She didn't want to be here, surrounded by crying children and glaring mages, trying in vain to hold to some semblance of order. The Knight-Commander locked them in, but she's sure he had a good reason to. Right?
One of the apprentices starts screaming and she hurries towards him, kneeling before him and cooing what she hopes are soothing words and reassurances, even as the older mages edge away from her in a mixture of hatred and fear. The child calms, too young to know better than to trust a Templar, and smiles at her as she wipes his tears away with her thumb.
She'd only been at the Tower a week when this happened, a Templar's worse nightmare.
She'd never even seen a blood mage before coming to the Tower, the one place where blood magic was supposed to be nonexistent, and now she was seeing them around every corner whether they were actually there or not.
Ser Harold had gone mad a few hours ago, screaming about Maleficar and blood magic, and had taken a swing at one of the apprentices.
She had put a swift end to that, striking Harold down before he had a chance to harm anyone, feeling ill to her stomach afterwards. She'd never killed anyone before, never thought she'd ever have to. Not like that. A few of the mages had stopped glaring at her after her obvious protection of them, but the rest still treated her with distrust and repressed anger.
It was her duty to protect the mages. Did they not understand that?
Her duty was all she had left.
She paced the length of the room they found themselves locked in, more for lack of anything better to do than any real need to patrol, and would glance every so often at the locked door at the end of the hall or the barrier at its opposite. A cage within a cage.
She'd tried pounding on the Great Doors at first, before she had taken her charges and locked them in here for safety, and received only warnings to back away or be struck down in reply.
She had less faith in the Order at this moment than she did in the demons stalking the Circle halls.
It was only her and Ser Geoffrey left now, Harold's body pushed out the door and left there to avoid upsetting the children, and Geoffrey was in a bad way. His eyes flicked to every shadow, hands twitching towards his sword, and she kept him in her line of sight at all times in case he should wish to go down the path Ser Harold had walked.
The Templars here, she had come to understand, were incredibly twitchy.
She stopped by the barrier again, sighing. The only Senior Enchanter that had escaped the whole fiasco, Wynne, was resting nearby, and she couldn't help but wonder how long the mage's reserves would last before the barrier would go down, leaving her the last line of defense between the demons and her charges.
She didn't fear magic, not like most of the Templars she'd met in the past week. She had met many mages outside the Tower before being given to the Chantry for training, and they had all been friendly and likeable people. She wouldn't want to be in the room with an angry blood mage, of course, but healers and herbalists she could see the use of.
Before now, she'd always thought mages deserved a little more freedom. Maybe if they were rewarded for good behavior by being allowed to serve their country in the army…?
Her musings were interrupted by a yell and more screaming, and she'd turned on her heel with her sword ready before she'd even registered the source.
It was poor Ser Geoffrey, clawing at the walls as if he could tunnel his way out. She had no desire to kill him while he wasn't actively threatening anyone, but he was disturbing the children. She struck him across the back of the head with the pommel of her blade and sent him to the floor, unconscious. She stared at him, wondering where everything had gone wrong.
She locked her arms beneath the unconscious Templar's and began heaving him towards the door where he would be out of the way until he came around, and was surprised when her load suddenly halved. She looked up to see one of the mages had taken his legs, and was smiling grimly at her with a nod. Grateful for the olive branch extended, she and the mage dragged him into the little corner and deposited him there where he would be comfortable and out of harm's way.
"That's twice now you've struck at one of your own for us," the mage said, as if he was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Not many Templars would do that."
She wasn't sure how to reply without damaging the tentative alliance established here. "Then they're not really Templars, are they?"
The mage smiled a little at that, and returned to his fellows, leaving her standing by Geoffrey and hoping this nightmare would end before she, too, lost sight of her duty.
She was exhausted. She wanted to rest, to just slide down the wall and let the Fade claim her, but she had to be vigilant. The demons had been scratching at the barrier again; who knows when they'd finally break free? How long had they been locked in here? A day? Three?
Not for the first time she begrudged the lack of windows in the Tower to mark the passage of time. The apprentices were playing some kind of game with spell wisps in a corner, and as soon as they'd begun all the older mages had turned to look at her, as if wondering if she was going to punish them for their lackadaisical use of magic.
