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Practical Applications of Magic

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Even a Templar could tell the uneducated that there was inherent danger in young mages that went far beyond the immaturities of the body and the mind. While immaturities of the body could be relied upon within reason to temper the abilities of a young mage the potential for them lashing out and dealing death was significantly older than their older counterparts. For young mages magic was intuitive, instinctive, and therefore far more dangerous as it had yet to be molded into a shape and tempered by training and the Harrowing. This could be reasonably deduced by an intuitive man but there was more involving the immaturities of the body and mind that ran deep beneath the surface.

Incidents such as the one that instigated the war between the Templars and Mages in Kirkwall were not uncommon among young mages threatened with physical violence and given reason to fear for their own lives. In a moment of pure animalistic fear a mage could draw to much magic into themselves from the ambient, from the Fade, and from their own font resulting in a rather spectacular explosion that more often then not reduced the mage in question to ashes or left them in such a state that death would be a mercy. Given the mental immaturity of children with a natural affinity for magic these events were more common amongst them.

It was more for fear of these events than the fear of abominations that the Templars tried to take gifted children into circles as soon as they started showing signs of a natural affinity for attunement to the Fade. However history had proven that letting this become common knowledge resulted in more instances of small folk beating these children to death or otherwise maiming them which in turn could result in volatile explosions as the arcane torture restrained within a mage’s body reached that critical, invisible limit and broke free.

The Circles had special rules for children that only the most careless or those with the greatest death wishes blinded by their hatred of magic would violate without great need. The first was that young mages were never subjected to unnecessary stresses before passing a battery of several tests. They were never subjected to sleep deprivation, starvation, dehydration or pain. The second was that all of the practical instruction in magic was done in the pre-dawn or twilight hours, especially if the day’s instruction concerned elemental magics, before passing a battery of tests. The sun’s energies made the connection to the Fade in some way unstable, though whether this was because of the sun’s strong association with fire and fire’s strong association with life and magic or some other metaphysical association was a matter of speculation and heated debates.

 The third and by far the most important rule was that young mages in the Circle were taught control above and beyond all other things. Control of magic if not self-control. Magic was a dangerous and oft times unpredictable force. It was why Circles were important, it was why mages were dangerous.

All of this was why she was torn between objecting how quickly the girl’s training had been accelerated and the stresses she was put under near constantly and restraining herself at the necessity of it. It both shamed and humbled her to say that if the girl had been human, wholly human, she would have put an end to it immediately. But the girl was not.

In her youth she had often been jealous of the elves in the Circle, how quickly they seemed to grasp concepts and master them, how imaginative their spells could become. Looking on now with the well trained eye of an accomplished Enchantress she was beginning to understand why the Dalish so hated humans for destroying their once great empire and just how far the elves had fallen.

Magic was in actuality a series of mysteries: lower, lesser, minor, major, greater, and higher that wound together in an spiral of surges that allowed the world to function as it did. Life itself was a product of one of the higher mysteries that alluded even the grasp of the most powerful of abomination’s minds by virtue of being a product of that particular mystery. The intrinsic understanding of each mystery allowed a mage to manipulate them and the intrinsic understanding of any given mystery was determined by the attunement of their affinity.

The lower, lesser, and minor mysteries were the most basic of spells a mage call upon and formed the foundation of all magic. For simplicity they could be placed into eight categories: illusion being the creation of images or sounds that did not exist, alteration being the minor alteration of the body and mind, destruction being the elemental magic, conjuration being the summoning of familiars, restoration being the healing arts, enchanting being the addition of spells to objects or living beings up to and including people, mysticism, and thaumaturgy. The last two were harder to define and added as the categories into which everything that was not the previous six were placed into.

Understandings were hard won by human mages, the product of exhaustive study and hours of practice made easier only if the mage had studied as a child. Watching the girl during her studies had given unique perspective into how elvish children differed greatly from human children in regards to the mysteries. The time between being introduced to a concept and truly understanding the basis of the concept was dramatically reduced. In the scant few hours between true dawn and sunrise the girl had comprehended the formation of wards and found a way to alter  them such that they slowed down oncoming projectiles in a twenty-foot radius of her enough to grant her time to dodge out of their path.

Wards were usually used as either shields against oncoming projectiles, magic and non-magical in origin, or redirect projectiles, magic and non-magic in origin, to their point of origin with equal or greater force. What she had witnessed the girl perform strayed from the most obscure branch of restoration into mysticism, of a caliber many experienced human Enchanters of Circles all across Thedas would be hard pressed to display even the most basic example of: metamagic.

Metamagic seemed to be the province of elves more than their pointed ears or eyes that changed like a cat’s in light. It bespoke of the complete understanding of a mystery and the ability to bend it to their will at a moment’s notice for any purpose within the limit of reason. The limit of reason with wards, it seemed, was in some way slowing oncoming objects to a degree that they could be avoided with ease without draining the mage’s stamina too greatly overcoming one of the greatest weaknesses of wards. No matter how strong the ward was if it was hammered away at for long enough and hard enough or hit in the wrong place it either dissolved or dispelled violently.

