The spectre, translucent, uncanny, greeting her with a peaceful smile Jowan never had - or did he?
If there’s anything Kyana has learned, it’s that she’s certainly no expert on the matter.
“You’re not him,” she states flatly.
“True,” the spectre agrees. “But I am the Jowan you keep in your memory.”
She looks the apparition over. Jowan from her memories is nowhere as serene and calm as… whatever that is; he’s trembling, sleeves blood-stained, holding his breath terrified when she grabs him by the collar, averting his gaze when she stares him down. He’s a maleficar and a coward, and he would never meet her eyes the way this thing does.
Kyana shakes her head.
“You are not.”
A ripple passes over the ghostly image; it blurs and shifts and changes, shrinking in size, and suddenly it’s a younger Jowan standing in front of her, eleven-ten years old at best. A mess of dark hair over his eyes, hands anxiously clasped together, and a painfully familiar smile beaming at her, cautious but somehow still brimming with excitement.
“What’re you reading?” he whispers. “Woah!… That’s a lot of numbers, Kya. Is that about magic? - ”
“Stop,” she hisses through clenched teeth.
The spectre steps closer.
“I don’t understand any of this!… Well, ‘course I don’t,” it says with a small laugh. “I’m not smart like you - but I’ll be a great mage someday, Kya, you’ll see!…”
“I said stop! ”
Magic sparks at her fingers; lightning lashes towards the apparition - and dissipates inches away from its form, never striking its target.
“What are you? A demon? I’ve faced demons,” she says, a low growl of warning in her voice. “Pride tried to trick me, and failed. Sloth tried to cage me, and I tore its domain apart. Do you wish to be next?”
Another ripple; the figure grows and ages, still not today’s Jowan, but a step closer to him - taller and slightly more tired, recently an apprentice.
“I summoned a shard of ice, can you believe that? Pure madness!… I thought I’ll never manage - well, then my nose started bleeding, but that’s just details. Right, Kya? Kya?…” He leans forward, confused, studying her face. “Are you listening to me at all?”
Kyana closes her eyes. He’s not here, she tells herself. The creature means to hurt me by prying at my memory; we’ll, joke’s on it - I have nothing to hide or regret.
“…failed the third one in a row,” Jowan’s voice sounds through the self-imposed darkness, jarringly bleak compared to the previous bits of conversation. “I - I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’m doing everything just like the rest of you, but… Do you think it’s something wrong with me?”
Silence falls. A chill runs down her spine; suddenly, Kyana remembers that conversation.
It’s her line now.
“Don’t be a fool,” she says slowly. “You worry too much, that’s all.”
“…Right. Sorry,” he mutters, and sighs quietly. “You’re probably right. So… How did the lesson with the First Enchanter go?”
On the last phrase, his voice fades out, and even with her eyes closed Kyana feels the spectre change again, preparing another memory, another conversation.
“ Enough! ”
Opening her eyes, Kyana sees the specter has reverted to its original form - except the strange smile is gone now, replaced by the lost look she’s far more used to seeing on Jowan’s face.
“What do you want of me?” she asks. It simply stares back, silent.
“Do you want to hear I lied to your Guardian, saying I’d done all I could for him? Is that it?”
“Well - I lied. Are you satisfied?”
Silence. Had it not blinked every once in a while, the spectre would seem frozen. No words, no memories - just… silence.
Maker, she wished for it to shut up, but somehow it’s worse.
“Stop taunting me!” Kyana bursts, heart dropping at the sound of her own voice; it’s trembling for some reason, turning a confident order into a child’s teary protest.
Well, not teary. She’s not crying. She’s not .
“I don’t understand what you want from me!… I don’t understand, I don’t , why won’t you just tell me!”
And, once again, silence.
“Why won’t you just tell me,” she echoes, hoarse; the words no longer feel like they have any meaning. “Why won’t you… why didn’t you just tell me the truth, Jowan?”
Except he did, a small voice inside her head whispers. He told you over and over again, but you were too stuck-up to ever listen. Fourteen years in the Tower, all this time you had one friend - and you didn’t notice him struggle. You didn’t notice him fall in love. Is it any wonder that, when he had trouble advancing his studies, he took a demon’s advice over yours? You would probably just mock him if he ever asked.
The spectre stands, silent, staring. Kyana knows it’s not really him, but… but maybe that’s the point.
