1. It Was Certainly...Harrowing
The black haired mage jolted awake, eyes wide, magic flared so strongly it was impressive it didn't start snowing. The hand on her shoulder jerked away as the reflexive sparks scattered over it. Every muscle tensed, she waited for the threat to return. When none came, she blinked slowly acquainting herself with the room. Safe. She was safe. She wasn't in the Fade. She was awake and safe. She kept repeating that to herself until her heart slowed.
Finally, her eyes focused on Jowan who was cradling his hand against his chest. She could see the red marks from the small burst of electricity she'd sent as a defensive warning to keep away. Then she could feel his hurt and his wariness. She grimaced. "Sorry."
"What was that about?" he asked.
"I thought," the hesitation was clear in her voice and then she shook her head. "Never mind."
"We don't lie to each other, Tasha. We never have. What?"
The muscle in her jaw tightened. "I thought I was back in my Harrowing."
He waited just long enough to not look incredibly eager before saying, "What was it like? What happened?"
"I can't tell you."
Betrayal. "No lying."
"I'm not lying. You know I can't tell you."
She stared at him and the hopeful look in his eyes, an expression that was warring with the sense of betrayal radiating from him, and then softened a little. "Hardest thing I've ever done. And no, I'm not going into specifics. Irving would have my hide. I've just been made a full mage. I can't go about breaking the rules as soon as I wake up."
"Even harder than-"
She interrupted him, eyes flicking to a pair of apprentices who were clearly eavesdropping and doing a poor job of disguising it. "Yes, even harder than that. Jowan, can you please just drop it?"
"Alright." He came and sat on her bed, throwing an arm around her to give her a hug. Only a couple of sparks fell onto the coverlet. "You're a full mage of the Circle now. How do you feel?"
She groaned, flopping against him. "Like someone slammed a boulder into me. All I want to do is sleep for the next three days. Or possibly just eat. And my mana is totally drained."
"Really? It didn't feel like it."
Giggling, she elbowed him. "Just wait until you take your Harrowing. I'll be there to wake you up after. See how you like it then," she threatened lightly. Fear. Worry. She straightened up, turning towards him. She tucked her feet underneath her. A frown curled her lips down as she realized that something was different about him, a barrier that she had never noticed. "What?"
"What if I don't take my Harrowing?"
She blinked at him. "Of course you will. What brought this on?"
"I've been here longer than you have. I'm older than you. My Harrowing should have happened moons ago." Jowan's warm brown eyes were dark with the worry that was eating at him like acid.
"Look, they probably just wanted to get me to full status before you since you were the only one that could handle me when I wasn't at my best. Well, other than the other somewhat undesirable people I associate with." She dropped her voice in a poor imitation of Greagoir, trying to make Jowan laugh. "'Rebels and madmen! You're never leaving the tower! None of you!'"
Instead of helping, the hurt built until it sparked. "So everything's about you?" He jumped to his feet and she didn't even have time to support her own weight before she fell over.
"Jowan, that wasn't what I meant." She rose to her feet.
"Whatever. I'll talk to you later." With that he stalked off, emotions a seething, dark mass under the surface. Tasha watched him leave, brow pursed with confusion.
She didn't have time to dwell on what was going on with him before she was swamped with apprentices. Most of the younger ones she'd comforted when they'd come to the tower simply because she couldn't stand their misery. Their excitement that she'd passed cleared away any residual darkness left over from Jowan. And as a result, a sort of impromptu party started in the apprentice quarters, much to her dismay. Every apprentice that survived the Harrowing became a celebrity for a short while. She could block it off, but not when the emotion was too strong or when there were too many people feeling the same thing.
So, Tasha Amell, newest mage in the Fereldan Circle, faded into the background of an unexpected party that was specifically held in her honor. Honestly, apprentices needed very little to have a reason to celebrate. Thus when it came time for one, they made the most of it and she ran in the other direction.
Tasha quietly slipped out, trying to block out the high running emotions. She walked down the hall, not paying much attention to anything. Quiet pleasure. She lifted her head, startled, when a gauntleted hand gently grasped her arm and pulled her into a dark corner. Sparks jolted across the metal.
"Tasha," Cullen murmured, tawny eyes warm. She rested a delicate hand on his plate covered chest and looked up at him.
"No stutter today?" she asked, gently teasing. "My, what's the occasion?"
"Your Harrowing." Tasha lightly drummed her fingers, hating the fact that she heard metal and didn't feel the person underneath the specifically crafted armor. "Quickest, cleanest one I've ever seen." Fear. Reluctance. Duty. Her eyebrows pinched together and she looked up at him, a question in her eyes. "They-they picked m-m-me to be the one to…" he trailed off, the stutter returning as his emotions flared more strongly.