The only way to overcome that weakness that she had known of prior to this morning’s supervision of the girl’s training had been to root the spell to a suitable anchor on the mage’s body, like a shoe, and use some spell of alteration to reinforce the body to make taking whatever residual force that made it through the ward as it bent around the force applied to it easier. But this required a higher level of skill and required far more energy than setting a ward away from the body which was not the purpose of that particular kind of defensive ward. The only other alternative was to enchant an object, usually a belt or necklace or bracelet, with the ward and avoid taking too many direct hits so that the enchantment wouldn’t break under sustained assault.

That such a high level of magical prowess had quickly become the plaything of a child as two men took turns throwing pinecones and small rocks as hard as they could at the spaces around the child went a long way into invalidating just what a ward could be used for. That said high level of magical prowess had previously slowed the men down as they charged full pelt at her in an impromptu game of tag was equally troubling for the traditional teachings of the Circles. That one man was a qunari mercenary captain with a stride twice the length of a normal man’s and not even he had been able to so much as get close spoke of the spell’s viability in a life or death situation.

Insofar they had all come to an agreement that any magic that the girl was being taught in the immediate future would be focused solely on keeping the girl alive: wards, vine traps, the creation of bogs or quicksand from solid earth, and minor illusions. Vine traps had the addition of water from the ambient air or conjured water to the ground in large quantities had come as easily as breathing and seemed to be an expansion on the first lessons the Dalish taught children capable of magic. Minor illusions such as images and sounds individually had become major illusions within three weeks, multiple little red haired elves scattering in every direction all of which capable of exhibiting some degree of fatigue and leaving faint sign of a trail.

But even with the successes of the day wards would take far longer. Slowing a charging man or two and small objects was not the same as slowing a spell. No one was too keen on using anything more dangerous and even magic for instruction aimed in a manner which would not come within feet of the student could have unfortunate consequences.  One simply did not throw fireballs as an eight year old even if said eight year old was particularly gifted with the weave. Especially not during the day when the firmament was loud and the tapping of a font for even the most basic of spells could result in a splitting headache.

There were reasons that even the most experienced of mages still relied heavily upon enchantments, particularly those that midigated the effects of using magic when the sun was full in the sky.

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Arcane trickery was considered a particularly distasteful specialization of magic for most mages. Objectively there was nothing wrong with arcane trickery, the variety of spells available which fell into that particular discipline allowed a mage an unconventional arsenal from which to draw upon, but it was a specialization which interested only the youngest or newest of the novices brought to a Circle. Generations of tradition had trained mages and Templars alike to look upon arcane trickery as distasteful at worse and children’s games at best. The very nature of Circles and the instruction of novices allowed a certain degree of leniency for harmless pranks of an arcane nature if they were indeed harmless and directed at novices by novices of their age group. Because the type of prank involved rarely was an invocation of harmless sensory effects, placing invisible rocks in a fellow novice’s path or placing something particularly heavy on their cloak or taking one from a nap with a sharp pop or bang, Templars rarely bothered to put an end to it. The realities of life within a Circle would dawn upon the novices as they grew into their maturity and none had the gall to include a Templar in their jokes.

More once a novice learned the basics of destruction very few of them bothered with the passive magic they had been taught in their earliest days of instruction.

The danger of arcane trickery was that it specialized in the very type of magic that Templars and Mages were taught unconsciously to disregard or look down upon as the province of young children: subtle passive magic. Subtle passive magic was difficult to detect in the ambient and near impossible if the ambient was saturated with active magic. If the mystery called upon and worked was lesser than an enchantment or rune unless one was specifically looking for an invisible wall at knee height one was unlikely to find said invisible wall at knee height until they stumbled into it. The skill of an arcane trickster was setting up a suitable distraction comprised of active magic to mask what they were doing elsewhere, a sleight of hand to arcane senses great enough to obscure the draw of energies from their font into whatever piece of mischief they were working until said mischief had been anchored securely to whatever they had secured it too. The rune or enchantment they had worked while blinding someone, for example, with a flash of brilliant colored sparks was only a distraction for whatever they had actually done.

This was not to say that runes and enchantments were not passive magic, indeed to most runes were the first step towards so called mastery of passive magic in the forms of enchantments. A rune was a mystery that had been anchored into shape with a physical glyph etched into a surface which usually served as a trap of some sort, the school of destruction was particularly amenable to this form of expression though there were aspects of each which could be rendered into a rune. Once a rune had been set it would lay until it had been triggered, the larger the spell awaiting to be released the larger the rune would need to be to safely store it without collapsing under the pressures created by compressed arcane energy. However runes were inherently unstable, they leaked arcane energy easily detected by anyone with any sensitivity to the weave. Enchantments on the other hand were a natural extension of runes which required far more skill to successfully render, folding runes one on top of the other until the desired effect was achieved. The layering of runes, layering of spells, made them significantly more stable in that the final few mysteries entwined within an enchantment were barriers specifically for holding a spell in place for a set period of time -the stronger the barrier the more permanent the enchantment.

