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What Dreams May Come

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Philippa shot up in her bed, a shrill scream issuing from her throat. Sweat poured from her brow, plastering her hair to her face and neck. She buried her face in the crook of her body as she drew her knees up to her forehead and hugged her shins. Her body shuddered and soon, a familiar, comforting set of skinny arms hugged her, his weight tipping her into his body as her twin brother joined her on her straw mattress. "It's okay Phil," Garrett soothed softly. "What was it this time?"

She wailed, shifting to grip his thin tunic and huddle her face in his warm chest. The sound of their bedroom door opening and closing told her that Mama and Papa had also woken with her scream. "It was the fire man," she sobbed. She had seen the thing so many times, amorphous and bright, heat rippling around it as it stared with it's inhuman glowing eyes. Still, it terrified her.

Another body joined them on the bed and her father's deep voice filtered through her hiccoughing cries. "It's all right, Turtledove. Remember they can't hurt you unless you let them."

She sniffed and snuggled closer to Garrett as her father's hand landed on her still trembling back, providing a comforting warmth through her nightdress. "But they pretend so good."

"You're better at hide and seek," Garrett reminded her, his chin knocking into her head each time he opened his mouth. "Just remember, when you see them, run and hide, and then pinch yourself. If you wake up, it was a dream. If not, I'll be there to protect you." Garrett protected her. Always. He protected her when mama overloaded them with chores and she wasn't strong enough to do her part, and on the playground when the other kids inevitably picked on her for being too small or too slow. He was her shield.

"Do you remember the words I taught you to listen for?" Papa asked gently.

She nodded, rubbing her tear streaked face on Garrett's shirt before looking up, straightening her back, and dutifully reciting the words, "Deal, Promise, Power, Wish..."

Papa reached over and rubbed her head with a smile, ruffling her hair. "There's a good lass. Now, let's get you all tucked back in. Tomorrow's a big day."

Philippa gasped, releasing Garrett's shirt from her clutching fists and rubbing the last of her tears on her nightdress. "Market day?"

"Right you are," he agreed, getting up from the edge of the bed where he sat and allowing her to tuck herself back beneath her blankets. She clutched Garrett's hand and he rolled his eyes, climbing beside her so she could huddle against him.

"Will Mama be coming with us tomorrow?" Philippa asked hopefully.

"I should think so," Papa said with a nod as he tucked the blankets around the pair and leaned down to kiss them both on the forehead. "It will be her last chance to get out of the house before winter sets in and your siblings are born. Get some sleep, you two."

Papa turned and left the room, drawing the light with him, leaving the shape of the crystal burned into her vision. Garrett shifted and tugged on the blanket. "Share, Phil."

Philippa pressed her eyes closed and relinquished a bit of the blanket to her brother who was soon snoring softly again. It was not so easy for her to get back to sleep. Muffled voices drifted through their small cottage, allowing her to barely make out her parents as they spoke. "The dreams are getting more frequent," her mother's gentle hum said nervously.

"She's 7, Leandra. I was taken to the Circle when I was her age," Papa replied. "I had hoped I wouldn't pass this curse on to our children, but I fear Phil is showing definite signs."

"Oh, Malcolm, what are we going to do?" Mama fretted.

"Don't worry, love. So long as her powers don't manifest in public, I can teach her to hide them. I'll not allow the templars to take our little girl."

Philippa cringed. She remembered the hulking metal men that prowled the Chantry courtyard, menacing folks with their bucket heads wreathed in feathers, and their legs draped in colorful skirts that did nothing to hide the massive shields strapped to their backs and the sharp, magical swords that could steal the very breath from your lungs. She didn't want to be like father if it meant she would be stolen from her family. She didn't want her dreams and the scary spirits that haunted them. She didn't want magic.

 

They were all up early the next day so they could load up the wagon and head in to Lothering for Market day. Philippa sat beside Garrett on the long bench in front of the table, twirling her spoon in her oatmeal. She yawned heavily and lifted her elbow to drop it on the table and rest her head on her hand. "No elbows on the table, dear," Mama scolded, taking Garrett's already empty bowl from in front of him and giving him leave to go and help Papa. Philippa sighed and dragged her elbow back down before taking a reluctant bite of her breakfast. She forced the remainder down and then brought her bowl to Mama. "Come and sit by the fire and I'll fix your hair before we leave."

Philippa trudged over to the fire and flopped to the ground while her mother waddled awkwardly across the living space and gingerly lowered herself into the armchair behind her. The horsehair brush tugged lightly on her matted black hair. "Ow," she complained. "Can't I just cut my hair like Garrett?"

Her mother chuckled lightly. "Maker, wouldn't that be a sight?" Without answering, she continued to tug the knots from Philippa's hair and then braided it loosely down her back.

"The wagon is ready," Papa announced excitedly, peeking his head in the door with a grin.

Mama shooed Philippa from the floor and with great effort, heaved herself from the chair to follow her to the door. "With any luck, the bumpy ride into town will knock these babies loose and I'll be able to breathe again. I can't believe I agreed to have more after the first set of twins." Mama said teasingly.

Papa chuckled and pulled the door closed behind them before helping Mama into the seat of the wagon while Philippa climbed into the back with Garrett and the few crates and parcels they were going to use as trade. "The odds of more twins was astronomical... and yet here we are."

"As long as there's no more girls," Garrett teased Philippa, sticking his tongue out at her.

"We won't know that until they've arrived," Papa reminded them as he flicked the reins and the mule started forward along the dirt road.

Philippa crossed her arms and returned the raspberry that Garrett had given her. "I hope they're both girls."

 

The autumn air was crisp, but not enough that you needed a cloak. On the ride into town, Philippa forgot about her dreams and about being tired as the tall spires of the King's road came into view through the trees along their path. Lothering was just around the corner. She could smell the freshly baked bread and hear the excited voices of the vendors as they all set up their tents along the outskirts of town, eager for the chance to sell some of their handcrafted wares and socialize with friends.

After Papa guided the mule into their usual place, they all climbed from the wagon and began to set up their own wares. Once the tables were set, Papa offered them each a copper and with a wink said, "Go find some trouble."

Philippa and Garrett grinned at each other and ran off into the crowd with Mama's voice calling behind them. "Stay together and be back for lunch!"

Garrett had a few friends in town that he had met last summer during the faire. His brown eyes scanned the streets as she lagged behind, wanting to find something to spend her copper on. She kept an eye on his bouncing mop of black hair, but he was faster than her on his longer legs. Papa kept promising she would hit her growth spurt soon and catch up to Garrett, but it wasn't going to happen in time for her to catch him as he finally spotted his friends and took off to join their game of tag. She hadn't particularly cared for the group of boys the last time they had met, but Mama had said to stick together, so she slipped through the crowd, following her brother's voice. Before she reached the middle of town where the boys seemed to be congregated, her eyes were drawn to a stall adorned with dozens of small hand crafted knickknacks. There was a row of carved mabari dogs, another of tiny fennecs, a few rams and some fantastical creatures like griffons and dragons. She was enraptured with a glass blown dragon statue no bigger than the palm of her hand. It was read and black, and shone in the glare of sun that was peeking through the clouds. She approached the stall and bit her lip, trying to read the sign scribbled beneath the dragon. "Can I help you, sweetheart?" the young woman minding the stall asked with a smile.

Philippa glanced down at the copper in her palm and held it up. "Is this enough for the glass dragon?" she asked quietly.

The woman glanced at the copper as well and then at where she was pointing. Her expression shifted briefly before she smiled again and said, "You drive a hard bargain, blue eyes. I think I can let you have it for what you're offering."

Philippa gasped and a smile broke out on her face, her heart soaring in delight. "Really?"

The woman nodded. "I know your folks. They're a decent sort and have given me a bargain many a time. I feel it's only right to repay the favor."

"Thank you, miss," Philippa said gratefully, gently picking up the dragon and passing her copper to the woman.

She hugged the figure to her chest and dipped back into the crowd to find Garrett. She was eager to share her excitement with her twin who shared her fascination with dragons. She broke through the edge of the crowd and spotted Garrett chasing after one of the other boys. She couldn't remember any of their names, but the young blonde he was chasing she remembered had been particularly foul. She caught Garrett's attention with a wave of her hand and he grinned at her, tagged the boy and jogged over to her. "I wondered where you went, Phil. Want to play?"

She shook her head, eyeing the nasty boy as he sidled up to them, his cheeks red from running. "Look what I bought." She held the dragon up in her palm, her eyes wide as she searched for her twin's approval.

Before he even had a chance to acknowledge her, the boy scoffed and lifted his hand, slapping the delicate figure from her hands. "Who cares. Come on, Garrett. No girls."

"Hey!" Philippa shouted as the dragon fell to the ground and shattered into millions of pieces. Her heart lurched and immediately, tears began to stream from her eyes.

A snorted breath escaped the boy and he rolled his eyes. "Cry baby."

Without a word, Garrett spun on the blonde boy and swung his fist, connecting with his jaw. "What's the matter with you, Leon? That's my sister!"

Recovering quickly, Leon pounced on Garrett and the two hit the dirt, rolling around and throwing punches and kicks. "Stop it!" Philippa shrieked, her tears still rolling freely. Her cries went unheard as the boys tussled. Leon rolled Garrett onto his back and managed to straddle him, holding his arms down with his knees as he started to punch him repeatedly. "Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!" By now, the rest of the boys had gathered in a circle around the scuffle, and were egging Leon on with shouts of their own. Philippa tried to push between them to get to Garrett and help him, but she was much smaller than most of the boys and all she could do was get knocked around. Fear for her brother began to roll through her and her breathing shortened to shallow gasps around her tears. Quite suddenly as the fear hit a crescendo, she let out a wordless shout and threw her arms outward. Something loosened in her chest, unraveling, and by her will, the crowd parted. She stepped into the circle and the thread continued to unravel. She drew her elbows back and then pushed her hands forward, "Get off!" she shouted and Leon flew off of Garrett and across the now silent square, landing in a heap near the wall around the Chantry.

She dropped her hands and her breathing quickened even further into small panicked breaths. She looked at Garrett who was slowly raising up on his elbows, his expression terrified. She would never find out whether he was terrified for her or of her as the metal men began to close in around her and the world spun. She dropped to her knees and her vision went black.

 

She woke in her bed, much like the night before, drenched in sweat and uttering a terrified wordless cry. She could barely see for the tears in her eyes, the room fuzzy. When she huddled in a ball this time, her body shaking, it wasn't her brother's arms that found her, but her father's. "It's all right, Turtledove. It was all a dream."

She huddled against her father and he smelled strange, "It was different." She mumbled around her tears, small shoots of pain rocketing across her temples.

Her father drew back and tucked his finger beneath her chin to lift her eyes to his. Something was different about his eyes. Something unfamiliar. "Tell me all about it," he urged gently.

"It was Market day. We went to Lothering and Garrett ran off with his friends. I bought a dragon with the copper you and Mama gave me, and when I showed it to him, his friend broke it. Garrett hit him, but he was smaller than the other boy and I was afraid. I got so upset..." her voice faded and she looked down at her hands. "I did magic. Like you... but when the metal men tried to take me, I fell..."

Her father hummed thoughtfully, but his expression looked hungry. She felt herself cowing from him when he spoke again. "Well, it had to be a dream. Today is Market day." He brushed her hair from her face and then patted her cheek. "How about this. I'll make you a deal. Go and get dressed and then on the way to Lothering I'll show you how to harness your power."

Philippa's heart began to thump swiftly. Her father had just used two of the words he had always warned her against. She hugged herself and sniffled, getting up from the bed. She went from her room and into the washroom to get cleaned up. When she was out of sight of her father, she took a chunk of her upper arm between her fingers and pinched.

 

The world snapped back around her. She tried to sit up, but fumbled when she couldn't bring her arms from behind her back. She slipped and her cheek smacked painfully into a hard wooden surface. She tried to cry and utter a complaint, but her voice was gone. Terror settled into panic and she began to thrash in place like she had seen fish doing on the riverbank when Papa had taken her and Garrett with him to catch dinner in the spring. She tugged on her arms, trying to get them loose and found her feet bound as well. When she tried to cry out, nothing escaped her throat. Tears began to stream from her eyes as her wrists burned where the rope wrapped around them rubbed her skin raw.

"She's awake," a gruff and unfamiliar voice said from nearby. She stilled herself and craned her neck to look in the direction the voice had come from. It was one of the metal men. His helmet had been removed and he sat on a long wooden bench that she had managed to wedge herself beneath in her writhing. His skin was dark tan, his hair a few shades lighter. Philippa hooked her feet around the foot of the bench and drug herself from under it, shuffled awkwardly to her bottom and drew her knees up to her chin, as far from him as she could get. He set a suspicious look on her. "Was she silenced? I don't fancy getting thrown from the wagon." he said.

"Aye. After what she did, the Knight-Commander felt it necessary. For safety. Even if she did exhaust herself on such a small spell." Philippa's head spun to take in the second voice and she huddled even further into herself.

They were on a wagon, the second metal man, also without his bucket helmet, sat where her father and mother usually sat when they took a ride, guiding the horses. Where are we going?! She wanted to shout, but when she opened her mouth, still nothing came from her throat. The first man looked at her with a small amount of sympathy. "Do you know where you are, child?" She shook her head desperately, her chest tight as the tears continued to stream down her cheeks. "I'm sure it's scary waking up with your arms and legs bound, your voice gone, and a pair of strange men your only company, but you're safe. Do you remember what happened in the market?"

She felt her eyes go wide and she hung her head, realizing that it must not have been a dream. She wished that this was, but she was pinching the skin on her wrist that she could grab hold of and still she looked on the man. Garrett had lied. He had swore that when she pinched herself if it wasn't a dream that he would be there to protect her. She was all alone. The wagon trundled along the road, rattling noisily as the cheek she had slammed on the floor throbbed in time with her racing heart.

Her captor spoke again. "We're taking you to the Circle of Magi, child. When we get there, you'll be with other boys and girls like you. The Enchanters will teach you how to be safe, so you can't hurt anyone or yourself with your magic."

Philippa didn't want to be safe. She wanted her family back. Papa was a mage. He could teach her. Why did she need strangers to lock her up and show her tricks? Papa had been part of the Circle once, but he was free now. He didn't like talking about that time. All he had ever said about the Circle was a single phrase that he had repeated to her after she began to have nightmares. My magic will serve what's best in me, not that which is most base. Right now, she took no comfort in the words. She was alone and scared and her face and arms hurt.

She pressed herself into the corner of the wagon as far from the metal man as she could get and hung her head, ignoring him whenever he tried to speak to her again. Soon, a light rain began to fall and the moisture soaked through her clothes, chilling her. She tried to clench her jaw and stave off the shivers that began to wrack her from the cold, but it was no use. Her body trembled in spite of her best attempts. The man stood and draped a blanket over her. It was thin and patchy, but it temporarily quieted her trembling until the rain soaked through it as well. The raw skin on her wrists burned as the drops of rain trickled from her sleeves. She was miserable and she closed her eyes, trying to pretend she was anywhere but in this wagon with these men.

After what felt like forever, the wagon began to slow and she opened her eyes to see where they were. The woods around her told her nothing about where she was and she huddled even further into the blanket until the man stood from his bench and moved to kneel beside her. "We're going to bed down for the night, child. It will be another few days before we reach Kinloch Hold. We have tents and some food. If you promise to behave, I can unbind your wrists so you can eat. At the first hint of magic, either myself or Ser Maron will cast a smite to stop it. Do you know what a holy smite is?" Again Philippa shook her head, her eyes wide. Even if she wanted to escape, she had no idea where she was. She could never get home. There was no reason to use magic on these men, even if she knew how she had thrown Leon across the town square. "Well, it's best you behave so you don't need to find out."

He reached behind her and used a knife to cut the soaked rope from her wrists and when it dragged across her skin, rubbing the raw edges, she tried to whimper, but it was soundless. She may have her hands back, but she would have liked her voice back, too, even if it was to cry properly. She slowly worked her arms back into a natural position after they had spent all day twisted behind her back while he cut her ankles free as well. Then the metal man pulled her to her feet and walked her to the edge of the wagon before dropping down to the ground with a clank of his armor and then hoisting her down, setting her on her feet on the muddy road. The driver knight had gone into a shallow clearing along the road and setup the tents and was now working on a small fire to keep the cold at bay. "Bryant, you know she isn't supposed to be loose."

"She's just a child, Maron," her escort said chidingly.

"A child that knocked a group of townsfolk on their asses and then threw a boy across the square with sheer will. Don't underestimate her."

Ser Bryant led her to a stump near the fire and sat her down. She slunk as close to the small fire as she could get, trying to stop her body from shivering. In a few minutes, he brought her a meager ration and bade her eat. She nibbled at the food, her stomach upset. Once the sun was down, he led her to one of the tents, handing her a fresh blanket. She didn't want to sleep. She was terrified of her nightmares. She laid awake for as long as she could, fighting the burning of her eyes, but finally, her eyelids drooped from pure exhaustion.

 

She didn't truly sleep. As soon as her eyes closed in the waking world, they opened in the dream world. Papa had called it the Fade. The monsters came to her all of the time, trying to trick her. Papa had warned her how to tell if the monsters were real, but even knowing all he had taught her, they still made her scared. This night, it was easy to tell the monsters from reality. It didn't even try to hide itself behind a mask. The tall gangly creature with the green skin and misshapen, over-sized, mouth stalked toward her. She wanted to run, but the space she was in closed in behind her. Her head began to ache, and Philippa cried, at least able to use her voice in her dreams. "Why are you so scared, little girl? I am not the one who wishes you harm. On the contrary, I would prefer we were friends. It's the ones out there who would bind and chain you until your flesh bleeds. Don't you wish you could fight back? I could show you... blend our power and I could help you get back to your parents." It said in a shrill and ragged voice.

Philippa shook her head, wisps of hair falling over her face as she pressed her eyes closed. "I don't want to hurt people."

"You wouldn't have to hurt anyone. Let me help you," it tried to offer.

Philippa shook her head again. "No!"

"So be it," the monster growled, rearing back and issuing a high pitched scream from it's maw that made Philippa clap her hands over her ears.

 

She bolted awake, much like she usually did from her dreams, sweating and terrified. She did it alone, no Mama, no Papa, no Garrett and no soft blankets to hide beneath. She couldn't even scream, the metal men still keeping her silenced. All she could do was shudder and cry, hugging herself as she curled into the fetal position and wished Garrett was there to curl up behind her. He had promised to be there for her. To keep her safe. Why wasn't he there? Why had Papa allowed the metal men to take her after promising Mama it would never happen?

Ser Bryant soon pushed the tent flap aside and stuck his head inside. "I'm going to take you to relieve yourself and then it's back to the wagon."

Philippa followed him further into the woods and he directed her around a tree, warning her not to try to run. After relieving herself, she sheepishly came back around the tree to follow him back to the wagon. He lifted her up onto the back of the wagon and then proceeded to bind her hands and feet again, at least allowing her the luxury of tying her wrists in front of her this time.

The next three days were the same. Day in and day out, she cried silently in between the bumpy road, the meager supper, sleeping in the cold tent alone, and dodging any number of monsters that haunted her dreams. By day four when Ser Bryant nudged her delicately around noon and pointed toward the North, revealing a massively tall stone structure towering over the landscape and probably visible for miles, she no longer had the capacity to be afraid. She watched the Tower slowly get larger and larger until the wagon ground to a halt near a small wooden dock outside a roadside inn. Ser Maron got down from the wagon and approached the ferryman at the end of the dock while Ser Bryant undid her ankles, leaving her wrists bound.

She was ushered onto the ferry and when the ferryman pushed off from the dock, Philippa stumbled. Her legs were unused to being stood on, and the boat rocked. She was still tired and dizzy and a little bit hungry. Her body ached. The ferry ride took several hours and the sun was going down by the time they reached the island in the middle of the lake where the Tower loomed against the sky. "Hail!" a voice called from the docks. The man's face was obscured behind the lantern he held aloft, burning dimly against the creeping darkness. "I'm Knight-Captain Greagoir. What's your business?"

"I'm Ser Bryant and this is Ser Maron. We hail from Lothering. We have a charge we discovered in the village that came into her power quite spectacularly," Ser Bryant explained.

"I see," the voice on the dock said calmly. "Bring her ashore and we'll get her to the cells for observation."

Philippa's heart began to thump harder as a new fear came upon her. He had said cells. Was she to be a prisoner like the bandits that she had seen trussed up in cages outside the windmill in Lothering two summers ago? The locals had shouted and thrown rotten fruit at the men in their cages, using language that had caused her mother to cover her and Garrett's ears and usher them away from the ruckus. She hoped no one was going to throw fruit at her.

Bryant laid his hands on her shoulders and guided her from the ferry. The wind was whipping angrily across the lake and she shuddered as she tripped and sniffled, her nose running down her lip. The man who had greeted them wore the same metal armor as her escorts. He led them up a winding stone staircase carved into the grounds toward a gigantic set of double wooden doors that arched to a point at the top. Another pair of templars opened the doors to let them in. Philippa was guided into an entryway so grand that when the doors closed behind them, the slamming echoed noisily off the domed ceilings, making her cringe. She sniffed again, the cold air from outside following them into the hard stone walls.

The Knight-Captain did not stop, even as a few more guards watched them pass. Philippa folded in on herself, averting her eyes from everything but her own two feet shuffling forward. They passed through a dark, rounded hallway that curved around the central room of the tower. Everything was stone. Philippa had never been in such a harsh building. The Chantry in Lothering had been made of stone, but it had been soft inside, full of good feelings and warmth.

She was herded down a set of stairs into an even darker hall. They passed a door ringed in strange letters that made her feel choked. Suits of armor lined the walls like terrifying sentries. After a few minutes, the Knight-Captain stopped outside of a room lined with several empty cells separated by thick iron bars. He opened one of the cells and Philippa's eyes widened as he finally deigned to look on her. His features were grim, his round face supporting a full head of light brown hair. His dark brown eyes narrowed as he looked her up and down. Philippa sniffed again, averting her eyes at his scrutiny. When she looked back up, he still hadn't spoken, but his head tipped ever so slightly toward the open door of the cell. She realized he wanted her to enter. With her heart beating so heavily it sounded like rushing water in her ears, she hesitantly stepped into the cell.

It closed behind her, the bars clanging loudly and the lock clicking into place. Tears joined the snot dripping down her face as she turned to look out at the three men staring at her like she were the one who was terrifying. The Knight-Captain beckoned her hands to him and he cut the bonds, aggravating the raw flesh on her wrists. She sucked in a breath and hugged her arms back to her chest. Suddenly, the heavy feeling that had followed her since she had woken up in the wagon the first day lifted. "What is your name, girl?" the Knight-Captain asked in his gruff voice. She took a step back, too scared to speak, even though she suspected she could, now. "How old are you?"

He tried a few different questions, but she refused to speak, afraid that anything she said would get her into more trouble or make them smite her like Ser Bryant had said they would if she misbehaved. When he realized he would get nothing from her, he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Bryant, did you say? Come with me and we'll give her some time to settle in. You can tell me how she presented. Knight-Commander Robard can decide how to handle her in the morning."

The three men left, taking the only lit torch in the room with them and plunging her into darkness. She hugged herself and backed to the farthest corner of her cell. It was cold and impenetrably dark. She leaned her back against the hard stone wall and slid to the floor, huddled around herself. Her body began to tremble and she coughed lightly, her own voice startling her momentarily. She hadn't heard it in so long. An odd taste set up in the back of her mouth and in spite of not having used her voice in days, her throat felt like she'd been screaming it raw. She wiped her face on her sleeve. Mama would have been angry if she'd seen. The floor where she sat was freezing and unforgiving. She hadn't thought there were any more tears in her, but they continued to stream down her cheeks, joined now by muffled sobs.

 

She could not tell if it was morning, but she woke, her body aching. Her head pounded in time with her heartbeat. Her clothing was soaked through from sweating in spite of the shuddering that would not stop. Her nose was still dripping and she sniffed, causing the bridge of her nose and the space beneath her eyes to explode in pain. She huddled more tightly, wishing for one of the threadbare blankets that Ser Bryant had given her and soon felt her lids drooping again, her eyeballs burning.

Chapter Text

When next she woke, it was to voices nearby. Someone's hand was on her forehead. It was a comforting hand, unlike the gloved and plated hands of the metal men. "Maker's breath, how did you let it get this bad?" It was a woman speaking. Her voice was soft, but her tone harsh, like Mama when she got upset. Philippa whimpered and tried to open her eyes, but she could not drag her lids apart. "Hush, child. You're safe." The woman said much more gently. A rustling sounded beside her and the woman spoke again. "I'm taking her to the infirmary."

"But Wynne, the Knight-Captain..." another voice responded nervously.

"The Knight-Captain can stick it where the sun doesn't shine. She needs proper medical care. She is burning with fever and if I don't treat the infection, pneumonia will set in." A fit of coughing wracked Philippa's body, tensing her muscles so she was curled up on the stone floor in a ball. When the coughing subsided, she felt arms wrap around her and lift her from the floor. "I dare you to get in my way..." the woman growled menacingly.

 

A trickle of sensation caressed over her skin, pulling her from the haze she had been in for what felt like days. She recognized magic. She had grown up with Papa casting little spells everyday for mundane things around the house. Her brow creased in a frown before she realized that through her closed eyelids, she could see light, instead of the impenetrable darkness of the cell she had been in. The second thing she realized was that the magic she was feeling was being directed at her. It flowed through her veins and her limbs shuddered involuntarily. Before it receded, she felt a presence. It was both familiar and strange. It felt like the monsters when they were inside her head, but it was kind. Helpful. She reached out to the presence, but when it noticed that she could sense it, it shied away. Realizing that it was in some way helping her, she pulled back to herself, allowing it to cautiously approach her again.

Philippa couldn't exactly see what was happening, but her mind was shaping an image of the presence, laying hands on her Fade self and pushing a small amount of magic into her. Suddenly, her chest loosened and she felt as if she could breathe properly. The sensation forced a harsh, involuntary inhalation of air that drew her eyes open. She sat up swiftly, coughing loudly. A bucket appeared before her and she wrapped her arms around it, hacking and barely able to catch her breath. Mucus and other fluids spewed from her lungs via her mouth and nose until her eyes were watering.

When the heaving finally stopped, she drooped her head low over the bucket, breathing as deeply as she could, her body fighting to regulate the basic function."There, child. You should feel much better now." She vaguely recognized the soft female voice that was speaking, a gentle hand running lightly up and down her spine. The hand left her back and cautiously reached over to pull her hair from where it dangled in her face and tucked it behind her ear. "Do you know where you are?"

Philippa turned her head to glance at the woman speaking to her. She was pretty, like Mama, and roughly the same age. Her light blue eyes were kind, matching her reassuring smile. Her short, light brown, hair was pulled back in a small tail and she wore yellow robes. Philippa took her eyes off the woman and glanced around the room. It was made of stone, much like the rest of the tower, but it was filled with all sorts of glass bottles of every size, a few beds separated by long curtains, and little tables covered in strange looking equipment. Two metal men stood by the doorway at the far side of the room. She shook her head as the woman took the bucket from her and proceeded to take a rag to her face and wipe away the worst of the mess that still clung to her skin. Her body was still quivering, and she clenched her jaw as the woman touched the back of her hand to her forehead.

"Your temperature is still a bit high, but I've managed to cure the infection in your lungs. We're not out of the woods yet. Can you tell me your name?" the woman asked.

Philippa's eyes flicked to the metal men at the door and cringed, afraid if she spoke, they might smite her. She still didn't know what that was, but in the stories that Papa used to tell her and Garrett, the Knights that smited dragons usually did it with their swords. She didn't want those giant swords anywhere near her.

The woman turned her head to see what had Philippa so scared. When she spotted the men, she chuckled lightly. "Oh, you don't need to worry about them. Window dressings, the lot of them. You're safe here. My name is Wynne. I brought you to the infirmary because you were sick. While you traveled from your home, did it rain a lot?" Again Philippa nodded, her mouth firmly shut. Wynne reached for the table near the bed where Philippa was sitting and with one hand wrung a rag out. Another short burst of magic caressed over Philippa's skin and a small bit of blue light emanated from Wynne's hands. Then Wynne gently helped Philippa to lay back and placed the rag on her forehead. The rag was nearly freezing, and it felt blissful against Philippa's heated skin. "Being constantly cold and damp, gave you a chill. Without proper medical care, it turned to pneumonia. It was lucky Ser Jamie found you and called me when he did."

Philippa knew that thanking Wynne was the right thing to do. Mama and Papa had taught her to always thank those who helped her, but she was still concerned about speaking. Her eyes flicked back and forth between Wynne and the metal men, and after biting her lip, she looked directly at Wynne and mumbled a brief, "Thank you," so softly that she barely heard herself.

Wynne chuckled again, the sound like a bell. Philippa decided she liked how it sounded when Wynne laughed. "And here I was beginning to think you might be a mute. But you can speak after all. You are welcome, but it is my job."

When the metal men at the door didn't react to her speaking, she looked back at Wynne and asked, "Will I be able to see Mama and Papa again?"

Wynne pressed her thin lips together in what Philippa read as sympathy and spoke hesitantly. "It isn't unheard of for apprentices to get visitors, but it is extremely rare for those that are not of noble blood. Many times, if their parents aren't there when the child is taken, they never even know where they've gone. I'm sorry, child."

Philippa closed her eyes against the tears that welled up. She had been crying for days. It was time to stop being a crybaby. "What happens now?"

Wynne smiled again. "I've told you my name. Do you think you could tell me yours?"

"Philippa," she said.

"It's nice to meet you, Philippa. Do you have a surname?" Wynne wondered.

"Hawke," she added.

"And I'm guessing you're probably..." she hummed softly and tapped her finger on her lips. "seven?"

"Yes, ma'am," Philippa agreed politely.

"Do you know much about the Circle?" Wynne asked.

"Papa told me it was a prison for people who could do magic," Philippa said evasively. If she said too much, the metal men might go back to Lothering and find her father.

Wynne nodded slowly. "It can be for some, but for others it can feel more like a sanctuary. A haven against those who would do them harm because they were afraid. The Maker has given you a gift, Philippa. At the Circle, you can learn to use that gift for good." When Wynne noticed the expression on Philippa's face, she sat back. "But I'm sure it feels pretty scary right now. I felt the same way when I was first brought here." Then she chuckled. "Maker, that was probably 25 years ago, now. I have come to see the Circle as home, as I hope you may as well. For now, let's concentrate on getting you well."

 

Philippa slept away most of the next few days, rising only to eat and receive a dose of herbs to lower her fever. Wynne stayed with her for most of her time in the infirmary, gleaning small pieces of information from her while checking on her heart-rate and lungs with a light blue glow from her hands. Her second day there, Wynne brought two men into the room to speak with Philippa. One was an older man in the metal armor of the templars, his eyes a steely grey to match his armor. The other, a man a handful of years older that Wynne with a dark brown head of hair matched with a very long and bushy beard. His brown eyes, like Wynne's were kind and understanding. He wore a distinctive set of robes in blue and yellow with fabric pauldrons over his shoulders.

They both looked at Philippa with curiosity, and on the templar's behalf, suspicion. After they were introduced as Knight-Commander Robard, and First Enchanter Irving, the templar stepped ahead of the First Enchanter and barked a few questions at Philippa. "Before the incident in the market, had you used magic on any other occasion?"

Philippa shook her head, her eyes widening. "No," she said timidly.

"Why on that particular day, did you feel the need to attack the boy?" he demanded.

"I didn't... mean to, I mean. He broke my dragon, and my brother got really mad and hit him, but Leon was stronger, and I was so scared for Garrett..." She couldn't help the tears that slipped from her eyes. She rubbed angrily at them with her sleeve as the First Enchanter pushed past the angry Knight-Commander with a glare and sat on the side of her bed.

"It's all right, child. You can't always control when your magic will surface. But that's why you're here. To learn how to make the magic serve you." My magic will serve the best of me, not that which is most base. She still did not quite understand the meaning behind the words, but she recited them to herself.

Before Philippa had a chance to respond, the Knight-Commander turned his icy stare from her. "Wynne, how long until she can join the the other apprentices and begin classes?"

"I need time to get the fever under control. A few days at least," Wynne replied with a scowl of her own, her arms crossing beneath her chest.

"Fine, fine. Irving, get the phylactery and we will bring it to the chamber."

The First Enchanter glanced back at Philippa with a small smile. Then he took a small box from the pouch he carried at his waist. Inside was a tiny glass vial shaped like an hourglass set into a gold ring. At the top of the vial, there was a plug. He pulled it out and set it aside before pulling a tiny needle from the box. He held it up to show her, briefly before it turned bright red, like the bottom of Mama's silver kettle when it heated up over the fire. "This will only hurt for a moment, child. Every apprentice must have a small amount of blood drawn and placed in a phylactery so if they are ever lost, they can be found."

He held out his hand calmly, his smile reassuring. Philippa had little choice, so she gingerly set her hand in his. With practiced ease, he pricked her forefinger. Immediately, blood welled up and the sensation jolted up her forearm. She flinched, but before she could pull away, he had centered the uncorked vial under the dripping finger and massaged five drops of blood into the hourglass. Allowing her to pull her hand back and suck on her throbbing finger, he smiled again as he plugged the opening of the vial. "All finished. Thank you for being so well behaved."

 

On her last day in the infirmary, Wynne brought someone else with her. He was a young boy, barely older than Philippa. He had dark brown eyes filled with interest, and light brown hair cut short and neatly styled. The robes he wore were light blue that nearly perfectly matched the color of Philippa's own eyes. In his arms, he carried a bundle of clothing of the same color. He sheepishly handed the bundle to Philippa, making sure he didn't touch her, jumping back as soon as she had hold of it. She noticed that his robes were immaculate, not a single wrinkle or speck of dirt to be seen. That didn't stop him from straightening his belt as Wynne introduced them. "Philippa, this is my youngest apprentice Florian Aldebrant. He has been doing so well in his studies that I thought he might enjoy a day off to help show you around your new home."

His nose wrinkled as Wynne said his name and Philippa stifled a giggle at the strange name. "I heard you've been sick for days!" Florian said nervously, his eyes wide.

"I feel much better now," Philippa said, wrinkling her own nose as he looked her over as if she were contagious.

"Go ahead behind those curtains and get dressed. Then you're free to go," Wynne said with a smile.

Philippa did as she was told, pulling on the long robes. She had never particularly liked skirts when Mama had made her dress up on holidays, wishing she could have worn the pants and doublet like Garrett. She pulled on the matching leggings and soft slippers and stepped sheepishly from behind the curtains, tucking her unruly hair behind her ears. "Ooh, the blue matches your eyes," Florian said in wonder as she looked up at him and Wynne, knowing she still looked scruffy compared to his exceptionally clean visage. "Well, come on then, dorms are this way."

Wynne hustled Philippa after Florian with a small chuckle, as he exited swiftly. Florian talked a mile minute as he hurried down the twisting corridor, pointing out this and that as they went. "Slow down, Forian," Philippa begged, nearly out of breath and wondering how he could both walk that fast and talk that fast without passing out.

He slowed and then stopped, turning to face her. When she stopped in front of him, he took a step back. "Call me Finn."

She drew her head back questioningly. "Finn?"

His cheeks flushed lightly. "My full name is Florian Phineas Horatio Aldebrant, Esquire. I've been here nearly two years, and most of the other apprentices still call me Flora. I prefer Finn. I'm... sure it's obvious why."

At his reddening cheeks and confession, Philippa did giggle. "Did your parents hate you?"

He pressed his lips together and puffed out his chest. "On the contrary, I still see my parents, unlike most of the others here."

Philippa felt the mirth drain from her as she thought of her own parents and the fact that she might never see them again. Pushing the thought aside, she swallowed and wrung her hands. "Well, my brother used to call me Phil. I guess you could, too."

"Phil it is, then," he agreed, looking her up and down and noticing her discomfort. "Sorry if I was too excited before. I'll try to slow down. The Circle is a big place. You don't want to get lost." He turned and started to walk again, this time more slowly. "We are on the third floor right now. As well as the Infirmary, there are a few meeting rooms, the dining hall, and the Senior Enchanter's Quarters." He pointed up toward the seemingly endless ceiling above. "Above us is the barracks, where the templars all live and train. Then above that is the Harrowing Chamber."

"What's the Harrowing Chamber?" Philippa asked curiously.

"When you first come to the Circle, usually you're an apprentice. There are a few exceptions, but that isn't important. After you finish your training, you take your Harrowing. I don't really know what happens at a Harrowing, but if you pass, you become a full fledged mage. If not..." he finally stepped closer to her and lowered his voice. "I hear they either kill you, or make you tranquil."

Philippa's eyes bugged. "They kill you?" she squeaked.

Finn nodded gravely. "In most cases, though, I think it's better than being tranquil."

"What's that mean?" she asked.

He twisted his face as if trying to find the best way to explain. "It's some sort of ritual that cuts you off from the Fade. It means you can't dream anymore." Philippa thought that didn't sound so bad if it meant that the monsters would leave her in peace. "...But it also takes away your feelings, so you don't care about anything anymore." That part didn't sound as appealing. As much as she didn't like being afraid or sad, she didn't want to lose her ability to feel all together.

She shuddered. "That sounds awful."

Finn nodded and began to walk again. He led her into the central circle of the cylindrical tower. It was one large room with ceilings so high that their footsteps echoed loudly around the otherwise empty room. He headed for a set of stairs that curled around and let them out in a hallway similar to the one they had followed from the infirmary. Directly across from the stairs, Finn pointed to the ornate door that was currently closed. "That is First Enchanter Irving's office. Next we have the Chantry chapel, if you follow the Maker, most mentors will give their pupils some time every day for praying and reflection." Philippa's family followed the Maker, but it was rare they went to the Chantry because of all of the templars that served there. As a result, Philippa's belief was not so strong as some. Finn gave nothing of his opinion on the matter, hustling past the large room as he had all the others. "Here is the laboratories and the store room... Mage's quarters, the guest rooms..."

He slowed when they entered the next section. Several men and women, both elves and humans, sat quietly at tables around the area, pouring over books, or softly talking among each other. The templars hadn't been so obvious as they walked the halls as they were in this room. Philippa had noticed them watching out of the corners of her eyes, but here, they were clustered around the room, looking much more vigilant. Stacks of bookshelves lined the walls, and most of the people seated had at least one book open in front of them. Finn lowered his voice. "This is the mage's library. Apprentices aren't allowed to read these books without permission. I can't wait until I take my Harrowing. I might spend the rest of my years in this room, reading everything I can."

Philippa was unsure if she could see the appeal. She had only learned to read a handful of words so far, but she had always enjoyed listening to her Papa read. It allowed her imagination to soar. After lingering slightly longer in the library than he had elsewhere, Finn sighed and led her to the middle of the circle again. Philippa's attention was immediately drawn to a group of men and women with blank expressions on their faces and strange marks on their foreheads. "Who are they?" she asked breathily, their expressions making her shudder.

"Those are the Tranquil. They run the stockroom," Finn explained. "The brand on their forehead is where the spell to cut off their dreams was pressed into their skin."

Now that she had seen them, Philippa felt sad for the Tranquil. They looked so empty. "I don't like it here," she said softly.

He shooed her toward the stairs down with a flap of his hands. They emerged in another library. "This is where I spend most of my time. Some classes are held here, but apprentices can come and go as we please in this library."

Philippa was amazed at the sheer height of the bookshelves that lined every wall of three different alcoves. How were there enough books to line that many shelves? All along the stacks, children ranging from her age all of the way to nearly adults meandered. Some looked aimless, searching the shelves for something to pass the time. Others looked to be researching or working on something important. In a couple of alcoves, clusters of children grouped by age listened to other mages dressed in yellow like Wynne and the other enchanters they had seen in the library upstairs, as they lectured. Finn led her through the endless shelves, past a massive statue near the exit and into a much quieter hallway. The next area seemed to be a common room of sorts where more mages milled around, socializing, wary of the heavy templar presence. He pointed out the entrance to the basement which housed the repository and the phylactery chamber as well as the dungeons where she had been brought her first night. She started to vaguely recognize her surroundings as they headed for the hallway that the templars had brought her through.

"At last, we come to the apprentice dormitories. Anyone under 12 is in the dorms farthest from the exit. The older apprentices in the other room. We are in the same dorm for now, but I'll be moving up in two years. Come on, I'll show you your bunk and if I'm right, the others should be coming up on their mid-morning break. I'll introduce you to a few of them."

Finn led her into the first door from the common area. Straight ahead was a collection of tables and chairs strewn with cards and chess boards. A couple of instruments leaned against the back wall, and some balls were piled in a chest. To her left, another door stood open. She could see a pair or communal showers, presumably separating boys and girls. There were also stalls with chamber pots, and a few vanities opposite the showers. To her right, lined in rows were a few dozen bunks. Each of them were in varying states of neatness, and some were strewn with clothes that had made their way out of the footlockers at the foot of each bunk.

"Wynne says they gave you the bunk under Neria. She's been here for ages. She's eight, but she can't even remember where she is from." Finn pointed to one of the bunks near the back of the room. The sheets on the top bunk were hastily thrown up in an attempt to 'make' the bed. In the head and foot-boards, odd symbols were carved deep into the wood. Philippa moved to the bunk and sat down on the bottom mattress. It was soft. Softer than the straw mattress she had at home in Lothering. Finn sat opposite her and made himself comfortable. "We're neighbors." he grinned. Even his smile was neat. So was his bed. The sheets were strategically tucked into each corner and devoid of wrinkles. His footlocker was closed tightly and it looked to Philippa like the brass latches shone a bit more brightly than those of the other chests. "There should be some spare robes, a brush, and other essentials in the footlocker for you."

After she checked the footlocker, a group of children of varying ages started to filter into the dormitory, laughing and talking among each other. An elven girl with dirty blonde hair pulled into a sloppy tail stopped in front of Philippa and her bright green eyes slipped up and down her. "You're my new bunk mate?" she asked in an appraising tone. A tall gangly boy stood beside her, his black hair hanging lank around his face, drawing attention to his blue eyes. He was taller than the others, but his demeanor said he was not older than them. Like Garrett, he was just tall. On her other side stood a blonde boy with short hair spiked up at odd angles off his head and aqua colored eyes and behind them were two more girls, both looking unsure if they were allowed to be curious. The elven girl had raven hair much like Philippa's own, and eyes almost as dark. The human girl had red hair and midnight blue eyes.

The blonde boy started to chuckle and elbowed past the girl that she assumed was Neria. He held his hand out. He was closer to Finn's age than Philippa's, but his smile was easy and his strangely colored eyes sparkled as he spoke. "Ease up, Neria. Can't you tell the lass is a bit shy." Philippa had never heard an accent like his before and she took his hand lightly.

"I was just having her on," Neria mumbled, crossing her arms and glaring at the boy before turning a smile on Philippa. "I'm Neria."

"And I'm Kilian," the boy said, shaking her hand briefly before taking his back and pointing out the others. "The tall bloke there is Jowan, our dark headed beauty behind me is Brissa, and the fire hair is Faye." He cocked a smirk and flicked his eyes to Finn. "I'm guessing you've met Flora."

Finn sat up. "My name is Finn!" he grumbled with an eye roll.

Philippa drew the attention off of Finn and said, "I'm Philippa."

"She prefers Phil," Finn interjected.

She shot him a thankful glance, unsure how to bring up the nickname to the group of strangers. "Welcome to Kinloch Hold, Phil," Neria said with another grin.

Chapter Text

Her first days as an apprentice were nothing like she had imagined. After evaluating her reading level, she was placed with a group of three other children her age in a class solely dedicated to teaching them reading. There was not even a mention of magic. She moved ahead quickly with Finn as her more than willing tutor. He was fluent not only in the King's speech, but he could speak and read Tevene and Orlesian. According to him, he wanted to eventually learn every language there was to know, but there was plenty of time for that. A month after she arrived, Finn was helping her through a short story about dragons when she suddenly felt her heart clench. Every now and then, something would remind her about her family and she would have to fight back a stream of tears. Finn glanced up from the book and saw her expression. "Is everything all right, Phil?"

