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Man Over Magic

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Love is supposed to dignify us, exalt us. How can it be love...if all it does is make you lonely and corrupt?
--
Luther

Magic was made to serve man, and never to rule over him.
--
Transfigurations 1:2, Chant of Light

Man Over Magic
Prologue


There were rules in every Circle, and at first it could seem overwhelming. But soon, following them became second nature. The world outside the Tower walls would fade. Mages became their cloaks and templars their armor. There were rules to follow by the letter and rules that lay dormant, waiting again for the right transgression to be used and justified. In the libraries, mages shuffled between long shelves of books and templars kept their eyes always vigilant, ready for the slightest trace of weakness. In the gardens, mages nurtured plants that would turn into healing tonics or teas or table decorations, and templars would watch with ramrod spines for the first sign of any foul play. In the dormitories, mages would walk and wander and whisper in the Fade, and templars would stand with their blade at every throat, ready to slice across it at the first sign of corruption or weakness.

Evelyn Trevelyan had learned what it took to be a good mage in the Circle at Ostwick. Templars did not tend to loathe mages who were kind and sweet and quiet, and so Evelyn, who was once a willful child, to hear her nurse tell it, became all of those things. She would make one recipe of tea to calm the mages who had their Harrowing soon and another to help the templars keep their watch over the sleeping mages without succumbing to the Fade themselves. She would lower her eyes in the presence of the knights that watched over her, and only speak when spoken to. She would comfort crying children in the dark of the night, and say nothing in protest when the magic was drained from them, drained from her, even for supposed crimes she did not commit.

She wrote letters home with love-bites from young templars on her neck. She counseled younger women who bristled under the attention of their would-be guardians to smile and to give the templars what they wanted. It helped, she told them, to lie back and to think of home, wherever it had been for them, until the templars had taken their pleasure. She surrendered everything to the men and women who watched over her, thanked them constantly for her service, did nothing to distinguish herself from the others.

And all the while no one knew how afraid she was of them. No one knew how she would cry without sound into her pillow at night, and how she would try to cast a pallor over the bites men left on her body. She wanted none of them, none of this, but at the same time, she did not want to become like the mage who set the chantry in Kirkwall aflame. She did not want to become Anders, who confessed his crime at the feet of Viscountess Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall, and earned only her blade in his heart. She wanted none of the consequences even more than she wanted any of the pain, and so she thought, over and over each night: This is how I will live, and this is how I will die

The Circle at Ostwick had not declared for either side, even as the flames came closer to the borders of the Free Marches, and perhaps when the flames came, she would lay down and let them consume her, and think of home, and fade away to nothing but ash.

So it came as a shock when Senior Enchanter Lydia, her mentor and teacher, suggested that she attend the Conclave at the Temple of the Sacred Ashes. Some of the templars who were more amorous of Evelyn, who had known her in the shadows as only a husband should, protested at this. But Lydia made them see sense, declaring Evelyn to be a model Circle mage. “She will remind these rebel apostates what our true duty is,” said Lydia to the Templars, a hand curling ’round Evelyn's shoulders. “She will act on our behalf, and help ensure that order is restored.”

“You are too kind to me,” Evelyn whispered quietly in protest, but her heart sang in her chest. This was a moment, she realized, that she could never find again; one that might change her forever. It was a chance to escape from the shadows of the Templars, to turn away from the eyes of those who looked at her and to give herself more time outside of her robes, more time away from what came from being here.

Evelyn came back from her thoughts to hear Lydia suggest that if the Conclave was successful, she should go through the tests to become a senior enchanter. Evelyn had never considered the idea before, but knew that being a senior enchanter might give her some distance between her boundaries and the templars she feared. She also did not wish to disappoint Lydia, whom she had looked up to ever since she was small. And so she consented to represent the Circle of Ostwick, and to undertake the trials back in the Tower if she was successful. 

As she traveled to the Conclave, she learned to sit up straighter. Her voice, usually never above a whisper, became more confident and loud. She dressed in finery lent out from her parents’ estate for the occasion, and for the first time in a long time, she was referred to asLady Evelyn Trevelyan. The title made her feel almost willful and wild, as she had been as a child, which was so completely unlike herself. She was a different person outside of the Tower walls, she realized, and perhaps she would not spend her whole life making herself small and quiet and nearly unseen.

Then the entire world went up in a cataclysmic explosion that sent her reeling into the Fade, running from ferocious spiders and into the arms of a woman who shone as the sun, and she stepped outside it with her hand glowing green. And nothing was the same anymore.