Thora wondered how such a spacious building could ever manage to feel so cramped. It was as if those faraway walls and ceilings were constantly closing in on her, waiting to bear down on her to trap her even more than she already was, or to simply crush her altogether and bury her under the cold stone. Some rooms were worse than others; despite all the dust collected between books many times older than herself, the library was somewhat easier to breathe in while the apprentices quarters felt like a cell. There are actual cells in the tower, but she has been fortunate enough to have never been locked inside one. She imagines that they must feel like a grave, suffocating and dark. But at least, a solitary cell in the dungeons would at least have that to offer; solitary. Privacy. An apprentice has none, and the enchanters only slightly more. There are times when she longs for it, to have a moment all to herself and be at peace, away from the breathing and chatter of the others, away from all the eyes, so many that there is always someone who sees. The only hiding space she has is in the back of her eyelids, her own darkness to hide in while waiting for sleep to come.
There is almost no light in the tower, not of the natural kind. There are windows but Thora tends to forget that windows is what they are since they are brilliantly coloured, made of stained glass that could have been so beautiful if they were not meant to confine her. They do not let much light in, not enough to feel like a window, not at all as the windows she remembers from her childhood. And they are placed so far up as well, making it all but impossible to have a look at the outside world. Were they designed that way on purpose, in the hopes of making them forget about the rest of the world? Mayhap they thought that if they could not see it, they would stop dreaming of it, would let all hopes and dreams for a life outside these walls go.
She has been here for so many years, but she has never been able to forget, and she never stops dreaming. Deep in her heart, a faint hope is kept alive as well. She remembers the sights and the sounds; rivers and hills, all the different kinds of weather and the songs of birds, the sound of bare feet on soft grass, ripples of brooks and wind. Wind to rustle the leaves in the trees, wind to carry sounds and smells from places further away. Air that is fresh and clear, air that is a delight to breathe.
The tower lacks it all. There is only the clanking of armoured feet on hard stone floors, the soft steps of mages, the echoes of voices engaged in muted conversations, new as well as old. It smells of dust and of steel, and the colours are muted and sombre. There is nothing that stands out, and there is no true joy anywhere, not even in breathing.
They have their Chantry of course, and the Chant of Light should be so beautiful, but Thora cannot help but doubt. If it is the wish of the Maker to have them all locked up, then why make them at all? Why is she to suffer for the cruelties of those that perished a thousand years ago? She has never wished harm on anyone, and the only thing she has to wish for herself is freedom. That is the only thing the demons can ever tempt her with, and try it they do. Yet her answer always remains no. She knows that a demon cannot grant her freedom. If they could, then there would be no mages left in the tower.
She traces a secret pattern on the old stone wall meant to keep her in, to keep her safe. Safe from herself, they say, as well as to keep other’s safe from her. She does not feel particularly dangerous however. She does well with healing, with water, with ice. At times she brings her cupped hands to her face and try to recreate weather as she remembers it, glistening snowflakes and clear raindrops, and she does not see the harm in that or what the harm is in having such an ability. If someone were to break an arm she could mend it, if someone caught a fever she could cool it with the touch of her hand. When there is a drought, she could provide water for the fields. She could put out fires without aid, drench them with only the help of her own thoughts. Where is the harm and danger in that? Watering fields does not seem very likely to attract demons at all. She has not gone yet through her Harrowing, but when she has, should they not let her out? It seems such a waste, this way.
There are times when the prospect of Harrowing frightens her. No one knows much about it, and those who do know a little is not allowed to speak of it. All she knows is that it is dangerous, and that sometimes mages just disappear. They are called to it, and then never come back. And there are those who chose something else instead; tranquility. To have their magic ripped from their bodies, and together with the magic goes all the mortal emotions and desires. At least, then, they cannot feel fear. But that is a hollow comfort. The thought of never feeling anything at all, not ever again, frightens her more than anything.
She has been frightened of other things as of late, something that it is hard to put her finger on, a something hanging in the stale air above them. There is something about the atmosphere in the tower that has changed. It is even more quiet than usual, the mages huddling together in small and nervous groups, the templars’ stances more tense. They have always unnerved her; the helmets making it impossible to tell them apart, and sometimes she wonders if there is anyone in there at all. Rationally she knows that of course there is, but to not see anything but cruel steel somehow makes them seem less human. It is a peculiar thought, that it certainly is the other way around, that they likely think of her in that way; less human. A curse, an abomination waiting to happen. Which is strange in itself as abominations does not happen very often – to walk in on someone who has decided to escape in the only way available to them is much more common. She has done so herself, seen someone use their sheets or shaving razor in a way it was not meant to be used. It saddens her, but she does not grieve as much as she used to. She has learned to guard her heart, against even friendship.
Even so, there is always some sort of sadness in the background, a taste and a longing she carries around with her and does not understand. Perhaps the heart simply wants more than to be guarded for once.
It is when she has escaped to the darkness under her eyelids, the place where she waits for sleep, the place where she paints pictures of memories of things she will never be allowed to see again the same way she traces them on the walls, that the screaming begins. Not in her dorm but perhaps the one next to it – there are no doors, and sounds are carried so far through the halls. And it is not a common scream, not human and not elven, but something that makes the blood freeze inside her, something that teaches the heart of a new kind of fear. Screams, and unusually many armoured steps. And sounds of swords cutting through the air and something else.
They all start to get out of their beds, because surely an abominations must be loose. There is panic in the air as well as screams, the screams of more than one person.
And then the templars enters her dorm, bloodied swords in their hands. And then they go after them, to cut mages down, mages that they are sworn to protect.
She does not think, her legs moving on their own accord. She has been as good as she could have been, she has done nothing wrong and does not know anyone who has. She does not know how she managed to dodge the swords, how she got out in the hallway or where to go from here, only that she has to keep moving, to get away. Her bare feet are hurting against the stone floor, but that kind of pain is nothing. There had not been much hope of ever escaping before, but if she is caught on a templar’s sword there will be none at all. She has dreams, she has wishes, she has a heart, and they will not be allowed to take any of that from her. They have already taken so much. She does not want the blurry, discoloured images from behind the stained glass windows to be her last view of this world.