She nodded, swallowing. "This story... it reminds me of one that my Papa used to tell me and my brother." She sighed, swallowing again, and Finn produced a ridiculously clean handkerchief, offering it to her with a barely hidden curl of his lip at the thought of snot. She giggled and waved it off, not wanting to soil his pristine handkerchief. "I just... I wonder sometimes if they even know if I'm all right."

Finn screwed up his face in thought. "Maybe you should go to the First Enchanter and see if you could get permission to write home."

She shook her head, her eyes widening. "He's so busy. I don't want to be a bother."

"Enchanter Wynne, then. She wouldn't mind," Finn suggested.

Philippa bit her lip. "Would you... Would you help me write something and then take it to her for me? You're her favorite."

 

Once a week, the apprentices were taken outside onto the grounds for exercise and fresh air. Philippa yearned for those days when she could feel the sun on her skin again. As soon as they stepped foot outside each time, Finn would excuse himself to find the least dirty patch of lawn and stand rigidly still until it was time to go back inside.

A handful of weeks after Finn had helped her write her letter, Philippa was outside with the small group that had taken her in as their friend. It had been awkward at first, because Philippa had never really had friends. Garrett had friends and she followed on his heels. He had always been the one with all of the charisma. Soon, she had started to be able to pick out when Neria was being cheeky. Like Garrett, in spite of her age, Neria was the self appointed leader of their little group, and she had all of the charisma. Except for Kilian, who seemed to have his own language that Philippa had needed to decipher before she truly understood him most of the time. He told her he was from a city in the Free Marches called Starkhaven, which supposedly explained his strange way of speaking.

They had secured a spot on the wide open yard and were deciding whether they were going to throw a ball around or organize a game of tag. In opposition of both choices, Faye had suggested hopscotch and Neria was organizing a vote when a templar approached them all. "Philippa Hawke?" he called drolly, startling them all with the unexpected templar presence.

Jowan nudged Philippa forward and she lowered her eyes. "I'm Philippa, Ser."

"The First Enchanter asked me to fetch you and bring you to him," the templar explained. Then he turned on his heel and she followed with a backward glance at her friends who were all watching in awe.

He led her up to the second floor through the creepy stockroom and the mage's library, past the chapel and the laboratories to the First Enchanter's office. The door was wide open, and the templar stepped in without knocking, stopping just inside the door. Philippa peered around his bulky frame and saw the First Enchanter look up to see who had entered. "Ah, Miss Hawke. Thank you, Ser Hadley." The office was neatly set up, bookshelves lining every wall and a long table to her right, strewn with any number of artifacts and books that weren't currently weighing down the shelves. His desk sat ahead of them, piles of papers neatly organized atop it.

The templar touched his fist to his chest and bowed out, leaving them alone. First Enchanter Irving stood and rounded his desk with a gentle smile in his face. He headed for the door and closed it quietly before beckoning her to sit across from him in the chair in front of his desk. He folded his hands, still smiling. "Wynne told me some weeks ago that she sent a letter off to your parents in Lothering at your request." He studied her briefly as her stomach knotted up and her heart began to race. Was she in trouble for trying to contact her parents?

She opened her mouth to quickly stutter out an explanation. "I just missed them so much, and Finn told me that it was okay. He talks to his parents all the time. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to..."

The First Enchanter chuckled, cutting her off with a few kind words. "You aren't in trouble, child. I called you here because we received a response. I've already performed the mandatory checks for contraband and wanted to give you the package in person."

He reached into a drawer in his desk and pulled out a small box wrapped in brown paper, with a letter attached. The letter looked unopened, as well as the parcel. "You didn't read the letter?" she asked in amazement as he placed them in her eager hands.

"As far as I'm concerned, it is none of my business what is said between families. Now, run along. As I understand, you're meant to be outside. Exercise and sunshine is good for you."

Philippa got up from the chair, her letter and package clutched to her chest. "Thank you, First Enchanter."

She hurried out of the office and the templar who had escorted her led her back outside. Instead of heading toward Neria and the others, she made a beeline for Finn. His face was etched with concern until he noticed the things in her hands. "What did the First Enchanter want? You're not in trouble, are you?"

"No, I've got a package. My parents got the letter I wrote, and they've sent me one back. I want to read it, but I might need help," she said sheepishly.

Finn's nervous expression slipped away and he replaced it with a smile. "Of course. Let's go and..." he cringed briefly before muscling forward. "sit on the bench." She started toward one in the sun and he stopped her. "No, no. The one under the gazebo."

She giggled and followed him to the small stone bench under the gazebo where he proceeded to pull one of his handkerchiefs from a pouch and lay it neatly on the bench before sitting stiffly. Philippa sat on the opposite end, lifting her feet up and draping her robes over them as she folded her legs beneath her so she could face him. He made a face at the thought of the dirt from her slippers that was making it's way onto her skirts, but she didn't care. She set the small box down between them and carefully tore open the envelope. She had worked really hard on the letter she had sent home, and even harder on learning to read before she received a response so she would be able to read it on her own. The letter was brief. She read it out loud, her voice just loud enough for Finn to hear.

Dearest Philippa,

We were so grateful to receive your letter. Words cannot express how much I feel like I failed you. I'm so sorry that there was nothing I could do to prevent you being taken to the Circle. I would have given myself to spare you that pain. I wish I could say more, but letters in and out of the Circle are monitored.

Days after you were taken, your mother went into labor. Garrett was overjoyed to see the first babe to slip from her womb was a boy, but much more disappointed when your sister was born ten minutes later. We've named them Carver, and Bethany. Both are healthy. Carver is much like Garret was as an infant. Loud. Bethany has not cried yet. She is the only one of the four of you that is so mild mannered.

We miss you a great deal, and wish we had the means to visit you, but you know it is impossible. I was able to find a way to get you something special as an apology. When Garrett explained what happened at the market, I returned and gathered the pieces of your well earned prize. I repaired them and packed them tightly so it didn't get broken again. I hope it will serve as a reminder that your family loves you very much.

All our Love, Mama, Papa, Garrett, Carver and Bethany

P.S. Garrett asked me to remind you to pinch yourself.

Philippa gasped in amazement as she realized what was in the small box. She set the letter down and with trembling fingers, peeled the paper free and took the lid from the box. Inside, nestled in some cotton was her tiny glass dragon. Papa had repaired it, obviously with magic, and it looked just as she had remembered it. She hugged it to her chest, tears beginning to stream down her face. She was happy to hear that her family was all right, but saddened that she likely wouldn't hear much from them. Not like Finn heard from his parents. "Thank you for helping me, Finn." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. He let out a choked cry and pulled away from her. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean..." she drew her fingers into her sleeve and reached to wipe his cheek where her lips had touched, knowing he was phobic of germs and physical contact.

He cringed and held up his hands. "Don't! You're welcome..." he said, breathing heavily around his mild panic attack. "But I'm never helping you again if it means you're going to kiss me. Germs, Phil..." He shuddered again.

"I'm truly sorry. I was excited and I wasn't thinking," she said sheepishly.

 

As soon as Philippa had mastered reading and writing, she was sent to classes where they began to learn about history and geography, and for the first time since entering the Circle, magic. Each new apprentice was taken into a small room guarded by a templar and evaluated by an Enchanter. Philippa was glad to see that the Enchanter who approached her was Wynne. Wynne sat her in a chair and seated herself in another chair in front of her. "What we're going to do today is evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. When you presented in Lothering, what happened?"

Philippa tucked her hands under her thighs on the chair and bit her lip. "I couldn't get to my brother. I felt something weird in my chest, and then all of a sudden the people in my way moved. Then I pushed my hands forward and Leon flew through the air like a giant had picked him up and tossed him. After that, the world was fuzzy and I fell asleep."

Wynne hummed thoughtfully. "You must have a very kind heart, Philippa. It is a rare thing that in the heat of the moment when someone you love is in danger that a first manifestation of magic is of the physical type."

"Physical magic?" Philippa asked, frowning.

Wynne nodded. "It is more commonly known as Force Magic. The ability to apply force to objects around you and move them with a thought, or to manipulate the gravity in the air and slow down objects in motion."

"What other kinds of magic are there?" Philippa asked with curiosity.

Wynne chuckled in that sweet and carefree way that Philippa liked to hear and waved a hand dismissively. "Far too many to go over in the time we have in this room. We are here to see if you're advanced enough in your power to be leaning toward a certain specialization. It is easy to tell with some apprentices, where as others are much more difficult to evaluate. Since you presented with Force Magic, first, I am going to test the strength of your abilities." She took a small ball and set it on a table across the room. Then she moved back to Philippa's side and asked her to stand. "All I need you to do is squish that ball if you can. Hold your arm up like this..." Wynne held her right hand out from her body, bent slightly at the elbow, and her palm facing herself. Philippa mimicked the gesture. Wynne nodded. "Good, now concentrate on the ball. Reach inside yourself for your magic... when you've found it, concentrate on directing it to your palms. Then pretend you're grabbing hold of the air above the ball and close your fist around that air. When you think you have it, pull down. Only use a small bit of magic and the ball should flatten under the spell."

Philippa nodded, concentrating with everything she had. She had never cast a spell on purpose before. She looked inside herself, closing her eyes. She felt nothing at first, but then suddenly, she felt the tiny spark of power deep in her core. She called out to it, reaching for the spindle that she had felt unraveling in her chest back in Lothering. She took a small bit from the reserve, carefully siphoning only a little, like Wynne had said. Then she directed it to her palm, feeling the warm sensation trickling through her veins as it traveled from her chest to her hands. She opened her eyes and saw the power humming in an aura around her fingertips. She pulled her eyes from the humming light and pretended to grab the air over the ball. When she pulled her closed fist down, the spell fired off. Not only did the ball flatten, a booming crash sounded and the table it was sitting on splintered and cracked, falling to pieces with the crushing force of her magic. Immediately, Philippa backed up and let go of the magic she had called, stuffing it back down into her core, winding it tightly back into place. Her hands shook in fear as Wynne set her hands in her shoulders. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't mean... I didn't use a lot. I only wanted to flatten the ball, like you asked." Tears started to stream down her face as the templar guarding the door was inside in an instant.

"Is everything all right in here, Enchanter Wynne?" he asked warily, looking from them to the shattered table.

Wynne pulled Philippa against her protectively. "We are just fine Ser Bran. If you don't mind, I'm conducting an evaluation." With one last glance at them both, Ser Bran left again, closing the door behind him. Wynne turned Philippa around to face her and knelt in front of her. "You didn't do anything wrong, child. Magic takes practice and discipline. We are simply here today to test your strengths and weaknesses. If you're up to it, I'd like to test a few other disciplines."

Philippa bit her lip, swallowing her tears and then wiping them away on her sleeve."Okay."

"Good." Wynne smiled sweetly. "Next, I'm going to test your ability to cast a simple creation spell. It is called grease, and as it's name implies, you're going to summon a greasy substance to your fingertips that can be used for many different things from simply pranking your friends to fueling an inferno." Philippa nodded, her eyes wide. "Now, since this is a summoning and not a simple manipulation, it will require a more complex casting. You will need to draw from your will as well as your mana. You will need to touch the Fade to draw forth the grease. Watch my fingers carefully." Wynne executed a seemingly complex string of gestures that she repeated three times before Philippa was able to mimic them. Wynne got a bucket and set it beneath Philippa's hands. "Have the mana ready, then as you execute the movements, draw from the Fade. The Veil is thin here at the Circle, so reaching across it should be simple."

Philippa closed her eyes again, poking much more gently at the spindle of mana in her core. She drew a minuscule amount to her fingertips and held it there. Then as she bent and twisted her fingers in the pattern Wynne had shown her, she allowed her mind to open up to the dream world that so regularly haunted her as she slept. She was afraid to accept anything from that strange world, but Wynne had said it like there was nothing to it, so it had to be safe. She trusted Wynne. The Fade answered her immediately, her hands completing the gesture and swiftly becoming slick. She opened her eyes and saw the clear, shining substance dripping from her hands into the bucket as if she were sweating it out. She giggled lightly. "I bet this is Finn's favorite spell."

To her surprise, Wynne burst out in a fit of laughter. "I performed his evaluation as well. Maker, I thought he was going to faint when a tiny drop got on the hem of his robes. I'm told he scrubbed at that spot for a week before giving up and asking for a replacement set."

Philippa giggled as the spell began to peter out, leaving her hands clean as the grease all dripped into the bucket. "At least I didn't drown us in grease." With Wynne coaching her so patiently, Philippa was actually enjoying herself, the crushing weight of her nerves loosening the knot in her stomach.

"You'd be surprised the amount of apprentices that make a mess of that spell. Thank you for not making the clean up difficult," Wynne said with a smile. "We get to make the clean up fun, now."

"How so?"

Wynne smiled devilishly. "We're going to set it on fire."

Philippa's heart leapt in both terror and excitement. "How?" She remembered her father lighting the hearth with his fire magic, and fending off a pack of wolves that had wandered too close to their wagon when the wheel had broken along the road at night once.

"The fireball spell is another summoning, much like the grease spell, but instead of letting it leak from your hands, you must form it in your palms, like a lump of clay. Hold your hands before you like you're holding an invisible ball... Good... now draw slowly on your mana as you touch the Fade. You must balance the element. Siphon too much and you will lose control of the fire. It is a dangerous tool that you must master. You control it, not the other way around. Once you've crafted a sufficient ball in your hands, gently push it toward the bucket, directing it toward the grease."

Philippa listened closely to Wynne before beginning. She reached for the Fade and her mana together, picturing the invisible ball in her hands wreathed in flames. She didn't close her eyes this time, relying on her eyes to judge the size of the fire. She felt the answering tug of the Fade and she slowly began to pour mana between her fingers. A small spark ignited in the air between her palms. It flickered and died before sparking again as she gently nudged it with a bit more mana. The spark erupted, making Philippa's heart jump before she swallowed the fear and exerted her will on the fire. She couldn't panic. Panic and fear was the enemy. It was her magic. She controlled it. She twisted her hands around, shaping the ball into one that was slightly larger than her palms. The heat from it licked at her face, but it didn't burn. It felt warm and safe cupped between her hands. She stepped back from the bucket and then pushed the fire toward it. A whoosh of flames burst from the bucket as the grease caught and started to burn. "I did it! I'm like a dragon!" she cried in amazement as Wynne smiled proudly at her.

Wynne moved toward a bag near the doorway and produced two long metal sticks which she pierced marshmallows on the ends of. She handed one to Philippa. "A reward for a job well done. You are a natural."

Wynne asked her to perform a few more spells from other schools of magic after their snack, and she had been successful in performing them on the first try. Now, as she headed back to the dormitories, exhausted from using up so much mana, she yawned and shuffled her feet, pride the only thing keeping her on her feet long enough to get to her bunk and collapse on top of the blankets.

 

It was a warm spring day, and her birthday was coming up. She was excited because her father and brother were coming to visit. She paced the dormitory nervously. Finally, she heard movement and turned. A gasp escaped her throat as Papa and Garrett stood beside a templar. She squealed in excitement and ran to them, her arms outstretched. She jumped into her father's arms and he laughed happily, picking her up and spinning her. When he set her back on her feet, Garrett was next, wrapping his arms tightly around her. "I've missed you Phil." The only thing that could hope to dampen her spirits was the small headache that was forming behind her eyes.

They were allowed to use the grounds where the apprentices had recreation time, walking through the garden. She took them to the gazebo and they sat. Philippa talked a mile a minute, telling her father and brother about everything that had happened since she had come to the Circle, and how well she was doing in her classes. Her father beamed at her with pride and when she finally slowed to take a breath, he looked around briefly before leaning down to whisper to her. "I'm so glad you're doing so well, Turtledove. Maybe now that you have learned to control your power, I could find a way to sneak you out of here and we could all go home together. You could meet your brother and sister, and see your mother."

Philippa drew her head back, looking at her father and the odd expression on his face. She frowned as Garrett nodded vigorously. "It could be just like old times, Phil."

She shook her head slowly, closing her eyes as she started to realize what was happening. It had been months since she had had a nightmare, but it felt like just yesterday that she had learned to harness her power. Her use of magic and her mind touching the Fade must have drawn the monsters to her. She shook her head again and corrected herself. She had learned their true identities. Demons. They existed to tempt mages into corrupting themselves so the demon could get inside their body and walk outside the Fade. She hugged herself, reaching her arm around to give herself a pinch. When she pain spiked up her arm, the illusion of her father and brother flickered briefly, showing her the truth. "No. You're not my family. I belong here. You can't make me leave!" she cried, getting up to run from the demons. She ran back inside the Circle and when she slammed the door behind her, the dream ended abruptly and she jerked awake.

The dorms were dark, and Philippa realized she had slept through supper. She hugged herself, sitting up. She no longer felt the need to cry or huddle up when she dreamt. She had proven that she could control her magic. She didn't need the help of some demon who thought it knew better than her. She got up from her bunk and quietly crossed the dormitory to the washroom. After relieving herself and splashing some water on her face, she left the washroom to return to her bed. She didn't make it that far as a voice called out to her. "Phil... everything all right?" Kilian asked, standing in the doorway of the dormitory. He was obviously just returning from wherever he had been and he was looking at her with concern.

She hugged herself again, the midnight hour casting a chill over the tower's stone walls. "I get nightmares sometimes and I can't sleep," she confessed.

His eyes flicked up and down her and then he held out his hand. "Come here, I want to show you something."

"We're not supposed to be out of bed after lights out," she scolded him, wringing her hands nervously, her voice hushed as she looked around to make sure no one else was awake and listening.

"Ah, don't be so sound. I'll keep an eye for the holy joes and we can leg it if they come sniffing around. What do you say?" he asked, still holding his hand out toward her.

She glanced around one more time, making sure no one had woken up to their hushed conversation, then she bit her lip and shuffled to him, taking his hand, excitement swirling around her. "Where are we going?" she asked softly as he led her down the hall in the direction of the libraries.

"You'll see when we get there..." he said back, slowing his pace to peer around a doorway and make certain no patrols were going by.

They made their way up to the second floor and past the mage's quarters into the laboratories. At the back of the farthest room, there was a small door that opened onto a wide balcony. Kilian pulled her outside into the chilly winter night and crept to a strange device mounted on a stand. It was a globe shaped object that had a narrow lens sticking up from it's top and one on the bottom. He put his eye to the narrow end of the bottom piece, peering through before turning the device and then tipping it upwards. He beckoned her over and motioned for her to look through it. She did, and saw the stars in the sky, almost so close she could touch them. She gasped and pulled away to glance at him. "What is this?"

"Enchanters call it an astrarium. They use it to chart the heavens. Right now it's pointed at one of the constellations... That's what they call the groups of stars that come together to make shapes. That particular one is called Draconis. Look close enough and you can see the dragon shape."

Philippa looked through the lens again and smiled, making out the body of the dragon with it's wings spread out. "Wow!" she said in awe as Kilian nudged her affectionately.

"I thought you might like that one, since you've got that wee dragon statue tucked away in your footlocker," he said with a chuckle.

"I wish I could see a real dragon," she mused softly. "Papa says there are only a few left in Thedas since the Nevarran Dragon Hunters hunted them nearly to extinction."

"To be fair, it was in the job description, lassie. But this is the Dragon Age. 'haps you'll get a chance yet."

Chapter Text

Since the night that Kilian had showed her it was possible to get around the tower at night without being seen, each time Philippa had a nightmare, she would get up and creep around the stone corridors, looking for new and exciting things. She did not hear much from her family, save for a letter each year on her birthday which she would respond to regarding her progress in her studies, but leaving out the details of the nightmares and demons that still plagued her.

One year after she had arrived at the Circle, Kilian was moved to the older apprentice dormitory next door, and the following year, Finn and Brissa followed. They stopped having classes with them, but on the days that they were allowed outside, Philippa still got to see her friends. New apprentices would filter in here and there, some younger than her, and some that went directly to the older dormitories. The chores and lessons became routine, and Philippa quickly began to memorize every inch of the tower, discreetly exploring in her free time.

It felt like no time had passed before she had come upon her eleventh birthday. As usual, she was given the day off, free of classes and chores. She chose to spend her time in the common area near the basement reading a book. Near mid day, she was lying on her back, the book held above her and her legs crossed. A teasing sniff sounded to her left and she glanced from her book to see Finn wiping away an imaginary tear. "Look at you. Reading in your free time. I've never been prouder."

She smirked and uncrossed her legs, reaching out with her foot to kick at him playfully. He easily sidestepped, used to her attempts to dirty his always immaculate robes. In the four years they had known each other, she had come to see Finn as her best friend. In spite of their age difference, he had never treated her as less than him or acted as if he were better than she was. "I would much rather be outside, but I'll take what I can get. Imagined adventure..." she waved the book and smiled.

"Happy birthday, Phil," he said with a smile as she dropped her feet to the floor and then rolled her eyes when he shooed her to sit in the spot where her feet had been so he could sit on the less soiled side of the bench. He held out a handmade card and she took it with her own smile, giggling at his attempts at drawing.

Before she got a chance to read the neatly written words inside the card, a commotion sounded near the door to the hallway that circled the dormitories. She glanced up and the newly appointed Knight-Commander Greagoir was marching through the corridor, a fleet of more templars in tow, surrounding a young boy with strawberry blonde hair that was pulled half off his face, the other half falling out as if he had been in a scuffle. He sported a black eye on his left side and a scowl that seemed to be the best he could muster to hide the tears that were dripping down his face from his honey colored eyes. He was still growing into his nose it seemed, and his jaw was square, smoothly slipping into a strong but narrow chin. "Must be a new apprentice," Philippa guessed as the entourage passed by noisily, heading into the basement.

"Looks like he didn't come easily," Finn agreed.

Just then, Neria strutted up to them and stepped between Philippa and Finn, straddling the bench and dropping down to drape herself over Philippa's shoulders. Squeezing her tightly, she said, "Ooooh happy birthday, bunkie! What's say you and I head to the kitchens after lights out and nick us some sweet cakes?"

Philippa leaned into her friend and giggled. "That sounds like the best idea you've had."

Neria pulled back and curled her lip. "As in today or, like, ever? Because I have smashing ideas all of the time!"

Finn chuckled. "We're still waiting on that verdict, Neria."

Neria snorted. "See if I don't nick some fish as well and stuff them in your footlocker, Flora," she teased.

Finn turned green and immediately excused himself, making both Neria and Philippa fall into a fit of giggles. They were interrupted by Kilian approaching and pushing Neria away so he could hug Philippa. "How's the wee birthday lass?"

She sighed and fell into his hug. "Bored. It's nice to not have to work, but when everyone else is busy, it gets lonely."

"Well, how's about after supper, me and the others slip into your dorm and we play a few rounds of cards. I reckon you're old enough now for us to teach you the adult games," he suggested with a wink.

"Please," Faye said as she approached, her eyes rolling. "Like you're an adult just because you switched dorms."

He nudged Neria and grinned. "I'm old enough to know I shouldn't still be faffing with you chiselers. But here I am."

Brissa joined them as well and sat down beside Neria, her eyes wide. "Did you hear they brought a new apprentice in in chains?" she whispered.

"Hear?" Philippa shrugged. "I saw him."

Brissa inhaled, covering her mouth, her already wide eyes getting wider. "Did he look dangerous?"

Philippa closed her book, tucking Finn's card away to read later and shook her head. "He looked like we all did when we got here. Scared and alone."

"I heard some templars saying that it was his da that turned him in," Faye added, glancing toward the basement.

"Pisser," Kilian said with a scowl. "No one should turn their own son over to the templars."

"Language," Brissa scolded. "He was probably just scared. They said he was an Ander. They have different customs in the North."

Faye nodded lightly. "The templars said he accidentally set a barn on fire with his magic."

Brissa gasped again. "Did anyone get hurt?"

Faye shrugged. "They didn't say."

 

When three days had passed and 'the Ander' hadn't been assigned to either dormitory yet, Philippa felt her curiosity starting to get the better of her. Late one night, she slipped from her bed, using her usual method to sneak through the corridors undetected. When she reached the entrance to the basement, her palms began to sweat and her hands trembled. She had not stepped foot in the basement since she had first been brought to the Circle. It was generally not a place she wanted to remember.

It was pitch dark after she slipped through the heavy door, catching it before it slammed behind her. She drew on her magic, summoning a small wisp to hover over her right shoulder and provide her a light to see by. It was dim, but it would serve. She followed the single corridor, skirting the creepy sentinel armor suits that stood guard along the halls. She went deep into the basement, not remembering if they had taken her this far when they had put her in a cell. She was trembling with both fear and cold in the dank corridors, hoping she didn't get lost when the hallway began to split off like the branches off a tree trunk.

She kept to the left, instinctively following the path and was about to turn around when she came across a door. Vowing to turn around if she didn't find the cells behind the door, she quietly pushed it open. With a sigh of relief, she recognized the cage filled room. A light shuffling sound drew her attention to the first cell on her right. She approached the iron bars and peered in to see the young boy from her birthday staring back at her. The ring of bruising around his eye had faded to an ugly green-ish yellow color and the swelling had gone down. He was looking at her with curiosity and no small amount of anger. "Hello," she said softly, kneeling on the cold floor. He didn't respond, still glaring at her as if she were the cause of all of his problems. "My name is Philippa, but everyone just calls me Phil. What's your name?" Still no response. She reached into the pouch she had stuffed with extra rolls that she had taken from the table at supper and held them out to him, reaching her arm boldly into the cell. "Are you hungry? It's not much, but it might help. I've got an apple as well." His expression shifted closer to curiosity, but he didn't approach her. She unfolded a handkerchief and laid it on the floor just inside the bars, setting the food on top of it and backing up to sit on the floor a short distance from the cell. "I was afraid when I first got here, too," she rambled, fiddling with the hem of her sleeve. "I was much younger than you... Not that I'm saying you shouldn't be scared, but it's not so bad once they let you out of the dungeons. I got sick while I was down here, and I woke up in the infirmary. I had no idea where I was, but Enchanter Wynne and First Enchanter Irving were very nice. It took a long time before I adjusted to being here..." she stopped talking and when she glanced back up at him, he was now watching her with one brow crooked upwards and a partial smirk on his face. When he saw her look up, he quickly wiped the expression away and went back to scowling. She harrumphed and got to her feet. "I really shouldn't be here. If I get caught, you might just have a cell mate. I'm certain you would love listening to me ramble all day and night, but I should be getting back to my bunk. You would have one of your own, perhaps, if you quit scowling at people. You'd better eat that food and hide the handkerchief when you're finished so they don't know someone was down here. Goodnight, 'Anders'," she said, giving him the nickname that the other apprentices had been calling him whenever the topic of the mysterious apprentice was broached.

She made her way back to the dorms, following the right and snuffing her wisp when she reached the doorway out of the basement. She crept back to her bed, the smirk from the strange boy following her into the Fade.

 

When he was finally brought from the dungeons two days later, he was placed in the senior apprentice dormitories with Finn, Kilian, and Brissa. According to Finn, he was just about as talkative as he had been in the dungeon. Philippa didn't see much of him until the day they were allowed outside. She noticed him shuffling out into the sun, the same scowl on his face as he had held that night in the dungeon. He moved to a bench on the far side of the yard, sitting down and crossing his arms. "Oooh he looks like a friendly one," Neria said with a chuckle as she watched him pouting rather formidably.

Shockingly, Finn had followed them into the sun and was watching the Ander as well. "He hasn't said a word to anyone all week. I'm starting to think he's a mute."

"Maybe he just hates wearing robes," Kilian suggested with a chuckle.

"It does take some getting used to," Philippa agreed with a smile. "I'm going to go talk to him."

Finn made a grunting sound to stop her, where anyone else might have grabbed her arm. "I think it would be more like talking 'at' him. You're not going to get a response."

She hadn't told any of her friends about her excursion into the basement, and she shrugged. "It can't hurt to try, right?"

She crossed the yard and could feel her friends watching her as she boldly approached the Ander and sat down on the opposite side of his bench, pulling her braid over her shoulder to dangle in front of her. He barely flinched, not looking in her direction even. His strawberry blonde hair had been washed, brushed and pulled back in a tail, but some of it still managed to fall out in wisps around his face, much like her own wild bangs.

"They let you out, I see. Was it for good behavior, or did you scowl them into submission?" she asked with a small smirk. Before he could stop it, a short snort left his nose which he quickly tried to cover up by shifting further from her to the edge of the bench. "All I had to do to get out of the cell was almost die of infection. You had it easy, Anders. If I could have scowled my way out, I definitely would have chosen that option. Though I don't think my scowl is quite as formidable as yours. What do you think?" She crossed her arms, twisting her expression into her best angry face and leaning forward so he would be forced to look at it. "No. Yours is definitely better. That makes my jaw hurt. How can you maintain that all day long? Are you not talking to me because I keep calling you Anders? I would gladly use your name if you would tell it to me. I'm a mage, not a mind reader..."

She continued on in that fashion, asking him questions which she then answered herself with increasingly ridiculous scenarios. Finally, when it was getting close to the time when they were to be called inside, he turned his head to her, his honey eyes twinkling with repressed mirth. "It wasn't the scowl..." he said in a raspy, unused voice.

She drew her head back, and pressed her lips together. "Pardon? I wasn't expecting sound to come from your mouth. Could you repeat that, Anders?"

He rolled his eyes and sighed, uncrossing his arms to bury his face in his hands before glancing at her again. "It wasn't the scowl that made your jaw hurt."

"Oh?" she asked with interest, celebrating her victory on the inside.

"Do you ever run out of things to say? Can't a person hate their life in peace? Or do you swoop in on every new apprentice's adjustment period and talk them deaf?" he asked, his own tone slipping into something resembling sarcasm.

"I haven't talked you deaf yet, though I'm flattered by your observation. I was just trying to show you that being in the Circle isn't nearly as bad as having to listen to me talk. Also, you might get a break from my voice if you would answer now and then."

"I'll keep that in mind," he said with a smirk. "You told me your name was Philippa?"

"Phil," she corrected. "That's what everyone calls me. What about you? Do you have a name, or shall I keep calling you Anders?"

He looked her up and down and smiled. "Anders should do just fine."

"If you say so. And for the record, Anders, I like your smile much better than your scowl, even if it did get you out of the dungeon."

 

Philippa saw Anders in passing sometimes, but it was rare that he would stop and talk if she was surrounded by her other friends. Adjusting to the Circle seemed to be much more difficult for him than she had ever seen it be for another apprentice. She spent a lot of time with her other friends, so each week, she would dedicate her outdoor time to Anders, giving him a shoulder to cry on, sometimes literally.

Her friends were not the only ones to recognize the effect she had on him. Six months after Anders had been brought to the Circle, he managed a feat that Philippa had not yet seen in her time there. He disappeared, managing to escape the island and make it to a nearby village before the templars recaptured him. Philippa was shocked when a few days later, after the templars brought him back, she was summoned to First Enchanter Irving's office. Anders was sitting in a chair in front of Irving's desk, his cheeks streaked in tears and a small embroidered pillow hugged to his chest. When Philippa sat down in the chair beside his, he slunk further into the chair and turned his face from her. "Do you know why I called you here, Miss Hawke?" The First Enchanter asked her softly, glancing briefly at Anders with pity. She shook her head, folding her hands in her lap. When she had first arrived at the Circle, she had expected every summons to the First Enchanter's office to be because she was in trouble for something. That had never been the case, so instead of panicking, she waited patiently for him to spell it out for her, as was his way. "Your instructors and the templars have noticed the relationship you have built with 'Anders' here. As we know, your transition into life at the Circle was anything but easy. After much talk, it has been decided that in spite of your age, you will be moving immediately to the senior apprentice dormitories. You are an adept student, and it is time you were assigned a mentor. Tomorrow morning, you will be evaluated in your progress with spells and sorted into new classes based on your strengths. This will allow you to take your friend under your wing and make his experience here more positive than it has been so far."

Philippa's jaw dropped as the room went silent and the First Enchanter studied her closely. She was uncertain what her response should be. She didn't mind the change in her classes or the change in her dorm, but was she truly capable of helping Anders settle in just by being close to him? "I... If you think that is best, First Enchanter."

"Good girl. Go ahead and pack up your things, your bunk will be below his. Anders, if you would show her the way..."

Anders cringed and turned away, his shoulders tense. Philippa stood, reaching out to place her hand on his shoulder. "Come on, Anders," she said gently.

He flowed from the chair like her touch attached a string to him, still clutching the embroidered pillow, and followed her from the office. She walked slowly, him no more than a step behind the entire way. He went with her to her dorm where she knelt by her footlocker and removed all of her things, clutching her glass dragon carefully in her palm. Finally, he took the lead, shuffling lamely from the room she had called home for the last four years and into the nearly identical room next door. His bunk was closer to the washroom than hers had been. She quietly put her things away and then sat down on the mattress that was now hers. She patted the space beside her and he dropped down, slouching as he sighed. "Go ahead and ask me," he said softly.

Without needing further permission, she laid a hand on his forearm. "Why did you try and escape?"

"I just wanted to go home," he responded. "I miss my mother, and my friends. I want to look my father in the face and ask him 'why'."

"Was he truly the one who turned you in to the templars?" she asked gently.

"My mother wanted to protect me. To hide my magic. But my father was afraid of me, of what I could do. Why couldn't he see that magic is a gift? His own son. A boy he raised for twelve years, given up because he was afraid. I hate this place, Phil. It's like a prison... and not just the dungeons in the basement. I got away and they hunted me down and dragged me back. It isn't fair."

Anders slipped into tears and Philippa pulled him into a hug. She ran a hand through his hair, soothing like she remembered her Mama doing for her when she would get upset. "It doesn't have to be like that," she said gently. "I hated it at first, too. I was scared, alone, I missed my family... but then I made friends and I focused on my magic, and things got better. Slowly of course. But I promise, it will get better."

 

Philippa's evaluations were performed in the same small room she had been brought to by Wynne when they had roasted marshmallows together. The woman evaluating her this time around was not so kind as Wynne had been. She sat in a chair, parchment in one hand and a quill in the other, glaring at Philippa from her light brown eyes. Philippa stood with her hands at her sides, waiting. Finally, with a sigh, Enchanter Ines looked down at the paper in front of her. "I will call out a spell. Once you hear it, you will cast it to the best of your ability and I will record my observations. Understood?" Philippa nodded, already probing for her mana and plucking at the ends of the spindle. "Fireball."

Philippa lifted her palms, facing each other, ready to form the spell, but then she paused. "When you say to the best of my ability, do you not wish me to hold back?" Philippa always held back. It seemed that when she even slipped a tiny bit of extra mana into her spells, they ended up doing things like splintering perfectly good tables.

"This is an evaluation of your aptitude, not your power," Ines said with an un-amused scowl. Philippa nodded again in understanding and swiftly, but accurately, cast a small fireball and lobbed it at the iron dummy across the room. Making a mark on her paper, Ines continued without hesitation. "Arcane bolt."

The afternoon progressed, Philippa continuing to cast until her arms began to droop and she felt drained, her fingers cramping from forming the gestures to cast or summon. Sweat dripped from her brow and her breath was short. Ines paused in her demands and as she did so, Philippa flicked her fingers on her left hand back and forth and then twirled her wrist, casting a simple rejuvenation spell to help her replenish her mana, hoping Ines was almost finished.

The Enchanter glanced up at Philippa through her short bangs. "Please do not cast unless I ask you to. What was the spell you just used?"

"Rejuvenation. My mana was low," she explained, lowering her head and wringing her hands. She hadn't meant to make Ines upset.

Ines hummed. It was the first mildly interested sound she had made since she had sat down across from Philippa. "You seem to have a particular affinity for Creation magic, but your Primal scores are decent as well. I believe Wynne has room for a few more apprentices. I will speak with her. Maker forbid I assign you to her without asking first."

Philippa sighed in relief, glad that she was finished. "Thank you, Enchanter Ines, ma'am."

The woman got up from her chair and shooed Philippa. Philippa left the room and headed back to her new dormitory to get cleaned up before supper. She was famished after the exertion of a day full of spell-casting. She walked in to Anders, looking much more chipper than he had the day before. He was lounging on his bunk, reading a book as she approached. "You took forever!" he said when he saw her, closing up his book and turning so he was draped sideways across this mattress. He hung his head down to watch her rummaging for a change of clothing. His unruly hair fell to hang from his upside down head. "My evaluations only took an hour. Did you get assigned to an instructor?"

"Enchanter Ines said that she was going to ask Enchanter Wynne if she had room to take me on," she said with a shrug.

Anders wriggled backwards and hopped off the bunk to join her on the floor, his eyes sparkling. "I was given to Wynne right away! They said I had an affinity for healing."

 

Philippa was indeed given Wynne as a mentor, but with her aptitude for nearly every school of magic, she also worked very closely with Enchanter Torrin. He and Wynne divided her lessons up fairly so she would not be overwhelmed. She met the challenge head on.

For two years, her day started with an early morning breakfast where she had a brief period of time to talk with her friends, then she would head with Anders and Finn to Wynne's creation class where they studied both theory and practical application of magic in the Creation branch. Right after Creation, she hustled to the library where her history lessons with Enchanter Niall lasted until lunch. She would see a smattering of her friends at lunch, depending on the day and their own schedules, before she was off to the second floor where she had Herbalism, followed by Mathematics, and then her late afternoon class which she enjoyed the most. That was where she was taught what Enchanter Torrin called battle magic. It dealt in the offensive and defensive spells one might use in battle, and the uses of a staff to channel mana. She learned to shield herself from all sorts of attacks, as well as perform those same attacks against an opponent.

Once her classes would end, she would head to supper before her nightly chores and then she was free to relax with her friends in earnest. Neria, Jowan, and Faye had each moved up to the senior apprentice dorms in their own turn, just a few months after she had. They were all together again. Philippa had slowly integrated Anders into the fold. He was popular among the younger apprentices for his sleight of hand tricks that had nothing to do with real magic, and his ability to tell stories.

Philippa's dreams continued to plague her, making her a light sleeper. Anders was hyper aware of the fact. A few nights after she had moved to the senior dorms, he had woken when she did and asked her about the noises she would make in her sleep. Her other friends had become accustomed to her waking up in a cold sweat every now and then, and mumbling or sometimes shouting in her sleep. When she had explained to Anders about her nightmares, he had screwed up his face in sympathy. Now, whenever she would toss and turn, he would wake up, hop down to sit beside her on the edge of her bed and hold her hand until the nightmare passed, or she woke up. If she woke up, he was more than happy to scurry around the tower, exploring in the dark with her until they got tired again.

 

A few months after her thirteenth birthday, Philippa woke in the morning with her lower stomach aching. It was rare that she became ill enough to miss her classes, but she couldn't bear to drag herself from beneath her blankets. She could not get comfortable, even lying down, and her stomach churned. Glad that she was so indisposed on a weekday when her friends would not be around to see her running back and forth from her bed to the chamber pots, she sulked beneath her blankets, curled around her cramping stomach.

Around mid-morning, Wynne showed up in the dormitory, moving to kneel beside her bed. "Anders said you weren't feeling well, so I came to check on you and perhaps offer some herbs or healing to ease your suffering."

"You didn't have to come all of the way down here, Enchanter. I should be all right by tomorrow. It's just my stomach," Philippa insisted, sitting up. Suddenly, she had to go again, and she got up quickly and made her way to the washroom. She was both surprised and terrified when she discovered the splash of red that stained her small clothes. "Enchanter Wynne!" she cried, her voice choked. "Something's bleeding!"

Wynne stepped into the washroom, outside the stall she was using and stifled a small chuckle. "It's as I thought..."

"Give it to me straight. Am I dying? I'm dying, aren't I?" Philippa asked, wrapping her panic in the overabundance of sarcasm and wit that she had developed as she grew up. It was one of the reasons she and Anders got along so well. They both had an affinity for it.

Wynne did chuckle this time, speaking through the thin door of the stall. "No, child. You're not dying. I had hoped to spare you the concern you're feeling, but I was a bit late, it seems."

Philippa cleaned herself up and exited the stall, a palm pressed into her aching middle. "What's wrong with me?" she asked softly.

"Nothing is wrong with you. You're growing up. Come with me and I'll get you sorted out properly." Philippa followed Wynne up to the third floor and to the infirmary. Wynne sat at the desk near the rear of the room and shuffled through the bottom drawer. "You are far from the first apprentice that I have had to have this talk with, and you will undoubtedly not be the last." She pulled out a wad of linens fashioned together into a thick rectangular mass. She offered it to Philippa who took it with her face twisted into a frown. "You will need that to line your small clothes." She paused as Philippa looked up at her, her brow raised in question. "As you know, women bear children. Such is the case whether you are nobility, commoner, or even a mage. When a female comes of age, usually in her early teenage years, her body begins to go through changes that show she is ready to bear children. One of those changes is the onset of her menstrual cycle. Once this cycle begins, she will continue to have it until she leaves her child bearing years. Once every month for a handful of days, she will bleed from her nether regions. It is a perfectly natural occurrence, and I am here to answer any questions you might have, or to equip you with whatever supplies you may need. There are herbs that can help to dull the ache so you can function, as well as others to calm the other unfortunate side effects," Wynne said with a sympathetic smile.

 

Along with her cycle, Philippa began to notice other changes to her body. She had always been tall and skinny as a kid, hitting her promised growth spurt not much longer after she had gone to the Circle. None of the boys in the senior dormitory had ever really paid her any mind when she moved there, but now that her hips were widening slightly, her waist thinning, and her chest slowly expanding, they were starting to notice. The first to point it out was predictably Kilian. "There is something different about you, Phil." He pressed his lips together in thought as his eyes flicked up and down her briefly. "I can't quite put my finger on it though."

With a roll of her eyes, Neria reached out and slapped Kilian in the back of the head. "You're only noticing that she's got tits."

Philippa felt her cheeks heating up and she looked down at her own chest before her eyes flicked from Kilian to both Finn and Anders who had turned as red as she had and averted their eyes politely as soon as the words fell from Neria's lips. Jowan on the other hand was staring at Neria with his mouth open. "Maker's breath," Philippa gasped, wrapping her arms around herself and huddling further down in her seat.

"What?!" Neria asked with a shrug. "Like it's some big, embarrassing secret? Brissa and I are elves. We're not likely to grow much of anything under our breast bands. And Faye is still too young. Phil's got the fancy new tits and you've all noticed."

"I did not!" Finn protested before he looked apologetically at Philippa and his cheeks reddened again. "I mean I did, but I wasn't... I didn't want to..." he pressed his lips together and stopped talking, looking away again.

Anders' eyes had returned to Philippa, and she swore she caught a tiny smirk on his face before he looked away again, going back to the book he had his nose in. "You are all terrible," Philippa protested, huffing.

 

Her dreams that night were haunted by mocking faces that taunted and attempted to enrage her. The demon behind the charade was difficult to be rid of, and when Philippa finally dragged herself from the dream, it was to see Anders sitting beside her like he normally did when she had a nightmare, his fingers clasped in hers. When she sat up, he shifted so she could swing her legs off the edge of the bed. She tipped her head to the side so he would follow her. They headed for the corridor, checking for templars before slipping into the darkened tower and walking confidently in the pitch black. They both knew every twist and turn of Kinloch Hold so well that they could have walked it in their sleep. She fiddled with her braid that hung over her shoulder, suddenly hating how juvenile the style was. She hadn't cut her hair in years, holding on to it as some odd proof of loyalty to her mother. She diverted their course, heading for the stock room. She knew the tranquil kept strict hours and would not be anywhere near the second floor. "Where are we going?" Anders asked quietly, following close behind her.

"There's something I've been meaning to do for a very long time..." she alluded, slipping into the dark stockroom. She paused and concentrated, chancing a small wisp to light her way in the unfamiliar space. She easily found what she was looking for and pulled the scissors from their place. They would never be missed.

