~Last Strands of Childhood~

Fearing spiders is a foolish notion. I was hiding in the rafters of our basement, watching one busily tending to its web when I began to realize this. There was an odd beauty to how it studiously created its home out of nothing. They may look menacing but they aren't evil beings that skulk and prey on our nightmares. They're just eight legged creatures clinging to forgotten corners so they can live their lives in peace, away from our prejudices.

As dark as the basement was, there were small slivers of light that filtered down from between the floor boards of our home. I was alone for the moment, but I knew my mother couldn't be far behind. I hoped that one of the neighbouring merchants would at least watch her booth, but I knew after what everyone witnessed, she was likely already shunned.

Her arrival broke my thoughts, but even as she ran into the house calling my name, I stayed quiet. Within moments, the basement door flew open, "I know you're in here!" she shouted. Of course she knew that; I always ran to the basement when I was upset. Somehow I felt safe being under the house with my parents' stored merchandise. All the random trinkets my father brought from Antiva made the basement feel like a whole other land tucked away from the rest of the world.

Not wasting any time, she stepped further into the basement and began lighting the lanterns in the room. Looking around, still unable to spot me, she finally demanded, "Come out here right now." Her voice seemed different. There was a frantic edge to it that I had never heard before but, even so, I remained in my crawlspace. "I…" her voice wavered and she paused. Lowering herself onto the steps, she passed her gaze over the basement. In a voice barely above a whisper, she breathed "Oh my sweet girl…what have you done?"

I didn't answer because I didn't know.

It had been a day like any other at the Lowtown market. It was just my mother and I since my father was on a purchasing trip to Antiva. As the sun shone on the square, Mom was lightly chatting with the people who crowded around her booth. She had such an inviting way about her that people couldn't help but be drawn into conversation. That is, except for one man who was too focused on a jewelled necklace to even look at her. After he only acknowledged her through a few soft grunts, she quietly gave me a pointed look. That was her way of asking me to keep my eye on him as she turned her attention to a different customer. It was seconds later that he turned away from the table and I saw the necklace was missing.

"Mom!" I yelled as I pointed after the man who was trying to blend with the crowd.

"Wait here," she muttered to me as she rounded the table. Giving chase she shouted, "Stop! Thief!"

The man glanced over his shoulder before breaking into a run and shoving people out of his way. Too shocked to think, I found myself running after them. "Someone stop him!" I screamed, begging someone to step in. No one did. I felt the emotion charge through my body as I watched him get closer to the side streets. If he made it there, he'd be gone – our violation complete.

The panic burst through my chest and, out of desperation, I pointed and screamed again, "Stop!"

Suddenly the man fell to the ground, twitching violently. Stunned, I looked from him to my mother who froze and was staring at me. My eyes slowly dropped down to my hands and I watched the last tendrils of smoke coil up from my fingers. My mind raced and I prayed that no one else had seen. Fearfully, I finally looked up to see the usually bustling market square was completely still as everyone stared at me in horror. Without another thought, I ran.

In the basement, I watched my mother hug her knees and start softly crying into the coarse fabric of her skirt. My own eyes began to sting with tears as her sobs tore into me. I didn't mean to break her heart. Tears started to fall down my cheeks as I cried, "I'm sorry Mom."

"Templars will be coming soon," was her muffled reply.

"We need to leave," I spoke softly.

Finally, she sat up and I could see just how red her eyes were. She had stopped sobbing, but her stare grew distant. Letting out a long sigh, she answered, "It's Kirkwall."

At the time, I didn't know what she meant but I could tell it was hopeless. There was nothing more to say. I don't know how long we waited in that basement together but she never asked me to come down again. In the dim light from the lanterns I could see her sitting listlessly on the stairs and the overwhelming sadness in her eyes was the only sign of life. Feeling numb, I turned back to the shadows to watch the spider continue its work. We stayed like that for what felt like a lifetime before we heard them – the templars had arrived.

"By order of Knight-Commander Meredith, we have been sent to collect the mage-child," a deep voice announced from the door. My numbness quickly turned to fear and I started to tremble.

For a moment, my mother said nothing as more tears welled in her eyes. Reluctantly, she called out, "We're in the basement."

There was a brief pause before the templars started to make their way into the house. With each heavy step, a new cloud of dust was shaken free from the floorboards and wafted through the basement. Behind my mother, at the top of the staircase, two heavily armoured boots came into view. A new wave of terror came over me as I watched the boots make purposeful strides down the steps, forcing my mother to move. These weren't men; these were two cold suits of mechanical armour. "Where is she?" one templar asked gruffly from under his helmet.

"S-she's in the rafters," Mother stammered as she waved her hand in my direction.

Unimpressed, the templar replied, "Get her down."

She hesitantly answered, "I tried but…but she won't."

He turned away with a disgusted huff and they marched through the basement, looking up at the rafters. Before long they spotted me in the corner. Drawing himself to his full height, he repeated, "By order of Knight-Commander Meredith, we have been sent to collect you. Come down immediately, or the consequences will be severe."

His threat hung heavily in the air, but I couldn't move. My whole body shook so badly, it was all I could do to cling to the wood boards around me. With every minute the templars waited, I could feel air growing thicker with their tension. A rushing sound started in my ears as the unbearable silence bore down on us. Breaking the stillness with a sharp intake of air, the templar quickly removed his helmet and looked up at me. He was an older man with eyes as cold as his armour and a beard that would hide a smile if he ever had one. "Do not test me girl," he warned as he slammed his fist against the wall. I could feel the vibration from his hit and even the spider paused from its task. Squeezing my eyes closed I prayed to the Maker for it all to stop.

