this life since his early teens. But reflecting on what happened in the Harrowing Chamber a short time earlier, he realized that another in a growing series of misdeeds had shaken his belief in the righteousness of the Templar Order.

"Maury?" a voice called out, jarring him from his reverie. "What happened? You stormed by without even acknowledging me."

He turned to face the woman that had sought him out. Ser Annekke was one of the few female templars at the Kirkwall Circle and had been there nearly as long as he had, and they'd even been promoted to Knight-Lieutenant together. They were best friends, though it went unspoken that they'd be more than that if not for the regulations against fraternization among the templars.

Maurevar shook his head. "My apologies. I dared not speak while others were around."

"I take it the Harrowing was a failure?"

"Depends on who you ask," he answered, scoffing.

Annekke folded her arms across her chest. "I am asking you."

"The Knight-Commander decided it'd been long enough, even though the apprentice showed no signs of possession. He ordered the lad killed. Alrik was quick to put him to the blade over the First Enchanter's objections."

"I was not aware that the Harrowing had a time limit."

Ignoring the sarcasm in her tone, he shook his head and replied, "It's a dangerous precedent not to allow the process to run its course, for the apprentice to pass or fail on their own merits."

Annekke nodded in agreement. "This is not what our blessed Andraste intended when she led the overthrow of the Imperium." She opened her mouth to say more, but caught sight of another templar approaching them. "Ser Emeric," she said cordially.

Maurevar glanced at the younger man. Emeric was a decade his junior, and one of the few recruited in recent years that took his commission to protect the mages as seriously as he did protecting others from mages.

Without preamble Emeric asked, "Ser Carver, is it true what the First Enchanter has been screaming about, that the apprentice was put down without cause?"

Maurevar nodded solemnly. "I take it he and the Knight-Commander are still going at it?"

"If it is like most of their arguments, they will not stop until the Grand Cleric intervenes," Annekke suggested. "And I cannot say I blame the First Enchanter for not backing down on this."

Emeric sighed. "You didn't hear this from me, but from what I hear it's more than just the Harrowing."

"What do you mean?" Maurevar asked.

Emeric glanced around nervously. "They say this was the fourth apprentice tutored by Hawke that has failed their Harrowing. The Knight-Commander believes Hawke is corrupting the younger mages and is pushing to have him made tranquil."

"Hawke?" Maurevar asked incredulously. "The lad is mischievous, but I'd bet a year's wages it doesn't go any further than that."

Annekke shook her head. "It is against regulations to make a Harrowed mage tranquil, and Hawke passed his Harrowing years ago. Surely the Grand Cleric will not allow it."

"I know you two have been here much longer than I have," Emeric replied, "however, I have seen nothing that leads me to believe the Grand Cleric will stand up to the Knight-Commander."

Maurevar nodded. "Agreed. The old Grand Cleric would have, but not Elthina. When push comes to shove he will get his way."

"Anyway, like I said… you didn't hear it from me." With that Emeric took his leave.

After a minute or so passed in silence, Annekke sighed gently. "What are you thinking?"

"Me? Nothing… why?"

"Maury…" she replied, frowning slightly. "I know that look. You are scheming something in that head of yours."

"Perhaps," he answered. "Perhaps not."

Annekke sighed again as she took a step closer and put her hand on his shoulder. "Whatever it is, just… be careful, alright?"

-==0==-

It had been a week since the failed Harrowing and subsequent blowup. To Maurevar's surprise, Grand Cleric Elthina did refuse to authorize making Hawke tranquil. However, not to his surprise, word had leaked through the ranks that Hawke was a marked man, which meant it wouldn't be long before he met the end of a templar sword.

The more zealous ones, like young Ser Alrik, were leaning on Hawke more than usual, goading him into giving them an excuse to retaliate with force. So far Hawke had resisted taking the bait, but Maurevar knew it was only a matter of time.

Maurevar couldn't pinpoint when his attitude towards mages changed, though he suspected it was more of a gradual process than a singular event. It began with understanding that his perception of mages growing up, like that of the general public, was shaped by people who in most cases had never interacted with a non-tranquil mage. Dehumanizing mages was easy when one only had enough information to let their imaginations run wild.