She stifled the wisp and tugged Anders from the stock room, heading back to the dormitory and a mirror. When she sat at the vanity, she glared for a moment at the braid before taking it in her hand and cutting as close to her head as she could get. She didn't care for even or neat. She wanted different. She dropped the braid onto the vanity as it began to unravel, Anders watching with nothing more or less than curiosity. She reached for the bangs that hung over her face, but Anders reached out and took the scissors. He sat beside her on the narrow bench and began to cut choppy layers into the back of her hair, leaving the bangs alone. After only a few strokes of the scissors, his fingers ran through her hair and she found herself shuddering. His hand stopped, his fingers still in her hair. "I'm sorry," he said, pulling his hand away. She spun to look at him and take his receding hand in hers.

"Don't be," she said with an awkward chuckle, not certain what her hands were doing wrapped around his.

"Did... did you like it when I touched you?" he asked sheepishly. She nodded, her cheeks flushing, and she was glad for the dim lighting in the room. He set the scissors down with a light clink of metal against wood, and used the hand she wasn't clutching to brush the bangs from her eyes and then run it through her hair again. She leaned into his touch and he put a gentle pressure on her head as his fingers slipped behind her ear. "Shorter hair really suits you," he mumbled softly. He pulled her to him, lightly touching his lips against hers.

She was unsure of what to do. She knew what a kiss was, of course, but no one had ever kissed her before. Her hands stiffened around his, and she sat frozen, her eyes staring into his, so close that she could only focus on one at a time without her eyes crossing. She waited for him to do something. He had initiated this after all. After a moment, he tipped his head so their noses wouldn't collide, and moved even closer, the light touch turning into a gentle press. His lips were soft against hers and the taste of the tiny confections they had for dessert lingered on his breath. He opened his mouth and his tongue traced between her lips, beckoning her to part them. She hesitantly obliged, allowing him to withdraw his tongue and take her bottom lip between his. Something clicked and she closed her own mouth around his upper lip. A soft hum from his throat urged her to continue. Her heart was fluttering nervously as she concentrated on making certain she was doing this right. They moved their lips together, only for a few moments more before he pulled away.

"I like you, Phil. A lot," he said, dropping the hand that had been in her hair and settling it atop hers.

"Really?" she asked, drawing back and smirking crookedly as her heart slowed. "I couldn't tell."

"Maker's breath, do you need to be such an ass?" he said with a chuckle.

"Would you like me if I wasn't?" she asked breathily.

He screwed up his face as if he were thinking about it, his own smirk shining through the ruse. "No, probably not."

Chapter Text

Her new hair style was a big hit among her friends the next day as they all trundled outside into the sunshine. Anders mentioned nothing of what had happened the night before, discreetly throwing her knowing glances that made her heart leap and butterflies erupt in her stomach. She caught herself watching him on more than one occasion while her friends talked around her, barely able to keep up with the conversation in her distraction. Finally, Faye nudged her. "Did you hear there are a few new apprentices in the children's dormitory? They said one of them is barely six. Poor girl."

She glanced over at the red head, tearing her eyes from Anders and nodded. "I was actually considering a position that Wynne suggested for me. She said that they were assigning a few of the older apprentices to look after the younger ones. She thinks I would be good at it."

"You're taking on more responsibilities?" Anders asked in shock. "We hardly see you as it is."

She shrugged. "It would only be for a few hours after dinner to get them settled in to bed. You know how scary it can be at first."

His expression twisted into a scowl. "What child wouldn't be afraid if they were ripped away from their family and stuffed in a dungeon?"

Philippa rolled her eyes and hung her head as Neria snorted. "Stop being so bitter. We all went through it."

"That's my point!" he growled angrily.

A few of the plated templars turned their way as his voice rose and Jowan grunted. "Maybe not so loudly?"

Philippa sighed. "If you don't think I should accept the job, I won't."

Neria's upper lip curled. "Why should you care what he wants? If it'll make you happy to chase around little snot nosed children, I say do it."

Philippa glanced up again. "Finn, what do you think?"

Finn shuddered. "I think children are harbingers for germs."

"Thanks," Philippa said with a smirk. "Very helpful."

 

After weighing her feelings, Philippa decided to accept Wynne's offer. She and another girl named Petra, and a boy named Kinnon took on the responsibilities of helping the younger students with their chores and settling them in for lights out. Petra was a soft spoken red head with almost purple eyes. She walked with an air of rigidity and always kept her shoulder length hair pulled back in a neat tail. Kinnon had red-brown hair that was cut short, but still managed to fall into his face. His brown eyes were friendly and he smiled easily.

On her first evening on duty, Philippa made it a point to seek out the youngest children that had just arrived and check in on them. One was a city elf that had been born in an alienage. His name was Eadric. The young girl that Faye had mentioned was named Solona. Her auburn hair and striking green-blue eyes were certainly hard to ignore when she set them on you. Her last name, Amell, struck Philippa as familiar, but she could not place quite where she had heard it before. The girl had come all of the way from Kirkwall. Her family was nobility in the city, so she was not placed in the Circle in the city-state for fear that she would be given too much leniency.

Solona was quiet, huddled on her bunk and crying softly. "Hi there," Philippa said sweetly as she moved to sit on the edge of the mattress. "My name is Phil. You're Solona, right?" The little girl nodded quietly. "Are you crying because you're scared, or because you miss your family?" Another nod. "You know, I was only a year older than you are now when I came to the Circle. I was pretty scared, too, and I missed my parents loads. After I was here for a little while, I met some other kids around my age, and I made friends. It made me realize that even though I couldn't see my family anymore, there was always going to be someone that I could turn to. You don't ever have to be alone here."

The little girl looked up at her, dropping her arms from around her shins and scooting closer. "I'm scared of the templars, messere."

Philippa chuckled. "I was, too, but they aren't so bad. They won't pay you any mind as long as you behave and mind your instructors. I promise."

Solona brushed the tears from her cheeks and smiled sweetly. "I like you, Phil."

Philippa chuckled. "I like you, too."

 

A hand shook her shoulder as she tried to sleep in on her first day off in months. Philippa groaned and rolled over, pulling her blanket over her head. "Phil, get up!" Finn's voice broke through the last whispers of the Fade as her mind slipped back to reality.

She groaned again and then sighed. "Maker's tears, someone had better be dying," she grumbled as she rolled to swing her legs over the edge of her bed. She rubbed her eyes and yawned.

"Phil, he's done it again. Anders is gone!" Finn said quickly, his voice fraught with worry.

She snapped her attention to Finn who was standing in front of her, his hands wringing nervously. Her heart sunk into her gut. She knew he had been upset when she had taken on her new responsibilities, but to use it as a reason to try and escape again was madness. She sighed heavily. "The idiot does know how phylacteries work, right? Are the templars on his trail yet?"

"I heard them gathering near the front door. They said no one had seen him since supper last night. Phil, this is the second time he's managed to get away..." Finn reminded her.

She nodded solemnly. "I was supposed to be watching him. This is my fault." Her stomach flipped and a single tear slipped down her cheek. "Maker... Finn, what if they decide he's too much trouble and make him tranquil?"

"This isn't your fault, Phil. Anders is a big boy. He doesn't need you holding his hand every second of the day."

She gasped, lifting her fingertips to her lips where she remembered his mouth pressed against hers. "He kissed me... and then I took that position, leaving practically no time in my schedule for him. He must think I hated him. Oh, Finn, this really is my fault!"

Finn drew back from her. "You said he what!? You and Anders..." Finn's face went ashen. "Oh... with your lips. Oh, Phil... no. I need to sit down." Finn collapsed on the bed across from hers, his head between his knees.

"You can't say anything. We'd be in so much trouble if anyone found out," she begged, panicking.

Finn looked up at her. "I don't even want to think about your mingling germs, let alone tell anyone else about it." He shuddered.

"You really should try it. It's nice," she said teasingly.

"You're disgusting!" he groused, cringing as the thought whisked across his mind again.

She sighed as her thoughts returned to Anders. "If they manage to bring him back in one piece, I think I'm going to give my position up to another apprentice. That girl Keili expressed an interest..."

"Why should you give up something you love doing because it hurt Anders' feelings?" Finn asked seriously.

She buried her face in her hands. "I don't know what to do, Finn. I do know that I'm going to give Anders a serious talking to when he gets back."

 

It was three days before the templars marched Anders back in the front door. Philippa heard about it while she was in her herbalism class, the group marching past the classroom in a loud parade of clanging armor. She caught sight of Anders' strawberry blonde hair amidst the mass of metal and dropped what she was doing immediately to rush from the room, Enchanter Ines calling after her angrily. When she caught up to them, the templars were shoving Anders into the First Enchanter's office. Greagoir's second in command, Knight-Captain Hadley, tried to block her from following. "This doesn't concern you, apprentice."

"It very much does!" she protested, slipping past him. He hadn't been prepared for her to put up a fight and glanced apologetically at Greagoir as she stomped through the doorway and stopped beside Anders, in front of First Enchanter Irving's desk.

Greagoir sighed, understanding her role in the situation and pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation between his metal clad fingers. "It's all right Hadley. I can handle this from here. The rest of you, report to the barracks for assignments."

Philippa crossed her arms beneath her still blossoming chest and set a glare on Anders. He had the good sense to cow under her scrutiny as Irving looked between the two of them. "It was my understanding that everything was going swimmingly, master Anders. Might I ask why you found the need to force nearly all of our templars to leave the tower to hunt for you, again?" Irving asked calmly.

Anders shrugged. "I was bored. Wanted some adventure," he said cheekily.

"Mages of the Circle, apprentices especially, are not permitted adventure," Greagoir said sternly. "Why you choose to flaunt the rules in such a spectacular fashion is beyond me. Maker knows what you could have caused outside these walls and templar supervision."

"Now, now, Greagoir," Irving said. "The boy meant no harm. He is simply restless. We were both young once. We know what it's like to be cooped up in the tower."

Philippa stepped forward. "First Enchanter, if I may... I take full responsibility for Anders' actions. You placed him in my care, and I allowed myself to become distracted from my duty..."

"I'm not your 'duty', Phil," Anders grunted. "I make my own choices. The consequences are on me."

She cut her eyes at him, but before she could say another word, Irving spoke again. "In light of the fact that in his brief absence, Anders did not cause any harm to anyone, I believe a slap on the wrist is sufficient. Perhaps remove his outdoor privileges for a month?"

Greagoir's face went red, but he did not argue. "If you think that is sufficient, Irving, I won't question."

Irving nodded with a half smile. "You two may leave."

Philippa told hold of Anders bicep and spun, dragging him with her. She pressed her lips together, grinding her teeth until she had led him to a quiet section of the common room that was basically deserted at that time of day. "What in the Void were you thinking?!" she nearly shrieked. "You can't keep running away like this! How may times do you think Greagoir is going to stand by and allow First Enchanter Irving to give you a slap on the wrist? I was worried sick for days! What if they had killed you? Or made you tranquil so they wouldn't have to deal with you trying to escape again?" She ranted, her breathing coming more and more rapidly as the scenarios unfolded in her mind. When she glanced at him, his expression enraged her, her mana briefly uncoiling before she swallowed the urge to lob a fireball at his face. My magic will serve the best in me, not that which is most base. The longer she was in the Circle, the more her father's words made sense. "What in the Void are you smirking at?"

"You were worried about me?" he asked teasingly.

"Oh, for... Of course I was, you idiot... stop smirking," she reached out and punched his upper arm.

"You're adorable when you're upset," he teased again, catching the hand she had used to punch him and lacing his fingers with hers.

She snatched her hand back, a spark of excitement and fear lancing through her at the thought of being caught fraternizing. "You're not allowed to be charming when I'm angry with you."

He chuckled in his throat, low and amused. "Am I allowed to kiss you when you're angry with me?"

"No!" she growled, barely able to hide the smile that threatened to break through. "It's the middle of the day and this is the common room! You're barking mad!"

His brow quirked. "So if it was the middle of the night and we were alone..."

She crossed her arms and scowled. "Shut it..." she said halfheartedly.

 

Philippa's dreams were becoming increasingly vivid and frequent. It seemed like every night, she was dragging herself from the Fade with increasing difficulty. Since his escape and subsequent return, Philippa and Anders' relationship had begun to blossom with deep affection. They were extremely careful in how they showed that affection, frightened of being caught. Whenever she had a nightmare, however, without fail, Anders was there. One night after a particularly frightening dream, he climbed from his bunk as he usually did, but instead of just holding her hand, he scooted her over, making room for himself and laid down behind her. His left arm slipped beneath her own and around her waist to pull her against him. "Hush, Phil," he whispered, his breath warm on her neck. "It's all right. I'm here."

Her fifteenth birthday was rapidly approaching and Philippa had finally found her stride with her busy schedule. Her friends noticed the fact that she was much more present in spite of having a million things to do. She kept herself busy so she could be exhausted at the end of each day. It was a sure way to get at least a few hours sleep before the demons found her.

As was the norm, she was given her birthday as a rest day, allowed to do as she wished. She got her annual letter from her parents, and card from Finn, as well as a few little hand made gifts from her other friends including a red, braided bracelet that Solona made her. She called it a friendship bracelet. Philippa wore it proudly.

Anders spent the day teasingly postponing giving her the gift he had gotten her. Finally, that evening after supper, she confronted him in the library as he searched the shelves behind the index stands for whatever he was researching. "My birthday is almost over, you know."

"Was today your birthday? I completely forgot," he said with a smirk.

"You ass," she grunted, shoving his shoulder lightly. "You've been stringing me along all day. I'm dying to know what you think is so brilliant that it deserves such a build up."

He rolled his eyes, abandoning his hunt and approaching her. "You are insufferable!" she said jokingly.

"I've been told that. Now, gimme," she said with a pout, her bottom lip sticking out.

He chuckled, briefly tracing his finger tip over her pout, biting his own lip lightly as he studied her face. The one kiss they had shared before had opened up a world of possibilities, but they had never followed the path into the realm again. "Close your eyes," he said, pulling his finger away before someone saw. She obliged, briefly opening one of her lids as he shuffled in the pocket of his robes. "No peeking," he scolded with a light chuckle. She closed her eyes again, her smile spreading. After a few more moments and more rustling, he spoke again. "All right, open."

She fluttered her eyes open and looked at him. He was holding up a small hand crafted collection of feathers, thin metal wire, crystals and string. Magic hummed around it and she marveled at it's beauty. "It's lovely," she gasped, reaching out to run her fingers along the soft feathers that dangled from the bottom.

He chuckled softly. "You have no idea what it is," he teased lightly.

"True," she agreed with her own smirking chuckle. "But I still think it's pretty."

He held out his opposite palm and draped it over his hand. "The Chasind invented these to help ward off nightmares. It's mostly superstitious rubbish, but I enchanted the crystals and traced a glyph of warding into the net." She could see the intricate detail as he pointed out the glyph. "It's called a dream-catcher. Normally you hang them above your bed and they're meant to catch the bad dreams and allow the good ones through. I made yours a bit smaller so you could take it wherever you go." He picked the cord back up and draped it around her neck to secure it as a necklace.

Philippa traced her fingers over his work before tucking it beneath her robes and feeling the magic humming across her skin. "I've never gotten a better gift, Anders," she said. Heedless of where they were, she took his hand and pulled him behind the stacks. "Thank you," she whispered before lifting her hands to run her fingers through his hair, loosening it so some of his wispy bangs fell into his face. Then she pulled him to her, more confident of what to do with her mouth this time around. When their lips met, he placed his hands on her hips and pulled her against him before backing her into the bookshelves they were hidden behind. After a moment, he moved from her lips to lay gentle kisses along her jaw. He was making his way toward her neck, fluttering over her rapid pulse when someone cleared their throat. "Shit," she cursed, pushing him away, her face flushing.

He grunted before the third party spoke. "I am going to pretend that I did not just catch my two best apprentices locked in a carnal embrace. We all know how the Circle views fraternization."

"I'm sorry, Enchanter Wynne. It won't happen again," Philippa stuttered, swallowing the odd feelings that he had stirred in her as his lips traced her skin. She could feel the heat in her cheeks.

"I should hope not. I don't want to see you two making the same mistakes that I did in my youth. That is a painful road," Wynne cautioned. She looked between the two of them, her lips pursed for a moment before she set her attention solely on Philippa. "Oh, and happy birthday, Miss Hawke."

"Thank you," she mumbled quietly, her face burning as she lifted her arms and hugged herself.

 

Philippa's heart was racing as Anders pushed her up against the deserted nook hidden deep in the library stacks. It was late at night and she could hardly see her hands before her, let alone the other person that was groping her rear. Her mind was buzzing uncomfortably, but she blocked out the sensation. He was so much more sure than he had ever been, so much more rough. As he kissed along her jaw, she hummed in contentment until she felt his teeth sink into her neck. "Ouch!" she protested, pushing him back some.

"I'm sorry, Phil," he said, diving right back in to grazing her neck with his teeth. "I can't help it. I want you so badly."

"Maybe we should slow down," she suggested, as he caught a sensitive spot on her neck and made her moan, nearly melting in his arms.

"Come on, you know you like what I'm doing. Lift your skirt, and I'll make you moan so loudly we draw the templars out of hiding. Let me in, Phil..."

Suddenly, Philippa drew back, pushing him away again. "No. What is wrong with you?" Something flickered in Anders' eyes and Philippa eased to the side, moving so she was no longer pinned to the bookshelves. "I'm going to bed," she said, still backing up.

"Good idea, let's go together," he growled moving after her and grabbing her around the waist.

This was not her Anders. Philippa twisted in his arms and shoved him back again, the intensity of her throbbing head building. "I said no. Leave me be," she cried, reaching up and grabbing a chunk of her flesh and pinching hard.

She sat up in her bed, gasping heavily and looked around. For once, Anders was not sitting at her side, and he hadn't climbed into the bed beside her. She was almost glad. The dream had been so vivid that she could still feel his hands on her. She reached up and cupped the spot on her neck where he had bitten, her fingers lighting on the cord that held her dream-catcher. After a moment to slow her breathing, she frowned. If Anders was not with her, where was he? She slipped out from under her blankets and peered up into his bunk. It was empty. Momentarily, she believed he might just be in the privy until she noticed the absence of his hand embroidered pillow. "Shit!" she cursed, realizing that he had likely taken it upon himself to make another escape attempt for some reason or another.

She dressed quickly and darted from the dormitories, heading for the only exit she knew about, hoping he hadn't gotten far enough to actually leave yet. When she didn't find him, she mumbled another curse and hurried through the familiar halls, heading for the mages' quarters. Finding the right room, she skidded to a halt and knocked as loudly as she dared in the late hour. She didn't want to wake the entire tower. After nearly five minutes, the door finally came open. When Wynne saw her, her eyes widened. "What ever is the matter, child?"

She spoke around her racing heart. "I... I woke up from... from one of my nightmares, and I saw... I didn't see him, actually... It's Anders... he's missing."

Wynne opened her mouth to speak, but then pressed her lips together in annoyance. "That boy..." she harrumphed. "Are you certain he's gone?" Wynne asked cautiously.

"I wouldn't have come if I weren't sure. Anders has never missed one of my nightmares unless he was not in the tower..." Philippa explained.

Wynne's expression shifted and her brows knitted together as if her tired brain were only then picking out what Philippa had been saying. "You never told me you had nightmares."

Philippa hugged herself. "I've had them ever since I can remember. Almost every night. Sometimes they wake me, like tonight."

"What sort of nightmares are they, child?" Wynne pulled her gently into her room and offered her a seat, the topic of Anders being gone completely forgotten.

Philippa sat in the offered chair and shrugged. "I thought all mages dreamt of spirits trying to possess them..."

Wynne gasped. "It does happen, of course, but never in the frequency you speak of. How have you resisted possession for so long?"

"The demons try to trick me. When I was little, I had certain words to listen for. They have never tried to come to me as someone I do not know, so as I got older, I learned to suss out particular cues and personality quirks. If I'm ever unsure, I pinch myself. That normally wakes me from the dream," Philippa explained, suddenly feeling like she had come to Wynne bare assed naked. Talking about her dreams always made her feel vulnerable. Weak. "I'm sorry, Enchanter Wynne, but what about Anders?"

Wynne glanced back at her from where she had been staring thoughtfully into space. "Right, of course. I will alert the templars. At this point, I think Greagoir keeps his phylactery on his person." She said with sarcasm. "If you don't mind, I'd like you to remain here so we can discuss your nightmares further."

Wynne quickly got up and swept out of the room, leaving Philippa alone to stare after her. What was so intriguing about her dreams? Father had never found them particularly interesting. He had taught her to repel the lies. It had worked for her so far.

After what felt like ages, Wynne returned with a tome in her hands. "Have you ever heard of the Somniari, child?"

Philippa shook her head. "No. It sounds... Tevinter?"

Wynne looked up from the tome as she sat down across from Philippa and smiled with what looked like pride mixed with amusement. "I see you actually listen when young Finn prattles on. That's right, it is Tevinter. It means 'dreamer'. The Somniari are a particularly powerful and extremely rare type of mage. Not only are they able to cast very potent spells, but they have the ability to enter the Fade at will, and manipulate the dreams of others. They can quite literally shape the Fade around them."

"That sounds amazing, but I have never been able to do any of those things," Philippa pointed out with a frown.

"Do you not remember smashing an entire table when all you wanted to do was flatten a ball? You are adept at nearly every spell put in front of you, and even I must admit that I have never seen anyone cast spirit healing spells quite so quickly. It's almost as if the spirits are hovering around you, waiting to assist," Wynne listed, ticking off her points on her fingers. "All Somniari attract spirits because their connection to the Fade is so deep. I believe that may be the reason for your constant nightmares."

Philippa looked down at her own hands. She always held back, afraid of what her power might be capable of doing if she was not careful. Closing her fists, she looked back at Wynne. "You said Somniari are extremely rare. Why is that?"

Wynne sighed and closed the tome, laying it in her lap. "Because they attract demons, many dreamers eventually succumb to demonic possession, becoming abominations. It takes a very strong mind to survive possession, and usually by the time the demons finally catch up with the dreamer, their minds have been weakened to the point of nothingness. The demon obliterates the host's mind, taking full control of their body and their magic."

"What does this mean for me?" Philippa squeaked in terror.

Wynne reached out and took her hand, squeezing it lightly. "I will need to do a bit more research to be certain I'm not jumping to conclusions, but if I am correct, First Enchanter Irving will likely force your Harrowing much earlier than expected. In the meantime, I know of some herbs that I believe Ines has on hand that will preclude sleep and block you from the Fade to be safe."

Philippa let out the breath she hadn't realized she had been holding. "I... I won't be... I won't be made tranquil?"

Wynne hummed a soft chuckle. "Not if I can do anything to prevent it. You are an excellent student, and from what I understand Enchanter Torrin agrees. It would be a waste of talent to place that brand on your forehead."

"Thank you, Enchanter Wynne," Philippa smiled lightly before her mind went back to worrying. She pulled her hand from Wynne's so she could wring her own fingers together nervously. "What do you think they will do to Anders once they find him?"

Wynne sighed heavily. "I honestly don't know. Irving seems to have a soft spot for the boy, Maker knows why, but I'm not certain Greagoir will allow much more leniency."

Philippa reached up, brushing the single tear that slipped down her cheek quickly away. "He doesn't want to hurt anyone. He just... He doesn't like being 'caged'," she explained, using the word that Anders had when describing their time in the tower.

"Anders is a charismatic boy. From what I understand, he is nearly as popular with the young ones as you are. If he grew up as the center of attention, it's likely that he will view the Circle as a prison for a very long time. Even forever perhaps. All we can do is try our best to make the Circle a home for him." Wynne paused and looked Philippa up and down. "It's odd, however, that he would choose tonight to attempt an escape after what I witnessed in the library."

Philippa flushed, picking at the hem of her sleeve. She knew Anders and his moods and now that she thought about it, it made perfect sense. "It's likely because we got caught," she explained. "Anders clings to the pillow his mother gave him over everything in his life. It is the one thing that, in his mind, can't be taken away. When you walked in on us in the library, he saw that as me being taken from him, just like everything else. Now, instead of playing the rebel in the most logical sense and trying to continue our relationship in secret... Which I would never do of course!" she said, covering her mouth and flushing harder. When Wynne simply set a knowing smile on her, she cleared her throat and continued. "Anders decided to try and push me away, make me angry with him, so that he doesn't have anything that the Circle can take away."

Wynne blinked. "How you figured that out, I'll never understand."

Philippa giggled. "Anders really isn't that difficult to understand. When his personal freedoms are attacked, he lashes out." She shrugged as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "He didn't come here as young as most of us. He was used to a normal life outside the Circle, and no one ever said that Anders could be accused of being well adjusted."

"I will take your word for it," Wynne said, chuckling. Then she gathered the tome in her hands and stood. "Go back to your bed, child. In the morning, I will do a bit more reading and speak with Ines about getting you on an herbal regimen to keep you from sleeping without wearing out your body. Then I will bring my suspicions to Irving and see what he thinks."

Philippa stood. "Thank you again, Enchanter Wynne." She tipped her head respectfully and left to head back to her bunk. If she as going to be deprived of sleep for the foreseeable future, she planned on getting as much as she could before the morning.

 

As it turned out, it was not the foreseeable future. When the implications of her being a Somniari were brought to the attention of the First Enchanter and the Knight-Commander, she was scheduled for a Harrowing as soon as they could gather all they needed. According to Wynne, she would be one of the youngest apprentices to be put through the Harrowing in recent history.

Anders managed to elude the templars for over a week this time around. When they returned him, he was sent to the dungeons for three days as punishment. Philippa didn't see him until supper on the day he was released. She came from her class with Enchanter Torrin, gathered her tray, and headed to sit with her friends. She parked herself beside Finn who was daintily spreading butter on his roll. "I. Am. Exhausted," she complained, slapping Kilian's hand as he reached for her roll.

"It's true, Phil. You look good and knackered. I'll bet you can't wait until you get Harrowed so you can pop off and have a kip," Kilian teased.

"I still can't believe you're taking your Harrowing so soon," Jowan said with awe, picking at his own supper. "It'll be ages before they let me take mine."

"I reckon Kilian should be taking his soon, too," Neria pointed out. "You're practically an old man in the apprentice dorms."

Kilian flicked a pea from his fork in Neria's direction that missed her and landed in Brissa's lap. "There are heaps more apprentices that are older than me."

"They don't let you take your Harrowing until you're ready," Faye reminded everyone.

Brissa frowned. "If you pass your Harrowing, Phil, what happens after that? You're so young. Will you stay in the dorms, or are they going to move you to the mages' quarters?"

"Oh!" Faye gasped, covering her mouth. "Will they give you apprentices to mentor?"

Just then, Anders shuffled up sheepishly, his tray in hand. Philippa ignored him completely, shrugging. "I would assume I still have plenty to learn, so I won't be given my own apprentices. As for the move, I have no idea."

"You're moving?" Anders asked, his voice choked.

She deigned to glance at him, her eyes narrowed in a glare. "Well, look who came back," Finn said dryly. "Enjoy the fresh air?"

"As a matter of fact, I did," Anders replied, wiping away the concerned look on his face and adopting his usual snarky facade. "You should try it some time. Though I don't think your delicate constitution would be able to handle the trip across the lake, Flora."

"Hey!" Philippa interjected. "Just because you're sore that the templars caught you, again, doesn't mean you can stroll back in here and be a tit!" Her heart started to hammer as his expression fell. He had to know that picking on Finn was going to make her mad. So why was he looking so apologetic? Frustrated, she stood and snatched her untouched tray from the table. "Since you missed so much in your absence, let me fill you in. I'll be taking my Harrowing in a few days. If you even care. If you leave now, maybe you'll miss it... Just like you missed me finding out that I am apparently some rare and terrifying kind of mage that, if I survive to adulthood without going insane, will one day be able to shape the very Fade around me." When she was finished, she turned on her heel and stormed off, her head spinning. In spite of the herbs, her body needed rest.

She took the few portable things from her tray and discarded the rest, leaving the dining hall. Eating on the way to the children's dormitory, she tried to put Anders out of her mind. He was always in a sour mood when he returned to the Circle, and she tended to allow that to rub off on her. She stepped into the dormitory and was greeted by a squeal of excitement. "Phil!"

Solona barreled into her, wrapping her arms around Philippa's waist. Philippa chuckled as she hugged the rambunctious eight year old. "It's good to see you too, Sol."

"We heard about your Harrowing. Are you going to leave us after you're a real mage?" Solona asked.

Philippa drew herself out of the hug, resting her hands on Solona's narrow shoulders. "Well, I should hope not! I would miss you all too much!"

"And we would miss you picking up the slack when Kinnon gets lazy," Petra said with a soft chuckle as the two of them entered the room.

"Speaking of lazy, have you all started on your chores yet, or were you waiting for me to have to tell you what to do?" Philippa asked with a gentle scolding behind her tone.

"Sorry, Phil," Solona said sheepishly.

"Well, get on with it so we can get to the fun stuff," she urged, hustling the children to work.

 

That night after lights out, Philippa laid on her side in her bunk, wide awake because of the herbs she had taken. Anders hadn't tried to speak to her when he'd gone to bed, leaving her with no clue as to where they stood. She liked him a great deal, but she knew that nothing real could ever come of them being together. All it was likely to get them was a few stolen trysts in the night and trouble. Mages couldn't marry, couldn't bear children, couldn't leave the Circle. Their lives were far from normal, so why should she expect a normal relationship? Friendship should be good enough, but her body was yearning for more. She liked the feel of his lips on hers, and the way he stroked her hair. She closed her eyes, allowing herself to relive their passionate kiss in the library.

She nearly leapt out of her skin when his feet hit the floor just beside where her head laid. He crouched down and swiftly placed his hand over her mouth before her startled yelp could escape. His forefinger on his opposite hand pressed his own lips closed in a signal for quiet. Swallowing her heart back into her chest, she nodded and he took his hand from her mouth. "Maker's breath, Anders, what are you doing?" she hissed softly. She glanced around, making sure none of the other apprentices all around were stirring.

"Scoot over," he nudged her gently. She pressed her lips together in annoyance and glared at him. "Please?" he asked more softly. "We need to talk."

"Is here really the best place?" she asked, glancing around again.

"It's just talking," he said, nudging her again. "I can be quiet if you can."

Still glaring, she flicked her eyes up and down him and then sighed. She inched toward the opposite edge of her bed and he lifted the blankets and slipped beneath them. On the narrow bed, their bodies couldn't help but touch. She laid her head down on the pillow, her hands beneath her cheek and he mirrored her. They stared at each other for a moment, his eyes reflected the barely there glow of the light crystals in the washroom. "You wanted to talk?" she prompted.

"More like I wanted to apologize," he said softly. "I don't know what this is between us, but I do like you, and I don't like when you're upset with me."

"That's an easy fix," she said sarcastically. "Stop doing things that upset me."

He harrumphed lightly. "You know I hate it here. The fact that I can feel these things for you and not be allowed to express them in the way we deserve as human beings... It's just... It's infuriating, Phil."

She reached out, placing her upper hand on his cheek. "Running away from the Circle is not going to give us a chance to be together, you know," she pointed out with a muffled chuckle. "Especially if you leave the other party behind."

"Then come with me next time," he urged.

She pulled her hand away and sighed. "No, Anders. There shouldn't be a next time. And I'm... where I belong. This power I have... or will have... I don't know what I'll be capable of..."

He took her fallen hand between his and kissed over her fingers. "You're not dangerous, Phil. No more dangerous than you were yesterday. Just because you know what you are doesn't change who you are."

She squeezed his hand and huddled closer to him. "Sweet talker," she accused with a half smile.

She felt him shudder with laughter that he muffled into her pillow. "Would you like to taste just how sweet my lips are?"

"Oh, sweet Maker," she groaned, rolling her eyes. "Get out of my bed..." she shoved him playfully.

He wrapped his arms around her, refusing to be moved. She suddenly felt exactly how close they were as his lips captured hers around his teasing smile. She allowed the kiss, lifting her leg to drape it over his and pull him even closer. As his body brushed against hers beneath her blankets, something hard got between them, prodding her thigh. He hissed lightly and pulled away. "I'm sorry, Phil. I... I didn't mean... I'm sorry."

She wondered what had him so flustered as he quietly apologized, inching away from her. "What's the mat..." She paused as it dawned on her and her eyes widened. "Oh..." She felt heat rise to her cheeks and she glanced around, listening for anyone else that might be stirring. Was it so bad that he had reacted to her in that way? She knew he cared for her, and she had entertained feelings for him. Why shouldn't they? "No," she found herself saying. "It's okay..."

She gently urged him closer again, laying her hand on his exposed neck to pull his lips back to hers. She slipped her fingers into his hair and that was all the urging he needed. As he kissed her deeply, her mind started to race. Theoretically, she knew how this was supposed to work, but as far as she knew neither of them had ever done this before. As his erection rubbed against her again, she felt a tugging sensation deep in her gut and she moaned softly into his mouth. He pulled away from the kiss. "If we're going to do this, it needs to be quiet, Phil," he scolded in his own hushed tone. His breath was shallow, and as soon as she nodded, biting her lip, he dove for her neck. While he lightly nipped along her flesh, she bit back her tiny sounds of arousal. His teeth were nothing like they had been in her dream. He was gentle and the tickling love bites cascaded sparks of pleasure down her core.

She reached downwards, shifting so she could pull up her skirts. Her body yearned for attention. When he realized what she was doing, his own hand slipped beneath the blankets to find it's way between them. He dipped it into her smalls which were soaked nearly through and he slid them down off her hips. Excitement buzzed through her body as his fingers grazed places no one had ever touched before. She reached to take hold of him, but he picked up her leg to drape it over his hip, pulling up his own robes and pressing them together. Where his fingers had been moments ago, now his erection slid lightly over. She leaned into him, kissing him to distract her throat from letting out any sounds. He was so close. She wanted him closer. After a few moments where they wriggled awkwardly, adjusting their angles, he was able to begin slowly pushing his way inside her. When she inhaled harshly, his hand fell over her mouth. She could see him biting back his own sounds. She felt stuffed full, and her body constricted around his, making him flinch. "Keep going," she whispered around the discomfort.

He pushed himself in until he could go no further. They hugged each other, neither moving as she got used to the new sensation. "Is this... Am I hurting you?" he asked her softly.

She nuzzled against his neck, peppering light kisses just below his ear. The attention made him twitch inside her and at the jolt of sensation it caused her, she repeated the act. "At first... but this is nice."

He nodded and when she sent another pulse through him as she kissed his neck, he began to slowly move back and forth against her. She found herself matching his rhythm, using her leg to help pull him closer. Soon, her body loosened as she lost herself in him, and all of the initial discomfort faded into nothing. She could feel pleasure plucking at her senses as their movements built an almost frustrating pressure deep in her core. Since she could not allow her mouth to utter a sound, she gripped tightly to him, her nails biting into his back through his robes. His own hand had a firm grip on her butt cheek and they stifled each other's cries with their mouths. She fell over the edge first, barely able to keep herself from crying out, taking the meat of his shoulder in her mouth and biting down as her muscles constricted around him in a blinding sensation. It pulsed through her body, each stroke he made afterwards throwing her further into euphoria. Moments after her, he pulled free, took himself in his own hand and with a few strokes finished with a spray of cum between them. He grunted lightly before leaning in to capture her lips, a fresh smile on his face. "Maker," he hummed lightly. Then he looked down and flushed. "Sorry about your sheets."

She flapped her hand dismissively, briefly huddling closer to him. "Better out than in." He snorted softly, rolling his eyes.

Chapter Text

Philippa got out of bed early the next morning to be certain there was no evidence left visible of her and Anders' tryst. It had felt so right while they were deep in the throes of passion, but she had had the entire night to worry about everything while he got to go back to his bunk and sleep. She had thought up a million and one scenarios that could have happened, each one worse than the last. It made the lingering feelings she was having seem wrong and shameful. She didn't have much time to worry about that particular bridge to cross because while at breakfast, a templar whom she recognized as Ser Bran approached her. "The First Enchanter asked me to fetch you, Miss Hawke."

Her jaw fell open and her throat constricted. Was this it? She set down the piece of toast that she had in her hand and glanced at Finn. He smiled encouragingly. "You can do this. Good luck, Phil," he said.

Coming from Finn, those were words she could believe. He had never been one to set her up with falsities to spare her feelings. She got up, following after the nervous looking Bran. He led her up two stories to the top floor of the tower. It was dark, small mage-lights high on the pillars surrounding the room the only source of light in the early morning hours, save for the pedestal dead center of the room. It hummed with a soft blue light. Lyrium, she identified to herself. The room was ringed with beautiful stained glass windows that were not only decorative but designed around warding runes. If she craned her neck, Philippa could see all of the way to the top of the tower. The entire floor was comprised of this single room. Greagoir stood with Irving, and a small complement of templars near the glowing lyrium.

She approached them with confidence in her stride. She felt ready. Greagoir stepped forward, clearing his throat. " 'Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him.' Thus spoke the prophet Andraste as she cast down the Tevinter Imperium, ruled by mages who had brought the world to the edge of ruin. Your magic is a gift, but it is also a curse, for demons of the Fade are drawn to you, and seek to use you as a gateway into this world."

Irving moved to stand beside Greagoir and finish his explanation. "This is why the Harrowing exists. The ritual sends you into the Fade, and there you will face a demon, armed with only your will."

"Know this, apprentice," Greagoir warned. "If you fail, we templars will perform our duty. You will die." He held out his hand toward the bowl of lyrium. "This is lyrium, the very essence of magic and your gateway into the Fade."

Irving stepped up to her side. "The Harrowing is a secret out of necessity, child. Every mage must go through this trial by fire. As we succeeded, so shall you."

Philippa glanced between Irving and Greagoir. Were they serious? If all she had to do for her Harrowing was resist a demon, she had been harrowed thousands of times already. The ritual was a waste of lyrium. She walked up to the pedestal, full of confidence. She reached out, slowly dipping her hand into the bowl. The lyrium reacted to her, singing a soothing melody as it crept of it's own accord up her arm. Wherever it touched, her nerves began to tingle. Suddenly, she felt light headed and she stumbled. When she recovered her footing, she was in the Fade.

Reflected all around her was the Fade representation of the Harrowing Chamber. Light emanated from all around, as if it were coming from the floors and the walls, as well as above. The pillars that had stood so tall were crumbled and faded, and strange statues stood twisted and misshapen along the boundaries of her vision. This version of the Fade was nothing like she had ever experienced. Her dreams were always muted and humble, meant to deceive. It was as if the demon dwelling here knew that every apprentice dropped in it's lap was aware they were in a dream and hadn't bothered to tidy up.

Philippa hadn't slept in days, and it was honestly a relief to just know that outside the Fade, her body was resting. She took a few tentative steps, looking around for any spirits. She knew better from a lifetime of dreams and fear that you could trust no one in the Fade if they willingly offered you anything. She suspected that her Harrowing would be much different than simply pinching herself awake. She had a mission. Find and defeat one demon specifically.

She pressed onward, finding the path down that seemed to be a version of the winding staircase that they had taken to get there. When she reached the bottom, she was swarmed by floating wisps that clambered around her, curiously investigating the newcomer. Wisps were normally benevolent spirits, none of them affected enough by the world around them to properly take a form. Thus she let them be. They circled her briefly, but soon floated away to go about their business.

Philippa could sense images all around her. Voices drifted in and out of hearing range. She had experienced dreams like this in the past. If she focused closely enough, brief scenes would play out before her eyes, reenactments of the past. It was unwise to trust anything one heard or saw in these dreams, because spirits rarely reflected reality beyond their own particular represented trait. The general feeling around the Fade tower was fear. It seeped all around her. So many young mages had been forced into this place, scared and alone, and some of them never returned to the waking world. She could feel them around her as well. Trapped and terrified.

Philippa stopped her stroll and closed her eyes to listen. If she truly was a somniari as Wynne presumed, shouldn't she be able to do something to help? Those trapped spirits didn't deserve that fate. They were just children, most barely three years her senior. She followed the muffled sobbing just out of reach. As she walked along with confidence, her eyes still closed, she pulled the spirits to her, lassoing them like wild horses. Suddenly, she bumped into something solid. "Hello," a small voice said. Philippa opened her eyes and took a step back, her magic uncoiling into her palms. In front of her stood a young girl. Her hair was blonde and her eyes a sharp blue. She wore robes that were nearly identical to Philippa's own. "What are you doing?" she asked curiously.

"Gathering the dead," Philippa replied, her senses on high alert.

The girl's brow rose in surprise. "Oh, we've never had one like you before. I don't quite know which path I should lead you down. You listen to the souls of the dead and wish to ease their plight. That reeks of compassion. Yet you were so easily swayed from your intended task that I believe sloth might also enjoy entertaining you. Your confidence is strong as well. Could pride be your undoing?" A small, bone chilling chuckle slipped from her throat. "So many choices."

"Let me guess," Philippa crossed her arms, not letting go of her charged mana. "You're to be my guide?"

The girl nodded slowly. "That is if you do not wish to join those whom you have so carefully gathered. The templars are not a very patient lot."

"Before you send me anywhere, tell me... Is it even possible for me to help these people?" Philippa wondered.

The girl allowed her eyes to flow up and down Philippa's person briefly. "You are very young, but you are humming with potential. You tell me... what is it you see when you look at this world around you?"

Philippa took her eyes from the girl and looked around her. "I see... truth shrouded by the perception of hundreds. A broken world that was once part of something much bigger. And I see the cracked seams that strive to hold it together. It is different from my dreams because I was sent here consciously. To have seen it like this, I understand it now."

"You are a dreamer, child," the girl said with a nod and a smile. "You will do much with your power. Do you truly wish to help these spirits? I could help, you know... Show you how. Together, we should have the strength to free them."

Philippa arched her brow in disbelief. "Do I look stupid to you? I may be young, but I have been dealing with your kind since before I could read. I really think you could have tried harder."

The girl continued to smile. "Clever child. I was hoping to put forth more of a challenge for you." A shimmering brightness appeared around the girl and her form shifted until nothing remained of the blonde apprentice accept the vague shape of a female wreathed in blinding light. "You can help the spirits here if you harness your gifts. That day is not today, but soon. Be proud. You have passed." The image flickered and the Fade blackened around her.

 

Flashes of memories of waking briefly in the Harrowing Chamber fluttered through her mind as she slowly returned to consciousness. If she was alive, that could only mean that the spirit she had encountered had at least been telling the truth about one thing. She had passed her Harrowing. A feeling of excitement and elation, coupled with relief washed over her. Before she opened her eyes, she knew one thing for certain. She had been moved. She had no memory of being brought from the Harrowing Chamber and back to her bed. She knew the scent of the apprentice dormitories better than anything, and the smell of her own sheets mingled with Anders' unique scent was all too familiar. She felt more rested than she had since her meeting with Wynne.

"Phil?" The bed shifted beneath her as he sat down on the edge. "Are you awake?"

She rolled onto her back and stretched, yawning. "I think so." She pried her eyes open and saw Anders looking down at her in concern. "What time is it?"

"Nearly supper. You slept all day," Finn's voice joined the conversation and she tilted her head to see around Anders' hovering body.

She hummed in agreement. "And I could sleep another week if they let me," she chuckled, nudging Anders with her foot to move him away so she could sit up. She rubbed her eyes.

"What was it like?" Anders asked her sheepishly.

She opened her mouth to give him details, but Finn spoke over her. "You know she isn't allowed to tell us."

Philippa closed her mouth and nodded. "I'm sorry, Anders. I can't."

Finn cut off any protests that Anders might have. "The First Enchanter wants to see you."

"Right now?" she asked with a frown.

"He said, 'as soon as she wakes'. I'll assume he meant right now, yes," Finn quoted, smirking at her.

She sighed heavily and gave Anders a brief pat on his thigh as she stood. "Tell the others I'll see them at supper."

