Chapter 1: The Alienage and the Ex-Templar District
Warnings: This chapter will include mental illness, specifically about withdrawal and dementia-like symptoms.
Chapter 1: The Alienage and the Ex-Templar District
"See here, Eve? How you can feel a rounded firmness - no, use the pads of your fingers, not the tips - there, feel it now?"
Eve held her breath against the sweet smell of rot, knowing that if Nessa spotted a shudder that she would get an earful later. Gently, she edged around the work table and obediently used her fingers to locate the lump under the patient's grimy, whiskered jaw. Just to the side of a muscle was a pea-sized spongey node.
The man hissed in pain and jerked away, cupping the side of his face so just the tip of a pointed ear stuck up above his hand. "I'm so sorry," Eve sputtered, hiding her flushing face behind her long black hair and twisting her hands behind her.
"S'alright da'len," the man muttered, trying to smile but grimacing around his swollen jaw instead. "I just need to grit and bear it."
"Hmm, well, gritting will only make the tooth rot feel worse," Nessa mused. She deftly coaxed the man's mouth open and lifted a candle to illuminate the inside of his mouth. "Eve, how can we tell that it's tooth rot and not an ear infection?"
"Umm," Eve said, trying to ignore the sounds of a spirited foot race outside. It sounded like her friends from the thieves' guild were out there racing the all the alienage children. "His tonsils and ear drums aren't swollen or red, no change in his hearing, and no pus found, thank the Maker."
"And what are the cardinal signs of a localized infection, Eve?"
Eve, who was edging to the clinic door, stopped in her tracks. "I can't remember," she muttered to the dirt floor, tamping down on the guilty twinge at the lie. She curled her bare toes, hoping Nessa would just dismiss her in exasperation.
"Tsk. I taught you better than this and Maker knows I've dragged you to see more than enough infections since you showed up at my door," Nessa said imperiously. There was an undercurrent of steel beneath the wry amusement in her crisp tone.
Even surrounded by mismatched furniture and tools cobbled together from odds and ends, Nessa was regal in the daylight streaming in from a nearby window. She sat on her patched clinic stool like a shem noblewoman - no, as if she sat on the Ferelden throne, a sharp light glinting from brown eyes stamped with crow’s feet. The man dutifully held still in her hand as she surveyed her apprentice with an expectant look.
Eve straightened and crossed her arms. "And they have all been disgusting," she declared. A prickle of pride glowed in her chest - her voice hadn't wavered that time.
The man winced and Nessa pursed her lips in a disapproval. "While that was true for some - most - of them, that is not a cardinal sign and your rudeness will cost you latrine duty for the week," Nessa said coolly, boring her eyes into Eve'. "What did I tell you about treating patients, your people , with respect?"
"Oh, it's alright, she's just a child-"
"A child old enough to know better," Nessa said firmly over the man's protests, fixing Eve with a look that made her feel like a flea-infested nug.
"It'd be easier if infections and the pus weren't so gross!" Eve protested, knowing that she should shut her mouth like Nessa was always after her for, but she was right - infections were horrifying, and the smell ... she was just telling the truth.
"Well, don't get any high hopes for the future," Nessa said, "you are the child of an alienage surgeon. Your future won't be full of gold and candy. More of the pus and guts variety, I suspect."
Eve curled her little hands into fists. She was frustrated . She'd just learned that word that week and that was what she was. Frustrated of being cooped up in the same shabby clinic day after day with its never-ending line of sweating, coughing, puking patients that looped around the Vhenadal all the way to the outskirt fence penning the alienage in the city. Frustrated of standing on aching feet, as hour after hour she would hand over a tool Nessa needed to fix the patients or look at a particularly stomach-turning piece of anatomy that Nessa would present for inspection. Frustrated of having to trot at Nessa's heels as they paid house calls to particularly sick elves who would inevitably be stewing in their waste by the time they got there while the other alienage kids ran and played past them, or ran messages for extra coin from the thieves' guild. Not that she was mistreated by Nessa, not like some of the others or those who served in shem houses, but it was hard to live with the formidable woman.
Heat boiled into her cheeks and she glared as sharply as the costly scalpels Nessa used in her surgeries. Then I wish I'd been left on someone else's doorstep! Eve thought fiercely, wishing she could say it all out loud and hating how calm and expectant Nessa looked, as if she knew and it didn't matter .
A beat of silence stretched, then two. Only the somewhat muffled sounds of a crowded alienage pressed in through the thin walls as Eve glared then dropped her gaze. "Swellingheatrednesspainlimitedmovement," Eve spat out quickly. She sent a small pair of tongs skittering across the table to Nessa then bolted out the door.
Then, because she had what Nessa called ‘an unrepentant need for noseyness’, she hid around the corner. A low whistle drifted through the swinging door. "Thought for sure that she'd do something stupid and curse you til she was blue in the face," the man’s voice said. "What a fiery little troublemaker. And what spooky eyes. Must've rained and stormed the night she was born."
A short sigh followed. "Well, she was left at my door nine years ago, so I couldn't tell you," she heard Nessa say dryly, "but let it never be said that I raised a dumb bunny. Now, close your eyes, open your mouth, lay back and think of Andraste."
Evening settled down into the alienage, the dust quieting as families retreated from the deep blue shadows into the warmth of their shabby but cheerful kitchens. Eve loitered under a ratty awning, tugging the hem of her threadbare shirt higher to cover the colorful bruise she'd earned in her latest roughhousing match from her messenger friends. If only Nessa would let her out more; she'd be able to keep up with them and learn how to do more than just slip out of an attacker's grasp. She could learn to return the blows, learn how to wield a dagger with her eyes closed, slip by Nessa's watchful gaze with the stealth of a black cat. Then maybe she'd be able to join the thieves' guild one day and become one of its infamous Fangs.
She jumped when the door to the clinic opened and shielded her eyes as a bright light pierced the gloom. "Is that my loving and respectful aid?" a familiar voice drawled. "Will the Maker never cease his miracles?"
"I'm sorry," Eve blurted to the dirt without preamble. Even as she’d raced and scuffled with the other alienage kids, she’d felt guilt for leaving Nessa and the patient behind in the clinic. Nessa was the best surgeon of the alienage and deftly cared for patients too complex for apprentices, but what if she needed Eve for something? What if a kid came in with tooth rot and needed Eve’ smaller hands? She hadn’t been able to shake the guilt, even when her friends were teaching her how to dodge a flying kick. "I shouldn't've been rude to the carpenter. I didn't mean to make him feel bad. I know it's worse from a surgeon."
A thoughtful pause. "Why?"
A crimson flush flooding from the collar to the tips of his pointed ears of the bedbound patient flashed through her mind's eye, red in his chagrin and mortification. It'd been the first time Eve had felt such strong waves of nausea and pity at the same time, warring with each other until she could school her face into the semblance of calmness that Nessa wore all the time when she pretended to not notice these things. "Because," she said slowly, looking up, "we're there when people feel their worst. And they need us to help. It'd be worse to ask honestly for help when you feel weaker than nug piss and the surgeon told you to nob off because you stink."
Nessa's dark eyebrows had steadily climbed her forehead, the corners of her lips twitching. "That's- Maker's furry nut- I mean, for Maker's sake, where did you learn-" Nessa heaved in a breath then seemed to count silently to ten like she was after Eve to do. "Next time the guild kids start that talk, I want you to stuff your fingers in your ears or I will clean your mouth out with soap," Nessa threatened firmly.
Eve nodded, biting her lower lip to keep from grinning. She was about to offer to make dinner when Nessa hoisted her traveling satchel higher on her shoulder and instead blurted, "Where are you going?"
"Hmm? You know where I'm going," Nessa said absently, now adjusting her cloak and checking the oil supply in her lamp. "I go there every other week, for Maker's sake."
Eve didn't want to say anything that broke the bridge they'd just repaired, but a cold tendril of fear snaked around her insides. "You shouldn't," Eve said, "not alone. I can go with you-"
"Da'len, you are shaking in your boots - well, if you ever actually wore boots," Nessa said dryly, swinging her lamp to light the cramped alley. "Eat the stew and make sure the fire is put out by the time I am back."
"Nessi, no, I'm fine - I can do it!" Eve insisted, feeling like a baby, using her nickname for Nessa while clutching her fists against her sides and trying to stop the quivering. She knew that she was glistening with sweat in the amber lamplight and didn't care because Nessa could not go alone. "You can't go - not with those, those things . They're crazy!"
Nessa's face vanished in shadow as the lamplight swung in the breeze, obscuring her expression. But her voice sounded thoughtful when she spoke again. " That ," she murmured, "is precisely why I need to go. They may be crazy, but they gave their lives to the Chantry and that blasted dwarf dust they keep begging for. The People are not the only ones who suffer, and we have not forgotten - just as we will not forget others who suffer."
"But, but they're shems," Eve protested, rooting around her frazzled mind for a good enough reason to keep Nessa home and safe, away from the walled-off district full of emaciated wandering humans out of their mind with madness. She sometimes glimpsed their shivering, rail-thin figures hunched beyond the fence separating the grungiest streets of Denerim from the alienage, bloodshot eyes roving; their enraged shrieks and wails for lyrium scared her more than anything. "The Chantry have sisters, don't they? Can't they help? Or pay healers to?"
Tapping came from under Nessa's oiled leather work cloak, a sign of impatience. "You know as well as I that the sisters only know basic remedies," Nessa said tartly, then muttered under her breath, "wouldn't know the difference between an umbilical hernia and a pregnancy without checking the genitals, but I'm not the Revered Mother, thank the Maker." She continued in a somewhat more dignified voice, "And you know as well as I that nothing can be done for lyrium withdrawals, not even with the magic of a healer. And who has the gold to waste for a lost cause? No, better to be eased a little with some headache draughts and focusing solutions than die alone in complete agony."
She wasn't going to stop trying until Nessa stopped using that adult voice and listened to her. "But they don't care about us so why-"
"Who came and put down the abomination in the Banal'ras district last month?" Nessa interrupted.
Eve bit her lip. "Templars," she muttered, hanging her head.
"That's right. We were able to help the injured People thanks to those 'shem' templars whether or not they wanted to kiss every single elf in the alienage. Now, get back inside and not another word out of your smart mouth or I will put you to work with Cyrion."
Help Cyrion fuss over every single human, elf and dwarf that entered his house and listen to him haggle with them over things like 'trade agreements' and 'taxes'? Eve squirmed on the spot, watched Nessa take a few brisk steps down the alley, then ran to catch up before her courage ran out. "I'm coming with you," she declared, hopefully with as much conviction as her hands were shaking, "you can't talk me out of it even if I have to work for Cyrion for days."
"Is that so?" Nessa mused, lamp swinging away to reveal dark glittering eyes and a small furrow between her brows. "Even if the 'crazy' ex-templars start raving?"
"Yes," Eve said stoutly, hiding her hands behind her and summoning every ounce of determination in her nine-year-old body.
She waited on a knife's edge, trembling between wanting to go with Nessa and wanting to run inside the steamy warmth of their home until Nessa finally gave a curt nod. "Get your boots and your bag," she ordered in a tone that brooked no arguments. As Eve scurried inside to obey, she heard Nessa mutter, "and I hope your sticky-fingered friends in the guild teach you how to lie better."
Eve clopped along behind Nessa’s trailing cloak, trying not to trip on the patched leather boots that she was still growing into. The further they walked from their clinic by the vhenadal, the more cramped the dirt roads became with piles of filth and the buildings teetered higher and higher to accommodate the poorest of the alienage. Jagged bricks and hungry eyes gleamed in Nessa’s lamplight as they neared the gap-toothed fence on the outskirts of the alienage. Two tall silhouettes loitered by the posts, their armor glinting in the lamplight set behind them.
“Hello there,” Nessa called in a carefully neutral tone. Eve was suddenly struck with the need to drag Nessa home by the cloak as a distant moan carried through the blackness beyond the light. Was it too late to turn back?
“I am Nessa Surana, and this is my daughter,” Nessa continued, “we are here to help the ex-templars.”
The human closest to them peered down at them from under his helm with eyes rounder than any elf’s. “Help? Riiight… You know that the crazies don’t have anything worth stealing even for you rabbit-ears, eh?” he asked suspiciously. “They’ll have lost it or traded it for dust by now, and they’re howling at the moon tonight. Best to stick to your side of the fence-”
“Trenton, that’s the elf surgeon from two weeks ago.” Another armored human walked up and peered down at them, the lamplight throwing his acne scars in sharp relief. “You here to try and get them to shut up again? We won’t say no to that.”
“They aren’t supposed to,” a new voice interjected from behind Eve. She almost jumped into Nessa as a redheaded elf dressed in battered leathers suddenly stepped out of the shadows with a scowl. “They’re supposed to be home letting the shems take care of themselves.”
“As are you , Shianni,” Nessa said, looking unperturbed. “You’re going to worry Cyrion being out so late and I don’t need him on my doorstep first thing in the morning.”
“And who’s this?” the guard with the scars asked with his hand on his sword hilt.
“No one you need to know, shem,” Shianni sneered with a hand on her hip. At thirteen, she was four years older than Eve and starting to blossom into womanhood. The new swell of her hip emphasized the wickedly curved dagger hanging from her belt. Despite herself, Eve felt a stab of admiration at her courage against the large, towering humans.
“This is my niece,” Nessa said as she swept the youth under an arm. Eve could see Nessa’s fingertips pressing into Shianni’s shoulder tightly. “She is a demure flower who likes to keep her opinions to herself and is always polite to strangers,” Nessa continued, “because otherwise, her aunt will tell the nice guards about that time she ran through the alienage stark naked-”
“I don’t care if you do,” Shianni sputtered, flushing as red as her hair and trying to squirm out of Nessa’s grip. “And anyway, I’m only here because you shouldn’t be out alone and uncle Cyrion agrees with me-”
“Look,” the other guard interrupted, “I don’t care who you lot are or who your aunt or uncle or fourth-removed humpback is. What do you want with the crazies?”
“We want to help heal them,” Eve said when Nessa and Shianni started to argue again.
The two guards instantly took a step back and raised their shields. “What, like magically?” the scarred guard asked.
