Chapter 1: Illuminated darkness
It’s cold, faded colours that embrace the Circle library. They cover the old stones, old shelves and old tomes, bestowing them an aura of austerity and estrangement. Maurevar wanders amidst the beams of moonlight falling from the high windows, knowing he has, really, only one spot to inspect during his night shift.
As expected, the wooden door to the tiny study is ajar. It creaks when the Templar pushes it, and the darkness inside swallows everything that comes from behind him.
“I know you’re in there,” he declares loudly.
A familiar, cocky smile suddenly flashes in the glow of a conjured wisp.
“You’re still reading that stuff,” Maurevar snorts.
“A healer never has too much knowledge of these things.”
The smile widens when the book is snapped shut, sending dust particles into the air. The fancy letters on the cover are visible in the bleak light.
Dark Confessionals ~ Moaning Chantry Doors. Malcolm makes no effort to hide the cursives when he hands the book to Maurevar.
“I know we’re not supposed to dog-ear books. Bad habit of mine.”
Chapter 2: The one no one sees
When things are grim, the mages are still, and the Helms line up in silent rows. The weight of their hidden gazes is combined with the burden of bad news, delivered by the Knight-Commander with a perfunctory speech, an abrasive tone, and abstract words.
Two deaths, and no names.
Malcolm cannot hide his eyes like them. He doesn’t care, all he wants to know is that Maurevar is not one of the nameless. He tries to see him, but no one can recognize these armored men and women. They form a seamless, unbreakable pattern, a barrier that holds secrets within, and protects from without, one that is built now and then when a Harrowing fails.
Finally, he sees it. A flaw in the sturdy design, the slanted, burnt metal spot that Maurevar always seems to miss when he buffs his helm. Everyone fails to notice it too. It must be difficult to see well through those thin openings.
Chapter 3: Portrait in black
“Stop doing that.”
Malcolm lifts his finger off the oily surface and rubs it against his thumb, spreading some of the black pigment on it.
“Admit it. You hate it too,” he declares in the most serious manner, turning his back on the painting to stare at Maurevar.
“Aren’t you supposed to be teaching the kids right now?” The Templar raises an eyebrow and crosses his arms, not offering an answer to the obvious trap.
Malcolm is deadpan and sly, keeping for himself the equally obvious answer to the question.
“I mean, it’s so… dark. I’m sure there must be some color under this layer, it’s not even dry yet. They tried to hide something, and I want to know what.”
The tall portrait of the Knight-Commander glares at them, trying to will the two onlookers out of the hall with its shining pupils.
“Or maybe that’s just it. I hear black makes people look thinner.” Malcolm shrugs.
Chapter 4: Flames of disaster
Really, the Gallows has nothing to offer in terms of combustibles. It’s mostly stone and metal. Yet, accidents happen, and certain things burn anyways. When they do, there is heat, smoke, fire. They lick the granite walls, and greedily take over the empty spaces between them.
People are in there, caught in this filled hollow. Maurevar panics, as do other Templars. The heat is too much, the smoke too thick, and flames refuse to let them in.
There is a cracking sound, and he is there, with someone’s arm around his shoulders. Malcolm coughs and grins at the same time, and dispels the magical barrier.
“Are you all right? What’s your name, young man?” he asks.
The Templar recruit looks annoyed, disgusted, scared. He pushes himself away from the mage, and brushes dirt and ash from his robes and armor. The gesture gives the feeling something else makes him filthy.
“An apprentice caused this! Cast a spell and—”
“You’ll answer the questions, recruit!” Maurevar snaps.
The teenager grunts and looks down.
“I’m… fine. My name’s Alrik. Otto Alrik.”
“Well, last time a Templar set fire to the kitchen. I guess we’re even now,” Malcolm says, patting him on the back.
Chapter 5: The life inside
Malcolm is sitting by the tall window, his robes carefully folded in his lap. He looks through the glass, his face warmed by the light of the morning sun. In the Gallows’ courtyard, three Templars are bringing in a child. The young girl is lethargic, looking at her feet leading her to her new home.
Shoulder resting against the stone wall, Maurevar silently feels his mage friend, knowing that he doesn’t really look at what is going on outside, but instead is gazing within himself, within the possibilities that could present themselves to him, at the choices he never had when he was that age, at the things he could have done, that still could be done, if only life in the Circle would allow all this potential to merely exist somewhere else than in a listless dream.
When Malcolm turns his head and smiles at the Templar, there is something in his dark eyes that breaks Maurevar’s thoughts into shards. The eerie moment is all gone after a heartbeat, but the feeling lingers, like the stinging sensation left by a slap.