She takes a deep, shaking breath, and exhales slowly, ceasing to struggle against the chill of the room, letting it sink into her bones.
“…I’m sorry,” Kyana says, and barely hears herself. “If I just - if I was better, none of that would ever have happened. You wouldn’t have to turn to maleficarum - wouldn’t have to flee - if I just bloody listened . I… I’m sorry.”
Not that it does the real Jowan any good - he’s out there, somewhere, and she has no clue where. She told him she never wants to see his face again, and something tells her Jowan took that one to heart.
She’s asked herself more than once, would it be any different if she made him stay? If she took him in, like Sten and Leliana and Zevran, convinced him it’s the perfect way to atone for his crimes. Kyana knows she could.
Or could she? She knows she’d have Jowan from the Tower, Jowan the anxious apprentice, in her pocket with four words and a roll of her eyes - but was the man rescued from Redcliffe’s dungeon really the same person?
…Well, it doesn’t matter any longer. She left him alone - and honestly, it’s probably the best thing she could have ever done for him. He was clearly getting sick of living in Kyana Amell’s shadow.
Suddenly, the spectre in front of her smiles.
“I’ve always admired you,” it - he - says. “You were always the best, in everything, and for all you liked to remind us of that, I could never hate you for that. You had the right; you were the best. You earned that - you made that look easy, but I know it wasn’t.”
“Doesn’t excuse me,” she says quietly.
“…This is part of why I wanted to be good in magic, I suppose. Thought it would help me to understand you,” Jowan says. “Maybe give you someone to talk to, really talk. I know you were always missing something in that high place of yours - never could really figure what, but I knew you were lonely.”
Kyana stares at him, baffled.
“I - ”
“I tried to reach you, over and over, but…” He shakes his head. “I don’t know. Maybe I just wasn’t right for the job. Maybe I should have tried a little harder. My fears started to get the best of me after a while, and… and I let them. Instead of doing what you did, gritting my teeth and working through it, I turned to the easy solution. There’s a lot I wish we’d talked about - but that was me being an idiot, not your failure.”
She can’t help but laugh:
“..See, here’s where the illusion breaks; he would never say that.”
“Maybe,” Jowan’s spectre says. “But I’ve always cared about you, Kya, and I know you did too. All this mess - we both made a lot of mistakes, but it doesn’t mean there was no good in our friendship, and, maybe, it doesn’t means it’s over.”
“You’re just making this up now,” she mutters; a sudden warmth breaks the chill on her skin, a tear rolling down her cheek.
Oh, Maker damn it. This - this is ridiculous.
“See, I’m about to cry,” she tells Jowan. “Let’s cut that off before I’m a complete mess, yes? You’re good - you’re just a ghost. I am, however, alive, and about to feel completely disgusting if you don’t stop. I just - I - you’re right. I wish it was different.” She lets out a miserable laugh. “…And I wish you would actually hear that, instead of some illusion. Just… Don’t get gutted by a templar, wherever you are, alright?”
The spectre nods, still smiling, and then leans forward, as if for an embrace; her eyes widen in surprise, and before Kyana knows it, he’s gone. All that’s left is a sudden metallic weight in her hand; she holds it up to see a delicate silver chain wrapped between her fingers, a polished pendant dangling from it.
Just for a moment, a familiar reflection shows on the surface.
She stares at it for a long moment, and then lets go of the chain; the pendant clinks against the stone floor once or twice.
“Thanks,” she says to whatever might be listening, “But I already have a friend. I don’t need a replacement.”
She hopes it’s true. She hopes he is still around, and maybe even doing quite well. Maybe he even gave up blood magic. And even if not, if she ever runs into Jowan again… She might owe him an apology.
Well - let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
Behind her back, she hears stone grinding against stone as light flushes the small chamber; Alistair calls her name, stepping in.
“Kya! Are you alright? The blasted thing closed right on us! - ”
She turns around, trying to look unfazed as ever.
“It’s alright,” she calls back. “I - I figured it out.”
“There was a spirit here,” Morrigan comments, entering after Alistair. “Anything of interest, Kyana?”
“Yes, there was one,” she says. “I suppose you could say it gave me a riddle. Nothing special, really.”
“Dull,” the witch agrees. “Well, that’s a shame. Shall we move on - or would you like to admire this crypt for a bit longer?”
“Oh, I’m fed up with it. Let’s move on.”
Still, even as they leave the chamber, Kyana feels she’s being watched.