“No, thank the Maker,” Nessa answered swiftly. “None of us are apostates. We are just surgeons, seeking to help ease the old templars.”
“Well, she’s the surgeon,” Shianni said, pointing at Nessa’s bulging work bag full of draughts and surgical tools, “best one in the alienage and the brat’s her apprentice. I’m their messenger.”
The taller guard glanced at her dagger and the hard look in her eyes. “Messenger. Right. And I’m King Cailan,” he said.
“Just let them through,” the scarred guard said, elbowing his peer. “The Chantry doesn’t look out for them enough after they leave,” he muttered to the elves, “five gold bits and a thank-you doesn’t pay the bills for long or buy enough lyrium for the rest of their blighted lives. It’d be more than what the Chantry does if you could make them feel better with your potions and whatnot.”
The other guard snorted. “Softie.”
“Thank you,” Nessa said gracefully as they passed, leaving the guards to bicker with each other.
Past the fence, the dirt road occasionally winked with shards of broken glass. The muddy puddle Eve stepped in crunched oddly, and she was suddenly grateful to Nessa for insisting on her wearing boots. She didn’t fancy walking around on bleeding feet, forcing glass shards deeper and deeper into her flesh with every step. Then she’d get an infection - probably the nasty kind that turned the skin green, then black and foul until the toes shriveled and fell off… she shuddered and tried to peer beyond the small circle of light the lamp threw off instead.
Skeletal remains of burnt buildings loomed out of the darkness as they passed, broken walls yawning with shadows. Cloaks and jackets propped up on sticks lined the dirt roads as well, sometimes with feet or a hand poking out from underneath. Eve stifled a yelp when the makeshift tent they were passing emitted a high-pitched scream and immediately glued herself to Nessa’s side.
Shianni scoffed, her hand on her dagger as they passed another tent with a pair of bare feet covered in sores sticking out. “You should tuck tail and run home, bunny,” she said, “don’t know why you’re even here, not being a full surgeon or a healer to help at all…”
“Eve’s been really helpful around the clinic,” Nessa said with a warm hand on Eve’s shoulder, “and she’s mostly been good with her studies. Not so much with infections, however.”
Eve flushed a little even as her eyes jumped from tent to tent. “I wish I could heal magically,” she said, giving voice to a persistent thought she’d been having, “so I can fix everything and people won’t hurt anymore-”
“No,” Nessa interrupted. Eve flinched as her fingers turned into claws on her shoulder. “No, da’len. Be glad that you aren’t mage-touched,” Nessa continued in strained voice, “they can turn into abominations in a moment, then tear apart a building and its people in a blink.”
“I wouldn’t become an abomination if I were a mage,” Eve said indignantly. “Or use blood magic. I know better.”
“Well, thank the Maker that you aren’t touched with magic,” Shianni said, “or you’d be shipped off to a Circle, like Neria. Then you’ll vanish when the templars take you in the night, never to see the alienage again.”
“That’s enough,” Nessa said sharply. “Eve hasn’t shown a single sign of magic and that’s how it’ll stay. How else am I going to retire as an old lady? As if your uncle hasn’t enough grief with his only child gone. And enough talk of blood magic, we’re getting up to the right tent-”
A roar made all three of them jump and the lamp clattered into the mud. Shianni scrambled in front of Nessa and Eve with her rusty dagger thrust out as something erupted from the tent right next to them and roared, “BLOOD MAGIC?”
At first, Eve thought a scarecrow had been possessed and brought to life. What froze the scream in her throat was realizing that the black pits carved into the scarecrow’s haggard face were in fact sunken sockets with only a pinpricks to hint at burning, roving eyes in their depths. Greasy, matted grey locks hung around hollow cheeks and dirty skin hung in wrinkled drapes off the bones. What Eve realized to be a painfully emaciated old human staggered to his feet, waving a roughly sharpened tent pole in Shianni’s snarling face while clutching a fist to his breastbone.
“You looking… sacrifices?” he shouted, waving the stick and they all leapt back another pace. “ABOMINATIONS?”
“Hugh, no!” Nessa shouted, raising a beseeching hand toward him and holding Shianni back with the other. “My name is Nessa, do you remember me? I gave you the headache draught two weeks ago when you were feeling bad.”
Hugh jumped at his name, then swayed on his feet as he peered at them with a bloodshot eye. “Nessa?” he mumbled to himself, his fetid breath and quick, jerky movements making Eve mince a step back. “Feel bad… all th’time. All the time. Not abomination? No… not Nessa. Circle prayers start in an hour. Must ready… things. Headache… yesterday?”
“It was two weeks ago, Hugh,” Nessa said soothingly, trying to shake off Shianni and Eve as they tried to pull her back to the gate. “I brought more for you-”
Shianni and Eve cried out as Hugh suddenly dropped the stick and hauled Nessa to him by the arm. “You have it?” he asked fervently, the tip of an open sore on his nose almost touching hers, “you have the lyrium? I need my next dose, knight-captain, I’m burning on low and I found a little yesterday - day before yesterday? Monday? But it wore off fast and I got a wildfire in my head and I need it -”
“Hugh, listen to me,” Nessa coaxed and Eve could hear a note of desperation in it. Nessa threw a warning look at Shianni and continued softly, “Hugh, my name is Nessa. I’m here to help your headache. It’s in my bag - would you like some?”
Hugh swayed and blinked slowly at her as Eve discreetly scrambled to find the right potion in Nessa’s satchel. “Nessa…? Surgeon?”
“That’s right, Hugh,” Nessa said. “I have this headache draught for you. Best to drink it now.”
Hugh stared emptily at her, then relaxed his skeletal hands. He grabbed the bottle Eve offered without really looking at her and swigged down the red concoction as Shianni tugged Nessa back behind her.
“My thanks, Mother Christine,” Hugh said brightly, bouncing on the balls of his bare feet and trying to tuck his stick at his waist like a sword, seemingly unaware that he was wearing nothing but a long, holey tunic. “Best thing for a growing boy like me, need all the food I can get. All this trekking up and down the tower in full armor tires me out like nothing else. Well, maybe not as bad as drill. These mages better appreciate the view, eh?”
“I hope they did, Hugh,” Nessa murmured sadly. “You should get some rest.”
“Not a bad idea, Mother Nessa,” Hugh croaked, turning to peer up the line of makeshift tents. “My room… over here. I’ll see you at morning service. Good night, Mother.”
He bent to wrap a ratty blanket and the lamp threw a ridge of shadows down the knobs of his spine. As Hugh laid down on the dirt and made himself comfortable under the blanket, Shianni and Eve stared at each other, then at Nessa who was rapidly blinking wet eyes.
“We aren’t done yet. Come, he’s usually just along here,” Nessa said briskly, scooping up the lamp and heading past a few more tents towards a burned-down lean-to. Eve lingered, staring at Hugh’s shiny balding pate and at the small glass vial cradled in the hand laying by his whiskered chin before hurrying to catch up to Nessa and Shianni.
Nessa was crouched in the shadow of a crumbling wall with Shianni standing guard at her back. In the corner of the lean-to lay a shriveled husk on its side, even more painfully thin than Hugh. This man - who was probably an ex-templar - had sparse hair, neck and limbs stiffly bent inwards, and if it weren’t for the shallow rise and fall of his ribs Eve would have thought Nessa was paying her respects to a dead man. His crusted eyes didn’t even flutter when Nessa murmured soothingly to him, trying to coax him to swallow the drops of a draught that she’d poured into his mouth.
“Nessa,” Shianni hesitated, for once looking like a young teenager as she watched her aunt work, “I don’t think… will that even help? He looks like he’s going to…”
A muscle jumped in Nessa’s jaw as she abandoned the draught and instead tucked the patched cloak the man was curled under more firmly around him. Eve quietly kneeled beside her and helped. “Yes, he is on his way to the Maker,” Nessa agreed.
“Then why bother?”
“Because no one should die alone like this,” Nessa said. “The Chantry uses up their youth and dedication, then kicks them out when they can’t keep the delirium at bay. You saw Hugh - and you’ll see more, here. They all end up here eventually, without a copper to their name and begging for the demon dust even if it’s what got them to this stage in the first place.”
“Don’t the sisters come here?” Shianni persisted. “They should help-”
“But they don’t,” Nessa said, her voice laced with contempt. She laid a soothing hand on the man’s shriveled fist, the skin covered in old scars. “The withdrawal leeches at their sanity. They forget the most recent events first… how they got here, where they are, where they pawned their sword. Then they forget people - family, if they ever had one. Then their name. Then they forget how to walk, talk… how to eat or drink. Sometimes they remember certain things, but once they forget how to do bodily things… it isn’t long, after that.”
Eve’s eyes burned and she choked down a shuddering breath, patting the man’s cool skin unseeingly. She swiped at her eyes and was surprised to see Nessa watching her, a warm light in her own. “Do you see, da’len?” Nessa asked. “This is… we can’t leave others to a fate like this. Even if they don’t have pointed ears. It’s never a competition to see who has it worse… we must help, if we can.”
Watching the man gasp shallowly through chapped lips, Eve couldn’t help but agree.
Chapter 2: Alienage Reality Check
Note: hey lovely readers! Again, thank you to everyone who left a kudo! I'm playing around with medical knowledge in this chapter and future chapters, so if you have any questions please do not hesitate to leave a review or shoot me a DM with your question/comment. Otherwise, please R&R =)
Also, Cullen will be making an appearance soon. Not saying when, just... soon. =)
A big thank you to my fanfiction writing group! You're all amazing!
Warnings: blood, violence, attempted murder
Chapter 2: Alienage Reality Check
Eve tried to focus and shake off the grip of sleep, her bones leaden with exhaustion. If only things would stop smearing into hazes of color; orange light gilded everything with a hypnotic blaze, like that ear covered in black warts that was strangely looming closer and closer...
A sharp flick on the point of her own ear made her lurch back with a yelp. Maker's pustulated gronk, that hurt! Eve ground down on her reflexes, her body remembering that she held a scalpel in her hand even if her mind was asleep. She caught the side-eyed glare from Nessa, her profile fiery in the evening sun streaming in from the third storey window. The bedroom was cramped, only barely accommodating a straw mattress on the floor and a chair. A ratty rug did little to hide the rough slats that made the floor, through which Eve could see the rooms of the floor below. Eve shuddered away from the reminder that they were three storeys up in one of the most rickity buildings in the alienage and refocused on her task.
"...and I wake up drenched at night, coughing my head off worse than my mother," the patient complained between rattling breaths. " I... I hope it is just a stubborn cold. It's been going around in the district. I have to get back to the shem's estate gardens and start work again tomorrow."
Eve got back to work as Nessa nodded, her eyes bright above the muslin mask swaddled over her mouth and nose. "Well, that may be out of the question for now," she said gently, "you are barely able to get out of bed and your lungs are much too wet. Your husband can take care of things for a few days."
"No, they are short of work at the farm at least for the next week and we are beggaring ourselves as it is," the patient said, wincing as Eve delicately cut off a wart. "We have three children. I must get back on my feet soon. Are you sure this isn't just a cold?" she asked hopefully.
"Well, your symptoms are very general-"
The diagnosis popped out of Eve's mouth without thought. "Consumption."
The patient jumped a little under Eve's hand at her statement and too late, Eve caught Nessa's warning look. "Con- consumption?" the patient asked, a touch of dread in her voice.
Eve grimaced at Nessa's pointed look. Too late to take it back now. "Yes, serah," Eve said warily, holding her bloody scalpel still, "you have consumption. It's not uncommon for it to travel through crowded places, especially in the alienage-"
"Consumption," the patient repeated in a determinedly calm voice. "Like... what my mother had?"
Nessa was glaring at Eve now. "Most likely," Nessa said, gentling her tone while addressing the patient. Eldrina, Eve's tired brain belatedly remembered, mother of three who has an elderly mother with consumption that she and Nessa visited every month. Maker, as if having these warts that would spread if left unchecked weren't bad enough... "It is easy for it to pass to others who share the same space often," Nessa said, taking Eldrina's trembling hand in her own, "but you know that it is livable. Your mother has had it for years and she manages with the coughing and fever draughts when it recurs. It need not be dire."
"How can you be sure?" Eldrina demanded, voice rising between hacking coughs. Gobs of spit and mucus landed on Nessa's oiled leather work tunic. "It's just a little coughing! It killed our neighbor - I need more proof before you sentence me to a slow death!"
This time, Eve bit her tongue without having to meet Nessa's glare. As much as she believed that everyone should know the truth, especially about their own health, giving the news now wouldn't help Eldrina accept it. And Nessa's glare promised consequences, so she kept her mouth shut.
Never mind that the truth was right there, waiting to be seen. Recently, Eve had discovered that all she had to do was close her eyes, find the singing thread that lived inside her and flex it a certain way, and open her eyes to see things in other people. Like the cluster of what looked like boggy, soft eggshells beginning to crust the bottom of Eldrina's lungs - every single person who had consumption had lungs that looked like that, on top of the night sweats and common cold symptoms. But Eldrina didn't seem ready to hear it.
Instead, she said, "I may be mistaken, serah Eldrina. I am but an apprentice and still learning."
Eldrina finally stopped fretting in her seat. "You are young. Only thirteen, if I am not mistaken," she said stiffly. "There is much for you to learn. But, I have heard of your... keen awareness, from others. Nessa must be teaching you well."
"She is a thorough teacher," Eve said quietly, resolving to keep her mouth shut for the rest of the home visit so she didn't spook the nervous mother. "Please keep still, I am almost finished here." With sure deftness, her scalpel darted quickly, cutting the last of the black warts dotting Eldrina's left ear, warts that had tripled in size since their last visit. She was so focused that she didn't notice the queer look Nessa gave her.
"Well, I have your cough draughts here Eldrina," Nessa said smoothly, fishing corked bottles of green liquid out of her work satchel and lining them up on the floor next to the meager straw mattress. "And some extra for your mother. I'd like to check her over before we leave since it's been a month since we last saw her and I'd like to listen to her lungs again-"
"Oh, no that's not necessary," Eldrina interrupted hurriedly, pressing a grey rag to her ear to staunch the bleeding. Interestingly, the un-pocked parts were blushing a bright red. "She is dead - er, she died. Last week. Of- of consumption."