Chapter 6: Missing
The thick book is in the same place, the same position. Same as the last time it was touched, the dusty cachet on its cover and pages proof that its content had also remained immobile, untouched, ignored. Malcolm picks it up, and exhales sharply, breaking the seal and turning it into a cloud of particles.
Slowly pulled apart, the binding creaks loudly in the silent room, manuscript pages falling on each side of the register because they know where they belong, until the entire choreography stops exactly where it always did. Malcolm’s finger brushes lightly against a name hastily written, and the empty space right below it, one that should have been filled with another name but had not.
“Why do you keep looking at this every year?” Maurevar’s voice is tinged with curiosity, but his eyes betray some concern when the mage looks up to him. “It’s pretty common for parents not to provide their names when—”
“My memories keep fading, and whatever is left…”
Maurevar has proper titles, labels and names for everyone he knows. Malcolm doesn’t. Mother could be it, but somehow, it has never been enough.
Chapter 7: Thawing
Maurevar sniffs at the offering and eyes it suspiciously. His nose is cringed from the chill winter air seeping everywhere in the stony Gallows, but also with the anticipation of something, because the corner of Malcolm’s mouth is not down enough to indicate he’s serious, and just deep enough in the cheek to be mischievous.
“Aw, this is a friendly gesture, don’t be a Templar and readily think it’s abominable,” the mage says as he sits down in his friend’s comfy chair and extends his legs towards the fireplace.
“Why are you here?”
Malcolm shrugs and sips at his own glass of green liquid, eyes and red flames in them locked with Maurevar’s. “Too cold in my room.”
The Templar rolls his eyes and sighs, not forgetting about that tiny dimple, nor about the fact that the only seat in his small room is now occupied. “Can’t you mages even lit up a proper fire?”
“Are you going to drink that?”
Maurevar sniffles this time. His upper lip then touches it, and he is pleasantly surprised at the sweet warmth that immediately spreads in his mouth.
“I always prepare too much. Your stomach is the only place I can hide the excess,” Malcolm declares casually.
Chapter 8: Reflections
Maurevar still cannot believe how fast Malcolm took off his robes (which confirmed a few things that he had never really discussed with his fellow Templars), nor the fact that his friend actually tried to swallow sea water before coughing it up with a look of disgust.
The Templar has no idea what excuse he will make up to explain to the Knight-Captain he reasons for bringing a mage all the way to the Wounded Coast, and he does not care right this moment.
The sun hangs low above the horizon, its light broken by the relentless waves, and the wind blows strong above the water. Maurevar can almost picture the goosebumps on Malcolm’s skin, though all he cares to see right now is the huge grin on his sunburned face.
The sight of a grown man going for his first swim gave the Templar the same smile a long while ago.
Chapter 9: The end does not justify the means
Malcolm is looking up at the patch of sky visible from the Gallows courtyard. His silence makes Maurevar and Tobrius raise their chin as well, and all three men end up watching the strong wind carry away the clouds along with their unspoken thoughts.
“Sometimes, I don’t know what magic is. I spend mana to heal people, but I also use my heart, words, touch and obtain the same results. I don’t know where one ends and the other begins.”
They all know about the Fade and spirits and demons. They also know about heartless people who have done much worse than all of the Kirkwall mages together.
“Kids do tend to ask nasty questions,” Tobrius acknowledges with a nod. “What would you tell them, Ser?”
“I’m no teacher,” Maurevar answers before closing his eyes. “If one’s intentions and their results are pure and selfless, then the means—”
A gust of wind swallows the remainder of his sentence.
Chapter 10: Lessons I
The five children in the small room are oblivious of Ser Otto’s scowl and Ser Samson’s pout, hidden behind their helm, but Maurevar can still feel them from the twitches of their shoulders and the way they keep throwing glances at the mages standing in front of them.
“You can learn to recognize a mage’s school of magic from certain clues about their body shape, their gestures, and where they stand in a fight. For example, what do you think is my specialty?”
A long silence follows. The enchanter’s eyes land on Malcolm, standing to his side. “Care to explain, Hawke?”
“Well, see this, kids?” Malcolm points at a young boy dozing off, and two children start giggling. “I’d wager from that alone that he’s crazy good at casting a sleep spell, no?”
The senior enchanter rolls his eyes and shakes his head when all of them start laughing. Maurevar is pretty good at hiding his smile, but he sees Samson still needs practice when Alrik’s gauntlet lands loudly on his helm. The sound blends with laughter and goes unnoticed as the teacher gently wakes up a confused little boy.