The nod he gave her was halfhearted, his expression disappointed. She frowned slightly, but then looked away, giving Finn a smile. Finn reached out, pulled his hand back and then grunted, reaching out again to pat her shoulder. "I knew you could do it, Phil. Congratulations."

"Aww," she cooed teasingly. "Thank you, Finn!" She stepped into his arm, and wrapped her own arms around him in a tight hug. He stiffened and let out a strangled sound that made her chuckle. "Just let it happen. It'll be over soon..." she hugged him a few moments more and then pulled away. "There. That wasn't so bad, was it?"

Finn brushed his hands down the front of his robes where her body and pressed against his. "Why, Phil...? Wh... wh... why would you do that? Sweet Maker..."

She chuckled again and resisted the urge to pat his cheek. "Because we're friends, dummy. I'll see you at supper."

Philippa left the dormitory to whispers and glances that followed her through the halls, all of the way to the First Enchanter's office. She knocked on the open door and Irving looked up from the papers on his desk. "Ah, Miss Hawke. It's good to see you. I trust you slept well?"

"Like a sloth demon on holiday," she said with a chuckle.

His own small chuckle joined hers as he got up from his desk and moved to the long table to the right of where she stood. "I suppose so. I wanted to congratulate you on passing the Harrowing. I don't believe I've ever had one so young perform so quickly." He picked up a folded set of yellow robes like Wynne's and a standard staff. "You are officially a mage of the Circle. As such, I present you with your robes and your staff. May they serve you well." He passed the robes to her and she took the thin silver ring from atop them and slipped it on her middle finger. It hummed with lyrium that resonated with her mana. When she took the staff, he smiled at her again. "I've had your phylactery sent to Denerim and I've arranged for a place in the mages' quarters. It's about time Wynne was made a Senior Enchanter, don't you think?" He winked slyly.

Philippa giggled. "I don't think calling her 'senior' enchanter to her face is a wise choice."

"Right you are, child." After he called her the usual nickname, he grunted and shook his head. "It will take some getting used to, but you are an Enchanter now. I should treat you with the respect that deserves. 'Philippa', isn't it?"

She curled her lip. "I've not gone by that in years. Phil, if you wish."

"I shall try and remember," he said with a smile. "Now feel free to take tomorrow to relax and adjust to your new quarters."

"First Enchanter, I had a question. Now that I am Harrowed, will I need to choose a specialization, or should I continue my classes as they are?" she wondered.

"Well, that is entirely up to you. In my opinion, there is always something to learn if you've the aptitude for it. If there is something specific that strikes your interest, I would be happy to review a request for internship. Give it some thought before you decide. There is no rush."

"Thank you, First Enchanter," she bowed her head respectfully and left Irving's office. Her first bit of business was to congratulate Wynne on her promotion. She headed for the infirmary where you could usually find Wynne when she wasn't teaching. Predictably, Wynne was near the back of the room, taking stock of their bandages and poultices. "Senior Enchanter?" Philippa said softly, not wishing to break Wynne's focus.

Wynne looked up and smiled wryly. "I should very much like to throttle Irving for that particular title," she said with a small chortle. "What can I do for you?"

"I've just come from First Enchanter Irving, and he told me about your promotion. I wanted to congratulate you," Philippa said with her own smile.

Wynne flapped her hand dismissively. "It's I who should be congratulating you. Passing the Harrowing at 15 is certainly a feat."

Philippa bit her lip, lowering her eyes. "I was wondering... As a spirit healer, you have a deep connection to the Fade. When you took your Harrowing, could you... feel the spirits of the less fortunate that were trapped when they didn't pass their test?"

Wynne looked at her appraisingly, setting down the bundle of herbs in her hand and rounding the table. "No. But I suspect that has more to do with your special abilities. As I said before, once you harness your powers, you will be able to shape the Fade itself to your will."

Philippa nodded. "The spirit I encountered pretty much confirmed that I am what you suspected. She called me a 'dreamer'."

Wynne smiled. "I find myself curious. Were you able to determine the nature of the demon you faced?"

Philippa opened her mouth to say pride, but then she remembered the spirit in her pure form and shook her head. "I don't think it was a demon... Wisdom. She was an avatar of wisdom."

Wynne looked shocked before a small smile tugged at her lips. "There is something truly special about you, Philippa Hawke, and it has nothing to do with being a somniari. It is a rare thing that one so young could look beyond their own expectations to see the truth of a thing. Especially in the Fade."

Philippa shrugged. "I've been staring demons in the face for years. I've probably seen every kind the Fade could throw at me. None of them have been quite so... civil... in asking me to hitch a ride in my body. She spoke with me much like you do... leading me to the answers. That is what made me say wisdom."

Wynne chuckled. "It is good to hear you think me wise and Irving thinks me worthy of the title of 'senior'. Next, my hair will be turning grey and I'll live out my days knitting socks."

Philippa smiled. "Somehow, I really don't see that happening."

"I'm glad you have so much faith in my youth, my dear. Now, I'm sure you're starving. I've already moved my things to my new quarters, so my old room is now yours, as well as the use of the mages' private baths. You are also allowed to check books out of the second floor library. Again, congratulations, Enchanter Phil."

"That really rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?" Philippa said with an eye-roll as she left the infirmary.

She made her way to her new room, nearly passing it up out of habit, even though she knew where to stop. The door was unlocked, and she was surprised to even find that feature on a door in the tower. Apparently full fledged mages enjoyed a few creature comforts. Philippa felt like she hadn't ever experienced full privacy. Before the Circle, she had grown up in the small cabin with her family, sharing a room with Garrett. Then the apprentice dormitories after that, sharing a room with several others. Being an Enchanter was going to be a very big adjustment. She closed her door behind her and flicked the lock. Giggling at the novelty, she flicked it open and closed a handful of times before locking it so she could change into her new robes in peace.

Once she was dressed, she took a look in the tall mirror that stood beside her personal vanity. She still was not a fan of the yellow color of her robes, but she had little choice. She was a mage now. No more apprentice blues that matched her eyes so well. She still needed to go back to the dormitories and collect her personal belongings from her footlocker. Her glass dragon and her pile of letters from her family, and the birthday cards from Finn. But first, she was famished. Her stomach gave a rumble at the thought of food, and she headed out of her room. She nearly bumped headlong into a templar as she pulled the door shut behind her. "Oh!" she sputtered as she looked up to apologize. "Ser Bran! Apologies. I wasn't paying attention... Why are you hovering outside my door?" she asked with a chuckle.

He apologized as well. "Enchanter Hawke. I didn't mean to 'hover'. Knight-Commander Greagoir sent me to ask after you. He wishes to know if you're well after your Harrowing."

Philippa animatedly felt her forearms, touched her face and then her legs. "I seem to be all in one piece. I appreciate the concern."

Bran took a step back and tipped his head. "Of course. I shall... inform Greagoir. Good evening."

Philippa's eyes followed Bran as he inched away, turned and then headed toward the third floor. His behavior struck her as odd, but she shrugged it off, too hungry to care. She followed after him toward the third floor and the dining hall.

She filled two plates and happily made her way over to where her friends were sitting, locked in idle conversation. She noticed Bran hovering near the other end of the dining hall, his eyes non discreetly flicking in her direction every few moments. She sighed, figuring out that the Knight-Commander had decided that she was in need of a tail, and set his least competent templar recruit to the task. She set her tray down in her usual seat beside Finn and he glanced over. For a moment, he frowned until he realized who he was looking at. "Maker's breath, Phil, I almost didn't recognize you." He curled his lip back. "Yellow is really not your color."

She took a bite of her roll and scowled playfully. "Shut it or I'll hug you again."

Finn shifted away from her as Neria spoke up. "Well I think you look smashing."

"I agree," Kilian said. "I think our Phil's grown into a fine thing... In any color." He winked and she rolled her eyes.

"So... I know you can't give details, but... was it scary?" Faye asked, picking at the bite of chicken left on her plate.

Philippa shrugged. "Not for me..."

"You're so brave," Brissa gasped.

"Are you leaving the dorms?" Jowan asked.

Philippa nodded. "Enchanter Wynne's been promoted. I'm to have her old room." At the disappointed groans around the table she chuckled. "Don't worry. I'll come to visit you peons all the time. Plus we'll see each other at meals, and I'll be down at the children's dorms every evening as usual."

"Did the First Enchanter say anything about what you'll be doing during the day?" Finn asked.

"He gave me tomorrow off to 'adjust', and then I am allowed to choose whether I continue my classes as they are, or choose a specialization," she explained.

"What do you think you'll do?" Jowan wondered curiously.

"I may stick with creation and battle magic. History and mathematics are getting repetitive, and I've had all of the herbalism I think I can stand. I may choose to pick up my own studies. Astronomy is fascinating." She winked at Kilian who snorted, remembering back to the night he had showed her the astrarium so many years ago.

Neria snorted. "So is anatomy..." she made a vulgar gesture and nudged Kilian who used a laugh to cover up his flush of embarrassment. Philippa didn't think she had ever seen Kilian embarrassed before. It made her wonder what might be going on between them. It wasn't unheard of. She was involved in her own sordid affair, after all.

Speaking of Anders, she glanced around. "Has anyone seen Anders?" She stuffed down a brief jolt of panic. She never ceased to worry when Anders disappeared.

Faye nodded. "I saw him talking with that quiet, older boy that is friends with Keili... not long before you got here."

"His name is Karl," Finn supplied. "He was in my herbalism class a while back, but took up a different class when he turned eighteen."

It wasn't unheard of for Anders to make his rounds through the dormitories. He was extremely charismatic when he wasn't trying to escape the Circle. A lot of people liked him, much like they liked her simply for being who she was. She shrugged, glad that he wasn't missing because he had escaped again. There was a conversation they needed to have, but now was not the time. It was a happy day for her.

She finished up her supper, chatting amiably with her friends before heading down to her old dorm to get her things from her footlocker. Bran followed her as discreetly as was possible for the young armor clad templar. When she reached the dormitory, he passed by the door she had gone in, but never the second down the hall. He had stopped somewhere in the middle. She noticed Anders sitting in one of the armchairs near the game tables. He looked up from the book he was reading and spotted her. He hopped up from the chair and glanced around for an audience in the room before approaching her with a small smile, "Phil!"

Her eyes widened when she realized he was after more than a hug. She took a step away making him falter and his expression fall slightly. She took hold of his forearm and squeezed. "I'm being followed," she said in explanation of her rebuff.

He frowned. "Was it not enough they put you through a Harrowing years ahead of time, now they're going to dog your heels?"

She moved to her footlocker and knelt to open it. She began to pull out her books, her spare underclothes, and her other personal belongings. "I'm hoping it's temporary, until they realize I'm not a threat." she said sighing. When she looked up at him, his expression had shifted from anger to disappointment. "What?"

"So, you are leaving?" he asked, his tone sad.

"I'm not considered an apprentice anymore, Anders..." she said gently, recognizing the hurt in his eyes. He had clung to her since he arrived at the Circle, only making a few other friends in spite of his popularity. "It's not like I'm leaving the Circle. I'll only be one floor up." She stepped closer to him, lowering her voice. "I trust you can manage sneaking through the halls alone without me to guide you."

He smiled grudgingly. "You're such a tease. I wish I could kiss you right now."

"If you come upstairs later, hopefully my templar escort will grow bored. Then you could maybe do more than kiss me..." she suggested, her cheeks flushing. It still felt odd to be offering her body to him.

He looked her up and down, noting her hesitation. "Are you sure that's what you want, Phil?"

She bit her lip, glancing away. "Maybe?"

He pressed his lips together, exhaling from his nose. "Listen. I'll come to your quarters tonight... just to talk. I think that's what we need... But we can't do that with your templar friend trailing you." She nodded her agreement, touching his arm briefly before going back to her footlocker and gathering up the things she had already sorted out to take with her.

 

That night, she sat up late into the evening watching the shifting pool of moonlight as it traveled across her floor, shining in from the window high up her wall. It was a small taste of freedom that she knew was there, but could not even look out of. A few hours after lights out, the light caught her glass dragon, making rippling flashes that danced merrily on the wall.

Her mind wandered as she waited for Anders. Beyond all of the excitement of the day, the whimpering cries of the spirits of lost apprentices kept creeping their way into her thoughts. It bothered her that they were there, just beyond the Veil, begging for freedom. A soft knock sounded on her door and she jumped, the flickering lights on the wall having gone out of focus as her thoughts had wandered. She got up and went to the door, opening it quietly.

Anders stood outside, looking around nervously. She took hold of the front of his robes and pulled him inside. Once he passed the threshold, she closed the door behind him and locked it. "I didn't think you were coming," she admitted softly.

"I didn't know if your guard was going to persist after lights out, so I waited for a bit to be sure," he explained. They both stood awkwardly in the middle of her room. She idly thought she might request for a rug to be put down over the stone before he sighed. "Listen, Phil, last night... you were... amazing. But in spite of being trapped in this bloody tower, our lives right now..."

"Are going in completely opposite directions..." she finished for him.

He sighed again as if in relief. "Of course you understand. You're Phil. You always understand. Even if you hate everything that is happening, you always try to understand why. It's that willingness to try that makes you such a good friend. I don't want to lose that."

She frowned slightly. "I haven't changed, Anders. Just because I was moved to new quarters and I carry a staff now doesn't mean we aren't allowed to be friends. I just don't think that continuing as anything more is a good idea, in spite of how much I enjoyed sharing my bed with you last night."

He smirked impishly. "That was nice, wasn't it? I've still got the bite marks to prove you enjoyed yourself."

She snorted and shoved his shoulder. "Oh, come off it." Then she shrugged. "Well, at least I can't be used in any sacrificial blood magic rituals anymore."

He chuckled. "The blood of a virgin is rumored to be a commodity..."

With her own snigger, she took his hand. "I'm glad we sorted this out."

He smiled. "Me too. And by the way, you look terrible in yellow."

She gasped in mock horror. "So the truth comes out. All this nonsense about our lives taking different turns and the real reason was my change in wardrobe. You can't stand to be seen with me."

"Ha! You caught me. You're all too clever," he chuckled, taking his hand away from hers. "Good night, Phil."

"Good night." She went to her tip toes and kissed his cheek and in return, he hugged her tightly. "Let me make sure the hall is clear. Don't want to get caught doing nothing."

 

All throughout her day off, thoughts of the trapped apprentices constantly shifted through her mind. By midday, she had decided what she wanted to do. She made her way to First Enchanter Irving's office and knocked on the open door. When he glanced up and saw her, he smiled kindly. "Ah, our newest Enchanter. What can I do for you, Phil?" Her name sounded strained coming from his mouth, as if the familiar nickname for her felt odd to him.

"I actually wanted to ask a favor," she said sheepishly. When he did not outright protest or question her, she pressed forward. "Since there are no other 'dreamers' to teach me how to use my gift, I was wondering if you might grant me permission to drop my creation class for three days out of the week so I might spend some time honing my own abilities. It could be supervised, of course," she tipped her head toward the hall where her barnacle of a templar, Bran, was still stuck to her ass.

Irving looked her over with scrutiny before nodding. "If Wynne has no objection, I don't see why I should. I will adjust your schedule. What other electives were you interested in?"

She smiled. "I've always found astronomy intriguing, and zoology... focusing particularly on magical creatures. And I'd like to continue in battle magic."

Irving nodded. "Yes, Torrin has reported that you are quite skilled in that field. I will see to it that you are given a revised schedule that will allow you free periods throughout the week to focus on your Fade studies, as well as incorporating your chosen electives. I hope Wynne has taught you the intricacies of healing burns..."

Chapter Text

Philippa stared wide eyed at the creature before her. She had no idea prior to this very moment that the Circle had a live drake living on the back end of the fourth floor, beyond the templar's barracks. It stood on all fours, it's hind legs thicker and more powerful than it's almost arm-like forelegs. Sticking up from it's shoulder blades on it's back were bony protrusions that jutted up a foot into the air. The scales that covered it's entire body were slate blue, nearly allowing it to blend with the stone of the tower's walls.

The mage standing beside her was a burly middle aged man with a scruffy chin and hair that looked as if it might not have been tended in a few days. Oddly enough, in spite of the color of his eyes and the fact that his messy hair was a dirty blonde streaked with hints of grey, his devilish smirk and carefree demeanor stirred memories of her twin brother that she could barely touch. Enchanter Renodus had several light scars on his face and hands that she could see, and his robes were singed in several places. "Isn't he beautiful?" Renodus asked her, his arms crossed and his spine straight with confidence as she glanced from her to the drake, gauging her reaction.

Her first instinct had been to be frightened, but that instinct flitted away quickly to be replaced by awe. She had never thought to see a dragonling in her lifetime, let alone a full grown drake. She tore her eyes from the sharp and scaly creature to glance at Renodus. "How are we able to keep him here?"

The man chuckled. "Thunder here isn't the problem..."

"Thunder?" she asked with her brow raised in curiosity.

"Yeah," Renodus said with a grin. "Just like thunder is all the bluster of the storm without any real ability to harm you... Thunder here is all backbone until it comes down to actually doing anything about anything. He's a bloody coward. Plus, drakes don't have any breath weapons like dragons. Best he could do would be to nip off with one of your fingers."

Philippa eyed the burns on Renodus' clothes and cocked her hip. "So then where did you get those burns on your robes? Or are you just a really clumsy pyromancer?"

Renodus chuckled again. "Remember when I said that Thunder wasn't the problem...? How would you like to meet Ember?"

She let out her own nervously thrilled chuckle. "I don't know... will I survive the encounter?"

"I haven't lost an intern yet... Well, not to the dragon anyway. A lot of them run off screaming... You might want to erect a barrier, though. Just in case," Renodus said. "She doesn't always take kindly to newcomers."

Philippa did as she was told as she followed Renodus through a few doors. He held his arm out in front of her stepping through the last one before her. Philippa could hear heavy rumbling breathing on the other side of the door, and she eagerly followed Renodus into the dark room. A mage light flickered on and illuminated the large, open cell before her. Lying in the far corner, nestled around a clutch of eggs was an honest to goodness dragon. It was not a large dragon, only slightly bigger than her mate. Instead of the spiky protrusions that jutted from Thunder's back, she had thin, sleek wings that resembled those of a bat's. She laid like a cat, her legs tucked neatly under her and her long, serpentine, neck and head buried beneath her wing. Her scales glittered in the light, a deep purple hue mixed with the blue of her underbelly. "Maker's breath," Philippa gasped in amazement.

With the light coming on and Philippa's soft reaction, the dragon lifted her head from beneath her wing to gaze on the new person that had entered her space. Philippa met her gaze without fear, her heart racing in excitement rather than terror. The dragon responded, her head tipping slightly. Her wing hugged more tightly around the clutch of eggs beside her, and her eyes narrowed. Philippa calmly lifted her hands, her palms facing outwards. She did not attempt to approach the dragon nor did she show any sign that might be considered a threat. After a few moments, Ember huffed lightly, small streams of smoke issuing from her nostrils in a clear sign of bored acceptance that relayed her readiness to fry Philippa to a crisp should she threaten her eggs. Then she lowered her head again, still watching with open eyes, but showing that she didn't feel threatened. "Well, I'll be..." Renodus said. "You must be a dragon whisperer. I've never seen Ember so calm when faced with an unfamiliar person."

He gently took Philippa's arm and led her back into the hallway, snuffing the mage light in the dragon's room. "Well, I didn't get eaten or burned, and I didn't run away screaming. Does that make me your new student?"

Renodus bowed teasingly. "It would be an honor, Enchanter Hawke."

She rolled her eyes. "Please, Phil."

He crossed his arms and nodded. "Even though I'm your teacher, we are standing on even ground. Your robes are as yellow as my own. We'll likely be shedding blood together at some point, so I think I can ask you to call me Ren."

"That is the honor," she agreed.

 

Philippa spent a lot of time pouring over texts she had found in the Enchanter's library, enraptured by the history of the Old Gods. One of the texts described the connection of the Old Gods to ancient somniari like herself. Dreamers, the tome described, had originated among the elves of Arlathan, but the first humans to have the gift were worshipers of Dumat and his kin. The gift dwindled to nothingness after the start of the Blights in -395 Ancient when Dumat supposedly was corrupted and became the first Archdemon.

Her studies had started off much like this. Finding any tidbit she could about the somniari and lapping it up like a cat with cream. As the months after her Harrowing progressed, her templar guard became less of a guard and more of a pack mule for the stacks of books that she was wont to lug back and forth from the library to her room. She rarely noticed Bran anymore, like he was window dressings. Once she had chosen her favorite tomes, she had returned all of the ones that wouldn't help her further her magic and kept those that gave her as much detail about how the gifts of a dreamer functioned.

In spite of dropping herbalism from her roster, Philippa was constantly in the makeshift greenhouse, annoying Ines to the point of distraction as she tested and combined herbs to find all of the right mixtures that would assist her in forcing herself into the Fade without lyrium like they had used for her Harrowing. Eventually, she would be able to do so without assistance, consciously dream on command. She felt like she had a long way to go before she would be on that level.

The rest of her days were as typical as they had been before her Harrowing. She would wake early, go to breakfast where she got to spend time with her friends (a circle which was slowly growing as she met more of the Harrowed mages), then it was upstairs to assist Ren with breakfast for the dragons. Three days out of the week after feeding time, she would head to the library and work out her own curriculum. The other two days she went to Wynne, slowly learning to hone her spirit healing abilities. Mid-morning she reported back to Ren for practical lessons where she not only learned dragon handling, but while they worked, he lectured, teaching her about dragons and drakes, and also about wyverns, deep stalkers, ghasts, and even the extinct griffon. Then it was off to lunch before her afternoon of battle magic. When her classes were over, she found herself with free time most days before supper. She filled that time discreetly exploring the tower, honing her chess skills, or teaching herself to play the lute. Then after supper, she continued to help out in the children's dorms before bed. Her astronomy lessons happened on Friday and Saturday nights after the sun went down and the stars were visible in the night sky. The practical was meshed with the academic as they charted stars and memorized constellations.

With her busy schedule, Philippa made certain to still make time for her friends. Anders soon got bored with her trying to make time for him and inevitably blamed the Circle for her distance. They were all outside on a Sunday morning, and she had been up late the night before, her astronomy class running late so they could all sit up and watch a lunar eclipse. She was paying little heed to the conversation going on around her, just glad to be with her friends outside in the sunshine. Spring had just broken through and there was still a chill in the air as a light breeze tousled her hair. She closed her eyes, sitting with her back pressed to Faye's on the ground while Kilian talked about being ready for his Harrowing. Her eyes drooped closed and she nearly drifted off when there were a few shouts and then a splash in the lake below.

Her eyes flew open as calamity broke out in the courtyard. A half dozen templars stood along the edge of the fence that protected against anyone falling off the cliff-side that the island created into the lake. They stared out at the lake looking dumbfounded. Philippa stood to get a better look at what might have happened, and her jaw fell open. "Andraste's ass!" she cursed as she watched the familiar head of strawberry blonde hair awkwardly swimming for the opposite shore. Finn stepped up beside her, cringing. "The bloody idiot is going to drown himself!"

"Or catch legionellosis." Finn said with a shudder. When she raised her brow and glanced at him he shrugged. "What, Phil? It's a real thing. That water is filthy."

She rolled her eyes and sighed. "How long do you suppose he'll be in the dungeons this time?"

"You're certainly optimistic," Finn pointed out. "You forget he hasn't taken his Harrowing yet. They might just make him tranquil and be done with it."

She hugged herself. "They haven't yet. Let's hope his luck holds out."

Finn stepped closer to her, still without touching. "I know you had a thing... is that still... a thing?"

"No," she said truthfully, staring over the lake as Anders successfully dragged himself onto the shore across the way, visibly sputtering and then dropping down to roll onto his back and catch his breath. A few shouts of encouragement rose from some of the other younger apprentices, but the glares of the assembled templars quickly stifled the enthusiasm.

As they were all quickly ushered back into the tower to prevent any copy cat jobs, Finn walked close beside her. "I think it's good that you've distanced yourself from him. I worry about you, Phil. Anders is... I want to say a bad influence, but I know you'd never be stupid enough to try and escape. He's... no good for you."

"Looking to take his place?" she said teasingly, resisting the urge to nudge him.

Finn cleared his throat as she noted the reddening of his cheeks and the tips of his ears. "No, Phil. I just..." he cut himself off, and she waited for him to try again, or maybe stumble through an embarrassed denial, but he simply pressed his lips together and remained silent.

 

Finn's awkward non-confession was forgotten the next day as they fell back into their weekly routines. Anders was returned to the Circle on Tuesday. His valiant swim across the lake earned him a full week in the dungeons. When he was released, it was around lunchtime, and Philippa saw him entering the dining hall with his usual post-dungeon sour look on his face. She moved to stand and approach him to give him an earful, but someone else beat her to the punch. The older apprentice, Karl crossed the hall with purpose, stopping in front of Anders to quietly chide him. She would have given anything to hear what Karl said to him that made his expression sink into such guilty humiliation so quickly. When she had scolded him, it had always come back to his cheeky smirk and a quip. When Karl scolded him, Anders folded in on himself, looking utterly ashamed.

Since her Harrowing, she had been seeing less and less of Anders. She understood why. She was an Enchanter now. She was tethered more closely to the institution that he loathed more than anything. It stood to reason that with his particular brand of logic, she might be someone to be avoided. He was still friendly when they interacted, but he held a rueful scorn toward poor Bran who was simply following the orders he was given when he followed her about. Apparently, she was the one being replaced.

 

Philippa had just read something extremely interesting in a diary entry she had found that was written by a former Circle mage. She scurried excitedly to the apprentice dorms where she knew the others would already be sleeping. It was going on midnight after all. Her feet carried her to Finn's bunk where amazingly, she found him still awake, his blanket pulled over his head and a crystal lit so he could read. She hissed lightly to grab his attention. When he poked his head curiously from beneath the blankets, she tipped her head toward the door, urging him to follow her. With a frown, he got up and followed her to the hallway. "Phil, what are you doing?"

"Just hush, and follow me," she scolded starting off toward the common area.

"It's the middle of the night. Where are we going?" he insisted as he followed, jogging every few steps to keep up with her excited pace.

She hustled him through the common room and toward the basement stairs. "I just read about something in the repository that you need to see. I just hope it's still here."

"The repository?" his eyes bugged as he grabbed hold of her elbow. She looked down as he ground her to a halt and she smirked before looking up at him. He snatched his hand back as if he were just realizing that he was touching another human being. "Phil, we're not supposed to be in the repository."

"I'm an Enchanter," she scoffed. "As long as we don't take anything when we leave, it'll be fine. Come on, Finn. Adventure."

Finn shuddered. "Adventure tends to lead to... outside."

She sniggered. "This one won't. I promise." She reached out and took his hand to pull him along with her. Surprisingly, he allowed her to pull him through the basement door and down the remaining stairs into the dark hallway before taking his hand back. "I forgot how dark it was down here," she mumbled. Drawing on her mana, she focused it into her staff and tapped the butt on the ground to light the crystal embedded at the top.

Light flooded the corridor and Finn flinched. "What if there are templars down here?"

She shook her head as she began to lead them past the sentinels and toward the dungeons. She had never been beyond the cells, but she knew the repository laid beyond. "The templars have no reason to patrol down here as long as no one is in the dungeons. The sentinels take care of any threats."

"The sentinels? You mean the suits? Maker's breath, Phil. If they decide we're a threat, we're done for," Finn worried, inching closer to her light.

"They won't bother us. Can you just trust me for once?" Philippa begged, recognizing the room where they dungeons were housed.

She continued past it as Finn sighed. "Why do I let you talk me into these things?" he mumbled.

He chuckled. "Because deep down, I know you're curious... and because you like me."

"I do no..." he immediately objected before pressing his lips together and then lowering his eyes. "Oh, you meant... right. Sure. I suppose you're all right."

Philippa stopped dead, Finn barreling into her back. Then she spun. "Why did you protest so quickly?" His eyes widened. And she saw him inwardly curse himself. She smirked as she realized what might be happening.

He took note of her confident expression and pressed his own lips together again. "No. Phil. Don't you dare. That's not what I meant."

She continued to smirk at him. "Do you like me, Finn?"

He crossed his arms and took his eyes off her, but in the glow of her mage light, she could see the flush in his cheeks. "As my best friend. Yes."

She snorted. "You're a terrible liar, Finn." She backed off, understanding how difficult it must be for him to even have potentially romantic feelings toward another person. "Come on. I still want to show you why we came down here." She turned and continued toward the repository.

Finn was quiet, all of his protests and worries shoved down deep. She allowed him his silent panic attack. She would never push him for more than just their friendship. She cherished it too much. After what had happened with Anders and how swiftly they had drifted apart afterwards, she wouldn't let that happen again.

"Here we are," she said triumphantly as they came upon the large doorway into the repository. She pushed open the door and stepped in, allowing her light to brighten the pitch black room. All around them, artifacts hummed with power. She closed her eyes, absorbing the tingling feeling of the ambient mana that drifted on the air.

"Do you feel that?" Finn whispered in awe.

She laughed lightly. "There is so much history here," she mused, moving further into the room and running her fingers over the dusty relics stacked on shelves. There were ancient grimoires, staves that hummed with malevolent energy, statues, and everyday objects lying around. Philippa was looking for one thing in particular. She glanced around looking for the most lifelike statue she could find. When she spotted it, she moved confidently through the room, pulling Finn along behind her. She stopped in front of the statue and smiled, hoping she was not about to make a complete fool out of herself. "Hello? Eleni Zinovia?"

After a moment, a soft feminine voice resonated from the statue. "Greetings. I am the essence and spirit of Eleni Zinovia, once consort and advisor to Archon Valerius. Prophecy my crime, cursed to stone for foretelling the fall of my lord's house."

"Maker's tears..." Finn gasped as Philippa looked upon the statue in awe. Up until it had actually spoken, she had believed that the author of the diary had been a lunatic.

"Forgive me for disturbing you," Philippa apologized. "I... I didn't actually believe you could be real when I read of your existence down here."

"Weep not for me, child. Stone they made me and stone I am, eternal and unfeeling. And I shall endure until the Maker returns to light their fires again," the statue responded.

Finn stepped past Philippa. "So you've been here... for centuries?" Finn suddenly turned to Philippa. "Do you know who Eleni Zinovia is, Phil? She was Archon Hessarian's mother."

Philippa nodded. "This is why I brought you here. I knew you would probably like to pick her brain."

A smile spread across Finn's face as he turned back to face the statue. "The things I could learn... There isn't enough time..."

Finn asked a few questions of the statue, but he was right. There was not enough time. With a promise to return, they left the stone prophetress alone. Philippa led them back out of the basement and quietly stifled the light on her staff when they reached the common room. She gave him a wry smirk. "Did you need me to walk you back to the dormitories, or can you sneak back on your own?"

He wrinkled his nose before rolling his eyes. "I think I can manage."

She softened her smirk and smiled at him. "Good night, Finn."

"Good night," he agreed. When she turned to walk away, he caught her arm. "And, Phil... Thanks... for thinking of me."

She glanced down at his hand on her arm. "Keep touching me like I don't have germs and I might get the urge to hug you again..." she teased with a smile.

He pushed her away gently, taking his hand off her arm. "The next time you see me, I will have scrubbed my hands clean off my body. Go to bed, Phil."

She chuckled lightly and left him to head back to her quarters.

 

Finn's Harrowing came a year and a day after her own. According to Faye, when Philippa inquired about his absence at breakfast, the templars came quietly in the middle of the night and took him from his bed.

Philippa worried all morning as she went about her studies and helping Ren. She had every confidence in Finn, but she couldn't help but be concerned. She knew very well how convincing the spirits of the Fade could be. She didn't see him until after her shift in the children's dormitories that evening when she returned to her quarters. She caught sight of him carrying an armful of books and his belongings to the room two doors down from hers. In her excitement, she rushed over to him and threw her arms around him, making him nearly drop all of his books. "Phil! I just got these robes, don't soil them!" he complained and she chuckled happily.

"Congratulations," she said, stepping back from him and noticing that yellow seemed to suit him better than it did her. A soft clearing of a throat nearby had her turning to see than Bran was hovering as usual. She rolled her eyes and turned back to Finn. "So how did it go?"

Finn's cheeks suddenly reddened and he jerked to catch one of the books trying to slide from the top of his pile. "Fine. It was fine."

"Just 'fine'?" she asked, taking three of the books from his arms and getting a better look at his eyes as they shifted nervously. "Remember, I'm not an apprentice. You can tell me what happened."

"It's..." he paused and cleared his throat. "It's private."

She frowned and drew her chin back. "Oh," she said, straightening the books in her hands and tipping her head toward what she supposed was his room. "Is this you?"

He nodded. "Would you mind... setting those on the nightstand?"

She brushed aside the general oddness of his behavior, used to it by now, and nodded. "I'll bet you can't wait to get into the mages' library."

"And the private baths," he joked with a laugh. "The ones in the dormitories are so... used."

She dropped herself onto the edge of his bed and smiled. "So have you decided what your specialization will be?"

He glanced at where she had placed herself and set down the books he had in his arms. "Spirit healing. Full time. My afternoon electives will be linguistics and history."

She chuckled. "So while I'm wrestling dragons and learning to wield a staff in combat, you'll be..."

"Reading, Phil. I will be reading... and learning to summon a spirit to help me heal the burns you will inevitably pick up along the way," he said with a teasing lilt.

"Color me jealous," she joked in return.

He sat deliberately across the room from her. "Speaking of our studies, have you made any headway into your somniari skills?"

She bit her lip. "I was actually wondering if you might be free to help me with something..." she glanced at the doorway, where Bran had positioned himself. She drew her hands into her lap and nervously wrung them. She glanced quietly from Finn to Bran and shook her head lightly before Bran turned around to see why they had gotten so quiet. Finn nodded imperceptibly.

"Actually, Phil, I'm going to be pretty busy with my new schedule. I'm not sure I'll have time."

"Oh," she said, trying her best to sound disheartened. "Okay. I understand. Well, congratulations anyway. I'm proud of you."

She stood and made her way out of the room with a small backward glance, then headed to her own room. She closed herself in to do some final checks on her little experiment before lights out.

 

Nearly an hour after lights out, Philippa gathered the small collection of herbs that she had dried and measured. With the full bowl clutched against her chest, she poked her head from her door and glanced up and down the hall to be certain all the templars in the area had gone to bed. With the coast clear, she slipped from her room and scurried to Finn's room to knock softly on his door. It almost immediately opened and he beckoned her inside, looking up and down the hall much like she had. "I was wondering when you would show up," he said as he closed them in. "I thought I had read your signal right, but I wasn't sure. Then I worried that I had shot you down and you had taken me seriously..."

She snorted softly. "You worry to much, Finn."

"What are those?" he asked, pointing to the herbs in her bowl.

"I've been reading everything I could find on somniari practices, which is scattered and incomplete at best, and I have done a bit of experimenting on my own, but I was wondering if you'd be willing to submit to an experiment," she asked, pouting slightly.

He tipped his head curiously, his eyes lingering on her mouth briefly. "What would I have to do?"

"Get a good night's rest?... I'll take care of everything else. I've learned an entropic spell that will put the subject to sleep for a brief time. I want to see if these herbs will help me to actually enter another person's dream..." she explained.

"You... want to go traipsing around in my head?" he asked nervously.

She shook her head. "Not precisely. Once I find my way in... If I even can, I'll be the one in control of the dream... Theoretically..."

He looked her up and down as she nervously bit her lip, still hugging her bowl of herbs. She saw his shoulders sag slightly. "This seems... risky. But I... suppose I trust you. Where do you need me?"

She sighed in relief then moved to the door to lock it so they couldn't accidentally be interrupted. "Lie down on the bed so you're comfortable. Then I'll cast the sleep spell. Once I know you're asleep, I will burn the herbs and work my own magic to, hopefully, put myself in your dreams." She knelt, setting the bowl on the floor while he made his way to the bed and got comfortable. She traced out a ritual circle, adding a few specific glyphs to the outer rings, around herself and then sat with her legs drawn up beneath her. She placed the bowl before her and then glanced up to where he was lying on the bed, watching her. "Ready?" she asked.

"Whenever you are," he agreed, shifting from his side to his back and folding his hands over his stomach.

Philippa lifted her hands before her, she crossed them at the wrists. Then she balled her fists, turned them outwards, opened her hands again and crossed her pinkies, pushing the mana she had drawn forth toward Finn. She felt the magic taking hold and soon heard a soft snoring sound coming from the bed. She would recognize Finn's light sleeping sounds anywhere, having spent most of her younger years sleeping a few feet away from him in the next bunk. She dropped her hands to call a brief spark to her fingertips to ignite the herbs and then dropped her hands to her lap. She inhaled deeply and closed her eyes. Concentrating her will toward the sleeping man on the bed she reached for the now familiar weaves of the Veil around her, searching for a small crack to slip into.

She felt the herbs taking hold and just like when she had taken the Harrowing, she simply opened her eyes and was in the Fade. She looked around and took pride in the fact that where she had landed looked nothing like the Circle. That meant that she had not shaped the initial setting for the dream. She took a few steps through the neatly trimmed grass of the yard she was standing in. A cobblestone path led to a large stone house landscaped with a small flower garden, and hedges as neatly trimmed as the grass. There was not a single weed in sight. Philippa snorted. This definitely had to be Finn's dream. She climbed the short set of stairs to the front door of the house and found the door unlocked. She stepped in and looked around the nicely kept home. Paintings of people lined the bright walls, their features reminiscent of her friend. They must have been his family. It was likely that this was the house where he grew up before he went to the Circle.

"Hello!" Philippa called out, putting a small amount of her will into the act and hoping that she could reach Finn inside whatever dream he was having. "Finn!"

She made her way through the downstairs of the house, taking in the details. It never ceased to amaze her how incredibly thorough the Fade could be when recreating the backdrop of your dreamworld. She searched the entire house and didn't find Finn, so she made her way back outside and around to the rear of the home. She saw Finn sitting on a bench, talking to another person. Her view of his companion was obstructed by the large tree growing in the middle of the yard. She could not hear their muted conversation from where she stood, but she heard Finn's crisp laugh followed by another that was all too familiar. She came around the tree and paused to take in the view of herself sitting beside him as they laughed happily. Keeping out of sight herself, she used the tree as cover as she drew on her will. She allowed her magic to flow from her, interrupting the dream and 'waking' Finn to bring him back to reality. As she poked at his consciousness, the dream world wavered, but she reached out and took hold of the scene, keeping it in place. Concentrating lightly on that task, she stepped from around the tree and saw Finn, still on the bench, but looking around with a small frown. When he caught sight of her, his smile returned. "Phil... is that... you?"

"In the Fade flesh... It worked," she said excitedly, the world flickering again as she wavered in her concentration.

Finn looked around at where they were and his mouth opened. "We're... awake... in my dream." He frowned slightly. "Why does everything keep flickering like that?"

"Sorry," she said as a small throbbing started behind her eyes. "It's a bit... difficult to..." She pressed her fingers to her temples, hissing slightly.

She felt Finn's hands wrap around hers. "Don't push yourself, Phil. If it hurts, don't force it."

He pulled her hands from her wrinkled brow and looked her in the eyes as she took his advice, allowing the scene to fall away, leaving them standing in a completely different backdrop. She recognized her own familiar sleeping quarters with her glass dragon displayed proudly on her vanity. Now that she controlled the dream, her own constructs were taking over. Without the facade of his dream, she could see the curious wisps that always seemed to flock to her whenever she was in the Fade. Finn didn't look around to see where they were, concentrating fully on the smoothing of her brow as the throbbing of her exertion faded.

She became acutely aware of the fact that her hands were still clasped in his. His fingers slowly twined with hers. She held her breath, refusing to poke at the fact, lest he realize what he was doing and shy away like he always did. He sighed lightly as if he too were relishing the simple touch. "Does it hurt to exert your will over the Fade?"

She stood stone still, barely moving her lips as she spoke. "This is the first time I've tried it outside my own consciousness. It's more difficult, apparently, to maintain an environment you're not familiar with. Like most magic, I would assume it will get easier with practice and time."

"Well I... I wouldn't mind if you practiced on me." His fingers curled around hers a little more tightly. "This... this is nice..." he admitted.

She chuckled breathily. "I didn't want to point out that you were still touching me, in case you hadn't realized..."

He smiled slightly. "It seems that my phobias don't extend to my... what would you call this?... astral self?"

"There are no wrinkles... or dirt in the Fade," she teased lightly.

"Or germs... there aren't germ demons, right? Sweet maker..." he said with his own mildly concerned chuckle.

"I've never met a germ demon... and I've met my fair share of demons. I think you're safe," she giggled. Then she bit her lip. "Would it be too strange for me to say that I would like to know what hugging you feels like when you're not all tense and worried?"

He cleared his throat and his fingers convulsed around hers. "I um... I need to tell you something first. My Harrowing..." he swallowed and chuckled. "I didn't know your mouth could dry out in the Fade..." He cleared his throat again. "You were my Harrowing, Phil."

His fingers tightened again, as if he thought she might pull away. "Can you tell me?"

He sighed and then rolled his eyes, shifting his stance. "That desire demon likely smelled me coming miles away. She came to me, shaped like you, and told me she could give me everything I wanted if I just said yes..."

Philippa cocked her head and frowned at his reaction to his own desires laid bare. "There's nothing wrong with having feelings for another person, Finn."

He sighed again, this time more heavily. "I know... the problem is that I'm having them for you. That demon brought up things in me that I never thought I was capable of feeling. Now when I look at you, you're no longer the innocent little sister that I never had. You're... Phil. A young woman forced to grow up a bit earlier than she should have and doing things like walking through other people's dreams like it's the easiest thing in the world. How could I ever expect you to return any interest when I'm afraid to even touch you outside of my dreams?"

She chuckled lightly. "Finn," she reached up, pulling one of her hands from his and slapping it gently across his cheek. "You big dummy. For someone so smart, you really can be dense sometimes. We've known each other for ten years. Ten whole years of friendship. You've been there for me through everything. In all that time have I ever given you reason to think that I would abandon you because of something you said or did... or didn't do for that matter. No matter what, I care about you. Whether it's as friends, or something more... but I'll never force you into something you're uncomfortable with. I'm happy, just as we are, right now."

The hand she had abandoned reached up and tentatively brushed her wild bangs from her face. He chuckled jokingly. "Do you know how many times I've wanted to do that in the waking world? Maker's breath, Phil, let your eyes show. They're your best feature..." Then he paused and traced his fingertips down her face. "I know... from what you told me... Anders wasn't afraid to touch you... I can't... I can't give you that, Phil. I just can't..."

She snorted. "You see how long that lasted. One night beneath the sheets and then our lives went in opposite directions. From what I understand, he's Karl's problem now. What we have together is more than a shared sense of irony and bad jokes," she said reassuringly.

"A night beneath the sheets?" he asked with a frown. "You mean you...? when did that happen?"

"It was the night before my Harrowing," she admitted as he listened intently. "I was Anders' tether, not his lover. Whenever something didn't go his way, he would use it as an excuse to escape again. Then with some smooth words and an idiot grin, I was sucked right back in. After my Harrowing, we both realized that we had been wrong..." she explained angrily, still hurt that she had realized all of that much too late.

"I kind of want to give you that hug now, but I don't want you to think it's a pity hug. It's an 'I'm sorry' hug mixed with a 'can I make it better?' hug... You know, like normal friends give each other," he said nervously.

She snorted, stepping into his space and allowing him to slowly extricate his one hand still clasped with hers before hesitantly wrapping his arms around her. She melted into the embrace and hummed contentedly. "Message received."

His chuckle vibrated through her as he continued to hold her. "I don't really know how long these things are supposed to last..."

"As long as you want them to," she said, laying her head on his chest. He was those few years older than her, giving him an extra bit of height that she couldn't quite reach yet, if she ever would.

He held her for a few more satisfying minutes before pulling away. "So... what do we do now? I mean, now that your experiment worked..."

