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Felix Culpa

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Cullen decided Morrigan was an alright sort. In his previous life, he would have been suspicious of her—beyond suspicious, really. Terrified, was the likelier term. But she doted on this son of hers, and she seemed loyal to their cause, so he decided that anyone so in love with their child was, deep down, a good enough person. But this eluvian business that she kept dragging the Inquisitor to…suspicious. He’d tried not to pry, figured it wasn’t really his concern. If something unsavory was happening in the Arbor Wilds, he’d be most useful in the military sense—certainly not the ancient relic interpretation sense. But it piqued his curiosity nonetheless, which is why he stood in front of it, staring into the watery glass at his undulating reflection, sometime around three in the morning one night in the middle of winter.

He kept his hand on the pommel of his sword as if there were something threatening about it. It was a nervous habit—most of his habits were nervous—meant to instill a bit of courage in him. And he figured he had good enough reason to need courage in the face of such a mirror. Once, out of the corner of his eye when he was walking through the courtyard, he’d seen the Inquisitor and Morrigan walk right through the blasted thing. So he at least understood that it wasn’t physically a mirror. Not a normal mirror, anyway. Perhaps things could come out of it just as easily as they went in. Not daring to risk his own hand, he looked about and spied all manner of ecclesiastical clutter. He picked up one of the longer taper candles that lay strewn on the floor and prodded at the glass with it—no resistance, as was expected.  He frowned, bewildered, but unafraid, and pulled the taper back out of the frame, inspecting it for damage or difference. It looked fine. An unremarkable candle, as ever.

Satisfied with his night’s adventure, he squatted down, set the taper gently onto the floor, and nodded at the mirror…window…door? He still wasn’t sure what to make of it, but he was finally feeling a bit drowsy and he reminded himself that the Inquisitor never seemed to be harmed after she used it. So he decided to call it a night. He stood, cracked his neck, and stretched his arms above his head, trying to loosen himself up in preparation for the many stairs he’d have to climb before he ever hit his bed.

But he wouldn’t climb any stairs 

Rather, he’d fail to notice another candle mere inches from his boot. He’d turn, and he’d step on it quite unevenly. He’d lose his balance, fail to grip anything despite waving his arms about, and stumble backwards, directly into the eluvian.

“Okay guys, you’ve clearly checked out.”

Charlotte adjusted her glasses and scanned the classroom before her. The students in the front row giggled—overachievers determined to get on her good side. At least one student in the back was audibly snoring, and others were undoubtedly dozing. The majority either hadn’t heard her, or didn’t care to respond. “You can’t come to class hungover every Friday, you know.” Still, no answer. She was joking about underage drinking and none of them were even minutely fazed. Perhaps was losing her touch. “Is it the spring weather? I know it’s nice outside, but—actually…” She turned around and looked out the window. The sun shone clear and bright and the pond out on Prince lawn glimmered a short ways off.

“Alright, up! Get up!” The students looked around and whispered to one another. “Get off your lazy bums, we’re going outside.”

One of the more rambunctious women in the class shot her hand up. “We’re allowed to do that?”

“To go outside?” It seemed a ludicrous question, but she often forgot that most of her students were fresh out of high schools that might as well have been prisons. “Yeah, we can go outside. In fact,” she said, raising her voice to indicate that everyone ought to listen as she packed up her own bag, “it’s more appropriate that we take this lesson outside. The transcendentalists considered nature to be a truer church than any cathedral could possibly be.” Someone groaned. “Don’t care if you don’t like it, it’ll be on the midterm.”

The dozen or so people of the group proceeded through the classroom door and down the hall, toward the staircase. Once on the first floor, Charlotte led them around the other side of the building to the exit nearest the pond. She liked her job. She loved it, actually. The campus was lovely, the humanities building was nicer than most universities could boast, and the whole university was a source of great nostalgia. She had studied there herself when she was a young thing, and now she had the title of “doctor” and was pleased to find herself teaching.

It was important to her that her students felt like people, first. She sometimes hazed them gently, like she did today, but when push came to shove, she knew that most of them weren’t genuinely interested in the literature she taught. This rarely diminished her enthusiasm. And if she were being honest with herself, she didn’t blame them for being distracted on this particular day. Situated on the coast, their small tourist town always felt spring much earlier than most of them were used to in their northeastern hometowns—she often fell prone to spring fever herself, and relished this excuse to sit outside and read some good, hardy, early American literature.