However few mages bothered with passive magic because active magic was stronger at the basic level of competency than passive magic was; the flare of unleashing elemental powers or casting spells which affected the terrain or broke the minds of others had won mages a place of fear and awe and disdain across Thedas and beyond. Active magic was still tied to the font of the mage who had conjured it until its effect had been realized or completely dispelled and did not require a mage to learn how to anchor a spell sufficiently deep enough to prevent it from simply being knocked aside. Anchoring was a far more difficult task to manage than forming a spear of ice from the water in the ambient and hurtling it at a straw dummy and generally less enjoyable than spending hours attempting to learn a concept that few had the aptitude for.

An arcane trickster did the exact opposite of most mages and a particularly talented arcane trickster with an eye for opportunity was capable of doing more harm to an enemy force than a mage lancing enemies with bolts of electricity, particularly if an arcane trickster was capable of anchoring a spell from a significant distance away.

Barriers were an extension of wards with both serving a similar function, a ward was a personal shield carried by a soldier into battle and a barrier was the castle ramparts a soldier sheltered behind during a siege. A ward was designed to flex like the blade of a weapon allowing it a degree of durability that the rigid immovable wall that was the barrier, meant to shatter, simply did not have. Both fell into the category of spells which could be either used passively or actively though wards were generally passive magic, anchored to a piece of clothing for personal protection, while barriers were active. In most instances barriers were used to shield a large group of combatants from enemy combatants and were actively strengthen as necessary like the men of a castled hurriedly filling a breach with mortar and rubble and whatever else they could get their hands upon.

In the recent months Vivienne had been forced to come to terms with the fact that the basic tenants of magic which she had learned over years had been mastered by an elvhen child of eight years in a fraction of the time with the help of several particularly oversize playmates and the unfair advantage of elvhen blood. She had been forced to content herself with the knowledge that said elvhen child was receiving a piece meal instruction in the arcane arts beginning with the more passive magic, illusion, alteration and three of the major mysteries. She had come to look upon said elvhen child with no small degree of pride during their lessons but had had no intention of testing the child in battle.

The strategy of the Herald simply hiding somewhere inconvenient for demons but convenient for protection while closing a breach had served the Inquisition well for longer than anyone had expected, the girl had a natural inclination towards stealth and was capable of some trade craft which some experienced scouts would be hard pressed to reproduce. There were very few in Thedas who hadn’t become acquainted with a hook briar and fewer who were willing to tangle with the fickle bush after their first experience, the Herald was the only person she had ever seen voluntarily crawl into a thicket of hook briar and emerge unscathed. Insofar the only explanation that anyone had been able to present which began to explain the phenomena was that the Herald was an elvhen child raised for seven of her eight years by a loving Dalish family and that logic would dictate that a young Dalish babe was taught to hide and to hide very well in the event that their came was stumbled upon or came under attack.

Until today the trick with the hook briar had been the most impressive feat the Herald had replicated in a high pressure situation. There had been no hook briar, no slope so steep that it would force the Red Templars to dismount their horses to pursue, there had simply been no reasonable options save to stand and fight unless one had the mind of a child. An elvhen child, yes. A child which had seen the horrors of the world and still woke in the night crying, yes. But a child with immense magical gifts whom had recently added a new trick to her repertoire and quickly had gained no small skill in executing it on the fly had a solution for no less than fifty heavy horse barreling towards their small party across an open field at a manageable degrade in elevation.

It had been Dorian whom had first showed the girl the trick, a game where someone –usually the Iron Bull- would walk around in a circle and her task was to make a barrier just large enough to trip them up enough to stumble. It had been Sera whom had thought that exploiting that trick was hilarious and would easily prod a child with no age mates to join in the merriment. It had been Leliana whom had taught the girl that a child was no expected to be trained, to be prepared, and that a movement hidden in a façade of panic could be the difference between surviving and encounter with the enemy and not. It had been the Herald herself whom had discovered through trial and error that it was possible to set a barrier anywhere she wished within sight.

A proper cavalry charge of heavy horse was a wedged shape formation with the commanding officer of the unit leading from either the center or the spear point of the wedge. The idea was that the weight of the horses ahead and behind would drive the unit deep into the enemy lines, causing enough discord for the unit of heavy horse to then escape through the line of enemy combatants or rely upon the support of an additional unit of heavy horse or light horse to create a sufficient distraction for the majority of the unit to escape. For a party of nine individuals at the base of a hill with a shallow but lengthy incline the promise of heavy horse gaining that much momentum left them with little choice but to attempt to stand against the Red Templar’s death blow.

A week of being hunted day and night across the Hinterlands had run Vivienne, Dorian, and Solas ragged enough that they could no longer muster the energies necessary to fight against the pull of the Red Templars and keep a barrier in place which would protect them. Attempting to do so would only result in one of the maddened zealots poised to ride them down simply lancing the spell while it was forming and holding the channels opened draining the mage’s well even further. If asked she could not say who threw the first fire ball, only that before it got there a blinding flash of purple light snapped into existence for a heartbeat before the on rushing apostates effectively blinding them but doing nothing else save ignite their rage.

It was then that the Herald had made her move, once which would haunt everyone who had survived that day for quiet some time afterwards.