"Now, I wake us up... We can worry about the rest whenever you're ready. I just hope you don't forget all of this when you wake up. Dreams are fleeting after all..." She bit her lip, concerned now that he might forget everything they had just talked about.

He hummed thoughtfully. "There is one more thing I'd like to try before you wake us up... That is, if you're willing..." When she nodded, he leaned his head down closer to hers. "If I do this wrong, I apologize in advance..."

He tentatively brushed his lips against hers, and understanding that he was in the same boat she had been in when Anders had first kissed her, she gently guided him. His lips were soft, but there was something different about kissing in the Fade. People showed up in the Fade as their own representations of themselves or saw their loved ones as they knew them best. They were usually fairly accurate, but details were always missing. In the case with kissing in the Fade, the detail was in the skewed representation of basic sensory perception. In the real world, she knew that being this close to Finn, she would likely inhale the scent of dried herbs and soap as she breathed around his mouth. She guessed his mouth might taste like mint, or the beeswax he used to treat his chapped lips in the winter. Instead, there was no scent and no taste. She did, however, feel the light tickle of butterflies in her stomach as he instinctively pulled her closer to him, his hands resting flat on her back. She lifted her own hands to cup his neck, not pushing to deepen the kiss, but allowing him to lead. It was not awkward, but tentative and caring, backed with ten years of companionship.

When he finally drew back again, he smiled at her. "Thank you. It might not have been real, but I am glad we tried it."

She returned his smile. "Thank you for telling me how you feel. At least now, I know I'm not crazy..." She touched his face one last time, reveling in the way he actually leaned into her touch instead of shying away. "Close your eyes, Finn..."

He did as she asked, and she called on her mana again, drawing herself free of the Fade and bringing them both awake again. When she woke up, she was still sitting cross-legged, her head slumped with her chin to her chest. She blinked against the soft light of the glowing mage light he had left on in the room. She heard his bed creak as he shifted, waking as well.

She lifted her head and glanced at him, knowing instantly that he remembered everything from his expression. "Thank the Maker," she said softly, lifting her arms over her head to stretch a kink out of her back. She really hadn't been looking forward to feeling awkward if he hadn't remembered his dream.

"How do you feel?" he asked with concern, sitting up.

"A bit stiff, but otherwise intact. I was expecting worse. I'm glad to be wrong for a change," she admitted with a light chuckle.

"I would say we need to have a talk, but I think we said it all..." he sighed.

"And I meant what I said, Finn. I'm with you, no matter what," she reiterated with a reassuring smile. Then she dragged herself from the floor with a groan, picking up her bowl and wiping the invisible circle from the floor. "Next time, I'm using a chair."

"It feels really late. You should probably get out of here before the templars start stirring," he warned.

"I'll see you in the morning," she agreed, backing to his door with a smile that he returned happily. With a quick glance up and down the hall, she closed his door behind her and slipped back to her own room.

Chapter Text

Life continued on much the same in the Circle. With Finn's help, Philippa continued to harness her gifts, gaining more control. For her seventeenth birthday, Finn's annual card turned into a finely crafted bracelet ringed with tiny focus amulets that he had designed to resonate with the strength of the veil wherever she went. It helped her to nearly eliminate the need for the use of the herbs that she had started out with. When she asked him where he had gotten the idea, he shrugged and admitted that he had been consorting with the statue of Eleni Zinovia in the basement whenever he had a free afternoon.

A few months later, Bran was given a promotion and assigned to guard the door that led into the entry hall. It had apparently come to Gregoir's attention that Bran had become complacent in his duties, not having to do much beyond stroll slowly behind her, often letting her out of his sight. In spite of her clean record, because of her circumstances, the Knight-Commander insisted she be under supervision almost constantly. So when Bran was removed, he was replaced by a templar so green she thought he might accidentally smite her if she sneezed too loudly. He was nervous and stammered whenever she attempted to talk to him. His armor was always neatly polished, and the sword on his hip kept sharp and oiled. It almost struck her as if he were trying to impress someone. From what she could tell, Greagoir couldn't have cared less. In spite of his nervous outward appearance, Cullen had sharp amber eyes that loyally watched her every move from beneath his tightly coiled blonde curls.

That same year, tragedy struck her circle of friends. Philippa had known for a while that Neria and Kilian had a fling a couple of years back. He had confided in her once that he liked Neria, but she was ultimately a little too young for him. What she didn't know, was that after things had died down between them, Kilian had taken a shine to Brissa.

One afternoon, a few hours after lunch, Finn came rushing to her in the common room, uncharacteristically ruffled around the edges. "Phil!" he drew her attention, scooting to a stop beside her bench. "We have a really big problem..."

She took one look at him, as he opened his mouth to continue and stood swiftly to lead him off toward a corner. "Lower your voice. We can't just blurt things out around me. The walls have ears..." she reminded him softly, knowing that Cullen was lurking somewhere. He was much more discreet than Bran had ever been. "What's the problem?"

Finn took a deep breath and straightened his robes. "Of course." He cleared his throat and glanced around as well. He stepped slightly to her left and spoke to her with his eyes as he made an excuse. "I was just reading in the library because I had some free time, and I came across an error in their shelving system."

Realizing he needed to talk to her about something truly urgent, she nodded discreetly, using his body as a shield before she chuckled lightly. "Take a deep breath, Finn, and take me to the shelving error. I'll help you sort it. Okay?"

He nodded, allowing his shoulders to slump in false relief. He led her across the common room. She knew Cullen would lag behind, but soon be back on her trail. She only had moments to discreetly cross the library and get to the little nook where she and Anders had found a small amount of privacy after he had given her the dream-catcher. As soon as they passed through the archway into the hall that opened into the library, she quickened her pace and Finn easily kept up on his long legs. They barely garnered a glance as they hurried through the dozens of shelves and into the catalog room. Once they were in the smaller room, Philippa nudged Finn behind the tightly packed sets of shelves.

Once they were alone, she looked him over again. "This must be really important. Your robes are wrinkled."

He looked down at his front and groaned softly, rubbing his hands over the tiny wrinkles and then he said, "I really was reading... minding my own business, when Brissa comes up to me, tears in her eyes. She knows I've elected to continue my spirit healing full time, and she said she was too embarrassed and scared to go to any of the other Enchanters. She wanted me to... take care of a problem..." he hinted, a look of disgust on his face.

Philippa frowned as she took a moment to figure out what he meant. When it dawned on her, she reached up and covered her mouth, her own stomach flipping in fear. "Maker's breath! Is she certain? What did you tell her?"

"I panicked. I recommended she talk to Wynne... Phil, I'm not equipped to handle a crying girl... she should have gone to you," he moaned, rubbing his eyes in obvious stress.

She shook her head. "My expertise in the kinds of herbs she was asking for is no where near as advanced as yours... but we can't just help her abort a pregnancy. It's too messy. Someone will find out."

"They'll find out anyway," he pointed out.

"Shit..." she cursed, wracking her brain for a solution and coming up short. "Did she... did she tell you who the father might be?"

Finn pressed his lips together and rolled his eyes. "I'll give you one guess..."

"Shit..." she repeated. "They're both still apprentices. If this gets out... shit..."

"Yes, Phil. 'Shit' just about sums it up," he agreed with a growl.

Philippa bit her lip. "I really hate that I'm saying this, but we need to go to Wynne."

Finn nodded. "I thought the same thing. It feels so much like betrayal... she came to me for help and I'm turning her in." He made a choked sound. "But Wynne... has experience with this sort of thing. She told me once that she has a son my age. He was born here in the Circle."

Philippa's eyes widened at the new information, but she kept her mouth shut. Everyone was young once, and everyone made mistakes. "Then I think she's our best bet. Let me talk to Brissa first. Perhaps I can convince her to go on her own. Then you might not need to feel so guilty."

His shoulders slumped slightly. "Always the clever one," he teased lightly.

She scoffed. "Not stacked against you."

He snorted. "Of course not."

Anyone else, she would have playfully backhanded their chest or shoved their shoulder. With Finn, she pressed her lips together and frowned in mock insult. "And humble, too, I see. How did I ever get so lucky?"

 

Philippa sought Brissa after her duties in the children's dorm were finished that evening. When Brissa saw her coming, she rolled her eyes, folding in on herself. "Of course, he told you."

Philippa sat down across from Brissa, far enough into the dorm that she was sure that Cullen couldn't overhear their conversation. "I'm not here to judge you, Brissa. I just thought you might want to talk... woman to woman?"

Brissa sighed. "What do you want to hear, Phil? I know that anything I do will cause pain to either myself or someone I care about. And that is the best case scenario."

Philippa reached out and took Brissa's hand in hers. "You can't ask Finn to brew you up an herbal abortion," she said bluntly. "He's too squeamish to tell you, but I will explain exactly how messy that will be if you'd like. It's not something you can hide and then go about your daily routine like nothing happened. You need to tell someone. I would suggest Senior Enchanter Wynne. She would be your best opportunity for understanding and solutions. I could go with you if you'd like."

Brissa turned white as a sheet while Philippa spoke bluntly. "What will happen?" she gasped lightly. "If everyone finds out?"

Philippa hung her head, squeezing Brissa's hand. "I honestly don't have an answer that sounds favorable. I'm sorry, but honesty will be your best option, here."

Brissa drew in a ragged breath, swallowing tears and nodded slowly. "Can... Can we go now, please? Otherwise, I might lose my nerve."

Philippa smiled in relief. "Of course. She'll likely still be in the infirmary this time in the evening."

Philippa hooked Brissa's arm in hers after they stood and led her through the tower toward the infirmary. When they arrived at the infirmary, Philippa knocked lightly. Brissa tensed beside her while they waited for an answer. "I'm so scared, Phil. I think I'm going to be sick."

Philippa moved her hand to Brissa's back, rubbing soothingly up and down her spine. The door opened and Wynne looked out, her eyes flicking between the two of them. "Is everything all right, Phil?"

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Wynne, but there is something that needs your attention..."

 

After a heart-wrenching half hour, Philippa left Brissa and Wynne. She closed the door behind her, leaning her back against it. She leaned her head back, her eyes closed and sighed heavily. Whatever happened was in Wynne's hands, now. A sudden voice interrupted her quiet reflection and she jerked to attention. "That was a kind thing you did for your friend..."

"Maker's breath, Cullen. Do you have to sneak up on me like that?" she snapped, her hand settling on her chest over her racing heart. He was surprisingly stealthy for a man wearing full plate armor. Or she had simply been that distracted.

"Apologies, Enchanter Hawke," he said with a small sardonic smirk that rose to the right side of his mouth. "I didn't realize I was sneaking. I just thought you should know I admire what you did. It couldn't have been an easy decision."

She frowned. "How did you..?"

His smirk widened. "The library. Voices travel in the catalog room. That is a little tip for the next time you're sneaking around."

She drew her head back, surprised. "I'm shocked you didn't run to Greagoir right away..." she pointed out with a raised brow.

His smirk faltered. "As you well know, I was assigned to shadow you, not your friends. I'll admit, I was curious what you would do, so I let things play out. I can't know what it is like to be in your shoes, but I feel for the mages here. I realize you are all as much people with feelings and emotions as the rest of us. It cannot be easy."

Philippa managed to collect her jaw from where it hung open. "Are you sure you're a templar, Ser Cullen?" she asked with a light smirk of her own.

He looked down at his armor and chuckled deep in his throat. "The last time I checked, yes."

"Then you must have fallen asleep on 'how to spurn mages' day in templar school," she quipped. "For shame."

He tipped his head, still smirking. "I will do some extra readings from Transfigurations in my nightly prayers to remind myself. Good night, Enchanter Hawke."

 

After a week, the first repercussion of Brissa's confession came in the form of Kilian being transferred out of Kinloch Hold to another Circle in the Free Marches. They were not told which one, and were asked not to talk about it. The subject was difficult to avoid however, as the months passed, and Brissa's belly swelled. It seemed like the entire Circle was talking about her. Philippa perfected her threatening scowl during that time, setting it on anyone who dared to whisper behind her friend's back. Neria was much more vocal on the subject, calling out the whisperers loudly, much to Brissa's dismay.

The real tragedy of the situation came after the infant's birth. Philippa and Anders were allowed to sit in on the event as Wynne's students. Finn, too squeamish at the very thought of witnessing a birth, declined the experience. The sheer number of templars in the room was stifling and Anders fidgeted uncomfortably at Philippa's side as she held Brissa's hand and kept a cold compress on her sweat soaked brow. Philippa had not known that there were so many female templars that served in Kinloch Hold until they had all gathered around.

They were cramped in the infirmary for nearly a day while Brissa wailed in pain. Philippa's fingers were numb from losing circulation while Brissa squeezed her hand with a vice-like grip. Philippa had only a moment to glimpse the tiny infant when it slipped from between Brissa's legs before the templars swarmed around Wynne while she tended the newborn. It's cries pierced the relative quiet of the room that was only interrupted by Brissa's soft weeping and the dull clank of templar plate. Once Wynne declared it healthy, half of the templars left the room, the infant and it's cries disappearing with them. Philippa's heart broke as Brissa began to howl like a wounded animal. Nothing they did could calm her, and Philippa was finally asked to put her to sleep so Wynne could deliver the placenta and tend to her other needs.

Philippa stayed by her side, long after Wynne had finished. Anders quietly stayed as well. She watched her friend sleeping, her chest and throat tight as she tried not to hear the sound that Brissa had made when her last connection to Kilian had been taken from her. "This is wrong," Anders finally said after they sat in silence for Maker knew how long. Philippa remained silent, swallowing the lump in her throat. Anders, however, couldn't let it go. "Could you imagine if this had happened to us?" he said angrily.

She snapped her head around, knowing Cullen was likely just outside the door listening. He may have a soft spot for mages, but he was still a templar. "Well, it didn't. Let's be thankful it never got this far. I'd rather not think about it."

He gaped at her for a moment and then sighed. "I'm sorry, Phil. I just... I think about you sometimes. I miss you. Not like that, but as my friend. How are you doing?"

She glanced at him, her eyes studiously judging whether he had some ulterior motive or if he was just being friendly. Sometimes it was difficult to tell when it came to Anders. "I wasn't the one who pulled away, Anders. I was willing to be friends, but you seemed to decide that you could only be friends with a single person at a time." She reached over and fiddled aimlessly with her bracelet. "Taking a lover doesn't mean you stop having other friends."

He watched her closely for a moment and then his eyes narrowed. "I suppose the peerless Flora understands that, does he?"

She sighed heavily and rolled her eyes. "Is this really the place, Anders?" He was scowling when her eyes landed on him. "Better yet, do you have the right to be jealous of my friendships?"

He scoffed. "Friendship... right."

It was her turn to get angry. "I'm sorry. I forgot. You're the one who can't just be friends with someone without thinking about what's under their robes," she said spitefully. Normally she would never be so cruel, but she was tired, and he didn't, and didn't care to, understand her relationship with Finn. "Once you find that out, your interest flies out the window... followed very closely by your person so the templars can drag you back again. I think you must enjoy it in the dungeons. You seem so eager to return to them."

Anders pressed his lips together. "I would have thought that seeing something like this first hand would make you understand why I've tried so many times to escape this place..."

She had completely forgotten Cullen until the door came open and he cleared his throat loudly. "Enchanter Hawke, forgive me, but Senior Enchanter Wynne has requested to see you."

Philippa cut her eyes one last time at Anders as he seethed before getting up from the chair she had occupied for the last day and followed Cullen from the room. Her limbs were stiff and her heart still hurt, but she followed him with her shoulders squared and her back straight, automatically stepping in his footsteps and not paying much attention to where he was taking her. When he stopped, she paused as well, ready to thank him for delivering her to Wynne until she realized they were outside her own bedroom.

When she glanced at him in surprise, he shrugged lightly, his armor clanking softly. "It sounded like your conversation was getting pretty heated back there, so I intervened. I hope you don't mind."

She sighed with mild relief. "As much as I relish giving Anders an earful, I do appreciate not having to do it tonight. I'm exhausted. Thank you, Ser Cullen."

"Good night, Enchanter Hawke," he bowed his head as he backed away.

Philippa went into her room and dropped heavily onto her bed. She slipped her hand beneath her pillow as she spread out on her stomach and touched a piece of parchment. Smiling, she pulled the note from beneath her pillow and recognized Finn's neat and curly penmanship.

Weaver,

When you get in, meet me in the usual spot.

Natty

Philippa didn't even need time to think about what the cryptic note meant. Finn had taken to calling her Weaver in private. It was his nickname for her that he used if, like now, they needed to talk or he wanted to see her and the only way he could reach her was by note. The nicknames protected them both when they were planning after hours somniari work. No one would know who was passing the notes, nor that the 'usual spot' was inside his dreams. She had jokingly called him natty while they were making up the code, another word for his always polished look, and it had stuck after he laughed about it for nearly five whole minutes.

She tossed the note into her bin, igniting it before it reached the bottom and rolled to her back. Folding her hands over her stomach, she closed her eyes and drew on her mana. She reached out across the space between them, finding his familiar aura. As she expected, he was already asleep. She dipped easily into the Fade, needing no help from outside sources anymore. With all the practice she had, it had become like casting any other spell. It was second nature.

His dream tonight was in the Circle library, so holding onto the image was unnecessary. With a few adjustments, she pulled his consciousness into his dream self and approached him. He recognized her immediately and stood from the chair he was in, setting down the book in his hands, used to her intruding on his dreams, now. "You got my note, I see," he said with a grin as she reached him. He set his hands on her hips and leaned in to steal a short kiss from her lips. Somehow, it had never been odd that their physical relationship only existed in this realm. They had both accepted it, content in the way they interacted in the real world.

She hummed her agreement, savoring the contact. "I almost didn't. It's really late, and I'm exhausted." She leaned her head against his chest. "You should be glad you opted out of being there. I almost wish I had. It was horrible."

He hugged her tightly. "I'm sorry, Phil. What happened?"

She sighed. "For one, you couldn't swing a staff without hitting a templar. I didn't even see whether the babe was a boy or a girl before they whisked it from the room, still screaming. After that, I had to use my sleep spell on Brissa because she lost her mind, wailing beyond sense. After everyone cleared out, Anders was spitting coals about how wrong everything was. I was so tired that I rose to his bait and said some pretty mean things before Cullen stepped in with a fabricated excuse to get me out of there... All in all, fantastic day..." she said sarcastically.

He kissed the top of her head before pulling away. "I'm glad you stopped in. I figured you might need to talk a little more privately than the breakfast table tomorrow morning."

"Always thinking of me," she said with a smile. "What would I do without you?"

 

When Brissa woke up in the morning, she tearfully requested to be made tranquil. She didn't feel like she was capable of handling the heartbreak of losing both Kilian and her baby. After a Chantry sister was brought in to evaluate the situation, her request was approved. Within two weeks of the birth, after her body had healed enough, Brissa was put to the brand. Philippa could hardly stand to pass through the stockroom after that. Seeing her friend's large dark eyes staring so vacantly made her chest ache. Faye, who had been Brissa's best friend, turned to the Chantry to help her through the loss. Philippa couldn't bring herself to do the same. Her time in the Circle had not encouraged her religious beliefs. Praying to a god that wasn't listening seemed like a waste.

As life continued forward, Harrowings were set and passed, apprentices moved up from the children's dorms and Philippa got a whole new set of children to bond with as well as a litter of dragonlings to help raise. Her favorite apprentice, Solona Amell rose to the challenge of her teenage years with fervor. She was a particularly talented mage whose powers never seemed to settle on anything in particular. She was given the rare privilege of becoming pupil to the First Enchanter himself. She blossomed early, much like Philippa herself had, but she didn't have the additional height to keep her from filling out in all of the right places. Add in her shining personality and her caring heart, and she became the object of affection for many of the apprentices around her age. As the years passed, she caught the attention of another unlikely admirer as well. In spite of their age gap, friendship with Philippa exposed Solona to Cullen's scrutiny. Soon, Cullen reverted to his nervous, stammering self whenever Solona was around and his cheeks were constantly flushed red. In spite of her usual facetious demeanor, Philippa decided against poking that particular hornet's nest. She had already lost two friends to poor decisions. She refused to encourage more bad ideas. Solona was enough of a loose canon without Philippa's help.

Anders moved past his Harrowing when he was barely 20 years old. Philippa was actually surprised to feel a wash of relief when she heard the news. They had been friends once, and his antics had convinced her that he might never take his Harrowing. Those antics were renewed after years of complacence when Karl was transferred to the Kirkwall Circle soon after his own Harrowing. They found Anders days later in West Hill trying to buy passage to Kirkwall, earning him another brief stay in the dungeons. The attempt after that one took him a few years to plan, and he disappeared for nearly two months while the templars hunted him down. When they brought him back, Greagoir had finally had enough, sentencing him to a full year in solitary confinement.

 

"Are you sure you're not coming down with something?" Finn's nervously concerned voice hummed through the fog of the migraine splitting her head in two. She hadn't even realized that she had been resting her temples on her fingertips as she stared at the tome open in front of her on the desk. She hadn't actually read anything for a least ten minutes.

"I'm all right," she said, cringing at the sound of her own voice.

"This is the third headache you've had this week, Phil..." he reminded her gently.

She slid the book away from her and closed it gently so the sound of it slapping together would not bounce around in her head like Finn's had when he set it down. "I wouldn't describe this as a headache. It's more like my brain has been removed, put in a mortar and ground to a pulp before being put back in my skull which was then nailed shut."

Finn cringed. "Thank you for that very vivid description... Would you... like me to run a few tests? I am a certified spirit healer, now."

She tried to chuckle, but it came out a strained groan. "You just want to make sure I'm not contagious."

"Germ demons," he said with a smile.

Her responding smile was forced. She felt his magic touch her briefly and the throbbing eased to a dull roar. She hummed her thanks. "That feels much better."

"I still think you should let me do a thorough examination. You've never had migraines before," he nagged.

Before she could respond, Solona came striding importantly into the mages library. Philippa almost protested before she noticed that Solona was proudly wearing a set of yellow mage's robes. "You've taken your Harrowing!" she said excitedly, standing from her seat and ignoring the flash of pain that shot across her forehead.

Solona ran up to her and threw her arms around Philippa. "Didn't Cullen tell you?" Solona asked, her voice excited as she pulled away. "He told me he was the one that was supposed to put a sword through my middle if I failed."

Philippa glanced around. "I can't say I've seen Cullen all morning. But, congratulations!"

"Thanks! I can't stay long. I promised Jowan I would meet him for an early lunch," Solona said, hugging Philippa again. "I'll see you later at supper."

Finn snorted as Solona trotted off. "I'll bet Jowan's steamed. He's been here forever and little Sol got to take her Harrowing before him."

As Finn continued, a stranger entered the library from the guest wing and passed through, heading for the first floor. He wore distinctive armor, colored in silver and blue, and trimmed with ornamental silverite griffons on the pauldrons. His dark hair was pulled back in a tight tail, and he sported a neatly trimmed beard and a golden earring in his right lobe. His skin was dark, speaking of a non-native heritage. Possibly Tevinter or Rivain. Philippa's brain felt like too much mush to try and decipher which by his other features. "Is that a Grey Warden?" she wondered, eyeing the large and menacing daggers that were tucked against his hips.

Finn looked away from her to turn around and get a look at the stranger. "So his armor tells us. He's probably here to garner more support for the war effort. With all of the mages he's taken already, you would think King Cailan is trying to have whole platoons of us throwing fire at the enemy."

"It's not a bad idea," she shrugged with a chuckle. "Firestorms are particularly effective against Darkspawn. Or at least that's what I've read."

"Half the Senior Enchanters are gone already..." Finn suddenly paused and looked her over thoughtfully. "You don't think your headaches are because of the Blight, do you?"

Philippa opened her mouth to deny the idea, but then quickly closed it with a frown. "Perhaps?"

"I mean... they say Darkspawn are related to the Fade and the Archdemons are the Old Gods awakened and tainted by the Blight. You said yourself that the ancient Tevinter dreamers used to worship the Old Gods. Maybe they were on to something," Finn said, getting up from his seat and heading into the stacks.

She watched him picking through a few tomes, his mind focusing to the singular task of gathering information to try and help her feel better. She smiled, wondering how she had gotten so lucky.

 

Finn had finally convinced Philippa to take a nap a few hours later when his research didn't garner any answers. She was jerked quite suddenly from her slumber by a sharp tug on the veil in the tower. It was accompanied by the clamoring of the spirits hovering in the Fade. They had enough time to shout 'danger!' before she woke. She got up from her bed and stumbled for the hallway. Yanking the door open, she blindly made her way toward the unnatural feeling that was piercing the Veil. Someone had consorted with a demon. She could feel the sticky presence.

Following the demon's lingering touch, her head began to throb again. It led her downstairs, through the library, and to the entrance to the common room. Beyond the doorway, a commotion was happening. Nearly a dozen templars, the First Enchanter, and a Chantry initiate were in attendance, some of them lying on the ground and others making their way back to their feet. The strange Grey Warden stood off to the side, watching everything with a calculating eye. A puddle of blood stained the stone floor, and in the middle of it all stood Solona, looking both shocked and appalled. She glanced around at everything before rushing to Irving's side. She dropped to her knees beside him, her fresh yellow robes collecting the blood on the floor, and placed her hands on his shoulder. "First Enchanter!"

Irving stirred, groaning. "Are you all right? Where's Greagoir?"

The Knight Commander got to his feet, his face red with outrage as he pressed fingers to his forehead. “I knew it... Blood magic... but to overcome so many... I never thought him capable of such power.”

Solona hung her head, her brown hair falling over her face to block her expression before helping the First Enchanter to his feet. “I can't believe he just did that.”

“None of us suspected this. Are you all right, Greagoir?” Irving asked, clutching a small wound in his side.

“As good as can be expected, given the circumstances. If you'd let me act sooner, this would not have happened!” Greagoir scolded. “Now we have a blood mage on the loose with no way to track him down!”

“He can't have gone far,” Solona said timidly, bending under the anger of the Knight-Commander. What in the Maker's name had happened?

“He will be very difficult to locate without his Phylactery,” Irving sighed. A sharp fear pierced Philippa's gut. Who was the blood mage?

Greagoir ignored them and grunted. “Where is the girl?”

“I... I am here, ser,” the Chantry initiate said quietly, stepping from behind a pillar near the basement stairs.

“You helped a blood mage!” Greagoir accused, bearing down on her. “Just look at all he's hurt.”

“Lily had no idea Jowan was a blood mage,” Solona spoke up boldly, her green-blue eyes defiant. Jowan! Maker's tears, no wonder Irving had kept him from his Harrowing. He must have known, Philippa's thoughts raced.

The girl hung her head and closed her eyes. “You have been a kind friend, but you needn't defend me anymore. Knight-Commander, I... I was wrong. I was accomplice to a... a blood mage. I will accept whatever punishment you see fit. Even... Even Aeonar,” the initiate said boldly.

“Get her out of my sight,” Greagoir growled to the couple of templars that had made it to their feet. “and you...” he turned his ire on Solona. “You know why the repository exists. Some artifacts some magics are locked away for a reason!”

“Did you take anything important from the repository?” Irving asked her calmly.

Solona shook her head wildly, the young girl Philippa knew appearing in seconds through the mask of the woman she now bore. She knew better. “No.”

“Very well, I believe you,” Irving sighed.

“But your antics have made a mockery of this Circle!” Greagoir looked her over and growled in frustration. “Ah, what are we to do with you?”

Solona opened her mouth and the only thing that came out was an excuse that Philippa could tell she regretted even as she said it. “I didn't know he was a blood mage.”

“And you think this excuses you?!” Greagoir said in outrage. “You helped a blood mage escape. All our prevention measures for naught! Because of you!”

Solona had no arguments left. She lowered her head again in defeat. What would Greagoir do? Philippa nearly stepped in to defend her, but suddenly, the Grey Warden broke his silence, stepping up beside Solona. “Knight-Commander, if I may. I am not only looking for mages to join the King's army. I am also recruiting for the Grey Wardens... Irving spoke highly of this mage and I would like her to join the Warden ranks.”

Before Greagoir could protest, Irving did so for him. “Duncan, this mage has assisted a Maleficar and shows a lack of regard for the Circle's rules.”

“She is a danger. To all of us!” Greagoir added.

The Warden scoffed. “It is a rare person who risks all for a friend in need. I stand by my decision. I will recruit this mage.”

“No!” Greagoir seethed. “I refuse to let this go unpunished!”

Solona shrank away from Greagoir and closer to the Warden as they argued over her like a piece of meat. “If the Grey Wardens will have me, I will gladly go,” she offered timidly.

“Greagoir, mages are needed. This mage is needed,” The Warden said pointedly. “Worse things plague this world than blood mages. You know that... I take this young mage under my wing and bear all responsibility for her actions.”

“A blood mage escapes, and his accomplice is not only unpunished, but is rewarded by becoming a Grey Warden!?” Greagoir was furious. “Are our laws nothing? Have we lost all authority over our mages? This does not bode well, Irving.”

“Enough,” the First Enchanter sighed. “We have no more say in this matter.”

“So, I am to be a Grey Warden?” Solona asked, barely checking the excitement in her voice.

“Yes.” Irving smiled slightly. “Be proud, child. You are luckier than you know.”

She returned his smile and the Warden led her toward the hall to the front door. “Come. Your new life awaits.”

Philippa could hardly believe what she had just witnessed. Little Solona, barely nineteen and fresh from her Harrowing was being led off to become a Grey Warden, and Jowan was a blood mage who had managed to destroy his Phylactery and escape. As the gathering recovered and began to disperse, Philippa moved from the doorway, uncertain if she should be caught eavesdropping on that particular fiasco.

Chapter Text

A few weeks passed in relative peace. The Circle was quiet with so many mages gone to Ostagar to fight against the Darkspawn. Philippa had volunteered to go, being the best battle mage in the Circle, but Greagoir had outright denied her request. It was apparent that even after her Harrowing ten years ago, he still didn't trust that she wasn't going to go running to the first demon that offered her ultimate power.

Anders was let out of his cage, but you wouldn't know it. He went straight to his bedroom and refused to speak to anyone, his skin pale and his face and robes shabby and unkempt. She had caught his eye on his way past, but all she received was an emotionless stare before he disappeared.

When Wynne and the remaining senior enchanters returned from Ostagar, it was with grave news. The army had been overrun by the Darkspawn, and the battle subsequently lost. By all accounts, the King was dead, and all of the Grey Wardens with them. Tears rushed to Philippa's eyes when she heard the news. Solona had been a dear friend, and far too young for that fate. So no one would see her cry, she headed up to the fourth floor to check in on the dragonlings and shed her tears alone. She barely made it past Thunder's cage when the sobs overwhelmed her. She stopped and leaned on the wall with a hand, the other over her aching heart. She gasped for breath around the choking grief. She hadn't even cried this hard three years ago when she had received a letter from her mother, informing her that her father had passed away. Solona and the rest of the Circle. They were her family. Losing Solona was like losing a sister.

A hand fell lightly on her shoulder. "Enchanter Hawke?"

She turned around, seeing his own grief flashing over Cullen's face. Solona had wormed her way into his heart as well, even if he was too much of a templar to ever admit it. Somehow, knowing he shared her pain on some level allowed her the strength to draw in a long ragged breath and roughly wipe the tears from her cheeks. "I'm sorry, Ser Cullen. I just..."

"I know," he agreed solemnly. "I don't mean to stand in the way of your grief. I only thought to offer some comfort. Maker only knows how you must feel."

"Me?" she asked gently, wiping away more stray tears. "I know how you felt about her... No, don't protest. Just... I'm sorry, too." She threw caution to the wind in the deserted wing and wrapped her arms around the heavily armored templar, hugging him as best she could.

After a few moments of sputtered protests during which he stood stock still, he finally sighed and cautiously returned the hug briefly before pulling away and rubbing the back of his neck nervously. "Thank you," he mumbled gruffly.

 

Ever since the senior enchanters had returned, Philippa had a nagging headache that nestled itself directly behind her eyes and circled up into her forehead. Two days after, a cluster of the mages were called to a meeting with Irving, she and Finn among them. She was not looking forward to it with the headache thumping in her skull. Meetings like these were usually boring.

She had long since zoned out, her head throbbing as the usual back and forth of Circle business echoed around the meeting hall. Finn's foot nudged hers gently under the table and when she looked up, he was looking at her with a raised brow. Before she could answer it with any gesture of her own, their silent conversation was interrupted.

Philippa felt it the second the demon entered Uldred. She was blinded momentarily by an explosion of agony combined with a stunning spell that erupted around the room. Trying to regain her senses in the maelstrom of activity around her, she drew on her mana and erected a barrier around herself before dipping beneath the table to avoid any more of the magic being slung around the room. She cursed herself for leaving her staff in her bedroom, thinking she couldn't possibly need it for a simple meeting. "Finn!" she called out over the crackling of lightning, the steady 'whomp' sound of physical magic, and the other raised voices shouting. She crawled beneath the table to where he stood and grabbed hold of his robes to tug him down with her.

He crouched beside her. "The floor, Phil?" he complained in an aside as he stifled a spell he had readied in defense.

"Not the time, Finn... Uldred. He's an abomination." She cringed, gripping her head against the massive headache. "Argh, I can feel the demon." She paused, trying to breathe. "That spell he cast was a signal..." She snatched his hand and turned his palm upwards. She traced a sigil into his palm, pushing magic into the invisible etching. "There are more blood mages here than we know." When she finished the spell, a hand grabbed hold of her shoulder and yanked her from beneath the table, Finn with her.

"We need to get out of here," Cullen growled as he dragged them both towards the door.

Spells were bouncing off her barrier, weakening it by the second. She stumbled, the strain of the weakened veil and the influx of freshly summoned demons taking it's toll. She barely made it to the door and into the hallway before somehow her robes got tangled around her legs and she nearly hit the ground. She landed awkwardly in Finn's arms as Cullen stopped to turn on them. She whimpered as the demons on the other side of the veil clamored nearby, stirred by the activity, looking for a host, and pounding inside her head.

"What's the matter with her?" He asked Finn as Philippa sagged in his arms.

Finn shifted her back onto her feet, his hands on her upper arms. His magic slipped over her and she groaned. "It's the demons. They know what she is, and they're attacking her."

"She needs to get away from here," Cullen growled.

"Phil!" Finn's left hand came up to gently tap her cheek and draw her attention. "Phil, listen. We need to help the others... Focus, Weaver!" At the nickname, spoken aloud, she snapped to attention, fighting the fog around her to pay heed to the man in front of her. When he saw her eyes locked on his, he sighed softly. "Phil, you need to go... Head for the first floor and gather the children. I need to help Irving and the others."

She nodded slowly, walling up her connection to the Fade so she could think. "I want to help." She protested.

He smiled gently. "Help me by getting yourself safe. You're in no state to be casting."

She sighed heavily. "For Andraste's sake, be safe..." she begged before her eyes flicked to Cullen. "Both of you."

Finn surprised her by leaning in to press a kiss to her cheek before he pushed her gently toward the stairs. "Go..."

As she left his side, she prayed that the sigil she had traced in his palm would protect him from the blood mages. She hurried through the corridors, activity all around her. Uldred's signal had reached all of his minions. They had turned on the templars and small battles were being fought throughout the halls. She reached her room and grabbed her staff, the personalized glyph work she had carved into the wood, lending her a modicum of protection from the pounding in her skull as she activated the enchantments and replenished her barrier with new focus.

It wasn't far to the mages' library and the first floor from her quarters. She sprinted past the guest wing, running into Anders who was swinging his staff in an arc against an abomination. The monster that had once been one of her fellow mages snarled angrily. The top half of it's robes had completely ripped away when it turned, leaving the raw, discolored, and mutated skin exposed. It towered a foot above Anders, swiping it's long claws for his face. He barely blocked the attack. Charging forward, she drew on her mana, the pain jolting across her forehead as she reached for the Fade. She pointed the head of her staff toward the abomination and flames burst from the tip, lighting the thing on fire. It shrieked as she continued to assault it, moving to Anders' side.

"What the bloody hell is happening?" he asked her as the abomination fell dead and she pulled him back from the corpse before it exploded into a pile of ash and bone shards.

"Apparently Uldred has been practicing blood magic, and teaching some of his pupils to follow in his footsteps. He attacked Irving, and the rest of us in the meeting." She grabbed hold of his arm. "Come on. We need to get as many of the children to safety as we can."

He followed behind her, erecting his own barrier. "Are you all right, Phil? You look like death."

"It's the demons," she grunted, hurrying down the stairs toward the library where classes were likely being held at this time of day. "My head feels like it's splitting in two."

Anders seemed to find something amusing, chuckling as they passed through the catalog room. "Isn't it ironic? They spend so much time worrying about making sure you're being watched at all times, that they failed to notice the senior enchanter teaching apprentices blood magic."

"Jokes on them," she growled spitefully. "Now they're all dead... or soon will be if they can't get this under control."

They stepped into the library proper and Philippa saw Petra standing between a gaggle of young apprentices, bleeding profusely from her abdomen, and Wynne. The senior Enchanter was engaged with a flesh and blood demon that had been summoned. It slithered toward her like a slug, hovering off the floor. It was a lesser demon, Philippa noted. A shade. It attacked Wynne, and she fought back. Philippa had no time to rush to her aid as the demon lashed out it claws distinctly slashing across the mage's throat. Philippa jerked forward to aid her former mentor as both she and the demon fell to the floor. The demon's body puffed out of existence, but Wynne laid prone on the floor. Philippa knelt beside her, Petra close behind. She pressed her hands over the blood oozing from Wynne's neck and could not feel a pulse fluttering beneath her fingers.

Another presence slipped around Philippa's awareness and a moment later, Wynne's pulse returned and she coughed heavily, stirring back to consciousness. Philippa knew she hadn't healed Wynne, and Anders was all of the way across the library, checking that the coast was clear. She frowned slightly as Wynne sat up beneath her bloody hands. "Thank you for coming to my aid," the senior enchanter said with a slightly rough voice. "I thought I was done for."

Philippa opened her mouth, a brief protest sputtering out before Wynne's eyes widened and she shook her head so slightly that Philippa pressed her lips together, her own eyes narrowing. "We need to get the children to safety."

Wynne nodded and allowed Philippa to help her to her feet. They gathered everyone in the library and headed toward the children's dorms. Philippa noticed that Anders had disappeared, but her concern was not for him, but for the apprentices she could save. By the time they reached the front doors, they had been barred shut. "There's nothing for it. Greagoir will have sealed the doors, and will likely call for the Right of Annulment," Wynne said with a sigh. "If we are to keep these children safe, we must return to the common room and erect a barrier between us and the rest of the Circle. That should keep the demons and abominations at bay."

 

Once they had returned to the common room, Wynne personally erected a barrier in the archway to the library. The air shimmered with color, indicating for anyone approaching that it was there. Petra, Kinnon, and Keili, who had all been in the library when everything started, took the children under their wings, soothing away the tears and calming nerves so there would be no out of control emotions that might spark unwanted outbursts of magic among the younger ones. All in all, they had saved over half a dozen apprentices. It seemed a small number compared to the mages and templars still fighting upstairs.

Philippa sat down on a bench near the basement, pulling her legs up underneath her and pressing her fingers to her temples to try and rub away some of the lingering discomfort of being faced with flesh and blood demons and abominations. Her stomach was churning and her heart pounding with worry. Nearly everyone she cared about was up there fighting while she sat here nursing a headache. She should be there, helping.

Wynne soon joined her on the bench as the others entertained the children. With a gentle sigh, she said, "I suppose you have questions about what happened in the library."

Philippa looked up from where she had been staring aimlessly at the floor and sighed as well. "There's no need. I felt the spirit as it entered your body. Just like I felt it when Uldred's demon came through. It was different, though. It doesn't feel malicious."

Wynne smiled sweetly. "Silly me. Here I am forgetting just how special you are. It must be my age creeping up on me."

"I don't feel all that special right now. In fact, what I am feeling is useless." Philippa buried her face in her hands, trying to hold back her tears, breathing in deeply to exhale, renewing her focus on the wall between her and the Fade and running her fingers through her messy hair. "Finn is up there fighting and I'm here, babysitting."

"It is no small responsibility to be in our shoes at the moment. These children are the future of the Circle, just as you were when you first got here. I must ask, however, what happened? What started all of this?" Wynne asked, an expression on her face saying she might already know, but needed confirmation.

Philippa sighed. "I've been having these headaches for weeks now. Finn and I suspected it might have something to do with the Blight, so I ignored them. Turns out they were warning me about all of the blood mages. I was fighting off a particularly nasty one this morning when I was called to the meeting with Irving. I didn't pay much attention to what was being said because of my head. Then all of a sudden, Uldred summoned a demon and the Void broke loose." She paused and frowned as Wynne nodded as if Philippa's story was solidifying her own theories. "Luckily, I had the presence of mind to hide behind a barrier and drag Finn under the table with me. I placed a protective sigil on him before Cullen dragged us out of the room. I don't know what happened after that. Finn told me to come down and help with the children because in all the chaos, I could barely see straight from all the demonic presence."

Wynne nodded in sympathy. "From what I understand, the presence of demons is agony for somniari. I... apologize if my own spirit is causing you any unease."

Philippa looked up at Wynne. "Even if it were, I honestly don't think I would be able to suss out the difference with everything going on here. It's chaos."

Wynne hummed softly and looked away. "Chaos that I may have had a hand in seeding. I was not entirely truthful with Greagoir after I returned from Ostagar. I told Irving about what really happened. The purpose of that meeting you attended today was to confront Uldred about a deal he and the Circle had been cultivating with Teyrn Loghain. I informed Irving about what really happened at Ostagar. The army was not overrun, they were betrayed... by the very same Teyrn Loghain who was offering the Circle freedom from the Chantry. If the First Enchanter could have been convinced, the mages would have turned on the King as well. Luckily Irving had still been waffling when the Teyrn acted."

Philippa sat straighter. "You might feel guilty, but this is not your fault, Wynne. Irving needed to know, and it was Uldred's choice to deal with a demon. The only shame is that so many followed on his heels."

 

The hours stretched into days, and Philippa's thoughts turned inwards. Her head was in constant agony, and the pain was making her nauseous. She had tried several times, but she couldn't reach Finn in the Fade and it made her fear the worst. She wished beyond anything that she could find out what was going on beyond Wynne's barrier. By the third day, the children were complaining of hunger, and it was becoming more difficult to keep them calm. The older mages, herself included, had kept them all watered by summoning ice into cups left around the dorms, and then melting it with a blast of fire.

Around mid-morning on the fourth day, it seemed like the demons and abominations in the tower had grown bored with whoever was left inside and discovered them on the other side of the barrier. She finally got a chance to fight, even through the pain. Some of the more clever demons found their way around the barrier to attack them. Wynne was in the middle of dispatching one such demon, a fiery pool of living lava built on rage, when Philippa heard someone approaching from the entry hall. Logically, no one that didn't mean them all harm should be coming from that hall. With her heart racing, ready to defend her charges, Philippa spun, lifting her staff and drawing her mana. She nearly dropped the weapon when she saw who was standing before her.

"Solona!" she gasped, wondering whether she had finally gone mad. "You're supposed to be dead."

The young mage had changed in the last few weeks. She stood proudly with her staff mounted on her back with a harness. She wore the uniform of the Grey Wardens, altered from the heavy plate that one of her companions was wearing, but in the same blue and silver. Somehow, she looked older, more mature, than when the Warden, Duncan, had led her from this very room. She crossed her arms and smirked slightly. "No quite, but you all look like you could use some help."

Wynne stepped forward, addressing Solona as Philippa gaped still in surprise. “You! Why have you returned? How did you get in? Are the templars attacking?”

Solona held up her hands to stave off Wynne's barrage of questions. “Don't worry, the Rite of Annulment hasn't arrived yet.”

Wynne visibly deflated, her arms going lax and her shoulders slumping. Philippa's own heart began to race as Wynne closed her eyes in defeat. “So Greagoir did send for it, then...”