The group approached a charming little area shaded by trees, just on the bank of the pond. Students plopped down haphazardly, pulled out sunglasses, and made themselves comfortable as Charlotte instructed them to open their anthologies to Emerson’s “The Poet.” She’d assigned the reading the class before, but it was important enough that she decided to read an excerpt aloud: “But the highest minds of the world,” she began, somewhat dramatically, “have never ceased to explore the double meaning, or, shall I say, the quadruple, or the centuple, or much more manifold meaning, of every sensuous fact: Orpheus, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Plato, Plutarch, Dante, Swedenborg, and the masters of sculpture, picture, and poetry.” Part of her indulged in reading aloud. She liked to toy with the notion that, in another life, she performed on stage, made people weep with her monologues. Her literature students felt the weight of this pipe dream. She heard one of them snigger and curse under his breath. “Was it Heraclitus that did it? Such children…” she teased.

“No,” the giggler answered. “Sorry Dr. Trevi, we thought we saw something.”

“Saw what?”

“Man, I don’t know. Little white thing, floating over the pond.”

“A bird?”

The student frowned at her. “Shoot, I know what a bird is. Whatever, forget about it. It’s too bright out here, now I’m seeing things.”

Charlotte shook her head, cleared her throat and continued. They were approaching one of her favorite parts: “For we are not pans and barrows, nor even porters of the fire and torch-bearers, but children of the fire, made of it, and only the same divinity transmuted, and at two or three removes, when we know least about it.” She lifted her hand gently into the air, as if to point something out. “And this hidden truth, that the fountains whence all this river of Time, and its creatures, floweth, are intrinsically ideal and beautiful, draws us to the consideration of the nature and functions of the Poet, or the man of Beauty—“

A thunderous splash from behind her. Something akin to waves pummeling an outcrop of rocks, but with more of a…plop. She stopped, hand still raised, and deadpanned at her students. “What the hell was that?”

“Holy shit, a dude just fell in the pond!”

She knew she was furrowing her brow, but it made sense. Some sense. It was rush week for Greek life, and lots of people were being put in ludicrous situations. Last year, a pledge was challenged to steal an alligator from the swamps near campus and relocate it to the pond. He managed it, and then the beast grew so big that a volunteer wildlife group had to remove it before it ate all of the turtles. Pushing a brother into the pond was small potatoes for most of the fraternities. So she turned around to look at the bridge that spanned the pond some fifty yards away. But the splash, now indicated only by the ripples it left in its wake, was nowhere near it.

“Where did he fall from?”

“The fucking sky. Like—the. air. Dude just appeared!”

At this ridiculous notion, she stood up, admitting defeat, knowing she had lost all semblance of control over the class. She muttered under her breath as she approached the very edge of the water. “I know I’m not a physics professor, but things, people don’t just…” she waved her hands madly, searching for the right words, “…fucking materialize.” The ripples had all but settled as she looked over the water. The only logical explanation was a tourist…some tourist had signed up for one of those paragliding adventures that the radio station always advertised. He must have gotten way off track—exponentially off track—and ended up over the campus. Then—judging by the stillness of the water—he had fallen to his death in the pond. And she was definitely going to have to give a statement about the whole thing to the police.

A student whose voice she didn’t recognize called out. “Should somebody go in and pull him out?” She realized then that they were all crowded behind her, watching the pond expectantly.

“God, of course!” she shouted. It was a chest deep pond at most, but if someone had really fallen and hit their head, they might not be able to get back up. They could be unconscious. Her head spun with awful scenarios, her adrenaline kicked in, she started removing her shoes, and then—

The man launched up out of the water and sucked in a painful gasp. The students behind her gasped just as loudly and one grabbed onto Charlotte’s shoulder in shock. The fallen figure lifted his arm out from his side and swung a longsword in a wide radius around himself as he choked and garbled out the water in his chest.

Charlotte slung her own arms out, as if to defend the students piled behind her. “Get back, stay back.” They did as she bade and retreated away from the pond, all the while staring in wonderment at the monster of a man.

He was hulking, seemingly covered in fur, practically growling in anger or panic or both. Finally, his wild gaze fell upon the stunned crowd and he coughed up a manic question. “Where am I?!”

“Alright…you…” Charlotte was not a fit woman. She was a stereotypical scholar and she was willing to admit it—poor eyesight, less-than-ideal posture, absolutely no upper body strength, and the coordination of a panicked cat with something stuck to its side. She realized that, for no discernible reason, she was slowly moving into a squatting position as she approached the pond once more. Steadier center of gravity? Instinctive gesture of submission? “Just…put the sword down. We can talk.”

His panting was still heavy, but his eyes were starting to focus and he looked less like a beast with each breath. He lowered the sword an inch or two—just enough to indicate that he was willing to negotiate. “Tell me where I am.”

She nodded and tried to meet his gaze, which was still wandering around. “Carolina Coast University, just outside of Garden City.”

