The first week of it was the worst. Waking up one morning to discover you suddenly inhabited a body not your own was, to grossly understate it, a bit disorienting. Even more confusing was the fact that everyone around him was dressed like they were ready for a renaissance fair or or a con. Except that was their day-to-day attire.
He thought for sure he was dreaming when he saw an elf browsing a dusty old book. An actual elf. Not someone wearing plastic glue-on ears. The elf looked normal at first glance, but his features were too elegant and streamlined to not be just a little alien. The elf’s eyes threw him even more. On top of being just a little too large and vibrant, the pupils were vertical, like a cat’s.
When the elf caught him staring, he glared. “Can I help you, shem?”
Shem. His first clue.
Not long after he watched, slack jawed, as a boy no older than ten manifested a ball of light as a group of adults watched on. An older man saw his shocked expression and laughed softly. “He’s learning quickly, isn’t he? Barely been here a month, and already grasping the basics of the spirit tree. Watch out, these new apprentices are catching up to you.”
He could have maybe processed the fact that there were elves and people doing magic if not later that very same day he didn’t call up fire in his own hands. Despite his panic, the fire wasn’t… hurting him.
He’d been about to stop drop and roll when a man in armor approached him, hand raised. A wave of energy passed him over, and the fire disappeared. He swallowed hard—his mouth suddenly tasted of metal.
“You know the rules, apprentice. No casting outside of classes without supervision. Just because the First Enchanter said you’d be taking your Harrowing soon doesn’t mean you can ignore the rules,” the armored man said, shaking his head.
First Enchanter. His second clue. The pieces started to fall into place, and he tried very hard to not have a panic attack in front of what was very likely a templar.
“Right,” he spoke. His voice was different. Lower, more even, than before. “Sorry. Just… practicing.”
The armored man continued down the corridor, muttering something about mages and not getting paid enough.
He had panicked. Barely registering his actions, he’d all but run to what looked promisingly like a library. He’d grabbed a book off the first shelf without even checking to see what it was, found a vacant table, and opened the book and sat down.
He’d really hoped to the casual observer that he was just engrossed in the text, not fully experiencing an existential crisis.
This wasn’t happening. This was a dream. An extremely realistic dream. If not, then an elaborate prank.
Why—how the hell had he fallen asleep on his couch watching Game of Thrones and woken up in a video game? That kind of shit didn’t happen to actual people.
He’d spent what felt like an eternity of trying to rationalize. It didn’t make sense. He wasn’t sure it ever would.
His downward spiral of existential dread had been interrupted by someone shaking his shoulder. He snapped his head up to see a face he’d only previously seen before behind a computer monitor.
“Are you alright? You’re white as a sheet.”
Jowan. From the mage origin. Given that Jowan was here, he could assume this was before the Blight. That was useful to know, anyways.
He’d thought quickly, trying to come up with a reasonable way to play this off so no one would think he was possessed (which he supposed he technically was?) and get a templar to run him through.
“Yeah. Just… it just really hit me, you know? The Harrowing,” he said. The templar had said something about his—or whoever’s body he was inhabiting—expecting a Harrowing soon.
Jowan looked surprised. He gulped—was that not the right thing to say? “Really? You’re that worried? But you’re always so confident.”
“Uhm… I just didn’t want you to see how scared I am.” He was fucking terrified.
Jowan’s expression softened. “You know you don’t have to hide anything from me. You’re my best friend, you can tell me anything.” Jowan shifted a little uncomfortably, “Honestly, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. Nira passed her Harrowing last month, remember? And she’s only seventeen. But to be fair, that’s Nira. Irving’s star pupil.” Jowan rolled his eyes. “Still, you’re easily the most talented of the current apprentices. I overheard Irving and Greagoir talking earlier, and they expect you’ll do well once the time comes.”
He listened carefully as Jowan spoke, trying to gather context. Someone named Nira was Irving’s favorite. That was usually whoever the Hero of Ferelden ended up being, right? And apparently he was supposed to be a competent mage. Great. So he was inhabiting a body with the power to set a city on fire, but none of the knowledge on how to actually control it.