“Yes, which means we don't have much time. He allowed me to come in to search for survivors, but won't open the doors for anyone but Irving,” Solona explained.

Wynne glanced back at Philippa and the others before she returned her gaze to Solona. “Allow me to come with you and we will find Irving together.”

Philippa grunted as Solona nodded brusquely, glancing at the other two people that had entered with her, before accepting Wynne's help. “We must clear the tower, and save as many as we can.”

Wynne straightened her red robes and brushed her short white hair into a semblance of a tail. “Phil... You and the others stay here and watch the children. I will return as soon as I can.”

“But Wynne,” Petra, said softly, her hand finding Wynne's shoulder. “You were so very hurt earlier. Are you sure you're all right? Perhaps I should come, too...”

"I should help, too," Philippa agreed. "Kinnon and Keili can watch after the others..."

Wynne smiled softly and took Philippa's hands in hers. “I will be fine. I need you here to help with the children.” Then she glanced at Solona. “Come. We shouldn't waste time.”

Wynne turned toward the barrier, and before she followed her, Solona stepped up to Philippa. "I'm so glad you're alive," she said, throwing her arms around Philippa's shoulders.

"Me?" Philippa scoffed. "We thought you were dead at Ostagar." She returned her friend's hug tightly.

"I'll tell you all about it after I save the Circle," Solona said with a chuckle, pulling away. Then she turned to her companions, one a woman around Philippa's age with bright red hair wearing simple studded leather armor, and the other a young man in his very early twenties in heavy Warden armor, a shield strapped to his back, blonde hair that stuck straight up in the front and kind blue eyes. She nudged the man. "See what happens? I leave for a few weeks and the whole place goes to shit..." She received a snort of laughter from the man for her trouble before he followed on her heel, looking as smitten as every other man that Solona came across, as she approached Wynne.

“I am surprised I was able to keep this in place for so long.” Wynne mused, studying her own barrier.

“Did it tire you out?” Solona asked, her carefree attitude disappearing to be replaced by the business end of her personality as she touched her hand to the barrier.

“I did what I had to to protect who I could... Step back.” Solona did as she was asked and Wynne twisted her fingers in a rapid motion. The barrier fell, the residual magic seeping across Philippa's skin.

She nearly followed after them as they disappeared through the door, but Wynne had asked her to remain behind. Once they disappeared into the library, Philippa replaced the barrier, hoping she was able to do as Wynne had and keep it in place for so long.

 

Wynne and Solona had been gone for hours. Philippa was beginning to get concerned. There were any number of horrible scenarios that flitted through her aching mind as the time passed. She had just found out Solona was alive. To lose her so soon after to this chaos would be unbearable, not to mention Wynne who had been like a mother to her for the last eighteen years. Finally, she couldn't stand not knowing any longer. She stood from the bench she was on and approached Petra. "Petra, would you mind taking over the barrier. I need to rest."

"Of course," Petra said with a sweet smile. She cast a barrier over the door and Philippa allowed hers to fizzle out.

She left the common room and headed for the dormitories. She settled herself on one of the beds and closed her eyes, drawing her mana around her. Walking the Fade was the easy part. Doing it while demons lurked the tower was a nightmare. As soon as she entered the familiar Fade constructed version of the tower, she left the bed she was in and set forth. Everywhere she looked, there were remnants of dead spirits stirring in the aether. They were accompanied by the howls of the trapped spirits of the deceased apprentices that she had been working so hard to free, yet could never figure out how. Philippa hugged herself as she made her way through the eerie backdrop.

Solona had apparently been very busy as she and her companions made their way through the tower. There was no trouble to be found until she reached the stairway that led to the fourth floor. Looking past the Veil into the real world required immense concentration, but Philippa persisted as the Fade flickered around her. She saw the reason for the disruption and cringed. All around the floors and walls, mounds of raw flesh in no discernible shape clung to every surface available. The Fade seemed to be manifesting itself in the real world.

The growths got thicker as she climbed the stairs to the fourth floor and entered into the barracks. She drew back her sight. Knowing what the flickers were was more than enough information. Dread seeped into her as she neared the central spire that separated the barracks from the dragon pens. Something horrible was beyond that door.

Slipping into the spire, she stopped dead in her tracks, nausea overwhelming her. Something tugged at her consciousness and she fought back, struggling to maintain her hold on the dream. Someone, or something was fighting her for dominance of her thoughts. She took in her surroundings, noting that the world had been rearranged to meet the whims of the demon lurking there, and found the source in the center of the room. It was a demon, though she could not identify its nature. It stood in what it considered it's domain, shaping itself to look like what she had only ever heard described as an Arcane Horror. It wore brown robes, distorted and jumbled around the emaciated shape of a human being. Its thin, stick-like arms were bare save for the wide golden bracelets around both wrists, and its features on it's face were obscured by a matching helm that looked to Philippa like a child had found the helm of a soldier and tried it on, the front falling down to cover their eyes. She crossed her arms as the demon glanced up from whatever it was doing. "You do not belong here, dreamer," it said in a droll and lethargic tone that tried to draw her in again.

"No," she agreed breathily. "But last I checked, you weren't supposed to be here either. Looks like we're both in the wrong place. Oops."

"It seems like a lot of effort for you to continue to resist. Come over here to me and I could help ease the pain you've been suffering. There's no need for you to endure such hardships when you could simply rest."

Philippa swayed slightly on her feet, but forced herself to think of everyone who needed her help. "We've not been properly introduced. Sloth, is it?" she jabbed, letting the demon know she was on to it.

Before it could answer, Solona appeared in a far corner of the room. She looked down at her hands as if checking she still had all of her limbs before glancing up with narrowed eyes and stomping toward the demon with fervor. Sloth looked her up and down before ignoring Philippa in favor of the new interruption. “What do we have here? A rebellious minion? An escaped slave?” The demon issued a horrifying laugh from it's faceless head. “My, my... but you do have some gall. But playtime is over. You all have to go back now.” It threatened as Wynne and Solona's other two companions appeared in a flash of magic.

“Oh, here I am! And there you are... You just disappeared. Oh, well, no matter,” The warrior with the kind eyes said with a shrug

“You tried to keep us apart!” The red head accused in a soft but thick Orlesian accent. “You led us from each other because you fear us, don't you?”

“You will not hold us, demon!” Wynne growled. “We found each other in this place and you cannot stand against us.”

“If you go back quietly,” the demon purred with it's unnatural resonance. “I'll do better this time. I'll make you much happier.”

“I'll make my own happiness, thank you,” Solona scoffed, crossing her arms. The young mage looked exhausted, but still she stood tall, looking the demon in the face and taunting it.

“Can't you think of someone other than yourself?” the demon taunted in return, its head turning so it glanced upon the warrior. “I'm hurt. So very, very hurt.”

“You'll get over it,” Solona growled angrily, drawing her staff.

“You wish to battle me? So be it... You will learn to bow to your betters, mortal!” The demon lifted into the air, swiping for Solona's exposed neck.

Philippa briefly wondered if Solona could see her, but that question was quickly answered as she came up to her feet from her dodge roll and chuckled. "Well, Phil, are you going to just stand there or lend a hand?"

Philippa shrugged as she closed her eyes and swiftly manifested a staff to help her focus. "It looked like you were handling things fairly well without me."

"Tell that to the king of naps!" Solona called out as the warrior attacked the demon with his sword and the woman began to pepper it with arrows. "He doesn't seem to get that we don't want to play."

"Demons are so inconsiderate," Philippa quipped.

They all fought together to whittle down the demon's resistance. It seemed to take ages for them to even look like they were making a dent in it's health. It continuously changed form whenever they thought it was finished. Solona had no qualms with stepping in and out of the fight to recharge her mana pool from the jutting blue crystals that peppered the room. It must have been raw lyrium. Philippa nearly smacked herself in the head for stupidity after wondering how she was able to do so without frying her nerves. They were in the Fade. That was not real lyrium and that was not Solona's real body. She must have been more affected by her headaches than she realized if that conclusion didn't come straight to her.

Finally, after what felt like ages, Solona took the final blow, shoving a fireball down the demon's throat. It roared in pain as the magic consumed it, leaving nothing more than a pile of charred flesh. Solona's warrior friend poked at the corpse with his sword before jamming it deep in the demon's skull. "I think you got it.”

“Thank the Maker,” Solona gasped nearly losing her balance as if all of her energy was sapped at once. Wynne was at her side in seconds, a cool blue mist hovering over her. Solona absorbed the healing magic with a thankful smile.

Suddenly, a familiar face appeared, just like Solona and her companions had before. “You defeated the demon. I never thought... I never expected you to free yourself. To free us both. When you return, take the Litany of Adralla from my...body.” He cringed slightly and sighed before continuing. “It will protect you from the worst of the blood magic.” Niall looked out of sorts, his cheeks sunken and his robes a tattered mess. Deep dark circles ringed his unfocused eyes. Philippa approached the group to listen in. She had apparently missed a lot.

“Aren't you coming to help?” Solona gasped.

“I cannot go with you,” he said sadly. “I have been here far too long... for you it will have been an afternoon's nap. Your body won't have withered away in the real world while your spirit lay in the hands of the demon.”

“You think you're going to die?” Solona asked with a frown.

“Every minute I was here, the sloth demon was feeding off of me, using my life to fuel the nightmares of this realm. There is so little of me left... I was never meant to save the Circle, or... survive it's troubles. I am dying. It is as simple as that.” He shrugged as if he had accepted the fate ages ago. Philippa had always liked Niall. He had never really been one for politics. He had been an isolationist and had dreamed of finding a quiet home away from everyone where he could practice his magic and study in peace. It seemed his dream would never come true.

“Is there truly nothing we could do?” Solona asked gently.

He smiled kindly at her. “Thank you, but it is too late for me. I do not fear what may come. They say we return to the Maker's side in death... and that isn't such a terrible thing. My only regret is that I could not save the Circle. But you... you can. Take the Litany off my... my body when you return. It is important.”

Solona gave one last final pat to Niall's shoulder and everyone began to fade around Philippa. She would have liked the chance to say goodbye, but it seemed with the demon's death, it's influence was waning quickly. Niall's spirit simply vanished, and Solona and the others woke. Philippa exerted her will briefly to make certain of that fact. When she looked through the Veil, she saw Solona getting up from the sticky floor and making her way over to Niall's lifeless body. She respectfully closed his staring eyes and carefully rolled him over to take a scroll from his robes. When she stood again, she gave the abomination's corpse a swift kick before backing away to allow it to explode.

Satisfied that Solona was back on the right track after wresting herself and the others free of the sloth demon, Philippa withdrew into the Fade. She wanted to explore further, to see if she could glean any news about Finn, or her other friends, but the walk through the tower and the exertion of the fight with the demon had sapped her energy. She felt utterly drained. She reluctantly drew herself from the Fade and back into her body. When she woke, she sat up on the edge of the bed, fingering the gift from Finn and praying he was all right. Niall had been helping to fight Uldred and the other blood mages and he had ended up a plaything for the sloth demon. Any number of similar fates could have befallen Finn. She tried desperately to shut off her brain and the images that kept flashing before her eyes. If anything happened to Finn, she knew she would feel responsible. She never should have agreed to stay behind.

 

After sitting alone for some time, Philippa had gotten up and went back out to check on the others. She had resumed barrier duty from Petra and now, she was sitting on the bench nearest the barrier door. One of the younger apprentices, a little blonde girl named Melody, had climbed into her lap, huddling close to her. She rocked automatically, trying to soothe the frightened child along with herself. Her light humming was suddenly interrupted by a spark from her mana. She jerked her head around, seeing what had interacted with her barrier.

A wash of relief rushed through her when she saw that it was not a what but a who. Solona stood on the other side, First Enchanter Irving leaning heavily on her, his arm draped over her shoulders. "Do you mind letting us out, Phil? I've had enough of this tower."

Philippa recalled the barrier and gently handed Melody over to Keili so she could assess the survivors. If nothing else, they would likely need healing. Her trek was interrupted as the most welcome sight she had ever laid eyes on came limping through the door. She stopped dead in her tracks as Finn spotted her and rushed toward her. Heedless of any germs she might be carrying, he swept her up in a tight embrace. She fell into his arms, tears immediately leaking from her eyes in relief. "Thank the Maker," she gasped breathlessly. She moved to draw back from the hug and assess his injuries, but he continued to hold her tightly.

"Just let it happen," he said softly, his breath warm and real and alive against her hair.

She let out a maniacal chuckle and tightened her own grip. "Now you've done it. Maker's tears, I'm never letting go."

He snorted softly. "Eventually I will need to wash the demon off my skin and burn these robes, but for now, a few more germs don't matter."

She sobbed uncontrollably, the days of worrying coming to a head. "I tried... I tried so hard, Finn. I couldn't find you in the usual place. I was so worried. I felt horrible leaving you behind."

"You didn't leave me behind," he insisted, finally pulling from the hug to gently brush the tears from her face. "Phil, you didn't. I made you go." He pulled her head to him and kissed her forehead before pulling her back into the hug. "It all worked out. We're both safe. It's all over." He held her just a few more minutes before pushing her out to arms length to get a good look at her, concern etched over his face. "How's your head?"

"Better?" she guessed, the dull ache behind her eyes still present, but she couldn't tell if it was from the tears now, or because of a lingering symptom of the exposure to the demons. "I'll let you know in the morning." She leaned in to briefly touch her forehead to his chest. "I really should lend a hand. Is anyone injured?"

Finn sighed heavily. "Most of the mages that Uldred got around to torturing are either dead or abominations and then dead. Solona has really grown into her power. I thought I'd gone mad when she appeared at the top of those stairs... The most pressing issue is probably weakness from undernourishment. There are a few scrapes and burns and maybe a broken bone or two from the fighting before hand..."

"I noticed you limping..." she hinted.

"I may have twisted my ankle getting out of the way of a stray spirit bolt during the fighting. I healed it a bit myself when no one was paying attention, but there was only so much I could do. Uldred was keeping our mana pretty drained once he got hold of us," Finn explained.

"Here," she allowed him to lean on her and guided him to the bench she had occupied previously. "Sit, let me have a look." She knelt in front of him and probed at his ankle with her fingers, making him hiss in disapproval. She looked up at him teasingly. "Don't be such a 'Flora'." His responding scowl was laced with adoration as she drew her mana forth and set the sprain by hand and mended the surrounding muscles. "There. Good as new."

"Thank you. Oh, and Phil, there's one more thing..." he lowered his eyes, cringing as if what he was about to say was painful. "On our way back down from the Harrowing Chamber, I saw what was left of the dragons. I'm so sorry."

"Oh, no," she gasped, dropping her hands into her lap as her heart gave a lurch.

 

Solona was gone as swiftly as she had appeared, leaving with a handful of the survivors, Neria and Faye among them, for Redcliffe Castle to save the Arl's son from a demon that was possessing him. Philippa was given no more details after she was yet again denied going to help. What use were her skills if she was never given reign to use them? Wynne left with Solona as well, given leave to travel with her and help aid her in fighting the Blight. Philippa assumed Wynne asked for the assignment to feel like she was making up for thinking she was the cause of Uldred's attempted coup.

It took all day to restore some semblance of order to the tower as the remaining templars began to filter back into the heart of the Circle. Only one of those templars that had been locked in the tower through the chaos had survived. Cullen was confined to a bed, yet he refused any type of magical treatment for his injuries. Whenever any of the mages got near him, he flinched, scowling as if he could have cared less if they had burst into flames or melted into a puddle before him. To be the only surviving templar, Philippa could almost see where he might harbor some resentment. From the assessment she performed at a distance, his injuries were minor. He was dehydrated and malnourished just like the rest of them, but Philippa guessed that Cullen's experience had been more mentally trying than physically. It was a shame, too. He had been one of the good ones. Where he had once harbored romantic feelings for a mage, now all he harbored was a deep resentment.

Once everyone's wounds had been treated and food had been brought in from across the lake, everyone left was confined to the apprentice dorms while the templars searched the tower for anyone not accounted for. The only missing person whose body could not be identified was Anders. When he disappeared from Philippa's sight in the library, he must have used the chaos to escape the tower. It would be a long time before the templars would be able to retrieve his phylactery from Denerim and track him down, especially with the state of the country. Greagoir still hadn't received the Right of Annulment from Denerim. He'd be lucky to hear anything from the capitol if what Wynne said was true.

Philippa's headaches persisted in spite of the demons all having perished. She attempted to ignore the worst of it, trying her best to help the others clean out the mess from the tower and restore some semblance of normalcy. After nearly a week, she thought if the throbbing persisted much longer that her skull might literally crack open. Certain parts of the tower were worse than others including the fourth floor central spire where the sloth demon had been, and the dining hall where they had found twice dead corpses during clean-up.

With so few templars remaining, her personal guard had been lifted, and the watch of the others was minimal at best. This was how Finn caught her before bed one night, curled up on top of her mattress, her arms wrapped around her head. He had wandered to her room to check up on her and wish her good night and walked in on her sobbing. The pain had become excruciating. "Phil," he said gently as he sat down on the edge of her bed. When she responded with no more than a whimper, he sighed heavily. "Tell me what I can do..."

She inhaled sharply as his hand landed lightly on her side. Since the coup, he had become mildly more comfortable with a small amount of physical touch, but that was not what she needed. She bit back more tears and slowly drew her arms down so she could look at him. His face was painted in concern. "I'm sorry, Finn," she said softly. "There's nothing you can do." She sat up slowly and he shifted to give her room, his hand sliding to her back to help steady her. "With everything that happened, the Veil surrounding the tower... It's practically non-existent. I can feel every demon that passes by as if it were walking in this world. I can't..." her heart lurched as she realized the truth. She looked up at him with her glossy eyes, knowing her pain was etched in her gaze. "I can't stay here, Finn. Kinloch Hold is too damaged."

His expression betrayed his heartbreak and he schooled it much too late, clearing his throat. "You... You're going to put in a transfer request?" he asked, his voice choked.

"You know I never would if I had a choice, Natty, but this pain... You can't know how this feels... I'm sorry..." She inhaled a shuddering breath trying to stifle her tears, hoping that her use of his nickname might help convey her own heartbreak at having to pack up her entire life and leave everything behind, him included. She hadn't felt this helpless since she had first come to the Circle as a child.

"No," he said calmly. "I can't understand... and for that, I'm sorry. For all my reading and expertise, I can't help you..."

She held out her hand, palm up, her knuckles resting on the mattress. He drew his hand from her back and gingerly laced their fingers together. "Promise me you'll keep in touch..." she requested.

"I'll write as often as I can," he agreed with a small smile.

Chapter Text

Within the month, Philippa's request for a transfer was approved and her meager possessions were packed in a bag. Before she left, her friends gathered in the common room to say their goodbyes. Neria and Faye had both survived the coup no worse for the wear. Philippa tried not to think about the not so lucky ones, Niall and Ren among the most immediate tragedies.

She and Finn had both shed their tears the night before in a private goodbye that earned her a real life kiss after which she had to laugh at his struggle to remain calm when she had slipped her tongue into his mouth. He had ultimately forgiven her and they had spent the rest of the night lying side by side on her bed, simply talking. She cringed at the thought that she would never get to do that again. She would likely never see Finn again. Even if they corresponded in letters, she would never get to watch his expression change as he spoke from thoughtfulness to excitement or worry. She could never again pretend she saw a spot on his robes and drive him batty as he tried to find out where in spite of the fact that he knew her well enough to know that he shouldn't fall for the same trick again.

Her parting left a bitter taste in the back of her throat as she stepped from the large entry doors into the harsh winter sun that beat off the snow that had dusted the path down to the lake, blinding her. The cloak she had been given to wear over her robes was of fine make, lined with fur and large enough that she could huddle it around herself. She pulled the hood up over her bare neck and followed the stiff stride of the templar ahead of her.

Cullen was definitely not the man she remembered. From his rigid posture and grim demeanor, she could tell that he was wishing that he was making the journey to Kirkwall alone. When they had made completely different requests for transfer, Irving and Greagoir had deemed it a suitable compromise that Cullen could simply serve as Philippa's guard so they wouldn't lose any more templars while the Circle was in such dire straights. She was even less pleased than he was. Having to be on the receiving end of his ire for the entire trip was going to grow tiresome. Every time she spoke, he flinched, and every time he looked in her direction, his brow furrowed at the very least. At the worst, he would outright scowl, his lip curling back with hatred.

Ferelden winters were harsh. That much she found out on their first day out of the tower as the ferryman poked large chunks of ice away from the sides of the boat with his pole. She sat on a small bench near the side of the ferry, huddled in her cloak, drawing a subtle barrier around herself to block the icy wind that was whipping over the deck. Cullen didn't seem to notice the cold as he assisted the ferryman, shifting his own chunks on the opposite side of the deck from where she sat. They entire day was spent ferrying across the lake, and when they reached the docks, they were put up in the inn for their first night because of the expected blizzard to the north. Philippa kept to herself as they ate and headed straight for her room afterwards. She was already missing her friends.

In the morning, they set off toward the east following the King's road where they would continue through the Bannorn until they reached Benblane where they could find secure passage to the north in Harper's Ford. With the Blight ravaging the country, West Hill had fallen under the Darkspawn, making it impossible to make the crossing from there, and Highever was having problems of it's own if the scant news could be believed. Therefore, she was stuck on a trek across the country with a jumpy templar through the dead of winter. She was seriously considering rescinding her transfer request and going back to the migraine inducing Circle.

Cullen walked ahead of her at the beginning, craning his head every few minutes to be sure she was keeping up. Her toes were numb by the time they stopped for lunch, the few inches of snow on the roads having made it's way into her slippers. When he realized she was having trouble keeping up, he took up the rear. When she protested that she had no idea where she was going, he told her to simply follow the road. Spitefully, she took the lead.

That night, Cullen gathered wood to start a fire, but the layer of snowfall made proper kindling difficult to come across. After she sat on a stump for nearly an hour, still freezing as he grumbled to himself, his bare hands reddened from clutching the flint and trying to get a fire started, Philippa sighed. Without much thought beyond she was cold and hungry, when he drew his hands back to curse again and set aside his tools, rubbing his palms together, she drew on her mana and shot a spark at the kindling. The stack of sticks and twigs he had erected caught fire and he stumbled back. Before he even uttered a word, his sword was in his hand and the smite hit her like a charging druffalo. She dropped off the stump, gasping for air as his templar talent drained the mana from her, taking her breath with it. Her chest tightened and it felt like she had been punched in the gut. He stood there, staring with his mouth open in surprise, as if he wasn't certain how she had gotten on the ground. As she slowly regained her breath, the world exploding briefly with little black dots over her vision, she managed to get onto her hands and knees, still gasping and coughing. He didn't move from where he stood, sword still in hand.

With the first full breath she was able to drag into herself, she spun her head to glare at him and shouted. "What in Andraste's name was that for!?" She wheezed, coughing again before sitting back, leaning against the stump she had been on top of moments before. When all he did was look from her to the sword and back again, she rolled her eyes. "Whatever bloody happened in that tower, I wasn't part of it!" she drew in a few more ragged breaths. "Maker's tears! I can't say that being on the receiving end of a templar's smite is an enjoyable experience..." She leaned her head back on the stump, closing her eyes to recover her mana and the rest of her breath.

Cullen's sword finally found it's sheathe, and she heard him sit down across the now roaring fire. She honestly wouldn't have been surprised if he'd snuffed it and tried to start again with the reaction he'd had. After a long, drawn out silence, she opened her eyes again and dragged herself back onto the stump. "You should have warned me," he grumbled, his attention drawn by her shuffling movements. That was all he said. There was no apology, no asking if she was all right.

She cut her eyes at him, annoyed. "Fine. No more unsanctioned magic. You're welcome for the fire, by the way. I'm so glad I didn't melt your icy glare. We couldn't continue without that."

Instead of acknowledging her sarcasm, he sighed and grabbed his pack from beside him. After fishing around in it, he drew out a small wooden box. Curious, she inched toward the edge of the stump so she could see what he was doing around the fire. A dim blue glow lit up his face when he opened the box, and she realized that it was his lyrium kit. She had never seen a templar prepare lyrium before. Unlike mages, they took the stuff daily rather than only when it was needed. The effects on a templar's system were different than those for a mage. They experience a boost in their abilities, as well as over time it unfortunately wreaks havoc on their minds which usually ends in a rather nasty form of dementia after years of forgetfulness and often times paranoia. If they are cut off from it, most go mad within a month if not properly weaned. She had never heard of anyone that successfully stopped taking lyrium.

From across the camp, she really couldn't see much, and she figured that asking him for a tutorial would likely earn her more scowling, so she took in what she could through the dancing flames of the fire. Cullen made the preparations slowly, as if he had only done it a handful of times before. Likely he was handed the stuff already prepared while in the Circle. Tranquil busy work. His expression was concentrated, his brow furrowed. She caught glimpses of a small spoon and a brown leather bulbous tool, but what he was doing was mostly hidden behind the open lid of the kit. When he was finished, he set aside a tiny vial of the glowing liquid and closed up his kit to secure it in his pack.

He did not immediately ingest the prepared lyrium. First, he passed her some rations and began to eat, himself. It was a simple meal. Bread, jerky and a piece of fruit. After she ate, she laid down her bedroll near the fire for warmth and settled in to get a little bit of sleep before the long trek ahead of them. She was unused to so much walking, her feet already putting up a fuss inside her thin slippers. Finn likely would have gone insane already with how muddy her feet and the hem of her robes had gotten. She fingered the bracelet on her wrist, thinking of him.

She heard Cullen preparing his own bedroll. He removed the plate pieces of his armor and set them aside, quiet clanking sounds painting her a picture without her outwardly watching him. More shuffling and then he began to mumble softly. She chanced a glance over her shoulder and saw him kneeling on his bedroll, the glowing vial clasped between his folded hands that he held before him. She had seen people in the Chapel praying before and wondered what it felt like to believe so wholeheartedly in a higher power in spite of the fact that the Chantry taught that the Maker had abandoned Thedas. She turned away from him so he would have privacy. It wasn't her place to question his beliefs, especially after the trauma he had clearly suffered at Uldred's hands. Everyone needed something to cling to.

 

The rest of their trip was no less awkward while Philippa strolled down the King's Road apparently talking to herself. Cullen was quite good at ignoring her after all of the years he had to practice while following her around the tower. She missed the kind young man that stammered when she made inappropriate jokes. Much to his annoyance, she took to calling him Sullen Cullen, getting a good chuckle out of the rhyme every time she laid it on him. The day they crossed into Harper's Ford, Cullen stopped her on the road with a frustrated grumble. "When we get to Kirkwall, you can't just talk to the Knight-Commander like this. I know you're used to having the ear of every one in the tower, but this blatant insolence won't be tolerated. Greagoir was far too lax. From what I understand, Knight-Commander Meredith does things properly."

She crossed her arms and glared at him. "Sooo... What? Because I'm a mage, in spite of being Harrowed, I'm to pretend I don't like having these gifts? I enjoy what I do and I'm good at it. I don't need some demon's help... I'm not Uldred. He was weak," she spat.

Cullen's eyes flashed dangerously as he took a step forward. "You are the worst of the lot!" he shouted. "They told me when I was tasked as your guardian what you were capable of. Demons flock to you like a bitch in heat. All it takes is a split second of weakness..."

She valued her limbs attached to her body and her breath in her lungs, so she resisted slapping him across the face, but she did not back down. "You have been at Kinloch eight years! In all that time, have I ever given you reason to think I would stoop so low? Apparently Uldred didn't think so, because I was never invited to join his little coup. I learned at a very young age what the meaning of resistance is." Every time she said Uldred's name, Cullen's eye twitched. She was dying to ask him what had happened, but he no longer trusted her. She would get nothing from him. She took a deep breath, calming herself before her mana seeped out of control. My magic will serve the best in me, not that which is most base. It had been a long time since she had needed to repeat that phrase to herself. She lowered her voice and continued. "I'm sorry... For whatever happened to you. I wish I could help... I do, but blaming every mage for the mistakes of a few... It's no way to go about being a templar."

With her lowered tone, he took a step back. Neither did he admit he was wrong nor continue to argue. He couldn't be wrong, because being wrong meant admitting his suffering and giving acknowledgement to his trauma when all he wanted to do was forget. He simply took her by the arm, his hand tightly gripping her bicep and pulled her along behind him toward the city gates. She realized that arguing with Cullen would get her nowhere. He was a victim. His views were twisted by the events that he had endured during his imprisonment. The only way she would ever get through to him was to slowly appeal to his reason, for he was anything but naive.

 

After that day, she refused to rise to his bait, enduring the week long boat ride across the Waking Sea in relative silence. Many of the other passengers on the boat gave her a wide berth because of the very obvious staff that she carried on her back. Since she and Cullen were not refugees like the majority of the folks fleeing Ferelden, they had been given a small cabin, away from the wailing children and terrified adults that occupied the hold.

Philippa used the time while Cullen slept to explore the Fade away from the Circle. She had never been so far away before. Unfortunately, the Fade that occupied the space over the ocean was none too interesting. There were no memories to delve into that didn't involve sunken ships and the occasional pirate raid, but their own ship moved too fast for her to truly linger among the spirits there. She was tempted to try and contact Finn, but he was so far away. She didn't think she would be able to reach that far.

The morning that they reached Kirkwall's harbor, Philippa made her way onto the deck to catch a glimpse of the city before they got to Circle. It spoke to the general mindset of the people of Kirkwall that the Circle of Magi was housed in a former prison tower known as the Gallows. Philippa had to remind herself that she had chosen to leave Kinloch Hold of her own volition as the boat sailed into the docks just outside the Gallows itself. She had been too late to catch a glimpse of the wall that the city was named for with stone carved effigies that depicted the Old Gods. Her first glimpse of the city was of the massive statues that towered over both sides of the water way into the harbor. The 'Twins' they were called, humongous bronze men hunched and broken, their faces hidden in their own hands in a pose of suffering. When she had learned that she was going to Kirkwall, Philippa had read all she could about the City. Similar, smaller, statues lined the Gallows Courtyard where slaves had been beaten and hung daily when the city had still been under Tevinter rule. Newcomers to the center of slave trade were forced to look upon the horrible goings on in hopes that it would break their spirits. Between the Twins, huge chain nets could be raised to block passage through the narrow waterway. The city itself was built along fault lines in the mountain, the twisting and turning streets meant to confuse and discourage revolts.

As she gaped at the ominous stone walls and buildings that made up most of the city, Cullen found her, her pack in his hand. She took it from him, slipping it onto her shoulders as he too took in the sight of their new home. His reaction was wordless and stoic as the ship dropped anchor and slipped into the dock. They were some of the first passengers allowed off the boat. The smell of the docks followed them from the boat, recently dead fish and salt water. Cullen led her with a hand firmly on her elbow through the throng of people on the docks and crowded around the entrance to the Courtyard. "I can walk on my own, you know," she reminded him with a grunt.

"That's it," he barked in his own sardonic tone. "Get all of the snark out now before we meet the Knight-Commander. I doubt she'll find it amusing."

"And you do?" she wondered in mock awe. "You could have fooled me."

They passed a lone city guard holding back the crowds of refugees that were pouring off several different boats. The man looked exhausted. Once in the courtyard, his grip on her elbow loosened, but he did not release her. She took a moment to look around at the shops and stalls set up around the perimeter of the courtyard. Some of them were manned by enthusiastic merchants hawking their wares, but others, she noticed, were manned by stoic men and women with the Chantry brand on their forehead. The number of tranquil was staggering. As she attempted to count them, her stomach sank in genuine concern.

At the top of a grand entry staircase, a group of templars stood like ducks in a row. Smack dab in the middle stood a woman who could be none other than Meredith Stannard herself. She wore typical templar armor from the waist down, but her midriff was covered by a form fitting chain shirt that she reinforced over her chest with a short cuirass and large spiked pauldrons. Her long, wavy blonde hair was draped with a red hood that she kept secured with a golden circlet across her forehead that stuck up in a sharp point in the middle. Her piercing blue eyes settled calculatingly on Philippa, even as she addressed Cullen. "Welcome to Kirkwall Ser Rutherford. I don't know how much Greagoir has told you, but based on your service record that he forwarded to me, I have decided that you will be serving in a greater capacity here in Kirkwall. You will be my new Knight-Captain."

Cullen's hand dropped from Philippa's elbow in shock and he immediately clamped his fist over his chest and bowed slightly. "Th... thank you, Knight-Commander. I shan't disappoint you."

Meredith finally took her eyes off of Philippa and actually smiled. "I should hope not. I do not take duty to the Maker lightly." She waved a hand and another of the templars stepped forward. "Ser Samson, show our new Knight-Captain to where he will be staying temporarily. Once you have settled in, report back to me and we will discuss your new duties."

"Of course, Knight-Commander," Cullen agreed, following after the other knight.

Meredith's eyes fell on Philippa again. "As for you..."

A voice interrupted her from behind and without turning, Meredith gritted her teeth in annoyance. "Not so fast, Meredith..." The speaker moved around the line of templars to stand before Meredith. He was an elf, tall and thin in stature, with greying hair slicked back off his face. He was just beyond middle aged with intelligent green-yellow eyes that narrowed when he stopped in front of the Knight-Commander. He was dressed in finely made mages' robes in a midnight blue ornamented with a stripe of red and gold sash down the front. A cowl stood up from his neck line, ringing his neck and head. The staff he carried was very Tevinter in style, three black snakes twisting around each other to make the head. "I'll not have you bullying our newest talent before she even steps foot in the door."

Meredith gritted her teeth. "First Enchanter Orsino. As you recall, Knight-Commander Greagoir sent specific warnings about this mage before you accepted the burden of housing her..."

Again, Orsino cut Meredith off. "They were not warnings. He outlined her unique abilities and informed us of her stellar record at Kinloch Hold."

Philippa almost chuckled. That was certainly one way of putting it. She was thoroughly convinced that Greagoir had not intended his letter to be interpreted in such a way. Instead, she hummed in amusement. "It seems I am to be fought over like a piece of meat. I was never this popular back home."

Meredith's piercing blue eyes settled on her own and Philippa refused to back down. She was not worthy of Meredith's scorn any more than she was Cullen's. "There will be a thorough examination of her belongings before she is sent to her quarters. Orsino, I trust you will explain to her the rules here in the Gallows."

"Of course, Meredith," with barely a tip of his head, he set a hand on Philippa's back and guided her around the templars toward the front door. Two of the templars broke off to follow them. "I apologize for Meredith," he said gently. "She can get a little overzealous when she smells anything she thinks she could label as blood magic."

"It's quite all right. I was never really a favorite among the templars in Ferelden either," Philippa mused.

"Forgive my manners. I am Orsino, First Enchanter here in Kirkwall. I was the one who personally reviewed your request for transfer, Philippa," he explained with a deeper tip of his head than he had given Meredith.

"I go by Phil," she corrected with a smile.

He nodded. "As you wish... So I understand you were Harrowed at fifteen? Is that correct?"

"Yes," she confirmed. "After my Harrowing, I continued my studies in the creation branch and battle magic. My electives were astronomy and cryptozoology. I was also granted permission by First Enchanter Irving to formulate my own studies around my own unique abilities."

"Which I have no doubt are fascinating!" he said in excitement. "It is why I agreed to accept you here in Kirkwall. We are always looking for new talent. In spite of our reputation, we have a lot of opportunities for mages to flourish."

Orsino took her through the Gallows, showing her where everything was, and she was reminded of when she had first arrived at Kinloch Hold and been given the tour by Finn. Again, she felt a pang of remorse as thinking of him made her miss him. The Gallows felt much more empty than Kinloch had. There were no apprentices passing time in the common areas, no laughter traveling along the corridors, and they never passed another soul outside of the classrooms. They ended up in Orsino's office and he offered her a seat, shooing the templars so he could speak with her privately. As she sat, she glanced around his office. It was much smaller than Irving's had been but no less stocked with books and artifacts, "I must say," she admitted after poking at a few of the knickknacks he had on his desk. "I wasn't expecting the grand tour from the First Enchanter himself."

He sighed his agreement. "Normally, I would delegate the task to another Enchanter, but I had a feeling, under the circumstances, that Meredith might cause a fuss if your initiation was not seen to with the utmost care. So here we are."

"I don't mean to cause a fuss," she said by way of apology.

"Nonsense, it's actually a relief to have something other to do besides endless paperwork and doing my best to avoid Meredith," he said with a smile. "Now that we're here, tell me about your day to day in Kinloch."

She explained her schedule to him and as she spoke, he began to frown. "Forgive me, but you have been harrowed for eleven years and you were never assigned a mentor position?"

She shrugged. "I don't think Greagoir and Irving could agree on what to do with me." Then she chuckled. "The last apprentice they asked me to take under my wing escaped the Circle half a dozen times in the fifteen years he was there. Three of those times were when we were apprentices and I was still technically responsible for him. Then once Greagoir found out what I was, he shortened my leash."

"That is unfortunate." He hummed carefully, resting his elbows on the desk so he could look her over, his fingers steepled. "I won't make any promises, but let me see if I can talk Meredith into allowing you into a mentoring or teaching role. That is if you're interested."

"I can't exactly teach anyone else to be a somniari, but I am a fair battle mage... in theory. The only time I actually put my skills to use was in the Fade. I was also one of the top students in my class for Creation and spirit healing," she agreed, eager to feel useful.

He smiled kindly. "Then I will speak with Meredith. In the meantime, you will have time to acclimate to your new home. There are, unfortunately a few rules here in the Gallows that the Knight-Commander insists upon that will be much different from what you're used to. We have a girl's and a boy's wing for our apprentices. They sleep four to a room for the younger children and two as they get older. The harrowed mages also sleep two to a room, so you will be given a roommate. Once a week, inspections are done by the templars to look for contraband or paraphernalia. Schedules are strictly adhered to. If any mage is caught outside of where they should be at any given time, they are confined to their room for a first infraction. Second infraction, they spend a night in the cells, and by the third, Meredith steps in. Her punishments rarely fit the crime, so I suggest caution. I'm sure you witnessed the Tranquil in the courtyard..."

Philippa frowned. "When you say 'contraband', what exactly isn't allowed?"

"There is usually a list of certain herbs and objects that are not allowed to leave the classrooms or laboratories, but I am going to assume that in your years, you have discovered certain potions and focusing objects that you will need that aren't regularly available. Make me a list, and I will have those things reviewed by Meredith."

Philippa nodded. "I only have a few personal items that I brought with me, but each of them holds tremendous sentimental value..."

"Fear not. I will personally be doing the inspection of your belongings before I show you to your room. Once your items are cataloged, Meredith will have no reason to believe them harmful. You have my word," Orsino assured her.

 

Orsino had her set her things out on his desk and he checked them over. Her glass dragon, her stack of letters and cards that she'd saved, her dream-catcher, and her two bracelets. Once he had cleared everything, he led her to a room in the enchanters' wing. It was about the same size as hers had been back in Ferelden, but the space was much more tightly used. It was divided down the middle, each side identically furnished. The bed frames and mattresses were just large enough for one and pushed flush with the back corners. At the head of both beds was a small nightstand with a drawer and candle holder set atop it. At the foot of the beds was a storage chest for clothing and spare sheets. A simple desk and chair finished off the last bit of space on both sides.

When they entered the room, a woman that looked to be about Wynne's age looked up from her desk and smiled kindly. Her hair was in the awkward stage to turning from her natural brown to a dull grey and she had it pulled off her neck in a loose tail that trailed over her shoulder. She set down a magnifying glass that she had been using to read and her grey eyes focused on them both in turn. "To what do I owe the pleasure, First Enchanter?"

"Good day, Mharen. I've brought you a new roommate," Orsino said a bit more loudly than he had been speaking previously.

The woman's eyes fell on Philippa and Philippa put on her best smile. It was time to impress the new neighbors. "It's a pleasure, Mharen. I'm Phil."

Mharen studied her briefly. "You don't snore, do you? My last roommate snored like a bronto."

Philippa chuckled. "You know, I never thought to ask the other apprentices. Perhaps if I do, you could let me know and I'll stuff a cork in it."

Mharen looked briefly taken aback, but then she smiled again. "I like her, Orsino. You should bring me more young ones. Maybe something will rub off."

Orsino hummed his own chuckle. "We should all be so lucky. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll leave you two to get acquainted. I have business to attend to."

He bowed out and Philippa stepped fully into the room. "Welcome to Kirkwall," Mharen said with a sigh. "Not that it's the most accommodating place for those with magical talents, but I'm sure you'll manage." Then she looked over Philippa again, eyeing her road muddied robes. "You poor dear, you look as if they dragged you through the muck to get here. I saw some of the tranquil delivering some supplies this morning. I'm assuming it was in preparation for your arrival. Go on and have a look through the footlocker. Get something clean and I'll show you to the washrooms."

"That's very kind," Philippa said with a smile. "I do feel a bit caked on."

 

After a warm bath and a fresh set of robes, Philippa felt much better. The robes in Kirkwall were made of thicker material than the ones in Ferelden and the color, a dark teal, was much more complimentary than the awful yellow. The sleeves and over skirt were edged with white fur and the shoulders had thin golden colored leather pauldrons that partially covered the bare shouldered design of the cloth section. A double belt hugged her hips and held the ornamental pouch, where the Enchanters' symbol was stitched, that rested in a particularly attention grabbing spot if you asked her. The boots she wore were not made for long treks, but they were much sturdier than the slippers that she had worn all her life.

Lunch followed soon after her freshening up and during that time, was the first glimpse she caught of Cullen since he had been led off on the steps. He looked nearly as road weary as she had felt, but he stood stiffly at Meredith's side as they observed the mages as they went about the business of lunch. And business was definitely the proper term for it. Hardly anyone spoke to each other and when they did, it wasn't without timid and cautious glances for nearby templars. Philippa hadn't had a proper meal in over two weeks and she ignored the stares of the other mages as they noticed the new person among them. Soon, hushed whispers began to undulate across the dining hall as she filled her tray and went to find a seat.

She ate in silence, observing those around her and the general fear that permeated the room. The Gallows stank of it. The mages here were terrified. It was nothing like Kinloch Hold, where meal times were lively and full of light conversation. It had been so even after the whole place fell apart. Those left alive were glad to be so and it showed in their interactions with each other. Here, it was as if they were terrified of getting too attached to anyone.

"Well, if it isn't grand to see a familiar face from my apprentice days..." A tall man whose hair was graying slightly along with is neatly kept beard sat down across from her and smiled warmly. His ice blue eyes met hers and she recognized him right away.

"Maker's breath! Karl? I had nearly forgotten you had gone to Kirkwall," she gasped in surprise.

He cringed slightly and sighed heavily. "It was not by choice. I believe the Knight-Commander suspected what was going on between Anders and myself. He had me transferred to discourage the relationship..." He paused and looked her up and down before biting his lip cautiously. "Have you any news of Anders? How does he fare?"

She chuckled lightly. "At the current moment, I have no idea. A lot happened in Ferelden in the last few years. After you left, he managed to escape... again... and was caught in West Hill on the docks, likely trying to find passage here. After that, he was much more careful, but even with all of his planning, he was still brought back after being gone two months. That time earned him a full year in solitary..."

"Maker's breath," Karl said with a pained expression.

"He was understandably sullen when he got out, but he bounced back. I saw him right before his last disappearance when the Circle was turned on it's ear. He used the chaos to escape. They still hadn't been able to retrieve his phylactery from Denerim when I left," she finished.

"If you don't mind... what exactly happened at Kinloch Hold?" Karl wondered.

Philippa cringed as she remembered the relentless migraines and the ceaseless worry. So many had perished. "I would... I'm sorry, Karl. I would rather not talk about it."

"I understand. Thank you... For the news on Anders. I worry about him," Karl sighed.

"I'm pretty certain I know that particular anxiety well," she agreed with a sing song tone. "So what is it like here? I've only just arrived, but from the way people behave, you'd think they made you tranquil for talking out of line."

Karl cringed again. "You jest, but that is not very far from the truth. I've kept my head down since I got here, and I would recommend you do the same."