As the heat of the fire ball dissipated around the unit still riding fearlessly onward perhaps the most terrible tableau she had ever witnessed was brought into horrifying clarity before her very eyes. Vivienne understood clearly what had occurred, as surely as Dorian and Solas had, and yet a part of what the Herald had done escaped her. It did not seem like the actions of a child, the devastation and the horror of it and yet if she shifted her awareness forward the brilliant silver of the Herald’s barrier was blinding as the sunlight off the snows had been just a heartbeat before.

The first of the riders had crashed straight into the wall, their rides unable to steer their animals around an obstacle which they had not seen or perceived. The rest of the riders came hurtling along to crash into the barrier- the sound of horses in mortal agony not unalike the shrieks of those riders whom remained alive, the clanging of armor as it crashed into something far stronger, the horrific tearing noises and wet thumps all mercifully obscured by the blood quickly coating the barrier, covering the whole structure in a film of red liquid and thicker things gleaming obscenely in the sun. The Herald abruptly doubled over gagging, whether the magnitude had dawned upon the child or the scent, Vivienne simply could not determine.

The transparent, apparently fragile wall of magic proved to be a resilient as a cliff face though the barrier itself was inert; no more power was being drawn from the Herald. The girl had simply set her magic some fifty feet from the measurement she had gained with the firework she’d created at their head and prayed for the best. The best, in an instance, was the destruction of a unit if fanatical zealots by the harmless prank of a child, their own willingness to murder said child in frenzy, and their lack of respect for arcane trickery.

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A long storied history of wise women and oral tradition had successfully done what the Chantry had aimed to do as it begun to rise to prominence in the most effective smear campaign in history. Even with the augmentation of lyrium, blue or otherwise, a mage simply could not just continue to conjure spell after spell after illusion ad infinitum. That vision of hell which had been presented as the ultimate result of allowing mages agency over themselves had been used so often that the truth of the matter was known to only those who had spent a significant period of time travelling with a mage or had served as a Templar or Seeker. There was a limit to what ever red lyrium was capable of because there was a limit to how much magic a mage could draw, contain and release within a period of time –ignoring the possibility of catastrophic rupture of a mage’s font as a possibility, of course.

Active magic drained a mage’s font more swiftly than passive magic and by its very nature the Anchor was a piece of active magic though the Verlena seemed capable of controlling to some degree how much the Anchor could draw at a time. When inactive the Anchor could be made to draw from the ambient around them, from sunlight or starlight or firelight or the green, but when in an active state the ambient did not provide enough arcane energies for the Anchor to fuel itself. It fed straight from the young’s font from the time of activation until it had satisfied itself in the same manner as a stream feeding an irrigation system would force water through the system until the system gained equilibrium with the stream which fueled it. Once the Verlena unleashed the Anchor she was physically incapable of drawing back from the spell or closing down the channels as far as the Anchor would allow. True the young had gained no small skill in drawing harder from the ambient to supplement her own font therein lay the problem with the Anchor.

The Verlena was a young who had been made to go gallivanting about the countryside with companions whom had functionally stolen her away from her own people after surviving two disasters within the same week, tracking down tears in reality whose location was somewhere relative to the report but never exactly where it had first been seen in a desperate attempt to save the world by strengthening a piece of ancient magic that had somehow attached itself to her soul in a manner which was quite permanent.

And that was merely the plan which had been concocted to close the Breach.

There was also the Mage-Templar War to resolve and the complete restructuring of the Chantry and a war against actual demons being actively waged and, of course, the Game. It was too much to ask of anyone, let alone a young whom had only begun instruction in true woodcraft and magic the year before. Which was why it had been unusual at first that the Verlena had not delved, had not tunneled deeper into the immense font she possessed until one considered the Anchor.

The Anchor was attached deeply to her font like ivy that had been allowed to grow upon a wall and weaken the mortar holding it together, but had not yet reached its depths and become a part of her own power. It had not originally been his intention to do so, to render the Anchor as a part of the young’s power but fate and misfortune had conspired against him. If the Anchor had been loosed it would have gouged the young’s soul into pieces and the second explosion would likely have leveled the mountain and forced the Breach wider. No, instead he had been forced to rely upon chance and a prayer, capitalizing on her youth to make the transition easier. And like a seed planted in rich dark earth the place within the Verlena which bled stars had begun to bloom.

What he had done to save the young’s life had been akin to the Rite of Tranquility though far easier for the poor soul who was the recipient of artificial alterations to their magical core. While the Rite of Tranquility had a long since established base, a twisting, vicious curse designed specifically to cause the greatest amount of suffering in the shortest period of time fueled by a lyrium tainted stamp which left the tell tale brand by which Tranquils could be recognized he had had to manufacture his own. Fortunately the young had provided him with the tools necessary to create the medium. It had remained a shard thin as a sliver of a finger nail and barely the width of the point of his smallest finger. It had been a piece of the vessel the magic had occupied prior to her coming into contact with, a piece that he could easily hide underneath the thick bandages he had bound the young’s left hand in. The process of attunement should have taken longer and indeed would have taken longer had he been dealing with a female and not a young, all he needed do was attune the shard to resonate with the young and set the curse to do its work.