She'd just shrugged and gone back to her vigil, and gotten a few smiles for her efforts.
Now she was just about ready to fall flat on her face and damn the consequences. But she couldn't.
So she wandered over to where the children were playing and sat down heavily among them, too tired to register the surprise on the faces of the adults and smiled at them.
"What are you playing?" she asked them, surprised at the hoarseness of her voice.
One of the little ones, the one she'd comforted earlier, spoke up. "We're playing hot-wisp." He pointed back at one of the adults, who was lost in concentration—obviously maintaining the wisp as it bounced around. "If you're holding it when it flickers out, you lose a point."
She smiled. It sounded like a game she'd played with her family before going to the Chantry, only they'd played with music and a stone. "That sounds like fun. Who's winning?"
A little girl piped up with obvious pride, clapping a fist to her chest. "I am! I have the most points!"
The boy spoke up again. "Would you like to play with us?"
She could hear the silence like a tangible thing as the mages watched, wide-eyed, for her response. Maybe it would help her stay awake, she rationalized. "I'd love to. What are the rules?"
About five different voices chimed in to gleefully inform her of so many rules she doubted that all of them were actually followed, but she smiled and pretty soon she was laughing with the rest of them. At first, the wisp had never gone out when it was in her hands, and she'd shot the mage casting it a significant look and gotten a sheepish smile in response.
After that she'd had it flicker out three times in a row.
It wasn't long before the majority of the mages had joined their circle and they managed to forget, if even for a little while, the threat of the outside world.
Ser Geoffrey was awake. She'd spent a few minutes speaking with him, trying to make sure he was going to be all right around the mages, and not come away convinced. She debated pushing him out with Harold, but figured that might traumatize the man. He'd been appalled to see the mages playing with spell wisps, and she had grabbed the back of his breastplate and hauled him into this corner to chat with him before he caused a scene.
"You can't let them use magic like that," he'd hissed, "It's just a stepping stone on the path to possession!"
She disagreed. Letting them huddle in fear with nothing to distract them seemed infinitely more likely to invite possession than a little happiness in a bleak time. Technically Geoffrey was now the senior Templar with Harold dead, but she had no intention of following his suggestion of draining the mages and smiting the ones that resisted.
To illustrate her point, she knocked him out again and stared at him, wondering what to do. One of the mages approached her warily, and she saw the visible relief that passed over him when he saw Geoffrey was unconscious again.
"You can't just keep hitting him over the head," the mage pointed out, "He'll get a concussion and somehow we'll get blamed for it."
The man had a point. She folded her arms and stared at Geoffrey. "I almost want to kick him out the door, but if he wakes up next to Harold…"
"We could take turns putting him to sleep," the mage suggested.
That might work, unless the Templar found out and complained to the Knight-Commander that the mages had used magic on him.
"Do we have any rope?"
The mage seemed surprised, but hurried back to the others to relay the question. Turns out that no, the mages did not have rope, but one or two sacrificed the hems of their robes and she bound Geoffrey's arms and legs with them, making the knots as secure as possible. When she stepped back to admire her handiwork, she saw she had attracted an audience, who were all gaping at her as if they could not imagine why she would hog-tie one of her own.
"This way the only one who'll get in trouble if he talks is me. I won't have any of you punished because he can't keep his mouth shut."
The mages had smiled and she'd left Geoffrey in his corner, hoping he wouldn't cause any trouble when he came around again. The game of wisps had evolved into a sort of scavenger hunt, where the children tried to catch the bobbing wisp as it flew out of their reach, and she couldn't help but smile.
She'd had to strike down one of the mages.
The woman had been nervous and twitchy for the better part of an hour before jumping to her feet and drawing a dagger across her palm. The nauseating spike of blood magic in the air had sent her running and she'd tackled the mage to the ground, pinning her wrists to the floor and draining her mana with her touch.
She'd waited until there was no other choice. The mage had raised a rage demon from the floor and after that there had been no turning back. She'd shoved her sword through the mage's chest and turned immediately to the demon, bashing it back towards the barrier with her shield until Wynne brought it down with an ice spell.