 

Philippa was never one for taking advice. She found that being in a different Circle among different people did not change that particular aspect of her personality. The last thing she meant to do was keep her head down. Her first night, she penned a letter to Finn.

Dearest Natty,

As I write this letter, I realize that my new environment may not even allow it to pass outside these walls. Yet, I feel the need to let you know that Cullen and I arrived in Kirkwall no worse for the wear. My clothes, on the other hand, were dreadful. You would have hated it. Mud... everywhere.

I had a long conversation with the First Enchanter here as he explained the rather irksome rules of being a mage living in the Gallows. On the bright side, I don't seem to have yet acquired a new templar shadow. I do have a roommate though. She seems like a very nice woman if a bit older and hard of hearing.

I haven't had much chance to meet anyone else, since apparently it is extraordinarily impolite to speak at any volume that the templars can hear, even in the dining hall during meals. I haven't quite figured the reason that everyone is so scared, here, but I understand it has something to do with pissing off the Knight-Commander. I did, however, run into Karl. Anders would be so jealous...

First Enchanter Orsino took some notes as we spoke and will be addressing Knight-Commander Meredith to get permission for me to possibly become a mentor or a teacher. For now, I am at a standstill, unable to wander my new 'home' because it is forbidden to be caught anywhere that your schedule doesn't place you. I almost wish I had decided to endure the headaches back there in Kinloch.

Missing you, Weaver

She remained in her standstill for nearly a week before she was finally presented with her very own schedule. She stood in Orsino's office, clutching the parchment between her fingers and glaring. "You can't be serious," she growled, glancing up at the First Enchanter.

Orsino had the decency to look ashamed, averting his gaze as she stared him down. "I warned you that Meredith..."

"You realize I spent my days in Kinloch tending dragons and raising children...?" Philippa said, cutting him off. "Now, I'm set to tranquil work? This is ludicrous."

Orsino held up his hands. "I apologize. I did everything I could, but your daily activities in Kinloch is not what Meredith is concerned about. She worries more about what a mage with your particular talents would get up to while everyone else was asleep. I've been pleading since your arrival, but she will not budge."

Philippa sighed heavily. "Lovely..."

Chapter Text

By the end of her first month in the Gallows, Philippa was beginning to believe that she had never actually escaped Kinloch Hold, and her boring and monotonous everyday life was all part of an elaborate trap set by one of the demons to goad her into possession. She could have believed it if she didn't know better. Philippa's list of duties included re-shelving books in the library for most of the day and flagging any 'inappropriate' material that might have made it's way into the Circle by 'accident'. Three times a week, she was escorted outside to the courtyard to keep the weeds trimmed that grew between the little cracks in the stone. The rest of her afternoon was spent in the inner courtyards maintaining the gardens, and then up in the rookery where she cleaned up after the birds. The only nice thing about her position was that she had access to the enchanted ravens that lived in the rookery. If she was careful, she could send and receive letters without anyone knowing.

She did not have a particular escort like she had in Kinloch, so she was subjected to several different templars with varying degrees of risibility. Most of them couldn't take a joke if their lives depended on it. Some were kind, however, like Ser Thrask. He was a middle aged man with bright red hair and a thick pointed goatee to match. Another, Ser Samson, had a smart mouth, but she knew for a fact that he was sneaking love letters between a pair of mages. Every now and again, she would run into Cullen in the halls or out in the courtyard while she was patrolling for rogue weeds. Those ventures outside were the only times when she felt particularly like a person. There were any number of folks in the courtyard on any given day, buying merchandise from either the tranquil or the resident herbalist, Solivitus, who like Solona preferred to go by Sol. Philippa was usually given a bit of a longer leash while out in the courtyard because of the sheer number of templars that roamed the area. She used the time wisely, to mingle. Maker knew she didn't get to do much of that while inside the Gallows walls.

Little more than a year into her stay, news came from Ferelden that Solona had defeated the Blight practically single-handedly. There were questions about how she had killed the Archdemon and survived where no other Grey Warden had. Philippa didn't care about the 'how'. She was just glad to hear that her friend was alive and well, and apparently consort to the new king.

 

Philippa was shelving what felt like her billionth book one Tuesday morning. She climbed down from the rolling ladder and started for the table where a fresh stack sat, waiting to be put away. "Phil!" a voice hissed from the other side of the bookshelves.

"Oh look. I've finally gone mad. The books are talking to me," she said with a smirk before Karl stepped from behind the shelf to glare at her.

"This isn't funny," he scolded. "I wasn't sure what to do, and you were the first person I thought of."

Her smirk disappeared to be replaced by a risen brow. "What is this about, because you're acting rather shady."

"I've received a letter," he said softly, glancing around with wide eyes as if he were afraid of being caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "There is no signature, but I'd know this penmanship anywhere." He was right to be wary of a letter. Ser Samson had been banned from the Templar Order just last week for being caught passing those love notes back and forth. The two mages involved were even less lucky. The man, Maddox, was made tranquil, and his lover forced to bear the guilt.

Karl handed her a small slip of parchment and she gasped when she saw the chaotic script. "Anders?" she said in wonder. She refused to read the contents of the letter. It was none of her business. She handed it back. "What is it about? Better yet, how did you get this without it being passed through inspection?" She had her way of communicating, but as far as she knew, it was the only way.

"He says that after he escaped, he got caught up in Denerim for a time and ended up saving Solona's life during the battle where she killed the Archdemon. When the war was over, he managed to make it to Amaranthine before the templars finally caught up with him. By random chance, they stopped at Vigil's Keep on their way back to the Circle. The Keep was assaulted by lingering Darkspawn and Solona turned up to return it to the Warden's control. Anders was threatened with execution for 'murdering' his templar escorts. He denies the act, saying it was Darkspawn. At any rate, Solona recruited him into the Wardens to save his life," Karl explained, summing up the much longer letter.

"So, Anders is a Grey Warden, now? I suppose that should make him happy. He won't have to return to the Circle," she mused. "You still haven't answered my question, though. How were you able to get this letter? No way it passed Meredith's scrutiny."

Karl flushed. "It was given to me by a fellow mage. I cannot give you their name where anyone can hear us..."

"I understand. Say no more..." Then she paused and frowned. "Wait, you said you didn't know what to do. Why did you bring this to me, Karl?"

Karl sighed, glancing around again. "Could we perhaps meet tonight, after dark? I don't feel right talking about this here."

Philippa studied Karl's nervous hands as they refolded the letter. She crossed her arms. "Did you have any place in particular planned?"

"There is... a place. If I tell you about it, you cannot, under any circumstances, tell anyone else..." Karl said, still fidgeting.

Philippa sighed, rolling her eyes. "Who would I tell? It's not like anyone here talks to me."

 

That night, after Mharen was snoring softly in her bed, Philippa sat up from her own bed, moving slowly to silence the creaking of the frame beneath her mattress. She picked up her boots and crept across the room to the door. Her heart was pounding. She had never left her bedroom at night in the Gallows. She had no idea how vigilant the templars might be after dark. It had never seemed worth the risk. Once she had slipped from her room and silently closed the door behind her, she slipped her boots on her feet and followed Karl's directions. Outside the hall lined with the women's dormitories, she crept slowly through the dimly lit corridors. Small streaks of moonlight shone through the windows high up near the ceilings, barely lighting her way. Every rustle of her robes and tap of her soles on the stone floors made her cringe and pause. She listened intently for any other sign of humanity, which she did around the hammering of her own heart, so loud she thought the sound might alert every templar in the Gallows.

She stopped dead as she reached the doorway into the entry hall that separated her from the dining hall and the kitchens. She pressed herself against the wall as voices spoke casually just on the other side of the open door. Two templars, judging by the soft clanking sounds of their armor whenever they moved. She listened silently to the conversation, willing them to get on with it. Finally, they passed by the doorway along their patrol and continued through the main hall. She exhaled a breath and carefully poked her head out to be certain they were the only two in the vicinity. Then she slipped out of the hall and moved along the wall, pressed close to the old heraldries that hung still against the stone walls, smelling mildly musty, like moth balls meant to keep them from being eaten. Finally, she made it into the dining hall, keeping to the shadows. There were fewer windows there, making it just dark enough that if anyone passed through, she could freeze, close her eyes and, hopefully, not be noticed. Luckily she didn't need to test that theory, making it to the kitchens without interruption. Just beyond the kitchens, there was a hidden cellar that apparently led to a network of old tunnels that had been built by lyrium smugglers to bring in extra, illegal, powder to the templars.

She found the trap door right where Karl said it would be and lifted it as quietly as she could. Climbing down into the tunnels put her in pitch black as she pulled the door closed behind her. With a few muttered words and flicks of her fingers, a small wisp appeared at her shoulder, hovering in just the right place behind her to light her way and not blind her in the process. The tunnels smelled of earth and damp. Beyond the moldy wood, there was a mild hint of petrichor that sang of unrefined lyrium. She followed the narrow, unmarked tunnel along a partially buried wooden path, sandy bits of dirt crumbling from the walls whenever she leaned a hand on them to guide her through. Here and there, empty barrels laid overturned on their sides, and straw that had lined crates was strewn around the ground. A constant sound of dripping met her ears as she listened for anything in the darkness that spread around her small orb of light like spilled ink.

Suddenly, she heard a hiss meant to draw her attention and from another path that branched off to her left, Karl stepped out of the shadows. "This is all very cryptic," she said with an almost amused chuckle, crossing her arms and doing her best to make it seem like he hadn't startled her with his sudden appearance. She had half expected a trap.

"I didn't dare talk about what else Anders wrote in his letter while we stood in the middle of the library under templar scrutiny," Karl said.

"What exactly did he say?" Philippa asked suspiciously, stepping aside from where she had stopped to prevent the drip from the ceiling falling on her again.

"Anders... is in Kirkwall. Has been for a few months. That is how I found out about these tunnels. There is apparently an organization in the city that uses these tunnels to help mages escape the Circle. Anders has been working with the Underground, trying to find a way to get me out of the Gallows..." Karl confessed.

"So the mage who brought you the letter?" Philippa guessed.

Karl nodded. "Part of the Underground."

"How in the Maker's name are mages able to get out of the Gallows without anyone tracking them down?" Philippa wondered curiously. As far as she knew, the phylacteries of both apprentices and harrowed mages were kept in the Gallows. Cullen had carried her own phylactery secured on a cord around his neck as they traveled.

"I have no idea," Karl shook his head.

Philippa rolled her eyes. "So let me guess. Anders is free now, and has decided it is in your best interest to be free as well."

Karl grunted. "You know him too well it seems. Normally, I would not even consider escaping, but since coming to Kirkwall... well, you know how much different it is here..."

"Is this why you came to me? Am I supposed to talk you out of leaving?" she asked in response.

"I had hoped for advice. You knew Anders in his rebellious days. You might know what he would do if I do not accept his offer," Karl said with a mild shrug.

Philippa chuckled out loud. "You say that as if he grew out of his rebellious days."

Karl puffed out his chest. "When we were together, Anders never attempted escape..."

She snorted. "And the second you were gone, he fell right back into his old cycle. Karl, what do you think is going to happen if you do escape? The Circle couldn't hold Anders... apparently the Grey Wardens couldn't either. When he grows bored of you like he does most things, what will happen to you?"

Karl looked away briefly, his lips pursed. "I refuse to believe that."

She shrugged, her arms still crossed, and settled into her hips. "Fine. Perhaps you're right. Perhaps I'm biased. Perhaps he never felt for me like he does you... My point is, tread carefully. This is most definitely not Kinloch Hold, and I doubt Meredith will be as lenient as Greagoir was if you're caught. That is my warning. Do with it as you see fit."

She left Karl in the tunnels to make up his mind. When she got back to the hatch, she carefully climbed the steep stairs up to lift it barely an inch and peer out. She couldn't see anyone, so she withdrew the light from her wisp and opened the hatch all of the way. After re-closing the hatch, she left it clear for Karl's return and scurried quickly towards the exit from the kitchens, grabbing an apple from a basket as she passed.

She made it almost all of the way back to her room before she stopped dead in her tracks when a familiar voice combined with the soft clanking of plate armor broke the silence of the sleeping Circle. "Enchanter Hawke!" She cringed, suddenly thankful she had grabbed the apple as she turned around to face his accusing amber stare. "What are you doing out of bed?"

She grinned lightly, pretending nothing was amiss. "Couldn't I ask the same of you Knight-Captain? Isn't it past the templars' bedtimes?"

He grabbed hold of her arm, squeezing tightly. "I will have a straight answer," he growled.

She felt her face twist in anger as she snatched her arm from his grip. "Easy..." She held up the apple. "No need for manhandling over a midnight snack."

"You know you're not allowed to be wandering the corridors unsupervised," he insisted, his glare darkening.

"I'm clearly not unsupervised. You're here," she said snarkily. "Besides. I'm almost back to my room. Whatever nasty little things you might think I was up to, I've clearly finished..."

"For Andraste's sake," he said in exasperation. "If I didn't know you better, that mouth of yours might get you into serious trouble. You might learn to shut it."

She snorted in disbelief. "What exactly do you think I've been doing for the last year and a half?" Then she sighed. "You're not unreasonable, Cullen. You know I'm not 'up to' anything. Am I free to go, or are you going to smite me again?"

He glared at her in silence for nearly an entire minute. "Don't let me catch you out of bed at night again."

She saluted him snarkily with the hand she still clutched the apple in, backing toward her room. "I wouldn't dream of it..."

She slipped into her room and closed the door behind her to lean her back heavily against it. She let out a deep sigh, swallowing her heart and trying to get it to stop thumping so frantically. She couldn't imagine if that had been any other templar. She took a moment to wonder if Cullen would report her before shuffling heavily to her bed and falling into it, her hands shaking.

 

Weaver,

You'll never guess what has happened. I was minding my own business one day last week, when Solona turned up at the Circle with and elven companion and... a dog. She and the woman, Ariane, were quite interested in a tome that had been stolen from Ariane's clan by some apostate that Solona seems to know. I overheard them discussing the nature of the book, and heard the word Eluvian. As you know, Eluvians are ancient, no one really knows much about them and even Tevinter couldn't get them to work properly. Naturally, I recommended they consult our old friend Eleni in the repository.

To make a long story short, Solona has dragged me from the Circle on some quest to locate one Eluvian in particular. If you can get past the smell of wet dog and the questionable washing habits of the people I'm traveling with, this adventuring thing isn't so bad. Solona says we're going to the Deep Roads. I don't know whether to be terrified or excited. Wish me luck. I don't know where I'll be for quite some time, so please don't worry if you don't hear from me. I promise when this mess is sorted, I'll write as soon as I can.

From the outside world, Natty

 

Philippa tried her best not to worry about Finn. He certainly had the knowledge at his disposal to protect himself. She just worried about his ability to not faint at the sight of blood. She did her best to push the thoughts from her mind as she sat up after dark, her candle lit on her desk as she read over the letter for the third time. How in the Maker's name had Solona convinced Finn to leave Kinloch? If the letter hadn't been in Finn's distinctive hand, she never would have believed it. He almost sounded excited. Apparently he was doing better than she was.

She heard the distant gong of the Chantry's bells as they tolled the 21st hour. Suddenly, she frowned, realizing the late hour and the fact that Mharen had not returned to their room. There was no way that Mharen would miss lights out. She stuck to her routine like a barnacle on a ship. Philippa hoped the older woman was all right. She tucked the letter from Finn in her drawer with the others and slipped between her sheets. Lying on her back, she traced her fingers over the crystals on her bracelet. After a few minutes deliberation, she decided to go on a walkabout through the Fade, and see if she could find Mharen. She had slept beside the woman for nearly two years. If she was sleeping, Philippa could easily find her.

 

She spent half the night searching the Gallows inside the Fade, hunting for any trace of Mharen. With no luck, she rose the next morning, dressed and instead of heading to the library where she was meant to be, she marched straight for Cullen's office. Without knocking, she barged her way in, heedless of the trouble she could get in for being off schedule. Her sudden appearance startled Cullen from what he was doing, and she saw his eyes dart toward his sword in it's sheathe before he frowned. "Enchanter Hawke what...?"

"Has anyone else noticed that Mharen is missing?" she demanded without preamble. She crossed her arms.

"Mharen?" he asked, thrown off guard by her abrupt entrance and raised voice.

"Yes, Mharen... My roomate... Older woman, bit hard of hearing, likes plants..." Philippa said slowly, her eyes narrowed. "She is not in the Gallows."

Cullen's eyes narrowed then. "Has she escaped? When did this happen?"

Philippa snorted in disbelief. "Mharen doesn't have it in her to escape. Something must have happened to her. I haven't seen her since yesterday morning."

"Mages don't just 'go missing' without notice," Cullen said skeptically. "How can you be certain she's gone?"

"Because I spent half the night looking for her with no luck..." Philippa confessed. With his shocked expression, followed by him scowling and opening his mouth, she grunted in realization of how that sounded. "No, Cullen, I was not out of bed after curfew. I meant in the Fade. Oh, don't look so put off. We have a problem."

Cullen sighed, pressing his fingers to his temples before he looked up at her. "I will have someone pull her phylactery and see if she can be found. Thank you for drawing my attention to her absence. In the meantime, I believe you have tasks to report to."

Philippa scowled, uncrossing her arms to flap an irritated dismissive hand at Cullen as she stormed from his office. That same day after lunch she was out in the courtyard, trolling lazily for weeds when a strange sight caught her eye. A young boy, no older than perhaps 17, timidly stepped into the courtyard and approached the closest templar he could find. A brief exchange happened between the two before the templar's eyes widened and he ushered the boy inside. Philippa wished she could have heard what had been said, but she had been halfway across the courtyard.

Shortly behind the boy, a group followed. The obvious leader, wearing light hide pants, and a tunic topped with a dark green protective leather vest strolled importantly across the Gallows, heading straight for Ser Thrask, a large, brown mabari at his heel. Behind him, a dwarf in a brown coat, with no beard and carrying a crossbow, walked just as casually, his dirty blonde hair, pulled back in a barely there tail drew attention to his brown eyes that seemed to be absorbing everything around him. Lastly behind the dwarf, two more humans, both with raven hair, just like the leader. Both were young, likely no older than 19. One a boy with his hair cut close to his head and neatly styled. He wore a similar pair of pants to the leader, and a yellow quilted vest that showed off thick muscling on his upper arms. Judging by the heavy two handed sword he carried on his back, he needed every bit of that muscle to wield it. The girl kept her wavy hair down over her shoulders and hiding her face, but Philippa balked as she realized that she was carrying a staff, right out in the open in the middle of the Gallows courtyard. The rest of her attire was simple. Thin grey leggings, boots up to her knees, a light chain hauberk corseted around her waist and hanging to her knees and a simple white top with grey sleeves that was off her shoulders, showing off her considerable bosom. A red scarf was tied around her neck.

When she pulled her eyes from the mage, they landed again on the leader and there was something familiar about him. She found herself approaching cautiously, attempting to look casual as she tried to get a better look at his face. When she finally got a glimpse, her legs nearly went out from under her. There was no mistaking it. His haphazard hairstyle and brown eyes, even framed by the scruffy beard he now wore on his chin, could not belong to any other. She felt like she was looking in a mirror. Her feet dragged her before him after he turned from Ser Thrask and made his way back toward the ferry docks. He was engaged in a light conversation with the dwarf that was with him and didn't see her at first. "Garrett!" she gasped, not a hint of question in her voice. She knew it was him.

He stopped short of barreling into her, but when he heard his name and his eyes flicked over her, his jaw dropped. "Andraste's ass... Phil?" His voice was gruff and deep, but it fell on her ears like music.

She nodded, unable to bring words to her suddenly dry throat. She had never thought to see her twin again. Before she could speak, he had tugged her off her feet, wrapping his arms around her in a bear hug so tight she almost couldn't breathe. She buried her face against him like she had done when they were children and he had comforted her after a nightmare. "Maker's breath, Hawke, I've told you before. You can't just go around hugging random women."

Garrett pulled out of the hug, his eyes studying her protectively. "Oh, Varric, this is no random woman!" he said with a guffaw. "I'd like you to meet Philippa Hawke. My twin sister." Garrett ignored the sounds of shock from the entire group and squeezed both her shoulders. "How are you, Phil? What are you doing in Kirkwall?"

"That... is an exceedingly long and boring story," she said wistfully. "I could ask you the same thing though?"

He shook his head. "I know Father wrote to you every year on our birthday. Did... Did Mother write to you after... Did she tell you?"

Philippa nodded, doing her best to look saddened over their father's death. She could barely remember the man, but Garrett had grown up with him. "She did. I'm so sorry, Garrett."

He grunted, his grip on her shoulders tightening momentarily. "He never stopped blaming himself after the templars took you... If I'm being honest, neither did I. I was right there, Phil, and I couldn't do a damned thing."

She reached up a hand and cupped her brother's rough cheek. "We were children, Garrett. I never blamed you."

He cleared his throat brusquely, then his expression brightened. "Maker's balls, where are my manners? Phil, you have siblings you've never met." He stepped aside and the two younger humans with him were standing side by side, gaping. She noticed that her younger brother had inherited her mother's eyes, just as she had, whereas her sister had Garret's brown eyes. "Carver, Bethany, this is Phil. Your sister."

Bethany's eyes filled with tears that she attempted to brush away as Carver's expression turned sour. "Wonderful," he said shortly. "Another sibling to live up to."

Bethany reached out and softly backhanded her twin's bicep as the dwarf spoke up, breaking out of his silence. "Oh, come on, Junior. Don't be so grumpy. Imagine the look on Aveline's face when she realizes there's another Hawke in town."

Philippa took hold of Garrett's arm to draw his attention. "Not that it isn't wonderful to see you and to meet my siblings, but I need to point out that it really isn't safe for Bethany to be here."

"Good, maybe you'll listen to her," Carver said, his stony glare falling on Garrett. "Maker knows I was talking to a stone wall."

Garrett scoffed and returned his attention to Philippa. Before he could say anything more, Cullen caught sight of them and started toward the group. "Trust me, Garrett. We shouldn't be seen talking. I could get in a lot of trouble. I'm sorry." She released her grip on his arm and shooed him.

"I'll find a way to contact you," he said in a low mumble as he herded his group toward the docks.

"Who was that?" Cullen asked suspiciously as Garrett and the others disappeared around the corner.

She turned her gaze on him. "Is there any word on Mharen?" she asked, deliberately not answering his question.

Cullen sighed heavily. "I have Ser Emeric on the streets tracking her phylactery. You were right. She was not in the Gallows."

"Maker's breath, did you pull something saying that? I was right?" she teased.

He harrumphed, resting his hands carefully on the hilt of his sword. "Don't get used to it."

"Oh no. Once was enough. Wouldn't want your head to explode or anything. With my luck, Meredith would probably shout blood magic and make me clean it up," she sighed jokingly.

She briefly caught the smile tug at Cullen's upper lip, just off to his right before he quickly wiped it away.

Before Cullen could question her further about Garrett and the others, another templar approached them, nearly breathless. "Knight-Captain, the First Enchanter and the Knight-Commander asked me to fetch you... and Enchanter Hawke."

"What's this about Paxley?" Cullen asked in a calming tone as he glanced at Philippa, indicating she should follow.

"I don't rightly know, Knight-Captain, Ser. I was just asked to fetch you," the nervous recruit said as he led them toward the side entrance to the Gallows that led directly to the entry hall just outside the templar's wing and the offices of the leaders. At Kinloch, Greagoir and Irving's offices had been on separate floors of the tower. Here in the Gallows, Meredith had her office stationed directly across the hall from Orsino, likely so she could keep a watchful eye on the First Enchanter as if he were doing blood magic rituals in the tiny room.

They passed by both offices, as well as Cullen's office and went directly into the small garden area between them and the templar barracks. In the small courtyard, Orsino and Meredith stood with another templar, Meredith's tranquil assistant, and the young boy that Philippa had seen before Garrett had walked back into her life. He wore his long blonde hair in a braided tail from the back of his head. His chin was thin, as were the rest of his features and he had wide, curious eyes that were currently full of fear. "Ah, Phil," Orsino said, breaking off from Meredith as he noticed their approach. "I'm glad you could make it."

She shrugged, looking over the boy as she noticed for the first time, the power that was radiating off him. "It's not like I have anything better to do all day," she said bitterly, narrowing her eyes as she looked at Meredith.

Cullen cleared his throat. "Paxley said you needed us both..." he interrupted before Meredith had a chance to be insulted by Philippa's tone.

Orsino moved back to stand beside the boy. "Phil, this is Feynril. It was brought to our attention that he was born with magic. His mother reported his abilities to the Circle a few days ago, but Feynril was scared and tried to flee. He was abducted by slavers and then rescued by a helpful citizen who urged him to turn himself in for his own safety."

"What does any of this have to do with me?" Philippa wondered as Orsino looked at her like she was supposed to know something.

Orsino frowned slightly, but then grunted. "I had assumed you would be able to feel the similar magics... no matter. Phil, we believe Feynril to be a dreamer, like yourself."

Philippa was suddenly very interested in the timid young man standing hunched between Meredith and Orsino. She pushed a small amount of magic at him, and he cringed as if she had stung him. "That's all well and good, but he just got here. You can't possibly be thinking of Harrowing him. He needs training," she reasoned.

Orsino nodded. "And I agree. Meredith feels otherwise. Perhaps your added opinion is enough to sway her?" he glanced at Meredith who drew herself taller.

"Isn't one somniari in the Gallows more than enough?" she growled. "He should be put to the brand."

Philippa took a step forward, her fists balling at her sides. "You can't be serious. He is just a child. He can't help the power he was born with. At least give me some time to work with him. Let me show him how to harness his gift before you snuff him like a candle."

Philippa was shocked when Cullen stepped up beside her, clearing his throat. "As much as I don't like admitting it, Enchanter Hawke is right. He should be given a fair amount of training and then Harrowed, like any other mage." Maker, that's twice in less than ten minutes he's admitted I'm right. Blimey, a record.

"He is not like any other mage," Meredith insisted.

"Neither am I," Philippa pointed out, pushing aside her thoughts as she looked briefly at Cullen with curiosity. "But I was able to harness my power. He needs time and training, not you threatening to sever his connection to the Fade."

Meredith looked back and forth between everyone present, her piercing blue eyes unhappy with the fact that she was outnumbered. "Fine. I am giving you no more than one year to prepare him for the Harrowing. If there is one problem, the deal is off, and I do what should have been done today."

"Fine," Philippa agreed. "But if I am going to be mentoring another mage, I'll need a proper workspace and a proper schedule. No more busy work."

"I would be careful with my demands," Meredith growled, angrily.

Orsino stepped in. "Enchanter Hawke has been more than reasonable during her stay with us, Meredith. You've had her jumping through hoops since she arrived. Give her the chance she deserves to prove herself."

Meredith grunted. "As you wish, Orsino." Then she turned to Philippa and Feynril in turn. "Probation for you both. Let it be known that I do not trust either of you."

Philippa raised her brow before reaching out to grip Feynril's arm tightly and pull him away from Meredith. "Right. Come along, Feynril. We have a lot of work to do." She glanced over her shoulder at Orsino as she hurried from the garden. "I'm sure you can make arrangements for us and get them to me while I show Feynril around."

With a small smirk of defiance aimed at Meredith, Orsino nodded. "Of course Phil. I'll have it worked out by the end of the day."

Philippa sighed as they exited the templars' wing into the entry hall. "I apologize for taking over back there, but it was the only way to get through to Meredith. Feynril, is it? I'm Phil." She stopped, dropping her grip on his arm and holding out her hand to him.

He took it tentatively and his hand was clammy as he shook hers lightly. His eyes flicked all around nervously. "Di... Did they say your surname was Hawke?"

"Yes," she agreed with a nod. "Phil Hawke. Why?"

"The man who rescued me from the slavers and convinced me to come here. His name was Hawke, too."

Philippa smiled. "You must have met my twin brother. I had no idea he was in Kirkwall until I saw him in the Gallows courtyard today. I've been in the Circle since I was seven. That was the first time I'd seen him in a very long time."

"I don't have any family besides my mother... but she's the one who turned me in. I didn't want to come here. I wanted to find her people. The Dalish..." Feynril explained sadly.

"You're half elf?" Philippa asked, realizing where he had gotten his thin features.

"Yes," he agreed. "My mother is... was... Dalish. She left her clan behind when she had me. It's always just been the two of us. Then the nightmares started..."

Philippa pressed her lips together in sympathy. "I had terrible nightmares when I was younger. Demons called to me practically every night. I've learned to control my gifts and the Fade around me. I rarely find my dreams invaded anymore."

Feynril sighed heavily. "I would very much like to not have nightmares anymore."

Philippa took his hand and squeezed, smiling. "We'll get you there. I promise. But first, let's start with a tour of the Gallows..."

 

By inspection day that week, Mharen still had not been found. The templars fell on her things with abandon, turning the room over looking for anything that might indicate where she had gone or how she had escaped. Finding nothing amiss but a dying white lily, they cleared the rest of her things out.

Philippa made her way out to the courtyard that afternoon when lunch was over, intending to pay a visit to Sol's shop to pick up some herbs she needed for helping Feynril curb his dreams. They had an entire year to make it through, so the concoction she had been given before her Harrowing that kept you from sleeping would not serve for Feynril. She was shocked to see her brother again as she wandered the courtyard, drawing out her stay in the sunshine. He had a sack over his shoulder, and Carver and Bethany were not with him. In their place was a voluptuous woman clad in little more than a short white hauberk and corset with boots that reached up to the middle of her thick thighs, and a surly looking elf with bone white hair and dark contrasting skin that was covered with strange white tattoos that sung with the song of lyrium and smelled potently of the stuff.

Garrett approached Ser Emeric who was posted near the bottom of the stairs to the main entry, just beside one of the bronze slave statues huddled in the fetal position that lined the wide stairs. He whipped the sack from over his shoulder and dropped it unceremoniously in Emeric's arms. "Recognize your mage?"

Emeric, who had a few scrapes and bruises that she could see on his person, looked into the sack. Whatever was in it made his eyes widen in shock. Philippa didn't need to wait long to find out. "These are human bones!" Then he let out an exhausted sigh. "Then there is no chance of finding Mharen alive... or any of the others." Philippa's heart sunk. Mharen had disappeared literally right out from under her nose and she had not even noticed until it was too late.

"If they're not dead, watch out for a bunch of boneless women flopping through the streets," Garrett said with a chuckle.

"Show some respect!" Emeric growled as the dwarf with no beard that had been with Garrett before snickered lightly. "I will bring this to the city guard immediately. It should be enough to convince them the disappearances are worth investigating."

Emeric left without another word after shoving a few coins into Garrett's hands. "Some people have no sense of humor," Garrett said in mock surprise, grinning over his shoulder at his companions and shaking the coin purse.

Then the dwarf nudged him, having spotted her lingering nearby. "Isn't that your twin, Hawke?"

Garrett's attention fell on her, and he smiled. "Phil! Come meet my friends!"

The scantily clad woman spun to rove her eyes over Philippa and she smirked. She had dusky skin and long dark hair that was held back by a blue bandanna. Both she and Garrett carried a pair of nasty looking daggers, but hers were mounted on her back rather than her hips like he had his. She wore a large amount of golden jewelry that sparkled as she swayed toward Philippa. "Oh, Hawke. You never mentioned there was a prettier version of you roaming around Kirkwall."

"Isabela, I will have you know I am plenty pretty," Garrett said, strutting up after the woman and knuckling her shoulder. "Just ask Fenris. He thinks I'm adorable." Garrett then winked at the strange elf who grunted in return.

"My gauntlets are very sharp, Hawke," the elf rasped in a deep baritone as he fidgeted on his feet, adjusting his belt and brushing invisible dirt from his shoulders. His gauntlets were indeed sharp, along with everything else he wore, but his Jade green eyes looked at her brother with something akin to admiration.

Garrett's strong arms wrapped around her again in a tight hug before he pulled back to introduce his friends properly. "We didn't really have a chance to talk the last time, what with Beth being here and your templar friend sniffing around."

Philippa snorted. "Friend is not the word for it."

Garrett bit his lip in an oddly familiar gesture. "I haven't told Mother we saw you. When we fled the Blight in Lothering, we nearly lost Carver to an ogre. She hasn't been the same since. I don't think it's wise that she knows you're here."

Philippa nodded. "She's already mourned me, Garrett. No reason to stir up long dead emotions."

He frowned lightly. "You talk like you're dead..."

I might as well be. I'm never getting out of this place," Philippa reasoned. "I've known mages who tried to escape and all it got them was misery."

"A surprisingly refreshing outlook," the tattooed elf said gruffly.

Garrett turned a raised brow on the elf who simply returned the expression. Before either of them could say another word, the dwarf stepped in. "Hawke, didn't you have other business here?"

"The herbalist, right!" Garrett said, gripping Philippa in another tight hug before looking her over one last time. "Stay well, sister. I'll be in touch. You still owe me a story about why you're in Kirkwall."

As Garrett left her, Philippa checked her pouch of herbs to be certain she had everything she needed and then headed back toward the Gallows to mix everything up so she could start testing different mixtures on Feynril. She was weighing odds in her head as to how the different herbs would affect Feynril and not paying much attention to where she was going. She collided quite effectively with another person that had been going the other direction. "Shit, sorry," she said immediately glancing up to see who she had run into.

"Pardon me. I was not looking where I was going," the familiar face answered in a monotone.

Philippa felt her jaw drop and her heart clench as she realized who she was speaking to. Her stomach flipped first in fear and then in rage. Karl stared back at her, no real regret in his tone as he observed proper etiquette for bumping into another human being. Just above his empty eyes, the fresh brand in the shape of the Andrastian sunburst stood out starkly against his pale skin. "Holy Maker, Karl. What have they done?" she gasped.

"Do not concern yourself. I am better this way," Karl droned.

Philippa felt white hot rage fill her gut and she pushed past the shell of Karl, not bothering to spare her sympathy. He was in no position to accept it. She had watched another of her friends make the choice to lose herself to tranquility, but Karl would never have done that. Which only meant that it had been done to him. Someone had a lot of explaining to do.

Knowing her protests would fall on deaf ears if she went to Meredith, she stormed past the Knight-Commander's office and straight for Cullen's. He had been reasonable once. She was banking on whatever was left of his old self seeing what a horrible injustice had been wrought. Luckily, he was sat behind his desk, in the midst of a pile of paperwork. She swept into the room and slammed her palm down on top of the paper directly in front of him. "Karl Thekla!" she shouted angrily.

Cullen looked up at her with a frown, his eyes doing their familiar dance toward his sword at her emotionally driven interruption. "Who?" he said through gritted teeth.

She let out a loud, one note guffaw. "You know, I don't know if you're actually this blind, or if it is willful. Karl Thekla. Former mage of the Circle of Ferelden, most recently of Kirkwall, and now a tranquil. How is Meredith getting away with putting the brand to Harrowed mages? That's against Chantry law!"

Cullen looked briefly confused as he gathered himself and then he pressed his lips together, looking down at her hand that was still lying flat on his paperwork. "That is only technically true. If the Knight-Commander is given proper reason to believe the mage in question is a danger to themselves or others around them..."

"Karl wasn't a 'danger' to anyone!" she growled, her own emotions stirring high enough to draw a small amount of heat to the surface. "How can you sit there and justify Meredith's actions!?" As he watched her carefully, probably sensing the rise in temperature in the room, she took a breath and lifted her hand from his desk. Not that which is most base... "You know this is wrong, Cullen... At least you would have. I can never tell anymore."

His own sigh slipped from his mouth as he noted that she had reigned in her outburst. "While I was not present for the Rite, I'm certain Meredith did not act without provocation. She does nothing without reason."

Philippa snorted wryly. "I doubt 'reason' is Meredith's strong suit. In fact I'm not even certain it's in her vocabulary."

Cullen glared at her again. "I would tread lightly if I were you. You'd do well to remember that Meredith has placed both you and Feynril on probation..."

"Save your threats," she growled. "You know I'm right. If you take your head out of Meredith's ass for a few minutes, you might just see it, too." With that, she turned on her heel and stormed from Cullen's office, completely forgetting the experiments she had planned.

Chapter Text

After he was made tranquil, Philippa stopped seeing Karl. Normally, the tranquil and their blank stares were something she avoided like the Blight, but still she would on occasion notice them out in the courtyard behind tables, selling magical wares, or in the laboratories handling lyrium, enchanting items, and sorting herbs for the stockroom. When she noticed he had been gone for nearly a week, she approached the First Enchanter.

Orsino balked at her question when she first presented it, but then he sighed heavily, a saddened expression creeping onto his face. “I'm sorry, Phil. Karl is dead.”

“Dead!?” she cried in horror, her stomach sinking. “What in the Void happened?”

Orsino hurried around her to close his door quietly so they wouldn't be overheard. “Please. Sit down. You knew Karl? Before?”

“He was a bit older, but we were apprentices together. We had mutual friends,” she explained, taking the seat he offered her before her shocked knees gave out beneath her.

“You deserve the truth, then,” Orsino sat across his desk from her. He folded his hands and looked her over once more before he continued. “Karl was caught composing a letter to an apostate that lives in the Undercity. I have tried my best to keep attention off the man because he does good work for refugees and the less fortunate. The letter spoke of a meeting between the two that would end in Karl's escape from the Gallows. Had I been the one to discover the letter, I would have swept it under the carpet, but it was found during inspection by one of Meredith's pets. Ser Alrik. I'm sure you've heard the name...” Philippa scowled. Ser Alrik had a reputation in the Gallows. She considered herself lucky that she had never had cause to associate with him. “After he was made tranquil for his designs on escape, Alrik had Karl finish the letter and send it off to it's recipient in hopes of capturing the apostate. Every single templar who attended, as well as Karl were slain in the undertaking. Of course, Alrik abstained from the meeting, so he still lingers like the festering sore he is.”

“How could you let this happen?” Philippa asked, knowing exactly who they had been trying to capture.

“I knew nothing about it until it was too late,” Orsino insisted. “I beg you, Phil. Do not involve yourself. Meredith is itching for a reason to hand you over to Ser Alrik. There is nothing to be done about Karl.”

Philippa pressed her lips together, swallowing her protest. There were other ways to get things done than causing a fuss on Meredith's doorstep. Philippa had never in her life believed that anything Anders had done in the name of freedom was right, but now that she was seeing exactly what it was like for the mages in Kirkwall, experiencing it, something needed to be done. Rather than escape herself, she meant to help those who needed it, as discreetly as possible. It was time she reached out to her old friend.

 

Over the course of the next few months, Philippa discreetly went about memorizing the patrol routes of each and every templar that was given the night shift. Most of them had a pattern that was laughably easy to map out. She took quiet excursions from her room to familiarize herself with the Gallows nearly as well as she had Kinloch Hold. The process was time consuming and difficult during the day as she worked around her other duties which included closely monitored sessions with the still nervous Feynril. He was not taking to magic as easily as she had, and it seemed no matter what herbs she mixed for him, the demons would not leave him be.

That left her with the nighttime hours. It was easy at first, slipping out, taking a stroll, making a mental map, and slipping back to her room. It seemed to her that the templar recruits were getting fewer in number, making her job easier. If she couldn't even keep recruits, Meredith must have been a hard-ass to her own people as well as the mages. Once she was given a new roommate, the task became a dozen times harder. Her name was Ella. She had dark brown hair cropped at her chin and thick bangs that covered her forehead. Her skin and eyes were a chocolate brown and her smile was kind. She was a quiet girl until Philippa made the mistake of being friendly. Suddenly, they were best friends and Philippa was subjected to late hours filled with talk of Ella's family and philosophical questions. She remembered enjoying nights like those with Anders and then later with Finn, but now it was standing in her way of finding out the secrets of the mage underground. When Ella would finally go to sleep, Philippa would lie awake, waiting to be certain she was fully asleep before getting quietly out of bed and creeping through the halls.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity of sleepless nights, Philippa felt confident enough to make contact with Anders. Orsino had let it slip that he was living in the Undercity, so it was a simple matter to slip a note to a raven and send it off. After the incident with Karl, Anders was understandably leery of her request, and ignored her first few letters.

Four months after her initial request, she was out in the courtyard on a typical Tuesday, browsing the shops and making her allotted time stretch as best she could. As she stopped to talk with Sol, she noticed that the templar recruits were looking shadier than usual. One of the boys, with a pale complexion and black hair was speaking to one of the girls who had light blue eyes and blonde hair. In spite of not being able to hear what they were saying, something about the two of them stirred a familiar feeling in Philippa. Her throat clenched as the headache began to throb behind her eyes. Something was very wrong. She apologized to Sol for cutting their conversation short and scanned the courtyard, keeping one eye fixed on the couple. The boy rubbed his forehead and the girl touched his arm with a concerned look on her face. He pulled away abruptly and with a stuttered excuse, he walked away from her. Philippa's headache followed the boy. Finding her target, Philippa approached Cullen, taking her lip between her teeth and drawing his attention. “Cullen, you have a serious problem.”

“What is it this time, Hawke?” he growled irritably.

His irritation bubbled alongside the throbbing in her skull and set off her own annoyance. “Could you at least pretend that anything I have to say is important?... Don't roll your eyes at me! One of your recruits has a demon inside him...” she hissed angrily.

“Beg pardon?” Cullen barked. “That's insane.”

Philippa crossed her arms and pursed her lips. “Fine, don't believe me. But don't say I didn't warn you...” She threw her hands up and waved them mockingly. “Try to do a templar a favor...” Then she rolled her eyes just like he had and stormed off.

 

All afternoon, she worried about the problem brewing in the templar ranks. How had a templar gotten possessed? It should have been highly improbable, if not impossible. She was pouring over a tome, only retaining about half the information when someone quietly cleared their throat behind her. She turned to see who it had been, and Cullen was standing sheepishly near the back of her chair, his hand rubbing nervously over the back of his neck as he looked anywhere but directly at her. She cocked a brow in question as he shuffled his feet. “Whatever it was, I didn't do it,” she said with a smirk. Then she frowned jokingly. “I don't think...”

Cullen sighed, rolling his eyes before they fell on her. “Listen, I came to... apologize. You were right... again.”

“Oh!” she said brightly, smiling mockingly. “That has to be a record! I mean... I'm usually right, but you admitting it... that's a record.”

“Maker's breath...” Cullen mumbled, his expression souring. “I just thought you should know that I followed Wilmod from the Gallows after you mentioned we might have a problem. Another recruit drew my attention to some odd behavior on his behalf. He had also been missing for sometime, so...”

“Wait! You've had recruits go missing and turn back up, but you didn't think to question them?” she interrupted with a frown. So it had not just been her imagination in noticing the disappearances.

“We did, but his explanations seemed genuine. The matter was put to rest,” Cullen explained. “At any rate, I followed after him to the coast where I confronted him. My questioning was interrupted by someone you might find of note. A young man with black hair that introduced himself as Hawke...”

“Ah...” Philippa nodded, her cheeks flushing. “That would be my twin brother. Didn't I mention he was in Kirkwall?”

“You know very well that you didn't. Not to me at any rate, even though you find it prudent to bring everything else to my attention over the Knight-Commander's head...” he hinted.

Philippa shrugged and bit her lip. “Chain of command?”

“Of course...” he said with a halfhearted scowl. “Anyway. After your brother's intervention, Wilmod revealed himself to be possessed. Hawke helped me take him down, along with a slew of other shades and demons that he summoned.”

“Garrett seems to like praise. I hope you thanked him,” she hinted with a grin.

“Hmm... That must run in the family. If you must know, I not only thanked him, but enlisted his help in locating another of our missing recruits in hopes of getting to him before he succumbs to a similar fate,” Cullen revealed.

“If he manages to bring back the recruit, I would be happy to have a look and let you know if he has a passenger,” she offered.

“I'll keep that in mind, thank you,” Cullen agreed.

“Ooh, praise...” she teased with a chuckle.