“Garden City? I don’t know it. I warn you!” he lifted his sword again, “you will tell me the truth if you value your life.”

She stumbled back a step or two, definitely catching her heel on a rock and definitely twisting her ankle. But a man had a sword pointed at her—the pain never registered. “South Carolina.”

His eyebrows knit together in continued confusion and he drew his sword up a centimeter more. “What country is this?”

Charlotte looked around at her students, who had refused to leave. None of them seemed to understand the situation any better than she. “The United States?” She could see that he was growing frustrated.

“To the south?”

“Yes! Well, you’re not in the Deep South, per se, but we’re definitely in good ol’ Dixieland.”

Something about what she had said seemed to calm him. Maybe, at the very least, he had heard of Southern hospitality and was willing to settle for it. He looked around and finally seemed to realize that he was waist deep in a pond. He slid his sword into what she could only assume was a sheath and took tentative steps toward the bank of the water. “This land is strange to me. I fear I do not recognize any of the names.”

“Well, it’s a big world…”

“Am I still in Thedas, at least?”

Her students were muttering behind her and it was getting distracting. “Alright class, clearly, you’re dismissed…I’ll see you guys on Monday. Read the Thoreau selection.” No one moved.

“Sorry Dr. Trev, but…we’re not missing this.”

By the time she had given up trying to instruct her students, the fallen man had made it out of the pond and stood dripping on the lawn. He was not covered in fur, as it happened, but rather plate armor. The fur was just the collar of some mantle that he wore, and his beastly size seemed to be the result of a large cuirass. Emblazoned on the breastplate was a stylized eye with a sword behind it. Beneath the armor, he wore a crimson tunic and leather pants, likely the same material as his gloves. It was a convincing outfit, to be sure.

“Please, answer me. Am I in Thedas?” His searching eyes look terrified.

“No…no, I’m afraid not. I’ve never even heard of it. Is that where you’re from?” Is that where you’re from? The man had fallen out of the sky, if her students were to be believed, and she was asking him where he was from. He was delusional, more than likely, and while she had experience with that sort of thing, she was surprised by her own quickness to believe him.

He started trying to wring out the cloak behind him. “Ah, yes…well, Ferelden, more specifically. Honnleath.”

“That’s sounds English. Are you from Britain? You’ve got the accent for it.”

“I don’t know what any of that means,” he said rather plainly, peeling off his gloves and tucking them into his breastplate. “But I need to get back to Skyhold. I’m the Commander of the Inquisition, I have more responsibilities than you can imagine.”

Charlotte folded her arms across her chest at his sudden bravado. “Look, I don’t know who you are, I don’t know where you came from, I’d be happy to send you back there. But as far as I can tell, you appeared out of thin air, in full medieval costume—like, LARPing level costume—blathering on about places that don’t exist. I’m just a professor. I’m not even an Associate Professor, yet, I don’t have tenure, I don’t know what to do with any of this. Are you hurt? Oh god, if you hurt your neck, it ought to be stabilized immediately. Isn’t that a thing?” She turned to look at her students who stared like she’d begun speaking in Greek. “Or rather, I can take you to the mental health counselor across campus. Are you prone to these sorts of episodes?”

The sheer volume of questions seemed to bewilder him. “Wait, mental health?...Maker, I’m not delusional. I tripped through that blasted mirror, fell for a ludicrously long stretch of time, and landed in your tiny lake.”

One of the students that had remained behind Charlotte cleared her throat and they all turned to look at her. “It’s like Through the Looking Glass.”

“Oh right, with the caterpillar…another possibility,” Charlotte said, swiveling back to the knight. “Are you intoxicated? Drugged?”

“I’m neither, damn it. That Maker forsaken eluvian sent me here!”

“What the hell is a luvian?”

“The mirror,” he said, a quiet growl of impatience in his voice. She saw then that his face was littered with scars, most of which were faint enough to be from shaving, but one of which sliced through one side of his upper lip. There was exhaustion etched around his eyes and it both saddened and warmed her to him. “It’s some sort of artifact, some magic nonsense. I was inspecting it for safety reasons. The candle I tested it with came back fine so I was satisfied to leave things be and then—“

“Wait,” Charlotte said, cocking her head to one side. “A candle? Was it a white candle?”

“Yes, why is that relevant? Are white candles of some importance in this land?”

She laughed. She cackled, more accurately, and partially at her own surprise. “Wow, you’re telling the truth.”

“Wh—well yes, of course, I’m telling—why would I lie about this?”

Charlotte turned to her students who were more wide-eyed than ever, having also pieced the puzzle together. “You guys said you saw something white floating over the pond.” She turned back to the stranger. “They saw your candle before you fell through.”