The second templar took off his helmet to reveal a much younger, clean-cut man. Peering up at me he commented, "She looks scared enough already."

"And yet, she's not listening," the older templar snipped. Glaring at me, he added, "And you're just going to make this harder on yourself."

"But…" the other man started to protest.

Frustrated, the older templar turned and snarled, "The last thing our Order needs is some mage sympathizer." Pointing to my mother, he demanded, "Get me something to stand on."

Inching closer to the templars, she stumbled over her own words as she protested, "I'm s-sorry Ser but we don't own anything that could bear the weight of your armour." I had never seen her so frightened before.

Even from where I was perched, I could see the tendons tense in the man's neck but before he could snap at her, the other templar cut in, "I'm not a sympathizer. But would a bit of compassion be so terrible?"

"You might find out for yourself some day," the older templar sighed through gritted teeth before calling up to me, "This is your last chance little mage. Come down now or I will get you down myself."

I wasn't trying to be defiant. My mind was screaming for me to obey but every time I tried to move, I kept picturing the Gallows where they kept the mages. It froze my blood cold. "I don't have time for this," the templar snapped as he undid his sheath from his belt and held out his covered sword, "I'll get you down myself."

There was no time to react when the first jab connected with my stomach. The air was knocked from my lungs and I scrambled onto my hands and knees. Again, the covered blade was stabbed upwards and painfully struck my ribs. Almost instantly I could feel the swelling start as I cried out in agony. He moved to thrust again when suddenly my mother jumped on his arm, screaming, "Stop it! Stop it, she's just a child!"

Effortlessly, the templar threw her to the floor and turned to face her. I saw his sword still raised in the air, now pointed towards her and something in me broke free. All my fear burst out of my chest, down my arms, and through my fingers as I shrieked, "Leave her alone!"

Small blue streaks of energy arched around his armour and the templar lurched forward, but didn't fall like the man in the square. Spinning around, he threw his hand out toward me. I saw his face twist in anger and was suddenly hit by an invisible force. The world seemed to tumble around me before fading to black. Everything was so still – no light, no sound, no feelings – I thought I had died. Suddenly, I found myself gasping for air and I could hear my mother screaming in the distance. Opening my eyes, I realized I had collapsed on the beams and was again lying down in the rafters. I didn't even have the energy to talk as tears passively rolled down my cheeks.

"She's not a child anymore," the templar raged, his face turning red. "She dances with the demons now." As I lay collapsed and panting for air, his sinister words haunted me. Dance with demons? I couldn't think of a more horrifying thought.

Throwing himself between the pair, the younger templar pleaded, "Look, give me some space and let me give this a try." He wilted slightly under his partner's menacing glare, but did not stand down. "How is it going to look to the Knight-Commander if we aren't capable of bringing in a child alive?"

The older templar stood there as everyone watched him. He paused for a long moment, letting the words of reason sink in. Finally, he scooped up the helmet that he had dropped at some point and tried to sound casual as he replied, "Fine. But if an abomination drops on your head, it's your own fault." Looking down at my mother who was still sprawled on the ground, he roughly added, "You too. Let's go." Shaken, she pulled herself to her feet and followed the templar from the room. From where I was lying, I could see their feet as they waited on the staircase.

Satisfied, the young templar looked up at me and I could see the kindness in his eyes. He offered a regretful smile as he reached up and touched my hand. I hadn't realized my hand was dangling out of the rafters, and hastily I pulled it away. "It's alright," he assured me, "I'm not going to drag you down; I just want to talk."

More tears stung my eyes at his unexpectedly gentle words and I turned my face away. To my surprise, the spider was still on its web. Not being deterred, the templar added, "All of this must be pretty frightening – to suddenly know you're different."

I didn't say it to him, but somehow I had always known I was different. Try as I might, I could never be carefree like the other children; I always had a weight on my shoulders. After another awkward pause, he added, "If I could take it all away and make you normal again…I would." I kept studying the spider. If it had the chance to be something else, would it take it? Would it lose the power to craft so much from strands of its own creation just to be something less feared? I had my doubts. Catching my attention, he continued, "I guess we both know I can't. But I can still help you."

Turning away from the spider, I looked down at the kind face below me. "I can take you to people who can help," he corrected. "I know the Gallows look scary, but inside are other people just like you. I can bring you to the First Enchanter Orsino who can teach you more about what you are and the power you have. He is a nice man and he cares fiercely for those mages in his charge. I know he would like to meet you…"

My eyebrows furrowed together as I tried to judge his words. "Would you like to meet him?" he finally asked. Hesitantly, I nodded. I had no choice but he at least gave me a glimmer of hope. A relieved smile crossed his lips as he reached up towards me, "Alright, we can do that. You just need to come down." Carefully I started to lower myself as he reached up and easily caught me around the waist, helping me to the ground.

He kept a firm hand on my shoulder and guided me towards the staircase. The older templar pushed past my mother and started leading us out of the house. As I passed by her, I reached out and briefly rested my hand on hers. She tried to force a smile through her tears as I did the same. Silently I said goodbye to her and life as I knew it. My childhood had ended and I became a feared creature with power that few understood.

And so began my life as a mage.