And indeed the curse had been doing its work, devouring any magic which came into contact with the young which was not her own or finding a way to chain it to her unconditionally if it was unable to simple devour it. He had just hoped the process would not take as long as his more reasonable projections had hinted it may. Watching the Verlena abruptly sway alarming did little to reassure him that there would be an end to the madness of the Breach anytime within the next few years.

Delving was an essential skill for a mage and one which the young seemed entirely incapable of for the time being.

The process of delving was relatively simple to understand but harder to execute with any precision the younger the mage was. Young were inherently instinctual creatures and never bothered to explore the floor to their power of their own volition, letting it expand naturally until they reached their maturity. In essence the base amount of power a mage could draw without augmentation or delving had a set value which changed as one grew into their maturity before it set at its final value. However this base value was the equivalent of a narrow cupboard in a family’s home in Val Royeaux, delving was the magical equivalent of stepping first out of the cupboard into the house, then stepping from the house into the city streets, then stepping from the city walls into the heartlands of Orlais. Like a cup the arcane energy pooled inside the mage reached the lip of their font and ceased to refill, the use of magic without delving was the equivalent of a modest sip from the cup, the beginning of delving was a desperate gulp, and to delve near to the bottom of that power was not unlike draining that cup in one long pull.

And the Verlena was incapable of it.

Or perhaps better put the young was entirely unwilling to risk destabilizing the Anchor, like a man who had broken the lesser bone in his lower leg would be hesitant to stand or put weight onto that limb. But that wasn’t to say that she would remain incapable of delving into her power or that she would have need to be able to do so.

The training she had undergone beneath the tutelage of the Knight-Enchanter and Tevinter Magus had leaned heavily towards alteration and illusion and restoration rather than the arts of destruction. On the battlefield an eight year old young without the skills necessary to disappear and hide effectively was an eight year old young that didn’t get to live to see their ninth summer, the same held true for expeditions out into the field. When her aptitude for shapeshifting and woodcraft were added with a dash of conjuration the scouts that Mistress of Ravens had engaged to further the Verlena’s skill in hiding were having increasing difficulty finding actual sign of the young let alone actually finding her. However that did not mean that when called upon to summon lightning, flame or ice she wasn’t as useful as the experienced mages who had taken the time to tutor her.

Hunting down rifts was a surprisingly difficult task which required more coverage than the fledgling Inquisition had to devote to any given area. Due to the nature of the Fade the locations of rifts were not set but were generalized, appearing within a torus which could be as wide as ten miles at its widest point. The longer the rift remained open the stronger the rift became the more energy required to close it and the stronger the pull to the center of the torus centralizing the location of the rift and its field of effect –allowing more powerful demons to make their way into the world. None of that had managed to slow the young down.

The Anchor pulsed as the edges of the world began to fold back around the cognitive, sewing the gouge created between them slowly shut, illuminating the silvery edges of the two barriers the young was busily engaged in using to crush the life out of the rage demon that had tried to break through into the physical. As the creature thrashed about, roaring defiance and the promise of death the barriers pulsed golden light where each movement allowed them to press against the demon more effectively. It seemed as if her first experience with rage demons and recent experimentation with barriers had come together to create a wholly unique scene.

Most people would prevent a rage demon from emerging into the world by forcing it back through the rifts with destructive power. The ruinous powers had never been the Verlena’s gut reactions and instincts so she had done one of the last things one would expect of someone faced with a demon. Smashed it in between two walls leaving retreat into the Fade as the only option it had to free itself. Sweat had poured down his face and back during that first encounter with a rage demon at a rift three months ago as he’d done what he could to hold it off, by contrast he wasn’t sure if the beads of sweat darkening the young’s hairline were a result of the hike up a mountain masquerading as a hill that had provided no shade from the burning sun or the effort required to maintain the barriers and close the rift at the same time.

Minimal.

She wasn’t straining to either maintain the barriers or close the Rift. Like a bait grub on a hook the young held the demon in place with barely a flicker of concentration because upon closer inspection it was not two barriers. It was one that she had somehow placed the demon at the center of. Feeding a single barrier required far less effort than maintaining two barriers and actively moving them together, because the force wasn’t being supplied from the outer surfaces of the barrier but rather the interior the force fed into the barrier was attempting to solidify the barrier. The harder the demon flailed the harder the barrier corrected itself, tightening the weave prompting the demon to writhe further repeating the cycle.

To the ungifted observer the question as to why this not a more frequently used. Naturally the answer was because it wasn’t an easy thing to do while actively closing a breach in the fabric of reality nor was it efficient unless you were the young, Tevinter Magisters of the previous ages, the Witch of the Wilds, the Son of the Witch of the Wilds, or the fallen elvhen lords of old. To the gifted observer descending into the Verlena’s power as she reached for it was a dangerous endeavor, a skilled or particularly brave mage could take the advantage presented by an active font of magic and attempt to lance it at its source if they could reach to the bottom of said mage’s font.