He’d felt his hands starting to heat up. He’d clenched his fists under the table, nails biting into his palms painfully. Stop it, stop it, stop it… He’d managed not to burst into flames, at least.
Jowan had then grabbed the book laid out on the table. “What were you reading? I called you a couple times, but you were so focused I don’t think you heard me.” Jowan turned the book so he could read the cover, raising an eyebrow. “‘Koslun: Philosopher or Tyrant?’” He asked skeptically.
He’d sighed, realizing he was going to have to do a tremendous amount of bullshitting to keep suspicions from rising. Fortunately, he knew his Dragon Age lore.
“Yeah. The Qunari are more interesting than you’d think, especially with how they see magic. Did you know they fear magic so much they collar them and sew their mouthes closed?”
Jowan’s face turned very, very white. He passed the book back so fast it might have been on fire. “Sounds like light reading. Come on, or we’ll be late for our afternoon lecture.”
He looked back down at the book and realized with a start that it was definitely not written in English. The letters were strange and blocky. There were a couple characters that he thought he could recognize if he squinted really intensely. It looked vaguely closer to ye olden English, like, from before Shakespeare. But that was all he could reasonably compare it to.
Marvelous. Not only was he trapped in a body not his in a place that was supposed to be fictional, but he was also now illiterate. An illiterate mage. Yeah, no way he was going to be able to explain his sudden inability to read.
Fortunately, no one called on him to read out loud.
He learned shortly enough that his name—or the name of the man who’s body he was wearing—was Edmund.
Which meant he was inhabiting the body of a potential Grey Warden.
It was weird hearing people call him that, but he learned to respond to it quickly enough.
He’d spent most of the first weeks in the tower not talking much and listening like his life depended on it. Because it probably did. He listened in the lectures in silence with the text open in front of him, trying to learn the words on the page by listening to the instructors speak. It helped a little, but really not enough. Most of what they talked about sounded like nonsense anyways—something about repulsion fields compounding aura amplification in conjunction with minor spirit interceptors.
He was doomed. His calculus classes had made more sense than this. He knew general information about magic from codex entries, but when it came to actual technical know-how he was no better than the newest apprentice.
He used the lecture hours to get the hang of writing with a quill and ink on scrap pieces of parchment, which was significantly more challenging than he expected.
In the practice sessions where they were actually required to perform magic, he used nerves from his impending Harrowing as an excuse to not participate. Most of the instructors bought the excuse with sympathetic eyes and allowed him to observe.
There was one that still made him participate, citing that “he would want to be well prepared.”
He was handed a staff and instructed to cast a paralysis spell on one of the other apprentices.
There were so many ways for this to go wrong.
He took a slow breath, trying to remember the information about paralysis spells from the game.
The caster saps a target's energy, paralyzing it for a time unless it passes a physical resistance check, in which case its movement speed is reduced instead.
Edmund gripped the staff in his hand, imitating the casting position from the game. It felt awkward and stiff.
He needed to use his mana to draw on energy from the Fade. Which would probably be a simple matter if he knew how to actually do that.
Edmund took another deep breath and pulled from something deep within him. It felt… like a door opening, but the hinges were rusty and resistant. The door opened the slightest crack.
He felt energy pass from him towards the other apprentice, but nothing really happened. He glanced uncertainly at the instructor, who motioned that he should try again.
He refocused. That door inside him needed to be open more. He took another deep breath, pulling at the door.
It flew open, unleashing a torrent of power like floodwater.
He cast again.
The apprentices robes caught fire.
“Shit! I’m so sorry!” He dropped the staff as the apprentice started screaming. “Stop drop and roll, come on!” Did the same principles for putting out normal fires even apply to magically conjured flames?
Edmund looked desperately to the instructor… who was not moving. He turned wildly to the other apprentices in the class. They weren’t moving either. No one in the entire hall was moving, except for him. And the still screaming apprentice who was currently wrapped in a rug, rolling on the floor.
He hadn’t paralyzed the apprentice like he was supposed to. He’d set him on fire… and cast mass paralysis on everyone else in the room.