"To kill me if I became an abomination," she finished for him quietly.
"It wouldn't have b-been personal," he desperately wanted her to understand. She smiled to let him know that it was all right, and told him so. He was a Templar and she wouldn't have asked him to go against his beliefs, even if she didn't exactly share them. "I shouldn't be getting this close. A Templar must remain distant, to do what needs to be done."
"So what is this then?" she asked, tipping her head to the side.
"A congratulations." She caught his intention on his emotions just before he swiftly leaned down to press a kiss against her lips. She wanted nothing more than to throw her arms around his neck and screw the consequences but she forced her body to remain still. The kiss was only a few heartbeats long before Cullen pulled away, a ribbon of guilt running through him. "I need to go."
"Where are you stationed today?"
He tipped his head back and she was distracted for a moment by the clean line of his jaw. "Upstairs, outside the enchanter's library."
"Which I now have access to." Tasha grinned cheekily, grey eyes sparkling. Reluctance. She frowned, stepping away from him. "What?"
"I should g-go." Before she could react, he was moving away. She held back a huff, frustrated and confused. But she waited for a few moments to minimize the risk of them being actually seen together.
When she stepped from cover, nearly paralyzing fear and nearly as powerful pain dropped her to her knees. Panting, she shoved it off enough to get herself to her feet and then went on autopilot, allowing her feet to carry her to the source of the pain. Up the stairs she went, and the closer she got, the harder it was to separate who she was from the emotional maelstrom.
It was tucked away in one of the rooms in a dark corner that she found her. Rebecca Cates looked up at her approach, tear-streaked face betraying what was happening inside. Tasha hadn't seen her since her Harrowing and she'd been one of the few to know she was pregnant then, yet another lovely side effect to her magic.
Now, however, she looked haggard and huge, staring with terrified eyes that leaked tears. Tasha knelt beside the other mage and carefully placed a hand on her knee.
"I don't want them to take my baby," Rebecca whispered, barely able to force the words out.
Tasha closed her eyes, all at once feeling hot rage slither down her back. It was so different from the anger she normally felt that she knew immediately where it came from. Her mind went back to her Harrowing and she shivered. When her eyes focused back on Rebecca, another lance of pain went through her and she bit her lip hard enough draw blood to keep from screaming. That she could heal and she let her magic gently wash over her, dulling the pain of labor as well as heal her lip.
It was at that moment that Tasha knew what she was planning and the laboring woman broke her heart. Her eyes went to the door. Ice gathered around the mage as her anger, sharp and cold, flared. She turned back to Rebecca. "Don't make a sound," she muttered. "I'll be back shortly."
Before she left, she carefully placed wards around the door and wove her magic into the magic contained in the tower after centuries of mages living there to disguise the fact that she was putting her shield up. Fortunately, all around her, mages were also using their magic which helped mute everything.
As soon she was finished, she took off, looking for the one person she knew could help. She tracked him by his worry and she found him in the enchanter's library, restlessly pacing in front of a stack of books. "Andrew," she called quietly. His attention swiveled to her, brown eyes even darker than usual from his stress. She didn't say another word, just went back to Rebecca's room, expecting him to follow her and he did. She dropped the wards as she approached and he shoved past me into the room. She would have smiled at how obvious his concern for her was under normal circumstances but at the moment it was all she could do to contain her fury. They couldn't marry and neither had planned for this baby but she knew watching Andrew drop to his knees before the mother of his child and gently smooth the sweaty hair away from her forehead that they both desperately wanted to be parents. Yet they couldn't because of the Chantry and the Circle and the stupid rules.
Her rage built and she turned it on the door, forcing it into protective magic. She could sense the strength of it and wasn't sure that this shield could even be dropped by a smite and no normal dispel could remove her shield under the best circumstances.
Tasha was starting to feel the strain under her anger but it didn't matter. "So," she said, rolling up the sleeves of her robes, "let's see what we can do for you."
It took hours. But between her gentle healings - as much as she could do - and Andrew's calming presence, it was far better than it could have been. She had never been so grateful for her attempt to specialize as a healer in her life, not only because Rebecca was a friend, but because it was just one more way to quietly rebel against the Circle.
Finally, the crying of a baby split the quiet. Pain. Cold. Confusion. She buried her gift into herself, wrapping a shield around it. "Congratulations, you two. You have a son," she said softly. She used a borrowed knife (actually temporarily stolen from the stockroom but she'd return it later) that had been sterilized by Andrew to cut the cord. With some of the last vestiges of her magic, she healed them. After wrapping the child up in a blanket from Rebecca's bed and handing him carefully to his mother, her friend burst into tears. Then Andrew stretched his arms around the two of them, his shoulders shaking with grief and joy.