At first he had tried to excuse his inability to follow her magic back to its source, down to its font, was because he had slept for so long. Had excused it away as a result of the Anchor he had been so easily capable to bonding to her. The passing months had stripped him of his delusions; the Anchor would have bonded completely with her if he had reached the bottom of her source by now. But he hadn’t. That immense chamber he had found himself within, cavernous and magnificent as the halls of the dwarves in the deep roads, had not been all that the young was capable of. That had merely been the antechamber.

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The casual observer would be forgiven in believing that the Herald was obscenely powerful, capable of feats of magical prowess that dwarfed their childhood imaginations of what being a mage would be like. In their wildest day dreams before reality set in once again the casual observer could be forgiven for believing that there were no negative repercussions for the excessive use of magic beyond the inability to do magic for a period of time. The casual observer would never be privy to a mage taken to the limit of their abilities and no one save the council and close confidants would be privy to the Herald in such a state. The price a mage paid for the expenditure of all of their magic was great indeed. The lie that they had fabricated must remain peppered with kernels of truth that the Herald of Andraste had been chosen by the Maker to save them from themselves, an inexhaustible figure of impossible divine power and understanding and not an elvhen child of unfortunate circumstances.

The Herald was an elvhen child of unfortunate circumstances with a certain finesse for restoration, illusion and alteration; a finesse that allowed her to cut certain corners and thus use less arcane energies to achieve the same effect. The trick with barriers and wards had been playing to her strengths, slowing an object instead of stopping it required less arcane energies, creating a barrier around a demon allowed the magic to constrict as necessary to contain the shape and qualities inherent to its nature within the weave and required far less energies once one understood the basic concept. The creation of tactile illusions and shapeshifting was less training and more of a natural inclination towards those particular branches of magic and perhaps the only feats that the girl was capable of that could not be matched by her instructors with some practice and child-like thinking.

In truth the Herald’s strength was that she was a child. In the mind of a child it made more sense to slow an object down and dodge it than risk being hit, in the mind of a child a solid stone wall was an immovable barrier and anything caught within it simply would be unable to move. In the mind of an elvhen child whose eyes were more sensitive to light than that of a human bright explosions of harmless colors was more effective a distraction than a fireball, in the mind of an elvhen child the tricks and traps of hunters could be rendered directly into invisible traps of magic through the more obscure mysteries of alteration, and in the mind of an elvhen child few things were as dangerous as wild fires and thus an enormous ball of fire was more effective a weapon than five smaller balls of fire.

It had taken Dorian and Vivienne a single session to determine that destruction was a discipline of magic that the Herald may never truly have a grasp upon. The intuitive thinking of a child raised by nomads in deep woods did not adhere to the traditional teachings of magic and for her part the Herald seemed perfectly content to not use any of the understandings that she had been taught within the school of destruction. Which was not to say that the Herald was not perfectly capable of destroying the world and everything in it if moved to reach for destruction only that the end results were unfortunate for everyone involved.

Winter had been temperate in Orlais and spring unusually dry that year leaving the ground to crack and plants to dry to yellow husks. Even in the deep forests the leaves on ancient trees had withered to brown turning the unirrigated lands in western Orlais into kindling waiting for a spark to set it ablaze. The small folk had prayed for rain, for a storm to offer them respite from failing crops and the Maker had delivered instead a dry thunderstorm. In the foothills it was possible that the naked eye could see far beyond what one could see from the flatlands and someone had seen relative safety in the fields that the farmers had given up for lost and burned a week prior to lay fallow. As the forest had been consumed by the conflagration a mother had bid her children run before her, promised them that she would meet them in the barren earth of the fields and met her end in the attempt. A child was capable of squeezing through gaps an adult was not.

Before taking on the Mantle of Herald of Andraste Eirlana, daughter of Adhlea and Eolas of Clan Lavellan, had run through fire and lightning to safety. It had been the scouts of the Divine Justinia’s escort that had found the girl stumbling about like a drunk head spinning from the smoke and burned from her journey. Eirlana’s elder brother Haleir had been found the next morning, crawling over the ground in agony, calling for his sister. Haleir had not survived the week, his burns too numerous and the infection spread too deeply for even magic to save him. The physician had given him enough poppy and white willow bark that he had simply fallen into an endless dream and ceased breathing to spare him the pain of the slow death that consciousness would have him endure.

Within the span of a week Eirlana had been orphaned by flame and lightning. It had been the Divine Justinia’s hope that a representative from Clan Lavellan would make an appearance at the Conclave. Clan Lavellan had always been amenable to humans, the more moderate of its members engaging in trade or offering their services as laborers for a fair wage or barter in the more secluded hamlets and villages where their forbearers had made their circuits for generations unchanged throughout western Orlais and the Free Marshes. The company would inevitably meet members of the clan on the road either on the way to the Temple of Sacred Ashes or on the journey back to Val Royeaux where the girl would be returned to her people to be raised by second cousins or an aunt or uncle.

In another world, a kinder world Eirlana would have never lost her family. In another world Eirlana would have been returned to her people. In this world circumstance had contrived to leave a elvhen child without her family and the unshakable conviction that the most terrible force in the world was that of lightning and fire, forever entwining those two forces together.