Both Nessa and Eve stilled. Eve remembered that they hadn't seen the kind, doughy grandmother in a couple months. "My deepest condolences," Nessa said softly.
Eldrina nodded, her greying hair swinging forward to hide her lined face. "Thank you," she said curtly, "it... it was her time."
There wasn't much to say after that and Eldrina didn't seem to relish prolonging the home visit, so Eve wrapped up her tools in her satchel quickly as Nessa started tallying the total for their services.
"My husband should have your coin, Nessa. He'll be down by the entrance waiting for word from the farms."
Nessa thanked her and gave Eve a telling look on her way out the bedroom. Eve nodded - she knew what her duties were by now, after three years of seriously undertaking surgeries and responsibilities at Nessa's clinic.
"Ser, I'll help you to your bed," Eve offered. After she'd helped Eldrina into her bed with a little struggle - Eve was still rather small and slight at thirteen years old - she slipped out of the bedroom onto the landing.
Leaning against the wall, Eve sighed and rested her eyes, mindful not to fall down the long flight of stairs leading down to the second floor. Muffled domestic sounds and the smell of home cooking floated through thin walls, attesting to the numerous families living cheek-by-jowl in this grey building, little better than a lean-to that had shot up with each family forced to its door. Maker, she felt little more than overwhelming pity every time she stepped foot in the Banal'ras district with Nessa, the district holding the poorest elves in Denerim who had nowhere else to go.
Eve wished she and Nessa were home already. Maker, it had been a long day - this was the fourth day where they had got up to work before dawn to help the people in the Banal'ras and Vunen'vallas district with a sickness that was sweeping through the alienage. Most patients had a cold or a stomach bug, thank the Maker, but here and there had been more serious things and Nessa had kept her working and practicing her skills until her eyes felt like crossing from the fatigue-
"-don't see how you're charging so much for picking skin off," a rough voice complained in a rare lull in the building.
Eve could hear tension in Nessa's voice as she answered. "Serah, if left alone those lesions would have multiplied and grown roots deep in her skin then turned raw-"
"Then if it were so bloody serious, why have the kid do the work-"
"-the kid is my apprentice and has completed one hundred and three surgeries in the last three years-"
"-then I'd like an apprentice-discount-"
That was her cue to hurry to Nessa and subtly encourage the irate husband to pay so they could leave. Eve had learned long ago that the least pleasant interaction between surgeon and patient was not the assorted sights and smells of sickness or getting puked on, but negotiating payment for important supplies or procedures that the family suddenly deemed trivial and certainly not worth their hard-earned coin. Eve always had to bite her tongue from pointing out that the amount would be far higher without the discount that Nessa handed out indiscriminately to the point where they barely turned a profit.
Keeping her eyes on her boots, Eve carefully climbed down to the second floor landing and was about to climb down to the first floor when something tugged at her inner thread.
Instead of climbing down, Eve turned left tightly on the landing and peered down the hallway leading to someone else's quarters. No, the tugging didn't come from there… it came from…
There was a small door under the stairs. Unlatching it, she blinked at the gloom inside the cupboard then almost gagged at the sour smell. Swallowing a retch, she almost backed away until she spotted a pair of wizened feet curled in the dark, then heard a thin moan.
"H-hello? Ser?" Eve asked uncertainly. Why was this person hiding here? Maybe this was someone's very cheap living quarters - was she intruding? But the latch was on the outside…
Pushing the disturbing thought aside, she waited a breath for a reply, and when none came she crouched low and poked a foot. Still nothing. "Ser, I'm coming in," Eve announced quietly, "I just want to make sure you're alright." Eve carefully sidled into the cupboard without jostling the person. Maker, it was dark - but she could just make out a slight elf curled on her side, white hair disheveled over her wrinkly face, skin sagging where flesh should have filled it out.
She knew that face. "Gertrude?" Eve said, laying her hand gently on Eldrina's mother's shoulder, "what are you doing under here?"
Gertrude shivered, her shoulder little more than bone under Eve's hand and moaned again. Splotches of something dark - mud? - smeared her seamed skin except it smelled like rust when she tried to clean it off-
Eve froze, then swore and twisted her vision. Cracks like starbursts etched Gertrude's skull, the neck of her thigh bone was broken clean through, blood was slowly pumping out from torn arteries and veins from swollen tissue and cut skin-
"Eve! Maker, what's taking you so long, girl?"
A second later, Nessa's harried face and curly hair was framed by the cupboard door. "You just left me with the nattering- Maker, what did I tell you about poking your nose into things-?"
"Nessa, it's Gertrude, Eldrina's mother," Eve whispered quickly even though Gertrude didn't seem able to hear anything, "she's badly hurt. Left skull fracture with moderate bleeding, femur broken with some swelling in her pelvis - I think her nerve is damaged; her heart and breaths are slow. She's unconscious, can't get a response from her. I think she fell down the stairs but I don't know how she got in here with these injuries."
Nessa's silhouette stilled, then she swore under her breath. "I didn't - I'd hoped that they hadn't - sweet Maker. Get out, I'll stay with her while you get the guard-"
The city guard? Eve wondered. Why would they need-?
Nessa yelped as a larger silhouette pushed her over. "You'll do no such thing," a man's voice said softly while Eve scrambled to get out of the cupboard. "Just forget you saw this, alright?"
Eve stepped out onto the landing just as Nessa found her feet and shoved Eve behind her. "How could you?" Nessa squawked, outraged, "your own mother in law! You wait til Eldrina hears of this-"
A mirthless grin crossed the man's face, who Eve recognized to be Eldrina's farm-working husband. "You think she'd be bothered by it?" he asked, keeping his voice low with a glance down the hall. "Her mother, coughing every other night and spitting up blood and demanding this and that every week with coin we don't got? Having to pay you cutthroat shams every month even though the potions never fixed her? Eldrina will breathe easier when she won't have to worry about that hole in our purse anymore."
"You can't just kill family when they can't work any longer," Nessa spat as Eve' blood ran ice-cold. "She raised your wife and did the same for your little ones while you were working. If you were having trouble with payments, you could have appealed to Cyrion-"
"Cyrion," he snorted, "with his 'united People', then forgetting about us the second a shem gives him a sob story, then he sends help their way and where are we now? Didn't throw a copper my way last time-"
"He isn't a fool like you," Nessa snapped, "maybe if you'd spent coin on your family instead of at the gambling den he would have helped you again-"
The slap echoed in the landing and Eve squeaked as Nessa was knocked sideways into the wall then slumped to the floor. The man was no longer smiling; his tired face was suddenly a paroxysm of rage.
"I've had enough of you quacks," the farmhand spat, raising a booted foot to stamp down on Nessa's ribs, "better to rid the world of useless leeches like you and Gertrude, bleeding us dry-"
The farmhand fell down the stairs with a shout when Eve shoved him before his boot could stamp down. Feeling equally triumphant and scared, Eve hurried to Nessa's side and tried to ignore the pounding in her head. The crashing roused Nessa as a bar of light pierced the gloomy landing.
"Ser! Help us," Eve beseeched the woman peering through the hall door, heart pounding in her ears as she tried to help Nessa to her feet. Nessa groaned and shook her head of greying curls and Eve was struck with the realization that Nessa wasn't as young as she used to be, and her heart tightened with fear. "He pushed his mother in law down the stairs and we need someone to call the guard-"
The door closed with a snap, then rattled as if something were shoved under the handle to reinforce it. For a second, Eve was speechless. "How could they-? They're just going to ignore us?" she exclaimed, indignant.
Nessa winced, rubbing her reddened cheek as she swayed on her feet. "Never underestimate a fool's fear," she muttered to Eve as she grabbed her apprentice's cloak and pulled her to the stairs. "They're scared of getting involved and somehow blamed. No one wants to get on the bad side of the city guard, and those neighbors had an old uncle fall down the stairs and die three months ago."
"Was it - did they kill him?"
"It's not rare when money is tight and the family can't work anymore," Nessa said bitterly as they hurried down the narrow staircase. She gave Eve a sympathetic look when she saw her shock. "They'd rather pay a one-time undertaker fee rather than send for a surgeon every month. Remember the patient with the faulty heart in the Vened'has district? His head was definitely hit, but probably not on a table end like his granddaughter claims-"
Eve blanched and almost stumbled on the creaking steps. People - her people - just killed each other? Over the pittances that Nessa charged? Disbelief gave way to hot anger as she remembered Eldrina's peculiar comment and realized that the wife was in on it too. She couldn't fathom pushing Nessa down the stairs when she eventually got too old to hold a scalpel anymore, not to the woman who had taken her in and taught her everything she knew and more. The pounding in Eve's head was building into a roiling storm, mixing everything up inside her with a roar, even the singing thread-
They rounded a corner - the door leading to the alley was right there - when a shadow blocked their way. The farmhand was winding his arm back for another punch and Eve darted under the arm Nessa had thrown out to protect her; there was no room for fear around the need to hurt him back and suddenly he was flying through the gloom from her punch, dust showering him as he hit the wall with a crack. Eve didn't bother to see if he was hurt, she grabbed Nessa and hustled her out into the alley.
The sun had set behind the grey thunderheads hanging low in the dark sky, bellies swollen with rain. Eve followed Nessa, cloaks flapping behind them as they cut through the thick humid air to the end of the alley and Eve was the first to leap through one of the large gaps in the fence. The dirt road lined with the burnt skeletons of old buildings and makeshift tents was surprisingly quiet, and the hurricane of voices in her head quieted at the familiar sight of the ex-templar district; she was back in familiar territory, territory that was usually filled with roving raving human patients, but familiar nonetheless. She knew where each nook and hidey hole was, knew that the guard tower was on the other side of the district and it'd only take them a few minutes at a flat run to reach it-
A sharp cry froze her in her tracks. Panting, she wheeled around and saw two figures by the fence - Nessa was yelling and trying to squirm out from the farmhand's grip on her hair.
"I can't let you get the guard," the farmhand shouted over Nessa's enraged screeches. "The shems won't care about an old elf who fell down the stairs. I'll let you go if you promise not to get them-"
"You tried to kill your mother in law!" Nessa yelled, trying to claw at his face. "That's murder-"
"Doesn't matter, she's dead by now," he grunted as he caught one of her flailing fists, "if the shems find out, I won't be allowed back on their farm and then who'll work-"
He cried out as Eve slipped up behind him and broke his grip on Nessa with all the strength she had in her fist. He backed up to the fence with a bellow of pain and bewilderment, cradling his left forearm which was now clearly bent the wrong way and bleeding from four long lacerations. How had she done that?
"They'll listen to us when we tell them what we saw," Eve said, her voice steady even as the storm pitched and raged inside her head. "We'll tell them about the skull and femur fracture, about the bleeding, even about the two older fractures - you tried to kill her before, didn't you? In the last month after our last visit - she was in agony, you monster, they didn't heal right and that rib was piercing her lung for weeks-"
Color was draining from the farmhand's tanned face as he gaped down at her, but it was Nessa who spoke. "Eve," she said quietly as she nudged Eve away from the farmhand, "how could you know?"
"Don't - don't you know?" Eve asked, confused but letting Nessa shove her further up the street. "You can see if a bone is broken or if it healed crooked-"
Nessa shook her head, her curly hair glimmering in the distant flashes of lightning. "It takes years of practice, da'len. It's hard to find old breaks if they healed, even crookedly, and rib fractures can be very deceptive-"
"What does it matter?" Eve interrupted impatiently, never taking her eyes off the farmhand, "there are people like him who do that to their own family-"
"And how do you expect us to feed our families, our children, if we have to keep paying surgeons for family that don't bring coin in?" the farmhand spat, jerking away from the fence. "We barely have enough to get by, we're already in debt and I'll be damned if I have to turn my family out on the streets for potions that don't fix things for good. Your head's crammed up Andraste's blessed arse if you think there's a perfect solution to everything - what we did is normal! Normal in the alienage!"
"That doesn't make it right," Eve spat, trying to get around Nessa's arm to try and hurt him as much as he deserved, "and if it's so normal, will you do the same for your wife when she can't work anymore?"
"What do you mean?" the farmhand asked, looming closer but for the first time he sounded nervous.
Eve hesitated. She'd never broken news about a patient's health with vengeance in her heart - with the intent of hurting someone else with it. But then she remembered Gertrude, broken and alone, curled under the staircase and Nessa crumpled on the landing as the boot came down and her anger rallied.
"Your wife has consumption," Eve jeered over Nessa's attempts to shush her, and she felt a thrill of savage satisfaction at the farmhand's shock at the karmic revelation, "she'll need regular checkups too, and-"
Suddenly, Nessa's curls obscured her vision just as the farmhand swung his fist. A crack reverberated through the bones of her skull as the back of Nessa's head collided with Eve' nose. Tears of pain sprung into her eyes as she toppled backwards into the squelching mud, squeaking out a breathless yelp when Nessa landed on top of her.
Something was wrong. Wriggling out from under the dead weight (that wasn't right), Eve peered blearily down at Nessa's empty eyes (something's wrong), blankly reflecting a flash of lightning. She was so pale and still in the mud (wrongwrongwrong).
"Nessa? Nessa!" Eve squeaked through aching ribs. She scrambled to her knees and clumsily smoothed a curl away from Nessa's pale face and her hand came away black with hot blood.
Someone - the farmhand, she realized - boxed both her ears. Eve yelped in eye-watering pain and confusion, dazed as she was roughly hauled to her feet by her hair, made all the more painful as she squirmed, trying to get back to Nessa to make sure she was alright, that she was just knocked breathless from the fall and nothing more serious until a muscled arm wrapped around her neck and unrelentingly pressed against her throat.