Despite his intentions to heed the Knight-Commander's words and never befriend any of his charges, Maurevar had grown to see them less and less as abominations-in-waiting and more as simply people with the unfortunate fate of having been cursed with magic. He harbored no delusions that mages were all good, but he understood that most had no designs on using their power to bring the world under their heels. Most mages simply wanted to live without relentless fear bearing down on them.

Such was the mindset that led Maurevar to stop in front of the rooms quartering Harrowed mages. He was making rounds per his turn on the patrol schedule, but that was merely his cover for being here. He pushed open the door and quietly went inside.

Stalking over to the bed he was looking for, he grabbed hold of the mage lying in it and shook him.

"On your feet, mage!" he hissed.

Hawke jerked awake, groaning. "I already did extra work today. Let me sleep already…"

Maurevar dragged him out of bed, forcing him to his feet. "You have thirty seconds to get dressed," he warned in a tone that would brook no argument. With a shove he added, "Do not test my patience."

Hawke nodded numbly and moved quickly to don his robes, not knowing what was going on since Ser Carver was generally one of the more civil templars. But as much heat as he'd drawn of late, he could only guess this was more of it.

"Malcolm?" one of the other mages asked tiredly. "What's going on?"

Hoping to preempt any wrath coming down on a fellow mage for their curiosity, he quickly replied, "Just me in trouble again… go back to sleep." He sighed in relief when no other questions were forthcoming and Ser Carver seemed content to let it go.

-==0==-

"So where are we off to?" Malcolm asked. Though weary, his tone carried a hint of sarcasm.

"Quiet," Maurevar warned.

A short distance later, the templar spun and shoved Hawke into a wall while peering around a corner and waiting for another patrol to disappear from sight. A painful grunt from Hawke drew another admonishing reminder to stay quiet.

Unbeknownst to Malcolm, Maurevar's heart was beating even faster as he fought the anxiety of what he was doing. He had a flimsy excuse at best if caught alone with a mage in the middle of the night. And even more than that, his mind screamed that this went against everything he'd been taught, everything he'd believed in. Even after talking himself into it, his conscience was still eating away at him.

After an exceedingly stressful half hour of painstakingly making his way to the bowels of the Gallows, Maurevar shoved Hawke into a tunnel. Malcolm stumbled, barely catching himself before falling on his face.

"You mind telling me what this is about?" Malcolm demanded, his patience beyond frayed. His eyes grew wide when the templar drew a dagger in response, then his expression as a whole fell in resignation.

"I-I see… this is the end, eh?"

"It is." Maurevar held the dagger out to the younger man hilt first. "I am unbinding your wings, Hawke. Take flight."

"Wh-what?" Malcolm would have smirked at the bad imagery if he hadn't been so stunned at the revelation. He was in disbelief that a templar was actually helping him escape.

Maurevar briefly explained what was going on while ushering the mage along deeper into the tunnel, how he couldn't stand by idly and let Hawke's eventual murder or Rite of Tranquility play out. After several minutes of walking, Maurevar grabbed his arm.

"This should be far enough."

Malcolm didn't know what to make of him pulling a length of rope from his pack. "Uhhh… far enough for what?"

"You are going to tie me up and leave me here. Continue on until you reach Darktown. From there you can find a lift to the surface."

As excited as Malcolm was, he couldn't help the twinge of concern that cropped up. "What will happen to you?"

"This tunnel sees much templar traffic to and from Darktown, so I expect to be found soon enough. That should give you enough of a head start to get out of Kirkwall." He handed the younger man a small pouch of coin. "As soon as you can, buy some clothes or cheap armor and get rid of your mage habit. It will be easier to remain free if you don't go around advertising what you are."

Malcolm bit down on his bottom lip in consternation as another thought came to mind. "Won't they be able to track me down through my phylactery?"