Chapter 11: One
It is a cool morning even though it does not look like one. The sun shines brightly through the colored glass of the chapel, its light broken into a spontaneous mosaic onto Andraste’s tall figure. The eyes can get lost easily into this pattern, searching for hidden messages in between the specks that have no design, but the granite chills the heart through fingertips that lay against it, reminding Maurevar that there is always the blunt, simple reality of life behind all the dreams that can be dreamt.
He stands there in silence, staring at the wall but not seeing, feeling the need for guidance but not asking for any, listening to his mind but not hearing any answer. His heart is disturbed. He does not understand why it happened, but he knows that it is all it takes to create the ripples of feeling that will not stop. A droplet sinking into the perfect stillness that was there, carrying all his uncertainties below the surface.
Maurevar has said nothing, has done nothing. Malcolm does not know, has not noticed.
One tear going down his friend’s cheek, and discreetly brushed away. That’s all it took to make him doubt.
Chapter 12: Two
The Circle might be a tough place to be, on some days, and not always for reasons that are obvious. And people keep these thoughts locked in their chest, for other reasons.
All it takes is two heartbeats. One to initiate the movement, hand reaching out, wrapping around the shoulder. The other just to let things be, to stop motion and emotion and fix them forever into a memory.
No reason ever needs to be spoken. Two friends understand that.
Chapter 13: Heat
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“I’m not going to do it.”
“You know very well, mage.”
Malcolm was looking at everything and nothing, of course. Not that there was much to stare at in the Gallows to begin with, but today seemed like a special day of some sort.
Maurevar was doing the same. He knew his friend had that annoying smirk on his face, and even more importantly, his towel, the one he desperately needed to wipe the sweat off himself. Training in this heat had perhaps been the wrong idea to begin with, but Maurevar always welcomed this much needed distraction. Better deal with physical exertion than with cranky templars and mages, something the Kirkwall weather always seemed to produce in large numbers these days.
When his sweaty friend had walked in and sat on the bench, Maurevar had ignored him, focusing on his weapon and his moves. And on trying not to get dizzy. Or faint.
The mage had remained silent for the entire session. When Maurevar finally sat next to him, his robes completely soaked, he had suddenly known why Malcolm was here.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Fine,” Maurevar sighed. He was getting to the point he would have to do it. That fight had been lost a long while ago already, so why make himself suffer through one more useless struggle.
Reluctantly, he took off the top of his templar robes, the gesture providing some relief, though bringing him closer to the expected outcome. His hands were back on his sword, and his eyes looked with resignation in the distance.
“I think you might need this,” his friend said at last, handing him the towel.
“Make sure to wipe all those freckles well, my friend.”
Maurevar closed his eyes, feeling even hotter than before. If there was one thing he had not learned to handle well, it was Malcolm’s obsession with the spots covering his upper body, something that had always made him so self-conscious.
“I also brought this,” the mage added, the gleam of satisfaction in his eyes quite evident. “I’m horrible with these spells, but I managed to pull this one off after some excruciating efforts. See, you’re not the only one working hard here.”
The Templar cautiously turned around, eyeing the offering with suspicion until he recognized the magic in it.
There was an ice cube in the glass of water.
Perhaps some things were worth suffering after all.
beautiful drawing by hawkeward
Chapter 14: That was a mistake
No steps can be made to enter the dark room, cut in two by a weak ray of sunlight barely making its way through the curtains to the stony floor. There stands this massive invisible wall someone has hastily built to keep everyone out.
The sound of breathing is made all the more obvious, being in a closed space where everything is motionless except it, and dust particles dancing in the warmth of light, taunting the newcomer to enter anyways.
The Templar's hand drops from the door handle, and he becomes one with the stillness, patiently waiting for it to be shattered by his friend.
"I shouldn't have… She..." Malcolm finally whispers, the brittle words slowed down by the thickness of the blank between them. "That was a mistake."
Maurevar knows it is coming, has felt it growing, that ache that is pulling them together because they both own it, a tight leash tightening their heart, but pushing them apart in the same movement, opposite sides to be chosen, factions defined before they were born, polarities allegedly existing to counteract one other. Mages and Templars.
"Now… I have to deal with… Hope. Longing. It…"
"It hurts, I know," Maurevar finishes the sentence, taking on his shoulders a small portion of the guilt that weighs so heavily upon Malcolm's.
"Do you, really?"
Bitter words, lashing out at what he is, but not whom. Maybe seeing Leandra again was not a mistake. Maybe it has simply uncovered a truth that has always been there.
Maurevar does not close the door this time when he walks away in silence.