"You're lying, you little lying shit," the farmhand growled between pants, "lying's what you do, isn't it? Lying to winkle us out of more money to treat imaginary sicknesses and giving us potions and teas that don't work to bleed us dry, that's what you do to honest folk; be doing us all a favor, getting rid of your kind-"
The world was dimming as Eve struggled wildly, trying to focus even as her head spun as she fought to choke in a gasp of air. A cool side of her brain noted that she was experiencing the effects of air deprivation, that she will use up all the air in her struggles and become light headed enough to not notice when she slipped into unconsciousness and died with a swollen throat ringed with blue bruises when her body was found. Another side of her brain was only focused on getting to Nessa,insisting on making sure she was alright and only shocked by the fall and that she must be getting back on her feet by now but needed to see it for herself. The loudest part of herself was screaming, yelling at her to do something more than weakly flail at the dimming sky. That part found the singing thread in the mental maelstrom, seized it as a fork of lightning seared the sky and demanded that it do something-
The sky cracked and white light burned the world and singed her vision. Pain roared fleetingly and then her mind was empty, empty of anything but searing agony, almost empty of all sense, but the shadows were pressing in again, the whiteness flickering until it slowly vanished.
Eve opened her eyes and wondered if she was blind. She slowly realized that she was staring up at the dark underbellies of the clouds as rain silently prickled her skin. Could she move? Her muscles spasmed as she shuddered in racking gasps and she found that she painfully could.
She'd been lying on something. With trouble, she peered down at it until her mind recoiled; that couldn't be a charred mouth frozen in a silent scream, but the ivory glint of teeth proved her otherwise. She flung herself away from the body smoking gently in the rain, scraping her hands on the scorched furrows of mud dried around her and retched, trying to get the sticky smell of burnt flesh out from the back of her swollen throat.
She'd scrambled far enough away from the charred remains of the farmhand that she bumped into something else. Nessa's vacant face was chalk-pale against the churned mud darkened by the halo of blood, black in the lightning flashes. She didn't so much as twitch when Eve pinched the pressure point by her neck. Slowly, Eve realized that it wasn't her vision, her mind or the cold rain that was hiding Nessa's breaths and her pulse - she had none.
"Nessa?" she asked dumbly. She didn't know what to do. Vaguely she remembered that when a patient stopped breathing, she and Nessa would usually try to force a few breaths down the throat and then inevitably sent a street urchin for the undertaker. But this was Nessa.
Eve reached for her - somehow she had to touch her, hold her - perhaps it would bring her back, erase everything that happened that night - and noticed too late that the white flickering wasn't her vision, but thin streaks of lightning arcing around her arms. She heard herself yell in fear and flinched back when Nessa twisted upwards after Eve' palms touched her torso. And then her chest rose. And again. And again. Her breaths were hoarse and shallow, shallower with each gasp.
Curiously, Eve knew what to do. (She was so far beyond disbelief at the turn of events of that night; perhaps this was a hallucination from the lack of sleep these past four days; perhaps she was dreaming). Confidently, she found that keening song just outside of her hearing, felt for it - then opened it like a curtain.
A glowing ball of light shimmered into being, shedding deep blue light on Nessa's unnaturally still body. Eve commanded the spirit to mend her, to mend them both but to leave the woodcutter to his fate and with her inner vision, fractures mended and the bleeding stopped as arteries knit themselves together. Nessa's frazzled, uncoordinated heart began to pump slowly and in unison.
Nessa sat up with rosy cheeks, brown eyes bright and vibrant, smile radiating warmth and beaming with pride because she'd done it, she was the best surgeon, she was the best in the alienage-
"This is all as sweet as Andraste's fuzzy dimpled peach, but I'd rather you stop before I vomit."
Warnings for this chapter: none beyond the usual.
Chapter 3: Harrowing
"This is all as sweet as Andraste's fuzzy dimpled peach, but I'd rather you stop before I vomit," Eve said.
A rumbling laugh echoed through the alley as everything froze; even the raindrops hung suspended in the air like glittering crystals. "What's the matter, mageling?" Nessa asked in a cavernous and commanding voice much too large for her slim body. "Is this not how it happened?"
Cold mud squelched under her boots as Eve recoiled from Nessa's open arms and scrambled to her feet, shivering. Beneath the horror, she marveled at each freckle dusting Nessa's high cheeks, creamy skin rosy from the flush mantling her lightly lined face. She looked as perfect as Eve remembered her. It had even got Nessa's eyes right - the exact shade of sunlit chestnuts in autumn that sometimes glimmered with what Eve was sure was pride whenever she had completed a particularly difficult surgery or draught.
Eve drank in Nessa's face greedily even as her insides wrenched at the reminder that she hadn't seen the real Nessa in over five years. Ever since this night, when she'd been shipped off to the Circle Tower in Kinloch Hold.
Kinloch Hold. She was in the Tower. She'd been told to lie still and quiet on the cold marble slab as templars cinched the worn leather restraints tight around her wrists and ankles. To make the Harrowing safer, First Enchanter Irving had said. But he'd meant safer for the templars when they have to execute you if you become an abomination. And then she'd left her anxiety and fear behind as her mind and body sung with the heady potency from the largest draught of lyrium she'd ever drunk. The stained glass window of the Harrowing chamber had swirled like a kaleidoscope as euphoria bubbled and then she'd somehow found herself standing in Eldrina's cramped bedroom with a scalpel in hand, which meant-
"This is my memory, isn't it?" Eve said bluntly, squashing down a twinge of fear, "you got most of it right, but you got a little ham-handed with the warm fuzzies. This isn't real."
"Ah, but it is as real as you want it to be in the Fade, da'len," the thing wearing Nessa's face crooned. "And I can make it real. I can make it all nice."
Eve crossed her arms even though she couldn't feel the damp chill in the alley anymore. She needed to stop shaking. She needed to be careful. "Oh, it would've been nice if it had happened like this," she said lightly, "but who gets what they wish for in life? It's bad for moral character. Perfect mental and emotional health is overrated, just ask the Hero of Ferelden."
Nessa's head tilted up to stare into Eve' face, the rest of her body still frozen in an open embrace tauntingly. "But you should be proud, mageling," the demon - for it must be a demon - rumbled with narrowed eyes, "you did fix her. Fixed her better than you fixed yourself. Look at you."
Suddenly the acrid smell was back. Eve gasped at the pain searing from under her left eye to her scalp and down to the tips of her left fingers. She knew without looking that the lightning strike that had killed the farmhand had also singed her shiny black hair off and laced smoldering burns down her neck and body that would never heal perfectly in the next four years.
"I didn't fix anything," Eve bit out through her teeth, "the spirit healed us. Empathy healed us out of kindness when I asked it for help. For Nessa. Not for me."
The demon tsked. "That spirit was foolish and unimaginative," it chided, "I would have healed you whole, healed you so your skin was perfect and your arm didn't ache on cold nights. I would have healed your scalp so your hair grew back as black as the night instead of white. I would have healed the rift between you and Nessa so you'd be talking now, fixing wounds for your true people in the alienage instead of your solitude in the Circle, waiting for replies to your unanswered letters."
That hurt. How did it know?
Eve pushed that aside. The Fade was reflecting her mind; as horrifying as the thought was, perhaps it had poked around her head just like how it had conjured this memory. It had somehow delved into her past and found something she craved - power to fix everything, to heal everything. But she could never blindly grasp for such power, not after learning the bitter truths of alienage life and its people. It was almost like…
"You're a pride demon, aren't you?" Eve said slowly even while sincerely hoping she was wrong.
The demon dipped into a graceful bow from the waist up. "At your service, da'len."
Sweat broke out on her temples and Eve scrambled to remember what she'd read about them in the library during her feverish scramble to prepare for her Harrowing. Pride demons were exceedingly clever, which was not good, and used the victim's talents against them so they unwittingly fooled themselves, which was really, really bad.
Eve might be smart for an seventeen year old, but she wasn't fool enough to think she could outwit a demon whose purpose it was to use a person's best skills against themselves. With a sinking heart, she remembered that pride demons were also extremely powerful and highly resistant to magical attacks. This was the worst demon that could have been summoned for her Harrowing; all the apprentices dreaded it and instead hoped for an exceedingly lazy sloth demon instead. She was really, stinkingly, proverbially screwed and not in the fun way, damnit.
She blinked as Nessa's warm, soft hand cradled her cheek. "What do you say, da'len?" she asked in Nessa's low voice, and it took a second for Eve to remember that a demon wore her family's face, "don't you want to help me? To help the alienage? Don't you want the power to fix everything?"
Clenching her hands made the charred burn split and drip blood down her left fist. Her heart ached for it, hungered for the temptation the demon laid at her feet. But power wouldn't fix everything. Power to heal the most complex and dangerous illnesses wouldn't heal the poverty and injustices in the alienage, despite the rumors that Neria had named Cyrion as the newfound bann of the Denerim alienage after the blight two years ago. Brute power wouldn't heal the rift between mages and non-mages, between elves and humans, between elves and elves. No enticement of power could strip her of knowing that power alone could fix everything. It should have sent a desire demon instead.
But she was trapped in the Fade. Time was ticking in the Harrowing chamber, and there had been frantic rumors that if apprentices took too long, they were killed before they could be possessed. How long was that window of time and had she passed it? She couldn't get a sense of how long she'd been in here. And what had the demon said? Things were only as real as she could make them in the Fade. That included memories, emotions, magic… what about non-magic? And since it was trapping her in her memory…
"I just want the truth," Eve said with as much conviction as she could muster.
It frowned with Nessa's plum lips. "You do want power, you're just not admitting it to yourself, da'len," it said with a small edge of disapproval in its silky rumble. "More power would've saved your messenger friend from that brain bleed. More power would've saved Gertrude, dying alone and ignored under the stairs. More power would've shown Nessa what a gifted surgeon and healer you'd be, the pride of the alienage, her best apprentice-"
Her fist shot out and cracked against Nessa's jaw before she'd realized it. The brief bloom of satisfaction died as the demon turned back to stare at her with Nessa's face empty of all fascimile of emotion, its eyes empty and terrible.
"You want the sordid truth of your small life?" it hissed. "Have it."
A thunderclap later Nessa was lying flat in the mud, her arms askew as the cool rain pelted down into her open, blank eyes. Eve shuddered, the water pooling in her raw burns and stinging her wounds as she peered around through the rain. No light shimmered into being, no ex-templars pelted out of a skeletal shack, no elves peered through the gapped fence. Perhaps the memory wouldn't move forward without her playing along - which was exactly what she needed. Her escape from the Fade counted on believing that this memory was reality.
Looking at Nessa - the demon? No, Nessa - it wasn't hard to take a deep breath and sink back into how she'd felt five years ago. She was alone in a forgotten muddy corner in the ex-templar district, kneeling in a puddle by her only family with tendrils of lightning licking up and down her arm in supreme uselessness. She was caught between the screaming need to do something and the clammy certainty that she had absolutely no idea what to do. She could see that Nessa's heart was frazzled, spasming erratically, the blood settling in arteries and veins instead of being shunted to where it needed to go.
Five years ago, she'd grabbed Nessa in her shock and grief, so Eve seized the front of Nessa's soaked robes. She cried out as Nessa's torso arched as lightning whipped down Eve's arms, through her hands and traveled through Nessa's heart. Overjoyed, she watched it beat with strength and synchrony for a few beats, then slouch into a jitters again. Panic tightened her throat as she tried again and again to shock Nessa's heart back into working order and failed again and again.
Nessa's chalky face blurred as the rain and tears obscured her vision and the air raked her throat as she sobbed, knowing that if Nessa didn't get air to her brain soon that she'd die in the dirt.
"Some - SOMEBODY. HELP. PLEASE," she shouted up at the clouds. She grit her teeth and swallowed back a sob, then two, then three, straining to hear the faint footsteps of the people surely rushing to help the one surgeon who had helped them through childbirth and plagues and fires and held their hand as they died.
But there was only the steady drumming of rain.
Her hands were tight, numb claws in the lining of Nessa's favorite blue robes, slowly staining black from the burns furrowed in her left hand. And despite the bolt of lightning that had killed the farmhand and disfigured her, Eve found that singing thread because she could not leave Nessa and had no other choice but to pluck it again and beg please.
This time, instead of the sky splitting open, something opened inside her.
A gentle presence nudged around curiously in her mind. Her fleeting impression was that it was strange but benign and after a moment of panicking about how to talk to it, Eve just concentrated on her guilt, grief and worry for Nessa and desperately asked please.
The presence jerked still and looked through her eyes. Then it grasped her singing thread and yanked.
The thread glittered pale blue in her vision as it shot down her arm and Eve scrambled to lay her hand on Nessa's bare skin, instinctively knowing that she needed bare contact. The threads wove through her fingertips and channeled down through Nessa's arteries until they coalesced in a glowing web in Nessa's heart and her skull. Eve couldn't keep up with each repair that was happening, she only knew that once the threads pulled back, Nessa's heart was pumping strongly and in unison, pushing blood up to her brain nestled in a whole and unbroken skull and she was finally, finally breathing.
Eve could hardly believe it. She watched Nessa’s chest rise and fall, hardly noticing how the presence felt tired and was starting to fade as the threads whipped back up her fingers and up her arms. But she definitely noticed when the thread lashed back into her core and violently flared.
The bellow echoed off the crumbling buildings as a skeletal figure staggered from out beneath a tent. Maker’s furry coin purse - the ex-templar, for it could only be an ex-templar sleeping in these parts, threw and broke a small glass bottle at his feet and wiped his mouth with the back of his mouth as he raced towards her with an enraged cry.
Eve tried to throttle the wildly flaring thread which was now a fountain spouting from an inexplicable wellspring inside her, and simultaneously threw up a beseeching hand. “No, I’m not-” the rest of her shout morphed in a horrified gasp as blood spurted from four long slashes that suddenly raked across the man’s ribs out of thin air. Had she done that?