"I have taken care of that, switched it with the phylactery of the apprentice that didn't survive the Harrowing. Soon they will dispose of it, and when they do, they will instead be destroying yours." Handing over the rope, he sighed gently. "Please, Hawke, don't make me regret helping you. Whatever life you choose for yourself, make it an honorable one."

"I promise, Ser Carver. You have my word."

Hawke silently went to work, cutting the rope into shorter lengths that he used to bind Maurevar's hands and feet, and to muzzle him before helping him into a seated position propped against a rock.

When he was finished, the mage stood up and took a long look at the templar. Despite himself, tears began to well up in his eyes. "I cannot possibly repay you for this," he began, trying not to choke up. "Thank you."

Maurevar nodded in acknowledgement before closing his eyes. When he reopened them several moments later, Hawke was gone.

-==0==-

Maurevar opened his eyes wearily at the sound of footsteps approaching. He might have smiled if his mouth wasn't bound so tightly. Then again, he might not have since in contrast, the eyes of the approaching templar were practically smoldering in anger.

Annekke had initially felt relief when she saw her friend and it was clear he was alive. However, her instincts kicked in and she realized something seemed very wrong about the scene. There was no sign of struggle, and Maurevar seemed remarkably comfortable for someone bound. That's when it clicked into place.

"You helped Hawke escape, didn't you?" she hissed into his ear before pulling back to gauge his reaction. Bound or not, Ser Annekke could read him like a book and his expression gave away the truth.

She glanced back over her shoulder to make sure the others hadn't caught up yet. "You owe me one," she growled, pulling her arm back and then backhanding him hard with her armored hand, splitting open his cheek and sending him reeling on to his side. He groaned from the pain.

"There…" she said, "now you actually appear convincingly as tied up against your will." In a softer tone she added, "Thank the Maker you are safe."

Annekke shouted, "I found him! He's in here!"

-==0==-

"Watch where you're going!" Maurevar grumbled at the young mage on the ground who nearly bowled him over as well.

Tobrius pulled himself to his feet. "M-my apologies, Ser Carver." He held out a sealed letter. "I believe you dropped this."

Maurevar shook his head. "I believe you are mistaken."

"Perhaps you should check the contents when you have some time alone, to ensure the letter wasn't damaged by me running into you so clumsily."

Eying the mage carefully, Maurevar finally relented and took the letter. Tobrius scurried away as soon as he did. Walking towards the Templar Quarters, Maurevar broke the seal and began to read.

Ser Carver,

I trust this finds you with your head still attached to your shoulders. For weeks I listened for news coming out of the Gallows, but not hearing any makes me think you're alright.

I wanted you to know that I took your advice. In the months I have been away, I have wedded the most delightful woman and she is with child. We intend to make our way to Ferelden and find a quiet town to settle in and raise a family. I met a Grey Warden who has promised us safe passage in exchange for helping them with a problem at one of their towers in the Vimmarks. I don't yet know the details, though I hope it will not be much trouble. I dare not leave Leandra in her condition for longer than necessary.

I also wanted you to know that we've decided to name the child Carver if it's a boy. It's the least we can do to honor you. Thank you again for everything.

Maker's blessings,

H.

Maurevar smiled, feeling an almost paternal sense of pride in the lad. And suddenly the month of extra duty for losing a mage on his watch no longer mattered. Knight-Commander be damned, Maurevar was at peace knowing he'd done the Maker's will.


AN: Is it poor etiquette to review my own story?

I think the story illustrates one of my weaknesses as an author - writing to a word count. Bioware's 2500 word limit did me no favors, neither did me waiting until a couple of days before the deadline to really get started on writing it. My original draft was close to 3300 words and the 'escape' portion was much more detailed and tense. This submitted version was 2498 words -lol- In hindsight, I think I erred in trimming too much content from the latter part of the story in favor of keeping more of the background/build-up, and as a result the ending feels rather rushed and not altogether satisfying. So in that sense I'm annoyed by it, because I think the premise had promise, but my execution on it was lacking. No excuses though, I think it shows that I still have plenty of room for improvement in being able to focus in on the key points and communicate them in a way that doesn't require an excess of words and description to get across.