She'd collapsed to the ground shortly after, letting her sword and shield fall from numb fingers, as the mages gathered around her and tried to convince her that yes she had done the right thing and no they didn't blame her.
"She knew what she was getting into when she pulled that knife," the male mage who'd first approached her insisted, "If you hadn't acted, she could have hurt the children."
It didn't make her feel any better, and she refused to allow the other mages to help her as she took the dead blood mage to the door and pushed her through to rest with Harold.
The mages wouldn't leave her alone for long after that, always pulling her into their conversations or trying to get her to tell her stories of the outside world, to which she would smile and indulge them.
Greagoir would tan her hide if he knew she was telling them these stories. 'Inciting rebellious behavior' he would say.
As she stood and watched the mages telling their own stories, both fantastical and true, she couldn't help but wonder if all the mages were this friendly, this open. Except for that one cornered woman who'd turned, the other mages all seemed appalled at the idea of blood magic and were quick to denounce ever having known her.
She wondered if maybe they would be better off free.
When the locked door behind them slammed open, she'd immediately placed herself between the opening and the mages behind her, shield raised as she prepared to fight whatever manner of fiend walked through the door.
The odd group of people that greeted her was not what she had expected.
The elf at the head of the group raised her hands away from her daggers and the others followed her lead. A blond man standing behind her had a Templar shield, and she lowered her weapons cautiously as they explained who they were and what they were doing there. Wynne appeared at her side and they listened with horror as the small elven woman explained what Greagoir was doing.
"They can't Annul the Circle!" she'd barked, surprising both herself and the gathered mages with her vehemence, "There are mages still alive here! Damn it, Greagoir," she'd snapped to herself, gritting her teeth.
"We've been sent to find the First Enchanter," the elf went on, eyeing her warily now, "The Knight-Commander won't open the doors to anyone less."
Another elf traveling with them had approached the tied-up Geoffrey and was now eyeing her with amusement.
"He was causing a problem," she said by way of explanation, and the elf just laughed.
The small group took Wynne and headed deeper into the Tower to find Irving, and left her to fend for the mages left behind. She hoped they would succeed.
She was grateful when Irving hobbled into the room with the others on his heels, and she'd moved immediately to his side with the male mage—whose name was Jarod—going to the other, and together they supported the elderly mage as they headed towards the Great Doors with the apprentices and mages trailing behind.
As soon as the doors opened, she passed Irving to one of the other mages and walked right up to Greagoir, face hard.
He opened his mouth to speak but wasn't fast enough to dodge the slam of her gauntlet into his jaw, sending him staggering back and making the other Templars jump in surprise.
"That was for leaving us to die," she hissed, "Knight-Commander."
Jarod took her arm and pulled her back, but she could see the snicker trying to break free as he struggled to hide his smile. Greagoir rubbed his jaw with wide eyes as he stared at her, before he sighed.
"I suppose I deserved that." He turned to Irving. "I'm glad to see you well, Irving."
"We'll be back at each other's throats in no time, I'm sure."
She stood back with the mages, glaring daggers at any Templars who tried to approach them, and herded her charges into an empty room to rest. Jarod and a few of the older mages stood with her as she exhaled, letting the exhaustion catch up with her.
Jarod clapped her on the shoulder, startling her, and smiled. "We won't forget what you've done for us, ser." He looked around before lowering his voice. "And we won't forget you punching Greagoir neither."
She smiled back. "He deserved it."
She watched as the other Templars rounded up the mages and set to work cleaning up the Tower, and couldn't help but feel alone again. Things would go back to the way they were. The mages would be treated even more harshly now, and her dreams of getting them their freedom would die with her.
She felt a tug on her hand and looked down at the little boy from earlier, and smiled.
"Will you tell us a story?"
She glanced covertly over at where the Grey Wardens were speaking with Irving and Greagoir, and then smiled down at him.
"Of course." She followed him into the room and sat cross-legged in front of her rapt audience and the few mages watching with fond smiles. "This is the story of a Templar and the mages who saved her…"
She didn't want to be anywhere else.