He roared like a wounded boar and charged, brandishing open palms that glowed pearly in the downpour and suddenly she was slammed back, her teeth clacking as she hit the rough fence. The ache in her head was nothing compared to the bone-dragging sense that something was leeching at her, relentlessly strangling the fountain until she was breathless, sleep dragging at her eyelids and nausea roiling up her stomach. Maker, she was drowning in a soundless sea, the fountain nothing but a faint thread glimmering deep inside her. The ex-templar, Nessa, the alleyway - everything was fading to black and distantly she could feel the demon's incandescent fury because she was leaving, she was escaping the Fade because her plan had actually worked-
With a gasp, Eve wrenched her eyes open and blinked. Colorful rays of light lanced down through the circular window above her, dazzling her vision. She blinked, slowly recognizing Andraste's beatific face captured in glass. She wasn't in the ex-templar district. Disoriented, she remembered the stained glass from when the templars had strapped her down to the marble platform for her Harrowing-
"Stand down!" a deep voice shouted.
Rosy light glinted off a naked blade as it flashed overhead. Eve shouted in surprise and futilely wrenched at the bindings tying her down to the marble slab as two templars fought an arm's length from her, bellows mingling to create an echoing, confusing din in the chamber. What was happening? She had to get off this icy executioner's block-
Too late, she glimpsed the sword swing overhead before hot agony bit into her arm. She screamed and yanked her hand out of the mangled leather buckle, surprised at how real it felt, how shockingly crimson the blood was as it gushed down from the deep slash below her wrist and stained her Circle robe.
"-is an abomination and I WILL NOT ALLOW IT!" a harried voice bawled nearby.
There was no time to think. She screamed as a templar in full armor suddenly lurched over her with his sword aimed at her heart and her magic roared to her fingertips in her favorite Force spell that knocked the templar back with an almighty crash.
"I am ordering you to stand down or Maker save your hide!" the other templar shouted, shoving the fallen templar back away from the table Eve was strapped on.
Her spell had knocked his helmet off and one of her Force claws had found its mark to score a deep, bloody cut up through his lip, through his unkempt beard to stop just below his right eye. A fanatic light burned in his bloodshot glare, his visage tightened into hate-filled snarl as he tried to dodge around the defending templar to get back at her like a rabid dog.
Recognition clicked into place as Empathy perked up in her head. He was that templar that all the mages whispered about, the sternly handsome one that even the senior enchanters tiptoed around. She'd heard that he whipped out harsh repercussions for the smallest of transgressions, a fact which terrified all the apprentices and made them scuttle up a different path whenever they glimpsed him in the hallways.
Empathy was urging her to feel his pain, to feel the hurt and fear that the spirit could feel throbbing off of him in waves. Eve steadfastly refused and kept the insistent spirit at bay. Andraste's girdles, he's trying to kill me, she scolded mentally.
"She's run over the alloted time and that means we are risking another Uldred-" the enraged templar was arguing, jabbing a finger at Eve.
A thin man with grey, shoulder-length hair and a stooped back suddenly stepped in front of the platform, and Eve recognized First Enchanter Irving's creaky voice. "Eve was one minute over the allotted time and shows no sign of demonic possession," he said, hard strength in his words. "You may check as you will, templar, but you will see that she is not an abomination."
"What are rules for if you'll arbitrarily ignore them? And you can't tell just by looking at her," the templar spat, seemingly blind to the other templar keeping him at bay with a hand against his chest plate, "it could be hiding inside, waiting for the right time-"
"Rutherford, you will shut your damned mouth," the defending templar shouted in his face. He tore off his own helmet and Eve recognized the weathered profile of Knight-Commander Greagoir. "I am sending you to Kirkwall," he barked, "Maker knows you won't level out here, not with you going to pieces every other week. Pack your things, you're leaving at first light."
For a breath, Eve thought the templar would punch the Knight-Commander. Empathy seized the moment to broach past Eve's mental barrier and channel the templar's feelings - a disorienting turmoil of hate, anger, but at its core, a dense and implacable terror and cold certainty that things will go wrong - and before Eve knew it, words had stumbled past her numb lips.
"I can heal that," she blurted. At everyone's surprised looks, she pointed with her one free hand at the templar's lip and cheek, blood dripping on to his armor from the laceration. It wasn't what Empathy wanted, and she was already regretting this, but it was the only thing Eve could think of that she could actually fix. "See, here," she stammered, quickly baring her sliced forearm and knitting the skin and muscle together in a blink. "I can do this for that cut-"
The templar jerked back, the rancorous denial in his expression making her shrink, her offer struck dead on her tongue. "Keep your magic away from me," he snapped, using the back of his forearm to swipe angrily at his mouth and gripping his sword tightly. "I will not give the likes of you another chance-"
"Harrington, Smith, escort him to his quarters and ensure that he does not leave them until first light," Greagoir commanded. With a start, Eve realized that she'd been so distracted that she hadn't noticed a few other templars standing guard around the chamber and two of them were now striding towards Rutherford obediently.
Irving turned, his face deeply lined with worry and concern. "My child, how is your hand?" he asked.
She'd been trying to peer around him, trying to see if the terrifying, deranged templar had been clapped in irons and taken away. Instead, Eve flexed and flared her fingers. She could move them with her usual strength, and feel her short nails draw lines on her palm. Everything past the slash had been healed, so perfectly that not even a scar remained on her blood-stained skin. Empathy disapproved when she hoped that the templar's would scar. "Everything in working order," she answered, relieved.
"That is good to hear," Irving muttered fervently as he bent to unbuckle the other bindings. Finally, she was free to spring off the marble platform, relieved to see that most of the templars had clanked their way down the stairs to the third floor. "Still, I'd rather the senior enchanters look over you to check," Irving insisted as he gave a passing nod to Greagoir, who was now conferring with another templar. "This isn't the first time that I've wished that we had our own spirit healer in the Tower, but we will make do."
Eve bit her tongue and nodded, deliberately dragging her feet. As much as she wanted to get out of the Harrowing chamber and leave the slab with the bloodied leather bindings behind, she would much rather not bump into the deranged templar's back before he was safely shut in his room.
"Oh, and," Irving said as he held the door open for her, his bushy smile cynical, "congratulations on passing your Harrowing."
So I hope you're alright with my creative license when it comes to Cullen's signature scar! Please leave a comment/DM if you have any questions/opinions/etc :)
Chapter 4: The White Spire
Hey readers, I know I promised Haven and Cullen but this chapter would not leave me alone. Please R&R if you can :)
[9 years later]
“En - enchanter Sunara? Su - Surana?”the young man slurred, blinking owlishly in his small cot. Catching Eve’s eye as she lugged over an empty bucket, a wide smile blossomed on his scarred face. “Can - can you kish it? Kiss it and make it better?”
Eve didn’t hide her amusement at how the templar’s feet, poking out from the sheets since he was just so tall, wiggled with glee. “Bit hard to get inside your brain and kiss the bruising away,” she pointed out. “Now, Farrian, I need you to hold still so I can get in there and heal it, alright?”
“Oh, I can he - heel for you any-which-way you want,” Farrian leered, waggling his scrubby eyebrows.
The templar seated next to him, Martin, groaned and hid his face while another templar sniggered. “Oh Maker, please make him stop,” Martin muttered, the candlelight highlighting the white scar at the base of a knuckle where he’d lost a finger during training. “At least, make him stop before the sister returns.”
“You weren’t much more discreet when you were here last year,” another templar pointed out. Titian, the templar with the missing tooth who’d made her promise not to tell anyone that he’d lost it by falling out of bed instead of against a rogue demon. “Didn’t you ask her to hold you and called her mum-”
“I said nothing!” Martin said with a flushed glance at Eve.
“If it helps, it’s nothing I haven’t heard before,” Eve offered as Martin sputtered. Farrian followed her movements dreamily with a speck of drool leaking from the side of his mouth as she plunked down beside him. He looked much thinner than his colleagues, but templars always looked shrimpier when pried out of their metal shells. Three templars surrounded her and her patient, leaning against the wall or standing around imitating statues. After seeing enough of them naked, Eve knew that templars had the ability to bend their stiff spines and she wished that they would at least admit to being human in the clinic, if only to stop towering over her. Despite the audience, Eve was glad that Farrian’s condition had improved vastly since yesterday and he was no longer trying to climb out of bed with only one working arm and leg.
Knight-Captain Brassard leaned in with a pinch between her fair brows. While she had never been a patient in Eve’s clinic, she frequently bustled in after injured templars like a mother hen and poked her head over Eve’s shoulder. Like she was doing now, and the little impulsive voice in Eve’s head pointed out that she was close enough for her to turn and lick the Knight-Captain’s cheek if she chose. Which she wouldn’t. Probably. “Enchanter Surana, is this behavior normal?”
Eve refocused on grappling Farrian’s wandering hands. “He’s loopy from the pain-killing potion I gave him earlier,” she explained. “When patients have severe internal injuries, I usually induce sleep or paralyze the body part in question so they don’t resist or try to fight me. Most healing procedures are painless, but they can feel odd, depending on the organ and region. Normal people are reluctant enough, but templars don’t appreciate it when a mage rummages around in their organs like a puppet…”
The Knight-Captain looked distinctly uncomfortable at the thought and a light of understanding brightened her eyes. “I see. I wouldn’t want to sleep through magic being worked on me either.”
“Especially nowadays, what with the Kirkwall mass-murder,” a large-nosed templar interjected. Eve squinted at him - his name escaped her, but she’d healed his twisted knee a few months ago. “No offense, enchanter Surana. It’s just… people are uneasy, see. Supposedly it was done by an apostate spirit healer.”
“It was done by a possessed abomination,” a nasal voice corrected. Eve swivelled in her seat to glare at the speaker, who was probably the blonde apprentice that had strolled in with blisters stretching half their face from a spell gone wrong. But that apprentice was fast asleep in the cot two spaces over - the speaker was an unfamiliar human man seated on an empty cot across from them. He had a broad, fresh-off-the-farm face scattered with freckles, a mop of red hair, and a contemptuous sneer aimed at Ser Bum Knee which displayed his lack of front teeth. “It shouldn’t mean that all spirit healers or mages want to destroy the Chantries.”
Brassard looked decidedly unimpressed. “That is not what he is implying, young man.”
Ser Bum Knee nodded to Brassard. “Indeed. Enchanter Surana has been an exemplary healer ever since she transferred here from Kinloch Hold six years ago. Perhaps not as reassuring in her political stance… but I am explaining that recent events have caused tensions to run high, and not everyone appreciates magic being cast upon their person.”
“Yes, the Kirkwall disaster was a tragedy for mages, templars, and citizens alike,” Eve said quickly, shooting a look at the mage to warn him not to open his gob again if he knew what was good for him. “And the poppy seed potion allows the patient to stay awake but not feel much pain while I work inside them,” Eve continued. “A side effect is that they can become liberal with their thoughts and start to… over-share.”
“You smell nice,” Farrian supplied helpfully. She swatted the hand he’d been trying to sneak around to her backside.
Martin’s expression sobered as he hitched up his belt from the slight paunch around his waist. “Looks like Farrian needed more than most I’ve seen pass through this clinic before,” he said, “that abomination got him good.”
“Yes, well, getting sliced by a demon in a Harrowing gone sideways then a getting a stroke thanks to a blood clot from the wound is, as we surgeons and healers like to say, ‘really fucking unlucky’,” Eve murmured, flinching back as Farrian made a grab at her chest. “I broke the clot yesterday, but the bruising needed time to settle. Actually, could you-?”
Brassard and Martin leaned in to hold their squirming colleague down and Eve quickly got to work. She could see that while the clot was gone, the bruised brain tissue in the areas past the clot had to be coaxed back to their normal size which would hopefully improve the weakness in the left side of Farrian’s body. Eve settled her hands on Farrian’s temples, closed her eyes and counted to ten in her head, falling into herself until she had every bit of her focus under tight control. With her practiced discipline, she pulled a thread from the wellspring of magic inside her then delicately guided it through the intricate spiderweb of arteries and veins in his brain until she could reach the stiff contusions and will them to shrink into normal, spongy cerebral tissue.
A light sheen of sweat had popped up on her skin by the time she was finished, and Farrian had started dozing with his mouth open. She withdrew her magic with a sigh and slumped, feeling a headache drumming in her temples. Her wellspring was running low, and that meant she needed a gulp of lyrium to halt this headache in its tracks.
Brasard was watching her closely. “How is Ser Farrian, Enchanter Surana?”
Reflexively, Eve's back straightened and she smiled. “I've been able to bring the swelling down and we'll be able to see if his left side improves in strength. Progress may be slow and he will have to exercise that side, but he is young and I am hopeful.”
>Before Brassard could do much more than smile and thank her, the other templars started gossiping.
“It could’ve been much worse. We found evidence that the apprentice was practicing blood magic under his bunk. I swear, they’re getting bold as brass and just as smart these days,” Titian muttered to Bum Knee, glaring at the scars that the demon had raked across Farrian’s face.
Ser Bum Knee shook his head. “We’re fortunate to have Lord Seeker Lambert here,” he replied, “we need more oversight. We’re inching closer to the madness that reigned in the Gallows with each passing month and it needs to be nipped in the bud.”
“You can’t be serious,” Redhead interrupted, his ham-sized hands curling in his lap. Eve couldn’t believe that he was still loitering inside the clinic when most apprentices with an inkling of sense would have scampered away after pissing off a templar. “The rise of blood magic started because of the noose the templars tightened around the mages’ necks there! Stricter control is not the solution!”
Ser Bum Knee turned to look down his nose at the mage while Eve scrambled off of her stool as all the templars within earshot stiffened and honed in on the apprentice like hawks. “And you propose that we ignore all signs of blood magic? We already have a maleficar running around on a rampage!”
Redheaded Halfwit unfolded off the cot he’d been sitting on and smugly loomed over the irate templar. “If you mean the Ghost of the Spire, that makes no sense,” he said. “Why would a supposed blood mage go ‘round killing other mages? Who’s to say that it’s not you lot taking it out on us and blaming mages again? Wouldn’t be the first or last time that’s happened.”
>”That is a serious accusation, mage,” Brassard said, eyes flashing.
“Someone is taking the bedtime Tales of the Champion a little too seriously,” Titian said snidely.