He reached back within himself and pulled that psychological… magical…. whatever door closed as hard as he could. The paralysis lifted, and the flames vanished. The poor apprentices clothes were mostly ash, now, leaving him nearly naked in front of his entire class.
The instructor stared in astonishment that quickly turned to anger.
Edmund smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. Harrowing nerves got the best of me.” The Harrowing excuse felt paper thin, but it’d held up so far.
“Young man, you must regain control over yourself, or you will never master the de—the challenge.” The instructor scolded.
The demon, he completed silently. He knew something of what to expect. More than they thought he knew. But also, somehow less.
He was vaguely aware of the other apprentices staring at him and turned to see them wearing blatant awe and jealousy on their faces, which confused him.
It was cleared up for him later that evening when he found Jowan in the mess hall.
“Is it true?” Jowan said, dropping his plate on the table and sitting next to Edmund.
He raised a brow. “Is what true?”
“Don’t start being humble now!” Jowan knocked his shoulder good-naturedly. “Keili says you cast mass-paralysis on the entire practice hall!”
“On accident.” He shrugged, going back to his porridge.
“Ohoho, you may be able to fool old Enchanter Brigsby, but you can’t pull the wool over my eyes. I know you, you’d never pass up a chance to show off. Where’d you find the time to learn such an advanced spell, anyways?”
He added that to the list of attributes he was learning that described the actual Edmund. A talented mage who preferred the creation schools of magic, which caused some eyebrows to raise at his apparently sudden “proficiency” with fire. Despite his gifts, Edmund was apparently a troublemaker and rebellious often enough for most of the enchanters to expect chaos from him. And also apparently a showoff.
Jowan was still going on about his apparently impressive spellwork when an unfamiliar elven woman seated herself on the other side of the table from him. Her yellow robes identified her as a full mage, no longer an apprentice.
She was… striking, was one word for it. Her hair was light enough to be mistaken for silver and pulled into what was a probably painfully tight bun at the top of her head. Her features were severe in the way that implied she rarely smiled.
Jowan gave her a sideways smile. “Well well, look who finally decided to grace us with her presence.”
The elf rolled her eyes. “Hello to you too, Jowan.”
“How’s it up in the nice mages quarters?”
She shrugged. “They keep me busy.”
Jowan snorted. “I bet. Between kissing up to Irving and snogging that templar of yours, it’s a wonder you have any time for lowly apprentices like us.”
“Just because you’re my friend doesn’t mean I won’t electrocute you, you know.” Her voice was cold, but the corners of her mouth twitched upwards ever so slightly.
Jowan was unfazed. He tilted his head so he was looking down his nose at them and pitched his voice comically high. “I’m Nira Surana. I am practically perfect in every way. I scored higher on my spirit assessment than any other mage in twenty years. I took my Harrowing three years early.”
Nira Surana. Surana. Edmund gave her a contemplative look. She was the other mage origin. And apparently, actually a competent mage. But why was she already Harrowed? The Hero wasn’t supposed to undertake the Harrowing until right before Duncan’s arrival to the Circle, and she’d been a full mage for a month at this point.
He didn’t want to think about the possible implications.
Nira only looked amused. “I didn’t come here so you could sing my praises, but it is an unexpected surprise.”
Jowan groaned, biting into a leg of chicken. “Leave it to you to take mockery for a compliment. So what are you doing here?”
“I was wondering if either of you had heard the news. About what’s happening down south.”
“South?” Jowan asked. Edmund stilled.
“There’s a war effort going on in the Wilds. The king is calling for mages to support the army. Wynne, Uldred, and six other senior mages left this morning along with a squad of templars.”
“Really? How do you know about this?” Jowan asked, eyes wide with interest.
Nira shrugged. “Studying under the First Enchanter has its perks, like interesting information. You really should have accepted when he offered the role to you, Edmund.”
He filed that in with the rest of the information he’d gathered: offered to study under Irving, and declined.
“Well you know me.” He said with a non-non-committal shrug. “Besides, it seems to suit you.”