For Eirlana there was no separating the two and she may never be able to reconcile herself to the fact that the forces were indeed separate crippling her understanding of destruction. It had been lightning and fire that had taken her mother and father away from her, it had been the injuries caused by lightning and fire that had taken her brother from her. The outpouring of those emotions were unfortunate, the vivid color they painted on her mind rendering her unable to safely call upon those forces in moderation.

It was a trump card to be used in the direst of circumstances and being caught flatfooted on a mountainside, exhausted from a long journey and surrounded by a company of Red Templar who had been lying in ambush was dire enough to warrant a Hail Andraste Wife of the Maker.

The fires of hell itself had raged across the mountainside, brilliant and terrible as the dawn when the spell detonated. It had been the shockwave that had slammed into Cassandra first, taking her unawares, the pressure building beneath the lip of her shield throwing her guard wide and smacking into her chest with the force of an angry god. She’d tumbled helplessly through the air keenly aware of the fact that there was nothing she could do to negate the magical force that had created the explosion, the power had been released and given form, her mind occupied with finding the ground safely and not simply being swept away like a leaf in high winds.

A talented mage the Knight-Enchanter and Tevinter Magus together were more than capable to shielding themselves and those around them from the worse effects of the blast by entwining their respective barriers before them. Layer after layer like sheets of paper in a book, individually flimsy but when stacked in such a way far stronger than the aggregate parts, a blade may pierce a sheet of paper with ease but it would take immense strength to drive even a Fereldan’s dirk through a hefty tome. The barriers had to have already been in place or Vivienne would not have given the Herald the command to do the one thing that she had been expressly forbidden to do.

Cassandra come to rest upwind of the spell’s center dazed and shaken in the absolute silence as if the world was waiting to take a breath, she’d had enough sense to throw her shield before her activating the runes which held its enchantment before the searing heat had stolen the world and everything in it. A powerful spell invoking fire roared, crackling like a bond fire, the spell that the Herald had unleashed did not roar. If a spell roared it was capable of being unwound, capable of being stopped in its tracks or redirected by a competent Templar. While the Red Templars were more than competent they had a tendency of simply battering a powerful spell away like one would batter an inexperienced fighter away with a well-timed shield thrust on the yard. But the Herald had done what no trained Circle mage would dare attempt for fear of it failing.

Lightning and wind and fire fueled by all the arcane energy that girl possessed released in a sudden surge of strength. If madness had a sound it would be what the Herald had conjured. It was the sound of a thousand birds giving voice at once, the sound of a whistling tea kettle and the screams of a creature in mindless agony. The pressure holding the Seeker to the ground released its grip in a heartbeat her ears popping as the power was sucked back into the vacuum that it had created leaving nothing save the blackened crater it had created, the ashes of everything that had been in a fifteen meter radius drifting away on a brisk mountain breeze. The Herald had voiced the lie that it was impossible for a mage to win a fight against a Templar let alone multiple, the negation of magic had quantifiable limits if the Templar was overwhelmed by a sudden, sufficient force.

Across the field the Herald was down, sitting slumped over her knees, eyes vacant and glassy. Helpless to defend herself, sweating and ashen and irresponsive, the anchor flaring sickly green beneath the thick darkly dyed linen wrapped around her left hand. A mage moved to defend themselves in such a manner was unable to muster the strength to crawl let alone fend off a sword. Carefully Bull eased the girl up into his arms, cut and bruised but otherwise unharmed, leaving her to lie boneless against his chest and shoulder. The price a mage paid for the expenditure of all of their magic was great indeed.

Chapter Text

Charming or otherwise pacifying beasts was an obscure talent attributed to shapeshifters that was often overlooked despite its utility. Living in the shape of an animal allowed one certain insights into their behaviors that were otherwise lacking even to those experienced in the husbandry of a particular beast. It was one of the more obvious differences between a mage with the ability to shapeshift and a shapeshifter who was also a mage. There was a difference in finesse as there was with any of the mysteries after true mastery but where the mastery of illusions granted a greater degree of precision in the creation of illusions a mastery of the ability to shapeshift made a shapeshifter far more dangerous.

Understanding the basic locomotion and senses granted by any wild shape was essential for anyone who dabbled in shapeshifting. Coordinating limbs and regaining ones balance after being a four legged creature or a bird for an extended period of time before returning to ones natural shape was crucial for not dropping oneself onto ones face. Altering the essential functions of a beast to suit ones needs at a moment’s notice or changing the physical characteristics of a beast before completing a successful shift were entirely separate skills that few realized were capable.

Few Circle mages who had not been taken before they had come to terms with the differences between the shape of a beast and the shape of a man became true shapeshifters, it was a mystery that was the proficiency of children more than the proficiency of an adult. More than one child had dreamed of being a valiant knight or warrior slaying a dragon from the back of a mighty destrier, many children had roved the fields of their parents pretending to be wolves. The two children in the garden had taken their game to a higher level.