Eve knew that she shouldn’t get involved, but she couldn’t resist pointing out the facts. “Except that the new reports issued by the acting Knight-Commander of Kirkwall support Tethras’ claims,” she interjected. “And the Spire Ghost is real, I have seen him before-”
The Redheaded Halfwit looked even more gormless and even the templars looked incredulous at her declaration. “But everyone knows that ghosts aren't real,” Redheaded Halfwit said, nonplussed. “It’s probably another Kirkwall-inspired templar. And I hear that the same is happening here, in the White Spire now that Lambert is around-”
He didn’t even flinch when Ser Bum Knee waved a gauntleted finger under his broad nose. “You are dangerously close to insubordination, mage,” Ser Bum Knee said quietly with a glance at Brassard as Titian whispered urgently in her ear. “It looks like you are new here, but you will find that we do not bear disrespect as willingly as they do in the Ansberg Circle and there is a reason why we have cells in the Pit.”
“That is enough, Ser, uh, Ser Knight,” Eve interrupted, making sure to trod on Redheaded Halfwit’s foot as she pushed herself between them. “I will ensure that this apprentice’s primary mentor provides him with lessons in etiquette,” she said firmly, “And I insist that you leave the Chantry clinic - there are patients who need rest, not least of all your injured colleague here.”
Knight-Captain Brassard shook Titian off with a tight disapproving frown, but nodded to Eve after a quick glance around the clinic. “Enchanter Surana is right. If you are not on duty soon, then back to your quarters, all of you,” Knight-Captain Brassard commanded.
Bum Knee regarded her with a look of contempt before it vanished behind the impassive mask that every templar mastered in their career. “As you say, Knight-Captain,” he said in a carefully neutral tone.
Eve nodded to Martin and Brassard as they departed from the clinic, then quickly glanced around to make sure none of the patients were in the throes of death. Redheaded Halfwit yelped when she clamped an uncompromising hand on his upper arm and steered him through the nondescript door at the back. Cheerful golden light spilling from candles embedded in wall brackets greeted her as well as a faint hint of vinegar that meant the laboratory floors had just been cleaned. Her spirits lifted a little, until Redheaded Halfwit started ranting again.
“Can you believe those gaolers?” he scowled, stamping his staff on the flagstones as he followed Eve further into the spacious work room. “They have no regard for the truth of the matter when mages or magic is involved-”
“Speaking of magic,” Eve said as she drew up to her desk. It was cluttered with notes, sheaves of dried herbs, books and a lone chess rook but the skulls she had borrowed from her mentor’s collection were easy to find. Sweeping the fine-boned skull of an elf off of the latest instalment of Swords and Shields, she poked two fingers up through the base of the skull and turned its empty sockets to face Redheaded Halfwit <apprentice>. “What is the first lesson that an apprentice learns when a mage is working magic? Especially when they are working magic in someone else’s brain?”
Redheaded Halfwit deflated as he glanced between her and the skull. “Shut up and stay out of the way?” he asked sheepishly, keeping a nervous eye on the skull. “I mean, they phrased it more politely at the ‘Berg…”
“Right,” Eve agreed with false cheer. “You don’t start debates with templars over the patient’s breathing body like it’s a podium in a rhetoric class. You especially do not start debates when a spirit healer is metaphorically wrist-deep in their brains,” she said, making the skull clack its jaws, “because while some people enjoy being numbskulls, we aren’t supposed to create them - not intentionally, anyway. Farrian’s been through enough, he doesn’t need to wake up paralyzed on top of all that.”
“But you heard Ser Asshole,” Redheaded Halfwit retorted, waving his staff at the door, “if anything goes wrong around here, it’s always the mages’ fault-”
“I am not having this argument with you, apprentice whoever-you-are,” Eve interrupted, turning the skull so that they were both glaring up at the towering mage. “There is enough angst between mages and templars, and frankly I have heard enough about it in the screaming matches between the fraternities. What is the name of your mentor? I need a word with them because they will soon be an apprentice short the next time you piss off the wrong helm-head.”
“Technically, I am a mage since I passed my Harrowing a month ago-”
The clinic door swung open, cutting off Redheaded Halfwit’s answer and Old Turin shuffled in clutching a plate of cheese and crackers. She relaxed when she caught sight of his frizzy grey hair and fluffy beard, which gave him the appearance of a cheery raincloud. “Ah, Eve!” he greeted warmly, his eyes lighting up as he slid the plate on to her desk and patting her arm. “I see that you have met your newest student! Getting him acquainted with the laboratory, are we?”
The skull clattered onto the floor as Eve numbly stared at Turin, but he didn’t seem to be winding up for a punch line. Actually, he was scooping up the elf skull and examining it with dismay. “Eve! How many times do I have to tell you to treat my grandchildren like they were your own? If you’re done studying Ellana, then return her to the collection-”
“That’s your grandchild?” Redheaded Not-Her-Student gasped.
“No,” Eve answered. “And no,” she pleaded to Turin, “he can’t be my student. One, no one informed me of this, and two, he’s got the wrong attitude to be a spirit healer.”
Redheaded Not-Her-Student looked affronted. “I’m right here,” he said.
Turin scoffed as he daintily set the elf skull back on her desk and stroked its bald crown. “As if you didn’t have a chip on your shoulder when you first arrived here to study spirit healing. You weren’t the first and you won’t be the last to pinch magical care from templars.”
“To be fair, the templar at my Harrowing tried to take my favorite and only head while I was still fade-walking,” Eve muttered, rifling through one of her cluttered desk drawers. The bloodied and snarling face of that templar sometimes troubled her dreams. Worryingly, she saw echoes of it more and more often in the faces of the Spire templars. “And I got over it... eventually,” she said, spying a stoppered vial among her personal stash of tea. Maker, she needed a hit of lyrium - she always felt refreshed when the ocean-blue potion washed down her throat. Hopefully it would make her headache vanish. And the Not-Her-Student.
“You only ‘got over it’ after working in the clinic for a while,” Turin pointed out. He plucked the vial out of her hand and replaced it with the plate of cheese and crackers he had brought in. “Randolph is new here. Give him a chance, like I gave you. And look how it turned out! You’ve grown into one of the most competent and passionate spirit healers in all the Circles of Thedas.”
Eve frowned down at her former mentor, who was beaming back all of his affection and faith from his wrinkled-raincloud face. She sighed and crammed a slice of cheese in her mouth and turned to redheaded Randolph who was watching the exchange on the edge of his seat. “Alright, if you are bent on becoming a spirit healer, then you should know that most of the patients in the Spire are injured because of magic,” she mumbled around her mouthful. “And that’s not me being a Loyalist, which I’m not, that’s just fact. And aside from just being a good person, caring for others equally is a good idea since most benevolent spirits are attracted to that quality-”
They all jumped when the laboratory door banged open and a templar in full armor lurched inside. “Senior Enchanter Turin, Enchanter Surana, you are needed in the Pit,” he gasped as he leaned against the door jamb. Bright crimson blood splattered his gauntlets and smeared on to the wood.
Hearing the muted panic in the templar’s voice, Eve had leapt to her feet and twisted her vision to see that there were no torn veins or arteries in the templar’s hands - the blood was not his. “Another one?” she asked, hurrying to the door with her satchel in hand. Some patients in the clinic had woken at the commotion and were craning their heads around to peer at them from their cots.
The templar nodded, the whites of his eyes visible through the slit in his helmet. “The Ghost. Struck behind locked doors again,” he answered. He held the door open and hesitated, looking behind her.
“Go,” Turin called, his shuffling steps slow. “I will catch up. Eve, take the new boy with you. Better start learning sooner than later.”
Now? But she didn’t know anything about his Ansburg education or his abilities - all she knew was that she wouldn’t be able to trust Randolph to care for templars, if the victim was a templar this time. Before she could protest, the templar had nodded and started to jog across the clinic.
Randolph stared at her, paling under his freckles. “There’s been another murder-?”
“If you want to start learning, then keep up,” Eve said shortly as she hurried out the clinic. She tried to nod reassuringly to the worried patients half-roused in their cots as she sailed by them, though she knew she didn’t look convincing. Randolph quickly drew abreast with her thanks to his long legs and they were soon jogging right behind the templar as he clanked down the spiral staircase.
“Enchanter Surana, what am I to do?” he asked between breaths. He managed to shrug with his staff in hand as they careened around the stairwell. “I studied humorism and bloodletting at the Ansberg Circle-”
“No good,” Eve huffed, “Turin and I proved that bloodletting is ineffective and anyway, the Ghost likes to stab his victims dry so that technique won’t be very useful.”
“Err, I could massage the gall bladder?” Randolph ventured, “Get the black bile going to balance out the lack of blood-?”
“Randolph whatever-your-surname-is, while humorism is the common medicinal theory of the age, I fail to see how massaging the gall bladder of a bone-dry patient is going help keep their heart beating,” Eve said drily. “Turin and I will arrange your curriculum later. For now, you must follow my instructions to the letter. Do you understand?”
“It’s Randolph Farmer. Just call me Rand. And yes, Enchanter Surana,” he answered as they followed the templar to the deepest landing of the Spire.
“It’s just down here,” the templar said as they stepped off on the landing. The air was chilly and damp this far down in the bowels of the White Spire, and their voices echoed off the mossy stone walls. Words like ‘ominous’ and ‘foreboding’ popped into Eve’s head as she trotted after the templar and Randolph down the cramped and gloomy corridors, trying not to glance into the dense blackness that seemed to crouch in every off-shooting hallway. Everyone swore that the darkness stared back at if you looked at it too long. She quickened her pace.
But Eve was starting to get used to the warren down here. Two of the three bodies had been found in the locked prison cells that were built into the Pit, the last one found in a locked interrogation room in one of the upper floors. There was good reason for the mages to blame the templars who were supposed to be guarding the mages locked into the cells and conveniently discovering their bodies when it was too late for Eve and Turin to revive them - too late for the victims to name their murderer. Granted, there were easier and legally-sanctioned ways of getting rid of troublesome mages, but perhaps the Lord Seeker Lambert was being extra cautious, now that the whole of Thedas were scrutinizing how Circles were run in the wake of the events at Kirkwall…
They rounded a sharp corner and spotted a small group of templars milling around the open door of a cell.
“Hurry, I think he’s still breathing!” one of them called.
“What happened?” Eve puffed as she skidded to a stop by the door, Randolph at her heels.
One of them pointed into the torch-lit room. A small, robed body was huddled in a large, dark puddle of blood. “Dagger through the ribs, like the others,” the templar said shakily. “Me and Sheena were here all evening, didn’t hear a peep and found him like this during rounds.”
“What was he even in here for?” Randolph asked, hesitating at the entrance as Eve strode inside.
“That is templar business,” one of the templars snapped. “Who are you? If you have no business but to gawk-”
“He’s with me,” Eve said, kneeling beside the mage. Unconscious male human in his early thirties, brown skin ashen and purple under his eyes and around his lips. With a jolt that clenched her guts into a knot, she recognized him as the mage who liked to pull small pranks on novice templars - there was the round scar on his jaw from a gauntleted punch he’d earned a few months ago. She quickly opened his robes and shoved his tunic aside to bare his naked, bloodstained torso to the torchlight. Occasionally, the mage choked in a gasping breath but judging from the gaping slit that exposed glistening red meat in his side, he didn’t have a lot of time for that privilege left.
“Enchanter Surana,” Randolph whispered as he squatted just outside the puddle of blood, his freckles stark against his pale skin as he stared. “What do I do? I don’t know anything-”
Her student sounded scared, and that helped her switch into her spirit healer mindset. “You are going to act as his heart and lungs. Kneel on his other side,” Eve rapidly directed, twisting her vision so she could see past the skin and into the stabbed torso. The dagger had cut a path clear through his fourth and fifth ribs, through the membranes surrounding his lungs and heart, and had managed to pierce the lowest chamber of his frazzled heart so that blood spurted out of the wound in time with his weakening and erratic pulse.
“Overlap your hands - like this - and place them here at the center of his breastbone. Kneel over him and lock your elbows. Press down so you compress his chest by at least two inches - good - just keep doing that and don’t stop,” she instructed, already laying her hand on the mage’s chest, gathering her magic and streaming it through her fingers. Fervently, she stitched together the torn muscles in the chamber until a thick band of scar tissue mended the muscle. Eve took a deep breath as Randolph continued to pump the mage’s chest in the rhythm that she’d shown him, satisfied that she’d at least plugged the hole. Now, she needed Empathy’s support.
Reaching inside herself, she found the thread which connected her to her Fade spirit. Immediately, Empathy filled her with its inquisitive presence and Eve was bolstered by its aura like a second wind. They could do this, they could save this man where they’d failed the others.
Randolph gaped and threw up his arm at the light emanating from Eve in soft waves. “What - are you - is that your spirit?” he gawked.
“Don’t stop now,” Eve snapped, “Does your heart ever take break? No! Keep-”
“I’m here,” Turin’s voice wheezed as he shuffled into the cramped cell, his own spirit causing him to glow far more brightly than Eve. “You’re doing a good job, keep going, you won’t go blind. I’ll work from here.”
Turin was here. She knew that he would bind the mage’s soul to his body if it still lingered. Randolph was pressing on the mage’s heart hard enough and in rhythm so his remaining blood kept pumping around his body. She could see that the mage yet still tried to breathe on his own.
There was a chance.
Suppressing a surge of hot excitement, Eve returned to her task and mended the muscles stretching between the ribs, then returned to the scar tissue she’d knitted into the heart. If she had more time, she would replace the thick scar tissue with functional heart muscle to avoid complications - but as it was, she repaired just enough so the scar would not tear open on its first beat. Then she mended the slippery sacs surrounding the heart and lungs, and coaxed the blood that had leaked between them back into nearby veins.
“Eve, I think you’ve got it,” Turin murmured.
Eve nodded, eyes trained on the mage’s frazzled heart. Time to put the theory and research that they had been working on to the test. Licking her lips, she strained to summon a flickering ball of lightning into the palm of her left hand. “Randolph, hands off and make sure that no part of you touches him,” she ordered. Hoping against hope that this would work, she slapped her left hand onto the mage’s right upper chest and her right hand on his left lower ribs as soon as Randolph pushed himself away from the mage. The mage arched into the air, his torso cresting as lightning shot from her hand, through his heart and into her other hand.
“What are you doing?” someone was shouting, the echoes creating a ringing din in the tiny cell. “You were supposed to be healing him!”