“My dear Edmund, did you just offer the good lady a compliment?” Jowan laughed, “Watch out. Jealous is a bad look on a templar.”
“Shut up, you ass.” He flicked spoonful of porridge at that mans’ face. If he was gathering this correctly, Nira and Cullen were a Thing™. Which was strange, because he was sure the game had implied that Cullen and the female mage had a tentative flirationship at best by the time Duncan came around.
One more thing that was different.
“How is that going, by the way?” Jowan rounded back on Nira. “I’m sure you know what you’re doing could land both of you in serious trouble if anyone actually found out.”
Nira gave him a hard look that clearly communicated her willingness to electrocute him. “What ever do you mean, apprentice? Ser Cullen simply supervises me as I study in the library, doing his duty as a templar serving the Maker.”
“Leave her alone. You’re hardly one to talk,” Edmund said, thinking very distinctly of a certain Chantry initiate. He made a mental note to see if he couldn’t find Lily somewhere around the tower. Maybe he could do something, keep things from getting out of hand?
Jowan shifted uncomfortably and returned to his dinner with renewed interest.
“I should probably go. I still have to prepare tomorrow’s lesson for the new apprentices,” Nira stood. Edmund felt apprehensive as she looked at him and her silver eyes showed fear. “I… I’m sure I’ll see you again soon. Good luck.”
That was… odd. He gave Jowan a questioning look, and the man only shrugged. “You know she’s always been a little weird. I think all the special treatment has damaged her brain.”
“I don’t think that’s how that works.” Edmund frowned. That wasn’t just odd. It was a warning. Nira was working close with Irving. She had access to information. She was worried.
The Harrowing. It was happening soon, then.
“Whatever. Come on, let’s go to the practice hall. You’ve got to show me how you cast that spell earlier!”
Edmund tried to protest, but Jowan all but dragged him to the practice hall. It occurred to him that Jowan was desperate to learn, to become a better mage. The reason Jowan turned to blood magic was because he was terrified of Tranquility.
Jowan was a good guy, just not the best student, apparently. Maybe it was just the learning environment that kept him from excelling. And blood magic itself wasn’t really the problem, as the games had lead him to believe.
He did honestly try to recreate the spell and explain to Jowan how he did it. Over the course of an hour he failed to cast mass paralysis, but succeeded in setting the curtains on fire not once, but four separate times.
Somewhere, the universe was laughing at him. He was a firefighter, for Christ’s sake. It was almost too ironic that any time he tried to do magic something went up in flames.
“Well, on the bright side, your fire magic seems to have improved greatly,” said Jowan. “I remember you used to not even be able to light a candle. You must be really worried about this Harrowing if you can’t even cast straight.”
He frowned. The real Edmund apparently really sucked at fire magic.
“I’ll feel better once it’s over with.” Edmund replaced the practice staff to it’s place on the rack. “Come on, let’s turn in for the night.”
Duncan looked at the looming tower. The moon was bright tonight, its glow illuminating the surface of the lake.
The senior Wardens who accompanied him had chosen to remain in the inn by the lake, deciding one Warden was enough to deliver the king’s message to the mages and probably make for a quicker visit and less fuss.
A brief stop at the Circle on the king’s behalf to request more mages for the army, and then off to the deep roads for reconnaissance. He feared a Blight was beginning, but the deeps would need to be inspected before they could know for certain.
For now, the tower awaited. Perhaps he might look at recruiting while he was here.
He’d had some weird dreams before. None of them ever felt like this, however.
The Fade wasn’t green like in Inquisition or quite as brown in reality as it was in Origins, but it was strangely colorless, filled with shifting shades of grey. Half-buried pillars and strange tree-branches protruded from the ground at odd angles and statues floated in mid-air, featureless like mannequins. Edmund shuddered and forced himself to look away from them.
He followed the path set before him. Floating high in the horizon was a dark shape. The Black City, if he remembered right.
The Fade was shaped by perception, he reminded himself. He could impose his will on this reality.
Now he just needed to figure out how to actually do that.
Before long he came across “Mouse.” Edmund narrowed his eyes—he knew what to expect.