For all that the Inquisition had been capable of providing the Herald to maintain the image that they had carefully crafted the Herald of Andraste had not been allowed to play with other children. Even if they had allowed it the parents of any potential playmates would scold their children harshly, invoking the holy mission and the Herald’s status as a beloved child of the Maker. Cullen had attempted to ease the strain of loneliness the lack of age appropriate companions had created by producing a mabari pup out of what seemed to be thin air but as fine a companion as a mabari was the pup was a poor substitute.

True cities had been a revelation for the Herald, the new sights and sounds had left a naturally inquisitive child in an ecstasy of exploration that had taxed Solas terribly in his attempts to keep up with her. Slipping away in the guise of a friendly cat or a beloved breed of lap dog had allowed the Herald to go places even the most skilled of spies would be hard pressed to access even in the guise of servants. A cat drew little attentions so long as it did not stray too close to the food the servants were preparing in the kitchens or the food that was left out for the nobles to enjoy, a kitten drew more attention if only because they were more charming.

Three hours of blind panic had found the Herald seated comfortably on the lap of the Empress of Orlais, purring contentedly as the most powerful monarch in Thedas idly stroked her back. Thirty minutes of concern had found the Herald curled at the feet of Duke Gaspard as one of the beautiful hunting dogs used to ferret burrowing creatures from their dens or scare birds from the bush. An under-utilized talent that had sparked the imagination of Sister Nightengale and allowed the Herald to become the most skilled player in the game if only for a single night while also charming the scales off of the Witch of the Wild through her son.

A solemn boy of great power Kieran had also been lacking that all too important force in his life. An age mate of equal skill with magic and a vast education of a number of subjects which suited a child of nobility was essential for proper socialization.

Despite the enthusiasm and encouragement for the two to become close friends it seemed as though only the Witch wasn’t alarmed at the dangerous turn the two had taken in their increasingly rough play. Kieran and the Herald had taken to one another like brandy and poor decisions yielding increasingly complex pranks with the aid of Sera and increasingly alarming games.

The two foxes tore at each other in the walled garden, snapping and snarling and rolling about in a display that had occurred time and time again since the Maker had formed foxes from the clay of the earth. Only the two weren’t foxes, they were an elvhen girl and a half elvhen boy sinking teeth like razor blades into one another and shaking with a viciousness that belied light hearted nature the game that they were playing.

Simply wrestling had seen the two as a poor match for one another. An overenthusiastic Iron Bull and Cremisius had taught the Herald a thing or two in the classical art of fist-to-cuffs while Scout Harding had provided an education in the dwarven form of wrestling that favored a smaller stature and a dazzling array of pins and holds that could potentially allow a child to destroy the arm of a man grown or displace a hip from its socket. A compromise had swiftly been formed between the two wherein the Herald’s training and Kieran’s superior height and weight comparatively would not give either an unfair advantage.

In two months the two lightning quick foxes had become leaner, their muscles denser, their forms heavier than a true fox. Longer, sharper fangs, more powerful rear legs, thicker ruffs and more had become more and more apparent until at last the resembled less foxes and more wolves. The same was true for the other forms they preferred, each day improving on things both seen and unseen until the two could play for hours without pause for break and the effects began bleeding over into the true shapes. Races of a length that would leave even the Seeker panting for breath and leaning against a wall for support, nails becoming claws to make the scaling of walls and trees easier and a primal prowl to their movements – a liquid, powerful gait and periods of stillness so complete it was easy to forget that they were presents and explosion of powerful frenetic energy giving voice to a lie that a child could not cover distance in the same time as a trained soldier.

Lean, powerful creatures emerged in the place of children as their games continued.

But that was the least of what the pair were capable of when put together in a room with minimal supervision. When pressed to their lessons in magecraft they had become quiet adept at making up for one another’s weaknesses, when Kieran faltered with ice the Herald countered in turn allowing him to take fire or lightning as he saw fit, the two had altered a veritable fortress of stone and oak that had gone overlooked for an hour and had taken long enough to undo that they had slipped away unnoticed, they had created a layered barrier that stuck fast anything they had thrown at it and recreated Skyhold’s garden in great hall from threads of illusion and alteration so lifelike they had felt the warmth of the sun.

Together they had taxed the mind of Cullen in their lessons on strategy and had delighted Josephine in their conquest of the spoken word by deciding amongst themselves that they would speak in any language but the common tongue for almost a month straight. The confusing jumble of words prone to change languages or diction in the middle of a sentence had begun as a game wherein they attempted to stump one another had proceeded to stump anyone they talked to when they realized that few people save Josephine and Sister Nightengale could keep up.

Kieran and the Herald had made everything into a game, a challenge to see who could memorize a lesson letter perfect and write it down in Tevene, The Common Tongue, Antivan and Orlesian without flaw. A challenge to see who could throw an ice spear the furthest or create the most perfect flower from a stone or who could restore a failing bush back to health or who could take the place of one of the message ravens and go unnoticed for the longest. Simple things in the mind of a child, familiar things as the approached their maturity, and things that made them dangerous as adults. Thedas was simply ill prepared for the Son of the Witch and the Herald of Andraste.