“She is - I mean, he is! I think,” Randolph whisper-shouted through bloody hands pressed to his mouth.
They all held their breath and listened.
The mage quietly breathed in, then out.
Randolph flung himself to wrap his arms around Eve, shouting incomprehensively while Turin shuffled side to side, waving his staff. The onlooking templars were also yelling with excitement. Eve’s shouts - she had no idea what her mouth was saying, if any of it even made sense - was lost in the commotion as she watched the mage’s heart fill with blood on one beat, then pump it out to the rest of his body on the next in perfect synchrony.
Wild euphoria surged through her veins. The mage was alive! He was still in rough shape and would definitely be under her watch for a couple weeks to come, but he was alive to scribble another poor joke on the back of an unsuspecting templar. Eve was ecstatic at their success - she and Turin had done it, had proved their theory in a roomful of witnesses with the help of a student and she couldn’t have asked for things to have gone better. Laughing through inexplicable tears, she turned in the swaying crook of Randolph’s elbow, trying to catch Turin’s gaze - then looked, dead-center, into a piercing and colorless protuberant eye staring out from a forgotten shadowy corner.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” the spidery figure whispered from gnawed and scabbed lips. Details slipped in and out of focus so nothing held still - Eve only had fleeting impressions of chalky skin stretched over gaunt cheeks, grimy clothes hanging off a rail-thin crouching frame and a bloody dagger flashing as it passed between skeletal hands before the impressions seeped away like water dripping through a sieve. “You made it worse. Hounded, haunted, holding their breath as they watch shadows pass under their cell doors. I freed him and you locked him back up inside.” The lip of a wide-brimmed hat appeared and dipped sideways as the colorless eye pierced her with a detached air of curiosity. “Why would you hurt him?”
This pale apparition could only be the Ghost of the Spire. Eve leaped over shock that it was real - as real as the translucent boy appeared, anyway - and went straight to fury. “Me? Why are you hurting them?” she hissed. “What’s your point - and who are you? Why kill people? Why-”
“They are free,” the Ghost said simply. His voice feathered around the cramped cell and he didn’t seem concerned when the templars and mages finally seemed to notice him. He shrugged a bony shoulder, birdlike, and nodded at the unconscious mage in the center of the stunned circle of people. “No longer fettered by the fear borne from their birthright. You shove them back in their shackles for the templars to toy with even though you’re one of them - why?”
Eve gaped, arguments galloping over each other and stumbling on her tongue. “You’re not freeing them - you’re murdering them,” she finally declared, “that’s not the same. You end their lives.”
The Ghost seemed to become denser the harder she focused on it, her eyes pinning details in her head and suddenly he was no longer melting in and out of the shadows. He - it - looked vaguely like a scarecrow brought off of a farmer’s fields. “You value a beating heart over the knots of pain it strains against,” the Ghost replied, bewilderment naked in his tone. “You are wrong. I end their suffering. It’s better.”
“No, it isn’t,” Eve said. “How could you end what they could have? You take the years they could have to help others, to help themselves! They should be allowed to live and find out-”
“They were and are and will hurt in these walls with no escape,” the Ghost said. “The dagger frees them.”
This thing - human? Mage? Maybe the templars were right - wasn’t getting it. “You don’t know that, and you take away their chance to find out,” she hissed. An almost-embarrassing amount of sincerity tempered her voice as Eve promised, “I be there to heal anyone who needs it. I will stop you and I will revive whoever you decide to kill.”
The scarecrow tipped its head and peered at her through its straw-like hair. “You don’t understand,” he said, sadness and disappointment tingeing his words which infuriated her. “Closed yet clear, able to tread where templar walk because they think you are needed.” The edges of his form blurred as he shook his head, fading into shadow again as the templars started returning to their duties and Turin and Randolph focused on the mage again. “But you are blind and you will see, eventually.”
Chapter 5: Escaping Redcliffe
[1 year later]
Sliding a deft hand under the young man's stubbled chin, Eve twisted her vision until she could see inside him. The tincture and ritual had cleansed his body of the lingering fever and dried the mucus from his lungs, but the blackness in his veins remained. It traveled in waves through his arteries with every pump of his heart, threads of darkness spreading out from his core into his muscles and tissues. She bit her lip, hoping that her vision lied, yet knowing that it never had. This man was corrupting very slowly, from the inside out, and would turn into a ghoul then die.
A gentle hand on her wrist startled her back into seeing things normally. Her patient - a young human man with a face that hinted at a sensitive nature, bronze skin and dark, thick hair marking him as Tevinter as much as his style of robes - was watching her with a kind look of understanding. So, he knew. He knew his diagnosis and he embraced it. Her heart wrenched; she'd failed him and he was comforting her .
"Well?" a waspish voice asked, painfully hopeful. "How is Felix? Did it work?"
Eve tensed, gritting her teeth. She couldn't hide the truth, and she didn't want to hide it. The diagnosis had to be delivered. She lowered her hands, squeezing Felix's shoulders. "I am so sorry," she answered without taking her eyes off of Felix. "No, the Taint remains-"
What could only be described as a two-tonne bronto bitchslap flung her across the flagstones until she crumpled and slid down a bookcase. Well, at least it was her least favorite bookcase in the study, she thought dazedly as The Canticle of Andraste fell beside her head. If she didn't beat down this burgeoning fear and protect herself, she'd be in danger of losing her favorite head at this rate. Something hot leaked into her eye as she tried to both push her long white hair out of her face and scramble up from her hands and knees when another blow slammed her cheek-first into the floor; she could hear her nose breaking through the bones of her skull. Blinded, she gasped and scrambled to sit up and flung her arms out helplessly as a whip of fire lashed her arms. She cried out as her skin bubbled with angry welts and reflexively sheathed them in ice to cool the burns. Think, just think - Andraste's skid-marked smalls, how did that spell go for making a magical barrier?
"-father, STOP! You can't change her answer like this!" Felix shouted. Blearily, Eve could see a figure skidding to a stop in front of her with his arms flung out.
" How can he still have it? " Alexius shrieked, pushing his son aside to stand over her, fiery whip raised in one hand. "You are supposed to be the best spirit healer this side of Thedas!"
Eve glared back mulishly at the snarling Tevinter magister and swiped at the blood dribbling out of her nose. "The best died at the Spire before the mages and templars collectively decided to lose their shit. Lucky arse probably timed it on purpose. So you're stuck with me." And she was stuck with him . If only she'd kept her mouth shut about being a spirit healer two weeks ago - maybe then she'd still be with Fiona and the other rebel mages, wherever this mysterious Tevinter magister was keeping them.
He was now so different from the doting and concerned father he'd played every time he had visited her throughout these weeks, at times bringing her tea personally and politely asking about her progress in curing his son. Alexius snarled, his thin lips curling back to bare greying teeth; he looked like a deranged, desperate animal at the end of its tether. "But they call you the Reviver, do they not? Although," he mused, "you don't look much like a spirit healer. You're barely out of your Harrowing and clearly you don't know what you're doing, by the state of your face."
Eve glared at the pointed insult about her scar, then reminded herself that this man was watching his son die every day. She took a deep breath and tried to will the aching from her nose to fade away. "Look, I know that you're hurting," she started, "you clearly love your son-"
"Don't try to weasel out of this, knife-ear," Alexius sneered, then casually lashed her across her jaw.
She gasped, but managed to bite back another cry as her skin and the fine hairs on her jaw sizzled. Clasping her hand to the burn, she looked back up at him thoughtfully. Then she leaned over and spat blood on his shoe.
The crack that reverberated throughout her skull from a quick kick was almost worth it. Disoriented, she threw her hand out and summoned a flickering barrier that shattered on the first lash of the whip. Shit, that wasn't supposed to happen, she was complete shit at this fighting nonsense. Piercing pain licked up her arm as she tried and failed to summon the barrier against the unrelenting whip of fire.
Felix seized Alexius' arm. "Father, stop. This is what we knew - there is no known cure for the Taint!"
Alexius struggled to extract himself from his son's grip without hurting him. "That is why we had to find the foremost expert, even if it was this lying little idiot. I should've known that Southern mages like you just invent titles to better yourselves - look at the so-called Champion and now that Herald-"
During the argument, Eve had seized the moment to heal herself so quickly that it almost hurt. There was no time to heal carefully, with attention to how bones should be precisely aligned or ensuring that tissues fused to each other properly. She settled for 'passably functioning' and staggered to her feet to snap, "I didn't choose the name, I only got it because I picked a fight with the Ghost of the Spire. And I wasn't lying-"
Alexius thrust his long nose down into her face, enraged. "I allowed you to pour that concoction down my son's throat and let you do your elfy dance on the understanding that you were telling the truth!"
Eve took a deep breath in a vain effort to calm her mounting anger. It was in vain, since his condescending tone and flying spittle just made him so punchable. "The Dalish ritual I performed worked," Eve said. "But your son was already resistant to the Taint - that he survived the initial day of being infected is proof of that. While the ritual will slow down its progression, he will become a ghoul."
"You're just lying to get out of a failed ritual, you pathetic little-"
"Don't they teach you magisters how to read in Tevinter?" Eve retorted, her temper getting the better of her. "If you'd actually read my research, I state that there is no cure for it. There are two methods of slowing its progression and that is only if the patient survives the initial acute phase, which is extremely rare! By and large, no one escapes death or ghoulism, not even the blasted Wardens themselves!"
Alexius suddenly looked a little hopeful. "But did you actually ask how the Wardens-?"
Eve scoffed. "Of course I did. And, of course, they told me to bugger off. Well, technically they just never answered my letters and appeals which is Warden-speak for 'fuck off'."
The whip of fire flared, then dissipated. Alexius was regarding her thoughtfully, and while it seemed to make Felix relax, it only made Eve press up into the bookcase behind her. "Perhaps the fault lies not in the mage or the magic," he murmured, turning to sweep over to a chest resting on a nearby desk. Glass vials crashed as he swept them aside, the residue of the thick green potion that she'd given Felix staining the red carpet.
Eve cast about for an exit in the stone-walled study that she'd been kept prisoner in for the past two weeks - but the only entrance were the double oak doors past Alexius, and she'd bet her lucky scalpel that she wouldn't be able to slip by him without getting proverbially smacked to the next age. Not for the first time since the White Spire fell, Eve wished she'd spent some part of the ten years since her Harrowing in studying combat magic. But she'd been adamant on becoming a renowned spirit healer like her mentor, Old Turin, not knowing that it would take years to become passably competent, and then the years had flown by in their laboratory and clinic…
Felix was trying to signal to her to run, now , but she was mouthing back to him that she wouldn't be fast enough when Alexius turned back, a bottled glass beaker in hand. "If it's not the mage or the magic, then it is the mana," he said triumphantly. "Drink this."
Eve eyed the glowing crimson potion; molten yellow veins laced it like it was a living thing. It felt alarmingly alluring and anything that could make someone feel like licking it from five feet away was just wrong . "How many times do I have to tell you, Alexius?" she asked, edging sideways so she could hopefully make a break for the doors, subtlety be damned. "I don't take potions from strange magisters-"
"Perhaps the ritual didn't work because you didn't have enough power," Alexius said over her, advancing with the potion in hand. He shattered another of her flimsy barrier spells with a well-placed burst of fire and enclosed them in a barrier of his own, which flared brighter than hers and she was now trapped in a bubble with him. "This will fix that problem. It will give you more power than you can ever achieve with normal lyrium, more power than you can dream. Perhaps it will iron out some kinks in your ritual, and next time it will work ."
"Ah, Alexius, I don't think you're singing the Tevinter anthem with quite enough gusto," a glib voice chided. "Although, throwing more magic and blood sacrifices at the problem didn't really help with the decline of the Imperium - quite the opposite, actually. I'm surprised there aren't more sacrificial virgins bleeding out around here, now that you're dancing to the Elder One's tune."
Alexius turned to glare at the newcomer who had swept into the study with a familiar nod to Felix. A sudden stab of hope crumpled to ash in Eve's chest. He wasn't a mage of the rebellion uprising, or Grand Enchanter Fiona as Eve had hoped. Instead, the man looked every bit as Tevinter as Alexius and Felix, from his ridiculously outlandish mage robes that seemed to show more skin than protect it, to the stupid little goatee under his curled mustache. As playful as his tone and goatee were, the man's dark eyes were entirely serious.
"Dorian. What are you doing down here?" Alexius snapped. "Where is Calpernia?"
"Oh, you mean the woman who was supposed to brainwash me to be as blind as you and these Venatori idiots?" Dorian asked. "She was summoned away in the middle of her 'Let's All Hold Hands and Follow the Insane Elder One Into Peace and Tranquility' spiel and I admit that I got a bit bored. You're being a poor host, to both me and that girl you got there."
"Summoned away?" Alexius muttered, suddenly sounding concerned. He shook his head. "No matter. I will catch up with the army after I make this little liar heal Felix. And if the red lyrium doesn't work, Dorian, then there is no choice but to follow the Elder One," Alexius continued. "He has the power to raise the Imperium to its golden age. He was the one who ripped the hole in the sky and created the Breach! He will recruit an unstoppable army, slay Celene and absorb the Grey Wardens! What is curing one child to a being of such power?"
A cold spike of fear skittered down Eve's spine. Wait, this 'Elder One' was the one who destroyed the Conclave and tore open the Fade so it now rained demons on Thedas? He was going to take over Orlais and the Grey Wardens to return the Tevinter Imperium back to its golden age? He - the Elder One, and Alexius - were insane. They would destroy Thedas and kill millions for what gainful purpose? To sit on a throne?
"Father, it isn't worth indebting yourself to this crazy-"
"It's worth it if it means that you will be cured!"
Dorian rapped his knuckles against the barrier, making it shimmer. "Alexius, you and I both know that even if the mage were to increase the amount of mana he pours into a ritual, the rules of magic do not change. They literally cannot change unless the ritual is changed! That is one of the basic tenants of magic! So how do you expect her to cure Felix even if you drown her in this - did you call it lyrium ?"