Her throat closed. She was battling fiercely her empathy because otherwise she would be a sobbing heap on the ground.
This was supposed to be a happy day, and yet, there she was, almost up to her elbows in blood and goo with a heart so heavy she was surprised it hadn't crashed through the ground. Staring at this fragile family, she felt something then, something she hadn't felt in years. Ferocity coursed through her veins and it was fortunate that she didn't have much left in her reserves. She grabbed a blanket and with short, measured strokes, scrubbed her arms and hands cleaned. They needed privacy and she would give it to them.
Tasha turned the door, ready to march out. Andrew raised his head at her footsteps while Rebecca stilled. The new mother's terror scratched at her self-inflicted walls and she had to fight not to flinch. "Are you going to report us to the Templars?" he asked, voice rough. Dread.
She looked him in the eye. "No. Never the Templars. It's not their business." Something in her face or tone must have convinced him because he turned back to Rebecca, nuzzling her. Tasha didn't dare drop the shields. So instead she changed their conditions: she could leave and enter but no one else could without her presence.
She had a question for the Revered Mother, and she was pissed. Not an exceptional combination, but she stalked her way to the chapel and found the woman kneeling in front of the statue of Andraste. "I have a question for you," she said, blatantly interrupting whatever she was doing.
The Revered Mother stood and turned, eyebrows lifted in surprise at who it was. Tasha never came in there if she could help it, so she didn't blame the older woman for gawking as though she'd seen a ghost. "Are you here to join us?"
Tasha gave a snort. "Hardly." Irreverently, she perched on one of the benches, feet tucked beneath her. "My only question is this: why do you not allow mages to marry?"
The Revered Mother blinked in surprise.
"It doesn't make any sense," continued the mage. "If they marry another mage and have children with them, then you'd be able to better contain the bloodline of mages and it would be easier to see if magic is carried by blood and not just random chance." A thought suddenly occurred to her, and the mage's slanted eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Unless you don't want to risk a nonmagical child growing up in the Circle to mage parents. In which case, you would know that imprisoning the mages is wrong but you're doing it anyway." Tasha puffed up, fury flashing in her eyes. "Which is cruelty and injustice and all of you are worse for going along with it."
Unease. The Revered Mother merely watched the mage. "Are you with child, my dear? Is that your concern?"
Tasha blinked. "What? No. Of course not."
"Then what brought this up?"
"You're joking, right? You actually believe mages should be locked up just for existing?"
"Magic exists to serve man and never to rule over him."
That sparked a bark of laughter from Tasha. "I can serve man just as well out there, where I can actually use my magic to do something. Actually I can serve better out there but while I could save lives, I'm trapped in this prison," she spat the word, "and people may be dying." Before the Revered Mother could respond, Tasha had already left, leaving spatterings of frost in her wake.
It was ridiculous, Tasha thought as she stalked through the hall. How could someone believe in teachings that actually condoned lawful imprisonment of innocents? And most mages were innocents, condemned to a life of isolation simply because of something they had been born with. So entangled in her thoughts, she didn't realize where she was going until she was stopped by a gauntlet-covered hand. She recognized the owner as a Templar but the only thing keeping her from lashing out was the fact that she didn't have enough left to do anything. When she looked up at the Templar, eyes burning with a cold fire and ready to tear into him, she was stopped in her tracks.
Concern. Cullen watched her, body tensed.
"What?" she snapped. His eyes flickered down her body. Alarm. She followed his eyes and inwardly snarled curses, fighting down the thrum of immediate fear. She still had blood in a long streak on the inside of her wrist. A mage that was bleeding or at least looked like she had been. Tasha didn't even need to have her gift to know what he was feeling. "I accidentally dropped a vial and cut myself on the glass," she lied quickly. "I healed it but I didn't think about the blood."
The Templar in Cullen was suspicious, not that she blamed him. She could see that without needing her empathy but the man, the goodness inside of him that had first drawn her to him, wanted to trust her. "Already making a mess and you haven't even been a Circle mage for a full day yet," he lightly teased. But the tightness between his brows was clear evidence of the tension he found himself under.
Tasha grinned despite the sinking feeling in her stomach. "You know me, why sit back when I can raise a little hell?"
Cullen leaned away and released her arm. He nodded in the direction of the washroom. "You should probably go clean up before anyone else sees."
She didn't move, watching him for a moment. "Do you think that mages are people?"
The question startled him. "What? Of course I do."
The seriousness in her eyes, so unusual when it wasn't tempered by excitement, told him more than what her words were saying. "Then does it not bother you that mages aren't allowed to marry?"