Mouse gave a long-suffering sigh. “Someone else thrown to the wolves. As fresh and unprepared as ever. It isn’t right that they do this, the templars. Not to you, to me, to anyone.”
Edmund nodded. “Yeah, templars kinda suck.” He eyed the rodent. Follow the script and play along, or…
“But they keep doing this, don’t they? We’re treated like rabid dogs, and we let them get away with it! It’s always the same. But it’s not your fault. You’re in the same boat I was, aren’t you?”
From a certain point of view, certainly. “Mages forced to face spirits, and spirits caged and forced to face mages. A shit deal all around.”
If a rodent could frown, this one did. “I’m no spirit,” True. Not a spirit, but a demon. Mouse’s form glowed as he shifted to a human form and introduced himself. “Allow me to welcome you to the Fade. You can call me… well, Mouse.”
“I don’t have time for this,” said Edmund. “Look, I know what’s up. You play all meek and helpless, get my trust, I encourage you, you help me fight a rage demon. You butter me up to try and get me to let you in. Then, in a thrilling twist, you were a demon the whole time! Shocking! Only, not.”
Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to antagonize what was likely a very powerful demon of pride, but Edmund found himself not caring. If he didn’t get help from somewhere, he was probably going to get himself killed.
He knew the script. Time to see what rules he could break.
“You…” Mouse narrowed his eyes. When he spoke again, his voice had a distinct reverberance it didn’t have before. “You know?”
“Look. I don’t want to have to fight you. The mages and templars caged you here to serve as a test for apprentices, right?”
Mouse didn’t answer, and instead began pacing a circle around Edmund. He turned in place, keeping his front to the prowling demon.
Mouse laughed, voice significantly deeper than before. “I can see it now. There are pieces of you that don’t fit. Already possessed, but not. Wearing skin not yours, but not taken.”
“You can tell?” Edmund asked. If there was anyone he could get insight from, it was probably a spirit. Or demon. Whatever.
“Curious. I wonder—if I rode your body, would both remain? Or would we all shatter in the collide?”
“I’d rather we didn’t find out.”
Mouse laughed. “Well. Now we are at an impass. I may simply have to kill you.” Edmund stilled. A death in the Fade… he remembered from the second game: death in the Fade lead to Tranquility.
“No.” He surprised himself by the authority in his voice. “I want your help.”
Mouse smiled. Its mouth was filled with teeth like razor blades. “A deal?”
“Of a sort.” Edmund shrugged. He dated a lawyer, once. He knew how to argue. “Like you said, I don’t fit. Can you put me back where I do fit?”
“No. I cannot do that.”
“Then teach me magic. If I can’t go back, I need better control, or to at least know what I’m doing. A Blight is coming. I need to help stop it.” If he couldn’t go home, he could use what he knew to change things. Make things better. And if he didn’t get some serious help with controlling his new powers, he was going to burn himself alive before he saw his first genlock.
Mouse resumed pacing. “Interesting. And what, little mageling, would you offer me in return? I cannot wear your skin. What else do you have to give me?”
Mouse growled. “I am Pride, boy, not Knowledge or Wisdom. Try again,” the demon hissed, it’s skin becoming more purple and scaly.
Edmund crossed his arms. If he remembered a certain egg head correctly, Pride could form from Wisdom. Maybe he could still appeal to that nature. “Exactly. You will know things no one else in the world does. No one, but me. Just think for a second! You could bribe other spirits driven by those attributes with knowledge they could find nowhere but from you. You become the authority. I know things. Not just about where I am from, but about things here that haven’t even happened yet. If you help me, you could too.”
The exterior of Mouse was fully shed now, and Pride loomed over him. Edmund stood very, very still.
“I accept,” said Pride. Edmund couldn’t bring himself to be relieved—he had, after all, made a deal with a literal demon. “You are a true mage. When faced with a test, most would answer the questions. You… you asked questions of your own.”
“It helps to have a cheat sheet,” said Edmund with a small smile.
Pride laughed. “Keep your wits about you, mage. True tests never end.”