"You don't know what this lyrium can unlock, Dorian," Alexius hissed, his face alight in his resolve. "A steady diet of red lyrium can infuse the mage with power beyond reckoning. Just watch-"
Eve struck out with her Force claws as he turned back towards her. This was her favorite spell, molded over the years to nick the thinnest and most delicate of arteries with an edge sharper than any Antivan Crow's razor. But it was a surgical tool, honed to hold an edge instead of packing a wallop - so all it did was rake four crimson lacerations across Alexius' cheek and forehead before he magically grabbed her by the neck and slammed her up against the bookcase so books rained down around her and the tips of her toes barely scraped the floor. She kicked out uselessly and tried to grab whatever was choking her - it felt like hardened air under her fingers, indicating a Force spell - but it did not yield to her scrabbling fingertips. Just as she tried to gulp down a breath, a bottle hovered over her nose and dumped red lyrium all over her face, burning a path down her throat and stinging her eyes. She spluttered and coughed, trying to spit it back out but what little she managed to choke down curled in her stomach, hot and soothing until it crackled, filling her head.
There was a distant shout, then the barrier flickered and disappeared. Eve fell as the invisible choking hand dissipated from her neck and she buckled to her knees, wheezing in gasps of air. But what was a bit of swelling in her throat and suffocation compared to the red lyrium? It thrummed through her veins with a powerful song, making everything crystal clear and so, so vivid. It lit up her insides so brightly - it was a wonder that the thin shell of her body could contain such heady, powerful light. Weeks of hunger, worry, and fatigue evaporated. She was brimming with mana and the feeling of unlimited potential - it was intoxicating. Why had she objected to this nectar of the gods?
Someone strong pulled her up to her feet. Large, concerned grey eyes lined with kohl - it was the other magister, named Dorian. He looked surprisingly concerned for a stranger, let alone another Tevinter magister. Eve tried to struggle out of his grip - were all the mages this muscular in Tevinter? Between bouts of blood magic, did they do a hundred push ups with their textbooks? "You look awful and drunk," Dorian said not altogether pleasantly, "and unlucky for you, I don't know a lick of healing magic to patch that up-"
Healing her bruised and swollen throat only took a second longer than thinking about it, and it was done. Eve straightened and rubbed her neck, trying to erase the memory of slowly being crushed. "Where is Alexius?" she asked.
Dorian was watching her with raised eyebrows. "Maybe Alexius wasn't nugshit crazy about this red lyrium business, the way you clean up," he mused. He rapped his staff against Alexius' backside as the magister sprawled unresponsive on the floor with a purple lump as large as a goose egg on his forehead.
Eve was suitably impressed. "I see you're rubbing salt into his wound," she noted, "Well done."
Felix knelt beside Alexius and shook his head. "It's not worth it," he mumbled, "I'm not worth all this. Bending time to conscript the rebel mages, abducting you and trying to recruit Dorian… and the red lyrium is the worst part of this whole thing. They've been feeding it to the rebel mages for the past two weeks. It turns them into mindless addicts, just soldiers who do his bidding for another draught of the stuff and I've never seen this before the Elder One showed up. I doubt it can be found anywhere else - he has them on a tight leash."
"All the rebel mages?" Eve asked, a sliver of worry shoving itself through the sense of exultant power the red lyrium bestowed on her. "Grand Enchanter Fiona? First Enchanter Adrian? Rhys? Randolph?"
"All of them," Felix said, staring fixedly at his father's pained grimace.
"But didn't you know this?" Dorian asked. "Haven't you been here for the past two weeks with them?"
Eve shook her head. "I was kept separately in this study and another chamber close by. I was tasked with finding a cure for the Taint day and night, and I haven't seen them since the start…"
Alexius grunted and his eyelids fluttered in the torchlight. "He'll come to in a moment," Dorian warned, turning his sharp profile to the exit. "We need to leave while we can. Who knows how many more of those draughts he's hidden around here, or how many he's drunk already."
Eve glowed briefly as she cast a healing spell. The lump on Alexius' forehead receded and his grimace smoothed out. Felix looked slightly alarmed when he looked at her. "What did you do?"
"I only healed him, and sank him deeper into sleep," she answered, combing her blood-crusted hair back to tie it away from her face. "He's lucky that I my spirit hates violence, else I'd start playing knifey-stabby on him."
Felix let out a relieved sigh. "Thank you," he said.
Dorian was looking at her shrewdly, and Eve wasn't sure she liked it. "You're more gracious than I would be, in your tiny shoes," Dorian said.
"He's only doing this because he loves his son so much," she said. She bit her lip, feeling sorry for the man. But her sympathy only extended as far as her memory of the choking or the fact that he allowed this Elder One to drug her friends. Granted, she felt fine right now - downright godly - but the masked horror in Felix's expression when he'd spoken of them had her on edge.
Dorian waved an impatient hand. "Yes, well, misplaced fatherly love aside - not that I don't know anything about it - we need to get out of here or that army outside will find out what we've done and kill us when we don't heartily sing the Elder One's anthem or drink his lovely homemade fruit punch."
"There is a secret escape route through the dungeons under the castle that leads to the windmill atop the bluff by the village," Felix said, getting to his feet without waking his father. "Take the south corridor down this hall, avoid the courtyard - that's where the army is camped - and it will lead you through the dungeons and into the windmill. Go west around Lake Calenhad and into the Frostbacks. Warn the Herald at the village of Haven. The Elder One will be sending the first wave of his army today and she might be able to put a stop to all of this."
Dorian grabbed Felix's shoulders as Eve darted around the study to collect her meager few possessions. "You must come with us, Felix, you can't stay here-"
"I'm not leaving him," Felix said with more resolution than Eve had thought him capable of. "Dorian, you must promise me that you will not get caught and stay safe. Get to Haven as fast as you can and warn the Herald."
Dorian drew Felix into a hard embrace. "You big-hearted idiot," he said, words muffled by Felix's shoulder. "I will. Take care of yourself. And Alexius."
Sticking the scalpel that Nessa had given her into the satchel she'd brought from the Spire, Eve turned to see the two Tevinter break apart and regard each other with obvious warmth. It made her think of the other mages, of her apprentice Randolph, even of her fraternity leader, Rhys. Worry was starting to gnaw at her through the red haze of exultation.
Felix held open the door and gestured to the both of them. "The guards will be here soon to check on us. I'll try to keep them here as long as I can while you two escape down through the dungeons."
"I'm not leaving without the other mages," Eve objected.
A furrow arched Dorian's eyebrows as he turned to Eve impatiently. "Dear girl, they won't want to come with us even if they had two thoughts of their own to rub together."
Felix nodded, darting a glace into the shadowy hallway beyond the study. "Dorian is right. You'll see that they are in no right state." As Dorian ushered Eve through the doors, Felix put a firm hand on Eve's arm. "Enchanter Surana, I truly am grateful that you slowed down the taint and bought me some time. I hope to convince my father to leave the Elder One and return to Tevinter with it," he said, glancing at Alexius slumbering on the carpet, "But you mustn't waste time trying to convince the mages. You'll see what I mean when you get down in the dungeons."
She was to just leave her friends in the Redcliffe castle dungeons with a dying man and a crazy magister? Eve shook her head, knowing that that wasn't an option. "I'm only sorry that I could not heal you completely," she said while Dorian watched them with interest. "I wish you the best, Felix. Hopefully we will return with good news."
Felix's directions had proven true, and after they had stuffed themselves into a closet from a passing patrol of guards they had located the right staircase without too much difficulty. Eve crept along the musty and dank corridor by touch, her left hand trailing along the rough stone wall and the cold iron bars of prison doors in the dungeon. She knew that Dorian was creeping along behind her by the light tapping of his staff against the floor and she found that she wasn't too scared - hiding from the enemy in a broom closet squashed up against each other was at least one way in building a little trust. They hurried along, the darkness seeming to press up against their eyes. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled at the dark, at every skittering sound that might hint at guards coming at their heels, and the fact that she was now supposed to escape the castle and find the Herald of Andraste in the mountains to warn about invading Tevinter supremacists with a turncoat Tevinter mage was making her life a borderline crazy fiction that could only be dreamed up by someone like... what was the name of that Tales of the Champion author? Tethras?
Eve supposed she preferred this strange mission to the outright war against the templars that had raged throughout the Hinterlands. Grand Enchanter Fiona had tried to pick a path through the fighting to Redcliffe village, but some skirmishes had been unavoidable, even when they had proclaimed that they just wanted to pass through peacefully. The templars had been unheeding and ruthless, eager to butcher them just as some of the mages had been eager to strike against their former jailers-
She halted in her tracks as she spotted a dim, red haze glowing from a dungeon cell further up the hall. A second later, an elbow caught her sharply in her shoulder. Unnecessarily.
"Don't suppose you can lull any guards to sleep, if they're in there?" Dorian whispered in her ear, his mustache tickling the tip.
Eve flinched away - that was way too ticklish - and shrugged. "I think I can manage," she whispered back. "What, the Tevinterest Tevinter doesn't have a spell to decimate the peasants?"
Dorian snorted quietly. "The term is 'magisterial magister', you uneducated southern heathen, and I'm not even a magister. While I can decimate peasants if I so chose, they are rather loud spells and in case you haven't noticed, we are in the middle of enemy territory."
"Excuses, excuses," Eve muttered under her breath as she sidled closer to the prison door, pressing her back against the wall. No sound carried over to her pricked ears, and she half-hoped that there was nothing actually in there even as she readied a sleep spell in her right hand. She took a deep breath, then peeked into the cell quickly.
At first, she didn't even recognize what she was seeing. Roughly human figures in raggedy robes either lay on the filth-strewn floor or slumped against the walls, entirely silent. Some of them may be dead, but others were tellingly alive by the red glow emanating from their eyes. Red light also wafted in a haze from their skin, from what looked like little pustules - rocks? Crystals? - laced with throbbing yellow veins. One of the strange figures slumped against the bars, his sweat-matted auburn hair curling away from his broad face - it looked like his pale skin was melting , like candle wax…
The bottom of her stomach dropped out and the air in her lungs evaporated as the pieces splintered together into recognition.
Dorian uttered some kind of warning as Eve dropped any effort at concealment and clung to the iron bars, her knees threatening to wobble out from underneath her. "Randolph?" she breathed. It couldn't be, she'd seen him only two weeks ago…
Her stomach roiled when the misshapen figure's red eyes lifted to meet hers. Out of habit, her eyes flicked to the scar on his nose he'd earned while helping her treat a thrashing templar, and the patch missing in his left eyebrow from getting too close to a flask fire in her laboratory. Her last meal was clawing its way up her throat as she clung to the bars staring at what had once been her apprentice. Pain twisted his pale and clammy face as he bared his teeth once, twice… numb, Eve realized that he was trying to pronounce the nickname he'd given her, 'Evey', but couldn't frame the syllables since crimson crystals had erupted in the cracks of his chapped lips.
"Maker's breath, this is what Alexius meant?" Eve almost jumped at the Tevinter mage's muttered oath. She'd forgotten that he was there. "'Infuses the mage with power beyond reckoning.' Left out the part where it literally infuses the body and bursts from the skin, from the looks of it."
She blinked. "Right," she said, turning back to the cell. This is what was pumping in her veins? This is what the red lyrium will turn her into? She couldn't stop herself from looking around and recognizing some of them in the wends of their waxy skin and pulsing crystals. There was Galimede, the enchanter who had taught her how to hone her Force spells, and curled on some rotten straw next to her was the mage who had sold lurid drawings just before curfew, and there lay Frida who actually didn't seem to be breathing… "How do you think we should get them out of here?" Eve asked absently, "There are twelve of them in here, don't know if-"
Dorian stamped his staff, embers sparking from his hands as he pointed down the hall impatiently. "We can't possibly sneak a contingent of half-mad and glowing mages out from under an army unnoticed," he argued, "let alone across the countryside with templars around every corner and into the mountains."
"I can't leave just leave them here," Eve protested. "They need help, they need to be assessed and the red lyrium extracted so they can heal-"
"Red lyrium?" a hoarse voice choked out.
Pairs of clammy, twisted hands thrust through the bars and seized her before she could leap away. "Lyrium? Red lyrium ?" they clamored, desperation tainting their excitement. Alarmed, Eve tried to fight out of their bruising clutches, yelping as one of them pulled her braid and another bit her wrist. In a stroke of clarity, she shot a wave of magical sleep and as the mages pressed up against the bars collapsed, she wrenched away from the bars as Dorian pulled her by the arm and conjured a wall of bright orange flames in front of the door.
"Stop!" Eve cried out. "Don't hurt them!"
The wall of flames stopped charging the door. "Why not?" Dorian demanded. "Look at them! They're nothing but mindless drones at the beck and call of anyone with a draught of that - that poison , and they'll be sent to wreak havoc on Haven! Better to take care of them now-"
Eve faced off against Dorian in the dim corridor, the red haze giving her just enough light to see the man's angry and impatient expression. He was larger, stronger, and if that wall of fire was any indication, he was skilled in offensive fire while she was pathetic at it. But she couldn't let him murder them. "They're my friends," she argued, "Randolph is just a kid, and my apprentice! He was studying to become a spirit healer, just like me-"
"Eve, they aren't who they used to be," Dorian interrupted, "they're drugged and addled tinderboxes just waiting to explode!"
"They're people I lived with and saw every day in the Spire," she retorted fiercely, "they're like Felix to me!"
Dorian regarded her with sadness and pity. The heat at her back vanished as the wall of flames flickered and died. Glancing behind her, she saw that the corrupted mages were watching them listlessly, uninterested now that they weren't speaking of red lyrium. "That's a rather cheap stab at my nonexistent feelings," Dorian murmured, "but I can admit that I am not pragmatic enough to execute a cell of chained mages, even if they are the enemy."
Eve sighed, relieved. Then she stiffened as a pair of footsteps echoed distantly, back where they had come from.
She and Dorian looked at each other. "Come on-" Dorian said as he grabbed her wrist and started running down the hall. Eve cast a final look behind her at Randolph who was slumped against the bars and watching her. Guilt gnawed at her heart, and she could only start matching Dorian's sprint after she promised herself that she'd be back to help.