Cullen's warm eyes widened. Confusion. Alarm. Panic. Underneath it all though, was a slight twinge of interest that was immediately squashed. "W-What?"
Tasha waved a hand dismissively. "I'm not talking about a mage/Templar union. That makes sense to the Chantry, conflict of interest and all that. I may not like it or agree with it, but I can see where they're coming from. But it wouldn't be a conflict of interest for mages to marry other mages. So doesn't that bother you that mages cannot marry in a Chantry union? Most mages are Andrastian anyway and I know that it bothers them-us," she quickly corrected, not daring to meet his eyes.
"I-I had never thought about it," he stammered. Her question had stirred something in him but he wasn't entirely sure what.
She studied him, watching the spread of emotions that she could feel from him playing across his face. "I do need to get cleaned up," she murmured.
The mage reached out and gently touched his arm as tenderly as a kiss before retreating. As she walked away, aware of his eyes on her, an idea began to formulate in her mind and in order for it to work, there were people she needed to talk to.
Tasha thumped on the heavy door twice and without waiting for an answer, yanked it open and strode in. First Enchanter Irving looked up mildly from his seated position at his desk. "Ah, Ms. Amell, congratulations on your Harrowing. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company this time?"
"I want to room with Rebecca." Best just to lay it on the table.
Surprise. Irving merely lifted an eyebrow. Understanding. "Oh, why is that?"
Tasha refused to twitch. "She's a friend and she needs support. I am probably one of the most qualified in the Tower to help her." Her eyes narrowed. "You know that."
"I do, and I wonder why you are asking to have that specific room assignment when one has already been selected for you."
Then Tasha eyed him, trying to decide how much to trust him. "Where are the children taken? After they're born?"
"They are taken to orphanages."
Irving watched her eyes flash with cold fire and she seemed to puff up. "Even if the child's mother wants to keep him? That is unfair, inhuman, and you know it," she spat. Tasha took a deep breath, preparing to keep going before she suddenly stopped. She closed her eyes then and he knew she was trying to regain control of her temper before she started ranting. A thin layer of frost gathered on the stones around her feet before slowly melting as she watched him, trying to gauge his reactions. He could feel her magic sliding around him too, seeking any advantage she could though she did not trespass. "What are the protocols for a stillbirth?"
"The child is taken out of the Tower and buried."
"I'm assuming that Knight-Commander Greagoir would be informed. Who does that?"
He watched her think for a moment, eyes glittering like a cat's. The decision to trust him flickered across her face almost faster than thought and he stifled a twitch of his lips.
"Rebecca wants to keep her baby. I have some training as a healer and helped to deliver him." She lifted her chin defiantly though fear was twisting around inside. "Actually, both parents want to raise the child and even though mages cannot marry," her voice hardened to ice, "they want to raise him together. And I don't blame them." Her eyes met his and he was surprised by the depth of emotion she was expressing. "Please, Ir- First Enchanter Irving," she seemed to fold down a little as she recognized his rank," give them some time with him. I want to help Rebecca."
"What are you asking of me?"
Tasha huffed, frustrated. "Fine. You want me to spell it out? I want you to break the rules for Rebecca. I want you to let her keep her son. I'll help her keep his presence a secret. I'll do whatever I have to do."
Irving watched her for a moment. And then he returned his attention to the papers sitting on his desk. "We never had this conversation."
Tasha's eyes gleamed in triumph and for a moment, Irving felt the ferocity of her emotions slide over him and he stiffened in surprise. The young mage turned and left his office, nearly vibrating with joy. It was a surprisingly quick trip around and she slipped into the room quietly, nose wrinkling at the smell. Andrew and Rebecca looked up, their fear choking in her throat.
And then she smiled. "You're good for at least a little bit. And I'm moving in here with you to help you take care of him."
Andrew stiffened, blinking in surprise. Then the words of the younger woman sank in and Tasha's own eyes teared with joy. "This has to be a joke," Rebecca choked out.
"I don't know how long this will last. And if the Templars find out, well, I don't need to tell you how bad it will be." Rebecca glanced down at her son and flinched. "But you do have a little time with him so I suggest you enjoy it. Now, I want something slightly more cheerful," Tasha said, lifting an eyebrow with a smile. "What are you going to name him?"
Rebecca looked up at Andrew. "I always liked the name Rafe."
"It's a good name," he agreed.
"Good." Tasha's eyes narrowed at the new father. "I'm sorry to kick you out but I'm tired and it's been a long day. So shoo. I'm tired and we both need to rest."
With that, Andrew found himself outside the room as the door shut behind him with fierce finality.