 

A few days later, Philippa received a note from a tranquil in the middle of one of her lessons with Feynril. It had no signature, and she failed to recognize the hand. Five words adorned the small slip of paper. You're needed in the Courtyard. She frowned at the note and looked up at the tranquil that had delivered it. “Who asked for me?”

“Knight-Captain Cullen,” the hazy eyed girl reported.

“Thank you,” Philippa said, and the tranquil bowed, leaving her and Feynril. Philippa sighed, looking over the note again. “I've half a mind to ignore this.”

“Is that wise?” Feynril asked. “It's fine really. I could just... read until you get back?”

She smiled at her lone apprentice and nodded. “I shouldn't be long.”

With Cullen's note clutched in her hand in case she was stopped by another templar, she headed toward the courtyard. When she stepped out into the chill of the autumn day, she glanced around, savoring the sun on her face as she crossed to where Cullen stood. There were two younger people with him, one a girl in a patched dress, and the other a templar recruit if his armor could be believed. They both had light blonde hair and bright blue eyes that made Philippa believe they must be siblings. They embraced warmy as she approached. At nearly the same time, another group of people stepped up as well. Before Philippa could even make a comment about being summoned by the Knight-Captain himself, she glanced over at the other group, stopping short as she recognized both of her brothers, Garrett's dwarven friend, and the biggest shock of all, Anders.

When their eyes met, both of them seemed to succumb to a numbing shock. All she could do was stare, her jaw dropping ridiculously as his did the same. He had changed since she had seen him last. His face had thinned as well as his person, as if he was neglecting meals on a regular basis. His right earlobe sported a small golden ring, and the brown and green coat he wore was topped with feathered pauldrons. Hide pants and tall boots completed the ensemble. Not only had he changed on the outside, but as she stood there gaping, she felt another presence recognizing her from beneath his skin. She heaved a ragged sigh, looking away from him as she realized he had gone and gotten himself possessed. As she poked at the spirit lightly, she noted that she had no numbing throbbing headache like with demons. It was simply a spirit. Maker knew what it had embodied before Anders had gotten a hold of it, but it was teetering on the edge of something darker. His anger had nearly corrupted it. Garrett spoke before she had a chance to say a word. "I've got some good news and some bad news," he said, addressing Cullen who turned from Philippa to look at her brother, his expression falling to dread.

"What? What is it?" he asked desperately.

"Good news, Keran is safe. Bad news, half of your recruits may have been possessed by demons," he informed him bluntly.

"Sweet blood of Andraste!" Cullen gasped, his cheeks paling, as the recruit and his sister both turned to look at Garrett, while Cullen's eyes snapped to her. She had not even been concerned over the two blonde siblings until then.

"D-demons? Did you say something about the recruits and demons?" the girl gasped, taking a step away from her brother.

"I didn't want to tell you, Macha. They... they were horrible. Those mages see the rest of us as ants to be crushed," the boy said in fear. "They won't stop until they've destroyed the Chantry and the templars forever."

"Not all mages are like that," Philippa said pointedly, finding her voice as she fixed her eyes on Cullen.

"Sister, not now," Carver begged, shocking her as he admitted their familial bond.

"True, not every mage gives in to temptation," Cullen agreed. "But none are ever free of it. At any time, any mage could become a monster, from the lowest apprentice to the most seasoned enchanters. Mages cannot be treated like people." he looked back at Garrett. "They are not like you and me."

Philippa glared angrily at Cullen as Garrett pursed his lips, watching the exchange with interest. Macha stepped back beside her brother. "Surely that's a little harsh."

"They are weapons," Cullen sighed sadly. "They have the power to light a city on fire in a fit of pique."

Garrett stepped closer to Cullen, raising a finger and setting a dazzling grin on him. "I admit, that does reduce their bargaining position, but there must be some middle ground," he suggested.

Cullen looked him over. "Perhaps you're right. Perhaps mages need better education as to why the Chantry functions as it does. Perhaps they would not go against the will of Andraste herself. I will look into it," he said. Philippa didn't think that was exactly what Garrett had been saying, but it was a breakthrough to have gone from 'mages aren't people' to 'perhaps you're right', in just a few sentences. Why had she never been able to get through to him that easily? Perhaps because she embodied everything that he feared. "For now, Keran, unless it is proven you are free of demons, I must strip you of your commission immediately."

"No! You can't really think that. Keran's fine. He's safe," Macha begged, hugging her brother's arm.

"Please, ser. I tried to resist. I never took anything they offered. I... I need this position or my sister can't eat. I've been training for five years!" Keran pleaded.

Cullen looked to Philippa for direction. As she nodded, feeling no demon or spirit attached to the young recruit, Garrett also spoke up. "We conducted tests on Keran. He's not possessed. He can stay in the Order."

"I hesitate to ask what methods you used that you are so certain," Cullen said with a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Still, you have done much for us by stopping these blood mages. I will heed your request. If he has shown no sign of demonic possession in ten years' time, Keran will become eligible for full knighthood."

"Thank you, serah," Macha said gratefully, reaching out to take Garrett's hand in her own. "Again. But without a full knighthood, Keran's pay is so small... I do not know if I can reward you as you deserve..."

"I will handle that, miss," Cullen said with a small chuckle, offering Garrett a coin purse. "You have done the Order a great service. We will not forget it."

As Keran and his sister left arm in arm, Cullen glanced between Philippa and Garrett. She didn't think he had even recognized Anders' presence. He had remained uncharacteristically quiet as the talk of mages was tossed around. Certainly getting possessed had not altered him so drastically that he didn't react when a templar called mages less than human. Philippa's gaze remained unerringly on Cullen, not wishing to draw attention to Anders by staring at him again. “Knight-Captain, might I steal a word with my sister in private?” Garrett suddenly asked.

Cullen's eyes narrowed, but when they fell on her, he sighed and waved a hand. “Only a few moments. I believe she has an apprentice waiting.”

“I won't be long,” she assured him.

With one final glance between them, Cullen moved away, following after Keran and his sister. “Phil, I...” Garrett began with a smile, but she stepped around him and bore down on Anders.

“You stupid idiot! What have you done?” she growled.

Anders' tall frame crumpled as she scolded him, folding in on himself like he had when Karl had scolded him after he had escaped for the third time. “So I'm guessing you two know each other...” Garrett said, stepping between them, still grinning sardonically.

“Intimately,” she continued angrily, her eyes never leaving Anders. “I knew you were prone to crazy impulses, Anders, but this one takes the cake.”

“It's not like that,” he said softly. His voice hadn't changed, at least. “This was not some impulse.”

She snorted as she rolled her eyes. "Is the fact that your possession was planned supposed to make me feel better?”

“Why don't you shout?” he growled in return, straightening to her challenging stance. “We're only in the middle of the bloody Gallows. Maybe you should call your templar friend back over so they can capture me and brand me like they did Karl!”

Philippa pressed her lips together. “Everything that happened to Karl can be laid at your feet...” she snapped.

A flash of blue shifted across Anders' usually honey colored eyes. She swore she briefly saw his skin crack as a similar blue light shone through from within. The touch of his spirit passenger intensified for a split second before he inhaled a deep breath. Garrett placed his body between them, his hand restrainingly on Anders' chest. “Hey now, let's not make a scene.” He said brightly.

Anders' eyes flicked from Philippa to Garrett and he smiled softly. “I'm sorry, Hawke. You're right.” Then he looked away from her brother to settle his eyes on her again. “I knew you were in Kirkwall. I ignored your letters because I could not be certain they weren't a trap. Now it seems that we need to have a much longer conversation than can be had in the time here.”

“If nothing else, I deserve an explanation,” she said, her chest constricting.

He nodded in agreement, “You do... I'll be in touch.”

 

There was one thing about the Gallows that differed from Kinloch. The mages' rooms most definitely did not have locks. Philippa was reminded quite bluntly about that fact the evening after seeing Anders. His idea of 'being in touch' happened to involve him using the underground tunnels to sneak into the Circle and into her room to press his hand over her mouth as a wake up. When she bolted awake, his hand holding her in place, she looked around frantically and drew on her mana to knock her attacker off her. He grabbed her hand that was nearly swirling with magic already and used his own mana to drain her reserves. “Blimey,” he cursed softly.

Hearing his voice allowed her to identify him in the darkness and she huffed angrily into his hand, cutting her eyes at him, noticing his golden earring catching a small light that was coming in from the door he'd left slightly ajar. She lifted her opposite arm and pried his hand from her lips. “What in the Void are you doing?” she hissed, glancing over to where Ella was blessedly still sleeping.

In lieu of a response, he tipped his head toward the door and stood, releasing his hold on her completely after pouring her mana back into her core. She threw off her blankets and stuffed her feet in her boots, and still in her sleeping clothes, she followed him to the hallway. She pulled the door closed behind her and he took her hand, leading them toward the kitchens and the tunnels. She struggled to remember what night it was and suddenly she froze, tugging him to a stop as well. She had not gone on a walkabout that night, because it was Ser Alrik's night for patrolling the Circle. She had no idea what time it was, nor where he might be lurking at that particular moment. Her heart beginning to race, she remained still as he tried to tug her along. At her steadfast resistance, he set a questioning look on her. It was strange how easily they fell into their old ability to read each other. His own eyes widened. “Ser Alrik?” There was that flash of blue beneath the surface again, briefly lighting the shadowy hallway. When she nodded, his expression darkened, but he tugged her hand again. “He's on the other side of the Gallows. I'm not stupid, Phil.”

“Could have fooled me,” she sighed, rolling her eyes and allowing him to pull her after.

As she predicted, they ended up in the musty, lyrium scented tunnels. Before she had a chance to give him an earful, he turned on her, his eyes pleading. “Phil, I'm sorry for barging in on you unannounced, but I couldn't risk writing anything that could be intercepted. If anything happened to you, I'd never forgive myself... and it would have put the underground at risk to talk about these tunnels in a note.”

She scoffed in annoyance, flicking her hand to create a wisp for light. “My how times have changed. The great escapist breaking into the Circle.” She crossed her arms.

“You don't seem surprised about these tunnels,” he said suspiciously, his eyes narrowing as he ignored her jab.

She snorted. “Anders, I've been here nearly two years. Did you really think I hadn't discovered all of the secrets of the Gallows?” She didn't want to reveal that Karl had shown them to her long before she'd begun discovering half the secrets in this place.

He smiled weakly. “No, I suppose not... It's good to see you, Phil.”

“I would say the same, but... who's your friend, Anders?” she asked, reaching out to settle her hand on the curve of his neck and reach toward him with her magic to taste his spirit.

He grabbed at her wrist and pulled her away before she could get a look at his extra passenger, that flash of blue decorating his eyes again. She frowned. “That's the whole point,” he said after a moment. “How much do you know about what happened to me after I escaped Kinloch for the last time?”

She shrugged, pulling her arm from his grip. “No more than you hear from rumors. I'd rather hear the truth.”

Anders sighed heavily. “I'm sure the truth is much less fanciful than you might have heard.”

She crossed her arms again and moved toward the wall to settle herself on an abandoned barrel. Crossing her legs, she said, “I have time.”

With a heavy sigh, he sagged against the opposite wall, a dusting of sandy stone falling down behind him, dislodged by his weight. “I could hardly believe my luck after I managed to get free of the tower. It was almost too simple. The templars didn't even see me while they scurried around trying to get a handle on what was happening. I was across the lake in less than five minutes...”

“You know, let me stop you there. I've always wondered how you crossed the lake all those times. I only saw you swim it once...”

A hint of the old Anders shone through as he smirked at her. “You've never asked me how I escaped before...”

She shrugged. “Professional curiosity...”

He nodded. “Ice bridge... I froze the lake beneath my feet.”

“Fade step to freedom,” she chuckled softly.

“In a sense,” he nodded again. After a moment's pause, he continued. “When I had escaped the time before, I had stupidly headed straight for the northern shore, looking for passage to Kirkwall. With the distraction in the tower, I figured it was my chance to head to Denerim and see if I couldn't figure out how to get my phylactery and destroy it, like Jowan had done. Without that, they couldn't track me, as you know. What I didn't anticipate was the news that because of the Blight, all of the mages' phylacteries had been split up and sent across the country to different cities in the bannorn. I got stuck in Denerim trying to track down where mine had been shipped off to, and then the Darkspawn attacked. I was in the city during the final battle with the Archdemon. I helped as best I could, fighting back the horde. I even saved Amell's life quite by chance. She was attacked by an emissary in the market. It knocked her back, cracked her skull. It was lucky I was there, really. I saved her so she could save Ferelden.

“At any rate, after the battle, I managed to get out of the city and discovered my phylactery might be in Amaranthine. The roads in and out of Amaranthine were dodgy, and I was forced to take the long way around. With the Blight over, I suppose the templars had a chance to get off their asses and track me down. They caught me right outside the city.” He chuckled wryly. “Worst job they ever took on, I should think... Long story short, we stopped for the night in Vigil's Keep, Amell showed up just after my entourage was killed by Darkspawn, and actually believed me when I told her the truth. When the templars tried to recapture me and execute me for 'murdering' their comrades, she stood up for me... took me under her protection. I'll always be grateful for that, in spite of... everything.” He sighed. “You're cousins, you know? Well, second cousins.”

“What?” Philippa sat straighter, her eyes widening.

“Your mother's family name, before she married your father, was Amell. Hawke and the rest of your family. They're living with your uncle, Gamlen Amell, in lowtown,” Anders explained. “Her mother and yours were cousins.”

Philippa frowned. “You seem to know an awful lot about my family. How did you and Garrett get mixed up together.”

Anders' cheeks flushed lightly and he cleared his throat. “That was actually quite by accident...” She rolled her wrist, prompting him to continue his story. “After I took the Joining and became a Warden, Amell dragged me and the other recruits through some interesting and usually sticky situations. One of those involved being trapped in the Fade by a talking Darkspawn...” At Philippa's questioning expression, he shook his head and held up his palms. “Don't ask. That, however, is where I met Justice. A very powerful pride demon had trapped an entire village in the Fade and he was there trying to help the trapped souls. When the demon ripped open the Veil to escape, we were all dragged from the Fade, Justice included. He had nowhere to go and was stuck in the decaying body of a dead Grey Warden.

“We got to know each other rather well, and he started to see what I had always seen. The injustice of the Circle. As the body he was in rotted around him, we agreed that something needed to be done. We were friends. I couldn't just let him rot. We merged... a particularly trying experience that neither of us came from without scars... I left the Wardens not long after, and came to Kirkwall to continue my quest to help Karl. We communicated for months, planning his escape. Then one day, coincidentally, the day we were planning his escape, I was approached by a man looking for information about the Deep Roads in the area. Justice and I saw the use in a helping hand for the rescue, and offered a trade. My maps that I had stolen from the Wardens in exchange for backup.”

“Let me guess... Garrett?” she asked.

“I didn't know it at the time, but yes,” Anders answered, his voice choked. “When everything went to shit in the Chantry, Justice made an appearance while we were fighting the templars. His presence pulled Karl back for a few moments. He begged for death to replace the inhuman existence of being tranquil. I...” Anders paused, looking down at his hands that he held before him. She could see his tears reflected in the light of her wisp. He drew in a breath and continued, his voice wavering slightly. “I had to help him, Phil.” He cleared his throat. “When it was all over, Hawke followed me back to my clinic. That's when he told me his name and I made the connection. I'm not sure why I didn't recognize it sooner. You look so much alike.”

She snorted. “I'm much more handsome.”

He chuckled around the somber tone hovering between them. “You share that, too, you know...”

“Sass?” she asked with a smirk.

“More like questionable wit, but yes,” he said with a smile.

“You sound almost enamored with my brother,” Philippa pointed out.

“He is very... enigmatic. But that's not me anymore, Phil.” He sighed again. “There are much more important things in life.”

She bit her lip, studying his distant look as he shuffled his feet in the dirt that lined the wooden path. “You said your spirit was Justice? Are you aware... Anders, do you know that 'he' is clinging to that virtue by a thread?”

Anders cringed. “My anger, Phil... The greatest injustice was what happened after we merged. He doesn't possess me... He is me, and I turned him into a force of vengeance. We just wanted to help.”

She got down from the barrel she was sitting on and crossed the narrow path to stand in front of him. She reached up, cupping his lightly stubbled jaw in her palm, gently brushing a tear from his cheek. Then she pulled him to her and kissed his forehead with a light brush of her lips. “I'm sorry, Anders.” Then she pulled him into a hug.

He stiffened in surprise at first, but then melted into her arms, wrapping his own around her waist. After a few minutes, he pulled away and his honey eyes met hers. “Enough about me, Phil. How did you end up in Kirkwall?”

It was her turn to cringe. “Uldred's coup... It practically destroyed the Veil surrounding the Circle. All that blood magic, all the death... I can sense demons, and spirits, too. Just like I knew about Justice. Without the Veil at full strength, it was like all of the demons that are drawn to my magic were clustered inside my head trying to claw their way out. Day and night, the headaches were agonizing. Eventually, I had to say goodbye to everything and request for a transfer. Something... happened to Cullen during the coup. He also requested a transfer, so we were both carted off here together. He got promoted and I got library duty. That was until Feynril arrived. A gift from my brother, I'm told. He is a somniari, like me.”

“Hawke never mentioned a somniari,” Anders said with a raised brow.

“It's likely he didn't realize. Orsino probably only recognized the signs from my records. We stood up to Meredith and I'm now Feynril's mentor until he is Harrowed. We were given a year probation each,” she explained.

“Probation? What in the bloody Void does that mean? You're a Harrowed mage. She can't put you to the brand!” He growled angrily, another flicker of Justice peeking from his eyes.

Philippa snorted, remembering Cullen's dismissal of that 'law'. “Meredith sees Chantry law as more like suggestions. And she really doesn't like what I can do. It's far too close to blood magic for her taste, even though the two branches have nothing to do with each other.”

“Maker, and I thought Greagoir was bad.” Anders paused, getting Justice under control before he spoke again. “I noticed the fear in your eyes earlier when you thought you might be caught by Ser Alrik. Have you had many dealings with him?”

Philippa shook her head. “Since I was brought to the Circle as a child, I've never feared a templar. Wynne called them window dressings.” She chuckled, hugging herself against the chill in the tunnels that easily penetrated her thin nightdress. “I've heard only a little about Ser Alrik, but it was enough to make me want to steer clear of him.”

“I've heard more. He's the templar who performed the ritual on Karl. I have people looking into him, but my inside sources are not as reliable as I would like. They scare easily. Typical Circle mages,” he grumbled.

“Present company is offended,” she said sarcastically.

He looked her over, his expression belying the wheels turning in his head. “You said you know the secrets of this Circle... and you don't sound as if you're happy here. Would you be willing to help the Underground?”

“Just because I know things, doesn't mean I have access to them, Anders. I'm not exactly the most popular girl in the Gallows...”

“Then why was it that the Knight-Captain summoned you to the Courtyard today?” Anders asked.

“When another of the recruits returned, I felt the demon inside him. I warned Cullen. He asked me there to make certain that the one Garrett found and returned wasn't carrying a passenger,” she explained.

“I had already conducted a test to prove he was possession free,” Anders frowned. “Couldn't your Knight-Captain just believe Hawke when he gave the report?”

“First of all, he isn't my Knight-Captain,” she said defensively. “Secondly, Garrett couldn't exactly say that his mage friend was sure... Cullen is not the same templar you remember from Kinloch Hold. You heard what he said today. 'Mages aren't people'. He doesn't trust anyone with magic.”

“Yet he seems to trust you,” Anders pointed out with his brow raised.

She shrugged. “We have an understanding. I'm just the right amount of annoying that I am able to talk reason into his lyrium suffused brain, but not so annoying that he has reason to report me to Meredith. I wouldn't call it trust.”

“But it could be useful. Think about it, Phil.” Anders suggested, his hand briefly gripping her bicep. “I should be going. I assume you know the way back to your room?”

She nodded. “Oh, one more thing, Anders. If it's not some big secret, why did Garrett need maps of the Deep Roads?”

“He and Varric are planning some expedition. It will supposedly make them enough coin to get out of Lowtown. Your uncle's place is not exactly a mansion. With the five of them living together, it's a bit cramped. The life of a refugee in Kirkwall is far from easy, but your brother has made quite a name for himself. The twins are good in a pinch as well, even if Carver is a tit.” Anders' lip curled up slightly for a moment. “But Beth is sweet.”

She nodded, biting her lip. “Tell Garrett I wish him luck. I'm glad he's looking after Mother and our siblings. He always was a protector.”

“Goodnight, Phil. Be careful getting back to your room,” Anders warned before tapping his staff on the ground and lighting the tip so he could see in the darkness ahead.

 

Philippa rarely got invited to meetings within the Circle anymore. Usually, any news of changes to her routine was reported to her after the fact. When Orsino summoned her to the weekly meeting, it made her nervous. She sat in a chair, situated around an ornate oak table. The collection of Senior Enchanters and Enchanters all settled in, some of them eyeing her warily. She slouched in the chair, not wishing to stand out any more than she already was. This meeting was eerily familiar, reminding her of the last one she had attended in Kinloch right before everything collapsed. She stroked the spine of her quill, the smooth texture of the feather centering her nerves. Once everyone was seated, Orsino stood and held up his hands for silence.

“My fellow mages, This meeting is a bit different today. I've called you all here because there has been a fire in the Circle in Starkhaven. From what I understand, it was severe enough that the place is no longer habitable. Their population has been split up between Ansburg, Ostwick and ourselves. We will all need to be accommodating to the newcomers. I will be writing out new schedules for everyone and some of you will be assigned new apprentices and interns.”

There was an influx of chatter that erupted around the table. Philippa frowned, wondering what exactly this had to do with her. She was likely not going to be given any new apprentices or interns. Her question was soon answered as Orsino quieted everyone and continued. “In an attempt to make the transition as painless as possible for our new friends, Phil, I would like for you to work alongside Marcella to stock up the infirmary and set it up for the injured and the weary that we are likely to receive. You are our two best healers.”

Marcella spoke up, clearing her throat. She was an older woman, her hair still clinging desperately to the vestiges of brown from her youth. Her hazel eyes narrowed as she set them on Philippa. “It's no trouble, First Enchanter. I don't wish to distract 'Phil' from her mentoring duties. I can run the infirmary alone.”

Philippa pressed her lips together while Orsino insisted. “With all due respect, Marcella, you are an excellent healer, but you are no spirit healer. I would prefer if you and Phil worked together.”

As the rest of the meeting droned on, Marcella's eyes cut daggers at Philippa. When they finally adjourned, Philippa gathered her things and headed directly for Marcella. “From the way you're glaring, Marcella, you would think I smelled of rotten onions. Is there a reason I'm the focus of your cutting stare?”

“If you must know, I don't trust you,” Marcella said bluntly.

Philippa drew her head back, her lip curling. “You don't even know me. Haven't you ever heard the phrase 'don't judge a book by it's cover'?”

The older woman pursed her lips and glanced around to be sure that the crowd had dispersed before she spoke again. “I was friends with Mharen for nearly four decades. You show up and suddenly she goes missing... I think you did something to her. Sent her into a trap...”

“What in the Maker's name gave you that idea?” Philippa gasped.

“I know what you are. It doesn't take a genius to see that you bewitched my oldest friend with blood magic and coerced her to leave the safety of the Gallows. I think you're in league with her murderer. I took my suspicions to Ser Emeric and he assured me that a certain Serah Hawke was the one who discovered Mharen's bones. This forced me to conclude that not only were you in league with the murderer, but you were related. Unfortunately, Emeric brushed aside my suspicions...”

Philippa stared at Marcella, her mouth gaping. Suddenly, a shudder of fear coursed through her veins, turning her blood to ice. “You can't just go around accusing people of blood magic and conspiracy without evidence! What would I even have against Mharen?”

“Does a blood mage need a reason to prey on the weak?” Marcella accused.

Philippa harrumphed. “So by your logic, you probably shouldn't have told me that you suspected me. Now my next step should be to bewitch you and send you off to my brother, yes?”

All of the color drained from Marcella's face. “Did you just threaten me?”

Philippa pressed her lips together, hugging her waist with one arm and tapping her lips with the other. “Hmm... yes... I could see where you might think that. But since I'm not a blood mage, to answer your question, no that was not a threat. I wouldn't even know where to begin to bewitch another person's mind.”

Philippa tensed as another voice entered the room. “What is going on in here?”

Cullen moved to stand between the two of them, his calculating eyes studying both of them in turn. “Knight-Captain! You're just in time,” Philippa said loudly in mock excitement. “Marcella here was just accusing me rather brazenly of being a blood mage.”

Cullen cringed. “Wh...” he cleared his throat and drew himself taller, his hands wrapping tightly around the hilt of his sword. “Why exactly do you have reason to accuse Enchanter Hawke of such a grave crime?”

“Think about what happened to her roommate, Ser. Mharen would never leave the Gallows on her own...” Marcella reasoned.

Cullen's brow rose slightly before the right half of his lips followed. “Are you aware that Enchanter Hawke was the one to report Mharen's disappearance before anyone had even noticed she was gone? Why draw attention to the deed if it was her doing? There is no logic in that.”

Philippa was actually shocked to hear Cullen standing up for her, but gladdened as well. He was blowing the wind right out of Marcella's sails. The older mage glanced between the two of them, sputtering about her conclusions. Finally, Philippa had enough. “Listen, Marcella. If we can't work together without you accusing me of blood magic, I am more than happy to take the burden of the infirmary onto my shoulders completely. You can go back to hating me in silence... from afar.”

Philippa swore she caught a slight snort of amusement from Cullen before he spoke up. “I think that is a wise decision. I will inform the First Enchanter personally of the change in plans and explain the necessity. You may both go.”

Marcella stormed out angrily, her long braid flapping behind her. Philippa turned to look at Cullen with a smile. “Thank you.”

“No need. What I said was true. No logic would convince a blood mage to report their own misdeeds,” he said stiffly.

She shrugged. “Well, I'm still grateful. At least someone around here doesn't think I'm a blood mage.” She was glad that at least something she had done made the original Cullen peek through. Perhaps if she kept it up, he would finally see that the actions of the misguided souls in Kinloch did not reflect the intentions of others.

Chapter Text

Feynril was not particularly good at creation spells, but he was still her apprentice, so she altered their schedule for the next few weeks as they prepared for the arrival of the Starkhaven mages. She prepared beds, mixed up potions, showed Feynril some simple healing spells and even handled a few of their native mages that came in needing healing after accidents in the classroom.

On the intended arrival date, she was posted in the infirmary, she and Feynril mixing up some last minute healing draughts and poultices. After lunch, there were still no new mages and Philippa started to get curious. Right before she was ready to get up and go find out what the delay was, Ser Thrask knocked softly and entered with a young man. He had dark skin and a mixture of fear and nervousness painted over his face. She guessed he was no older than perhaps seventeen. “It's about time. I was starting to get bored,” Philippa said jokingly as she ushered the boy to a bed so she could check him out. She knew Thrask had been the one that was sent out to the coast to meet the group and their templar escorts, so she glanced briefly away from his charge to ask him. “Can I expect any other patients?” Her tone was harsh because even with the glance over the boy, she saw cuts and bruises that most definitely came from a blade, not from walking through the underbrush.

Thrask cleared his throat awkwardly. “I apologize, Enchanter Hawke. Alain here is all that is left of the Starkhaven mages that traveled to Kirkwall. There was... an incident.”

She raised her brow as she turned her attention to the young man again and began to clean his wounds with a warm, wet rag. “An incident? Did he happen to get into a fight with a rusty dagger, or were these wounds an 'accident'?”

“P-Please,” the boy spoke up, his eyes widening. “Don't blame Ser Thrask. He tried to help us.”

Hawke looked over at Thrask, knowing him well enough to know that the boy was likely telling the truth. “Did he now? So tell me... Alain, was it?... What exactly did happen?”

Alain's eyes flicked back and forth between her and Thrask and Thrask nodded gently. “It's all right, Alain. Enchanter Hawke can be trusted.”

Alain nodded shyly, his eyes dropping to look at his hands. “The mages I was traveling with, they were unhappy with the templars we were being escorted by... one of the apprentices got scared and tried to run a few days ago out by the coast. The templars tracked him down and killed him. He never even attacked them. He was just scared. You hear stories about the Gallows... Anyway, one of the others, Decimus, he attacked the templars and urged us all to flee. We holed up in a cave system on the coast. It wasn't long after that, Decimus began to preach about how wrong the Circles were. Then he cut himself. I... I've never seen or felt something so foul as the magic that he called from his blood.” Alain shuddered visibly, rubbing his hands together. “The dead in the caverns began to rise and attacked everything in sight. I ran. That's how I got these injuries.”

Philippa frowned. “How did you escape the tunnels?”

Thrask cleared his throat and when she glanced at him, he smiled gently. “I called for aide from one Serah Hawke.”

Her eyes widened. “Garrett?” Thrask nodded. She sighed in relief. “My brother does always seem to have himself at the right place at the right time.”

“He was able to go where I could not. Unfortunately, according to him, the others were not so cooperative as Alain here. Some escaped toward the coast, but a good number were killed,” Thrask explained.

Philippa went back to tending to Alain's wounds. “I'm glad at least one of you survived. You did the right thing, Alain.”

 

It was a few weeks later that Philippa got the surprise of a lifetime in the form of a new templar recruit. She was walking through the halls to the infirmary where Orsino had appreciated her work so much that he had requested Meredith allow her to stay. If she had replaced anyone else, she might have felt bad, but Marcella didn't deserve her pity. She set down her things just as Feynril arrived and she smiled at him. His return smile was less than enthusiastic. “More dreams?” she asked knowingly.

He nodded. “They're getting worse, not better,” he explained. “I had a bit of trouble waking up last night.”

She frowned. “Just remember what I taught you. That advice got me through years of dreams.”

His fists clenched. “I'm not you, Phil. Nothing works!”

She felt his magic flare, but she had the presence of mind to shield herself and set a stern look on him. “Get control of yourself before I have to explain why the infirmary burned down around us.”

He closed his eyes, his head dipping as he breathed in deeply and slowly back out. “I'm sorry. I'm just tired.”

She moved to his side, dropping her barrier to place a hand on his shoulder. “I empathize, Feynril. I promise, when your Harrowing is over, things will get much easier.”

“I hope so. I don't know how much more of this I can take,” he said sadly, picking up a fresh cloth and beginning the task of rolling the bandages.

The door opened slowly and Cullen poked his head in. “I trust this is not a bad time, Enchanter Hawke,” he said politely.

“Of course not, come in, Knight-Captain. How can I help?” she said, patting Feynril's shoulder one last time before approaching Cullen. He was followed by a string of young men and women mostly in their late teens and early twenties.

“One of Marcella's previous duties was to evaluate the physical health of the new templar recruits. As the new head physician, that falls to you,” he explained as the recruits lined up behind him, looking around the infirmary. “I trust you're up to the task,” Cullen continued.

“A bit of warning might have been nice, but I can handle it,” she said with half a scowl. She was willing to bet this was dropped in her lap by Meredith looking to toss her out of her new position.

Cullen nodded. “We simply need to know they are fit for training and whether their bodies can handle regularly imbibing lyruim,” he said before turning to the group. “Okay, recruits. Form a line and Enchanter Hawke will see you one by one. Answer any and all questions posed to you truthfully, because trust me, she will know if you are lying.”

She looked up and down the line slowly forming and one of the recruits in particular caught and held her gaze with a scathing glare. She stared for a moment, unable to believe what she was seeing. He placed himself toward the middle of the line, forcing her to wait to get a word with him. She didn't know him well enough to guess his motivations, but she intended to grill him particularly hard. She swallowed her shock at seeing her younger brother and turned to Feynril who was looking on in curiosity. “Feynril, would you mind taking notes for me while I perform the examinations?”

Feynril stood from his seat, setting down a few rolled bandages. “Of course, Phil.”

She spent the better part of her morning with Cullen hovering nearby, watching intently as she performed a standard physical evaluation on each individual recruit and asked them personal questions. He was far enough away that she needn't worry about him overhearing her as she asked those questions, but still, she cast a thin barrier that would muffle their voices while they discussed things.

When Carver finally stepped around the curtain, before she even began, she crossed her arms. “Please tell me this isn't some teenage rebellion.”

He scowled heavily. “Hardly. Beth and I are twenty, now, in case you forgot. As if you were around to remember anyway.”

She returned his scowl. “As if I had a choice. I didn't go to the Circle. They took me there. My point is, you have two mage siblings and still you decide the Chantry is the place for you?”

“I'm not going to turn in Beth, if that's what you're worried about. Unlike your twin, I still know what family loyalty is.” Carver grumbled.

She sat him down on the exam bed, half tempted to perform the tests and rule him unfit. “What exactly does that mean?”

“As I'm certain you've been told, Garrett got us to the city by the skin of our teeth. We've been living under Uncle Gamlen's roof for nearly two years. Garrett found a way to dig us out, but when it came down to actually going on the expedition, I got left behind. He even took the bloody dog. I'm tired of living in his shadow. I need to find my place,” Carver explained angrily.

“And you think that place is with the templars?” Philippa asked with a frown.

“Where would you suggest?” he asked sarcastically.

She snorted. “They city guard, mercenary work, farming, pick up a trade?”

“Maker, you sound like Aveline,” he said with a roll of his eyes.

“Well, I don't know who that is, but she sounds like a smart woman,” Philippa said with a chuckle as she continued her examination.

He shrugged. “Garrett and I worked with mercenaries for a year after we got here. Our skills were used to pay off the debt of getting our family into the city. No one in Kirkwall will take a refugee on as an apprentice, and Aveline insists I would make a terrible guard and keeps burying my application. I have nowhere else to go. If I want my sword arm to mean something in this city, the templars are my last option.”

Finishing her evaluation, Philippa found nothing physically wrong with Carver. He was fit, young and motivated, even if those motivations seemed slightly off kilter. It was not her place to judge his mental state, merely his physical one, and it was exceptional. “Well, as far as I can tell, you're in pique physical condition. Congratulations, brother. You're fit to be a templar.”

“Thank you... Phil... am I allowed to call you that, now?” he said with a crook of his brow. “Or should I call you Enchanter Hawke?”

“It's a personal choice, though most of the templars do call me Enchanter Hawke. Mostly because they don't like me,” she said with a chuckle.

“I suppose I'll figure that out in time,” he said with half a grin.

 

Carver was usually professional when they would bump into each other in the halls. One day, several weeks after he had donned the templar uniform, she was called to Orsino's office. Carver stood in the doorway as well. He greeted her with a simple nod as Orsino ushered her in and offered them both a seat. He glanced between them, his expression sympathetic. “I've called you both here, because the news I've received concerns you both. There was an incident in the Deep Roads during the expedition that your brother and sister went on...” Philippa's heart clenched. This was sounding ominous. “They group they were traveling with was sent ahead to scout and got trapped in the tunnels. Your brother returned to the city yesterday.”

“What of Bethany?” Carver asked, his voice choked.

“I'm sorry, but we don't know,” Orsino said gently.

“What do you mean, you 'don't know'?” Philippa asked, her brow furrowing.

Orsino sighed. “The letter I received from Garrett Hawke stated that while in the Deep Roads, Bethany contracted the Blight sickness. A Grey Warden they were traveling with led them to another group of Wardens nearby and Bethany was handed off to them near death. He has not heard whether she survived the Joining.”

Carver's fists balled and he punched the arms of the chair he was sitting in, the wood creaking. “I should have been with them!” he growled angrily.

Philippa reached out and took Carver's closest hand in hers, attempting to soothe him through the hard metal of his gauntlets. “She'll be fine, Carver...” she said gently.

“What do you know?” he snapped at her.

Philippa bit her lip and flicked her eyes between Carver and the First Enchanter. “Do you have anything of hers, Carver?” she asked warily.

She had never tried to reach someone's dreams from so far away before, but for their sister, she was willing to try. Finding her might at least give closure to her family. “What do you mean?” he asked just as warily.

“Did the templars explain to you what my special ability was when you took up the shield?” Philippa wondered curiously.

He shook his head. “All they said was that you needed to be watched because you were particularly susceptible to possession.”

She snorted, rolling her eyes. “They have no idea...” She cut herself off and sighed. “Demons are drawn to my magic, but possession is a choice. One I will never make. My point is, I am what's known as a 'dreamer'. I can enter the Fade at will and get into other people's dreams if I concentrate hard enough. If I had something of hers to anchor me to her mind, if Bethany is alive, I can tell you.”

Carver balked, his expression souring. “How many mages are capable of that?”

“As far as I know, there are two dreamers alive today in Kirkwall, but we are the only ones. It is an extremely uncommon field,” she assured him. “The gift does not come without it's burdens. Many who are born dreamers do not survive the experience.”

Orsino, who had remained silent through her explanation looked between the two if them, his fingers steepled on his desk. “Phil, I don't have a problem with you exercising your talents, but I would recommend that you do not make it public knowledge. Meredith may construe it a bit differently than you do.”

Philippa glanced at him and snorted again. “Well it's not like I was going to go to sleep on her desk...”

Carver was silent for a few minutes, staring blankly at the front of Orsino's desk, his expression jumping between hurt, fear, and anger. Finally it settled on hurt, and he looked up at Philippa. “I'll bring you something of hers. Do you need anything else?”

“No,” Philippa assured him, “but make it something that she treasured. The connection needs to be strong if I'm going to reach her from such a distance. The last time I was inside someone else's dream, they were only a few rooms away.”

He sighed heavily. “I'll ask Meredith for the rest of the day off to visit Mother.”

Philippa drew in a hiss of breath. “I wouldn't involve Meredith. Ask Cullen. He's likely to be more sympathetic.”

Carver narrowed is eyes but nodded. “If you think that's best. I'll return after supper with something of Beth's.”

 

Philippa saw Carver while she was at supper, but he did not approach her, thankfully not being obvious that they were planning something. Philippa was convinced that if she was caught trying to dream-walk, her probation would end and she would be tranquil before she could blink.

By the time she went to bed, she had Bethany's favorite childhood stuffed animal in her possession. She hid it from Ella as the girl entered, beginning her nightly ritual of talking Philippa's ear off. She was used to it by now. Ella was simply lonely. She could understand the feeling. She had been much the same after she came to Kirkwall. She seemed to miss her family most of all, particularly her mother. She spoke of her often, but Meredith had never granted her permission to write home, so Ella's family had no idea where she even was or if she was safe. Just another failing of the templars in Kirkwall.

When Ella finally said goodnight, Philippa laid down as well, snuffing her candle and going quiet to listen for Ella's snores. It had been a while since Philippa had tried to dream-walk. Since Mharen had gone missing to be exact. She took in a breath, pulling the familiar blanket of the Fade around her and clutching Bethany's doll in her hands. She concentrated on the emotions that Bethany had poured into the doll over the years, reaching for an answering dreaming mind in the Fade. Finally, she caught hold of a wisp, that upon being noticed, swirled around her excitedly and guided her through the Fade. This was unlike stepping into Finn's mind. She knew where he was, how he felt. Bethany was almost a complete stranger in spite of their shared blood. With that thought, she stopped and cursed. “Phil, you idiot,” she grumbled. The wisp bobbed up and down in front of her encouragingly, knowing what she was thinking.

There was something to be said about the bond of siblings. She had met Bethany only once for a few moments, but when she closed her eyes, she could still picture her face as if she had grown up alongside her. She followed that instinct, reaching for her sister. She began to move, relying on her instincts in the Fade to guide her. Suddenly, she felt a physical change in her environment and opened her eyes. She was inside a place that she knew well, the cottage ingrained in her memories from when she was a child. She looked around, seeing the sitting room where she had last sat with her mother as she brushed her hair. Twenty years ago that had been. The furniture was much older than she remembered, battered and frayed from time, the fabric faded. The fireplace crackled and she smiled as she watched Bethany and Garrett sitting on the couch laughing. She watched the scene for a little while, before drawing in a breath and stepping out of sight to work her magic. From beyond the door that led to where she and Garrett used to sleep, (the image faded and incomplete because it was not part of the dream) she took hold of the stitches of the Fade around her and gently woke Bethany from her dream.

After a few moments, as Philippa held onto the image of the sitting room, Bethany softly called out. “Hello?”

She lifted her hands and stepped into the room. “Hello, Bethany.”

Bethany stood, looking up and down Philippa, her brow creasing in a frown. “I was dreaming... this is the Fade. How are we here together?”

“Please let me explain,” Philippa said softly, gesturing Bethany to the couch.

“Are you a demon?” Bethany asked warily.

Philippa chuckled, sitting down on the couch even though Bethany remained standing. “Not the last time I checked... At any rate, I doubt a demon would come to you in my shape. What am I to you? Sure, we share blood, but we know nothing about each other. I don't think I could seduce you even if I tried.”

“Then how are you here?” Bethany demanded.

“Have a seat and let me explain.” Bethany eyed her warily, but finally took a tentative seat on the edge of the couch as far from Philippa as she could get. “First of all, you should know something that Father never did. I am not just any mage. I am called a somniari, or a 'dreamer', if you prefer. I can... shape the Fade around me. I can also enter another person's dreams and take control... alter them if I wish, and I can draw a person from their dreams so I can speak with them in the Fade while they sleep. That's what I'm doing now.”

“Why?” Bethany asked with a sharp inhalation.

“Some news before I explain. While you and Garrett were in the Deep Roads, Carver took it upon himself to join the templar order,” she informed Bethany. Her sister's shoulders slumped and she sighed heavily, but she nodded, prompting Philippa to continue. “When Garrett returned without you, he notified us in the Circle. Carver was upset and no one knew whether you were alive or dead. He went home and retrieved something of yours so I could use it to find you here, in the Fade. We wanted to know if you were safe.”

Bethany nodded in acceptance. “I'm glad... that you care so much to do this...”

Philippa reached out tentatively and took hold of Bethany's hand. “You're my sister. Even if we don't know each other well, I worry. About all of you. Even bloody Garrett.”

Bethany laughed lightly. “I don't think I've ever seen him more excited than when we ran into you in the Gallows courtyard. Growing up, he talked about you constantly. I suppose I always sort of wished I could meet you.”

Philippa chuckled. “I was a bit of a mess growing up. Having these nightmares and unable to control them. I'm not sure how much of a role model I would have been.”

“After you were taken, Garrett says that Father blamed himself for a long time. He seemed to think he should have protected you like he did me. I was his second chance to get it right. He taught me so much, but what you can do... it's amazing. Seems like you've done alright for yourself,” Bethany said sadly.

“Father did more for me than he knows. His words follow me. I still cling to his most basic principle,” Philippa said with a smile.

Bethany sat straighter, puffing out her chest and deepened her tone. “My magic will serve the best in me, not that which is most base,” she quoted.

Philippa giggled. “Oh, Maker, to hear someone else say those words...”

Bethany wrung her hands together. “When he died, I felt so alone. The only mage in the family. Mother refused to talk about you. I was fifteen. I had to take Father's books and teach myself a lot of the magic I know now.”

“I'm sorry, Bethany. I wish I could have been a proper sister,” Philippa confessed.

Bethany looked up, not a single tear in her eyes as Philippa had expected. “That doesn't matter. What matters is you're here now. One of the most confusing times in my life and you're here. You've come all this way just to make sure I'm alive. I thought for sure I was going to die, but the Wardens saved me. Tell Garrett and Carver I love them. Maybe we could write each other? I would love to get to know my sister better.”

“I would love that. Just try and keep this little meeting secret and no magic talk that might get me branded. The Chantry sunburst really doesn't go with my complexion,” she said with a smile.

Bethany giggled softly. “You remind me so very much of Garrett. You two seem to be more alike than Carver and I could ever hope to be.”

Philippa grinned. “It does seem that you siphoned all of the sense inside Mother's womb. You must have been on top.”

Bethany snorted. “Carver was born first.”

“You see, there you have it,” Philippa smiled. “I should be going. Time works differently here, but I can't say how differently. It varies from dream to dream.”

“Be safe, Phil, and thank you for checking on me,” Bethany said with one final smile.

Philippa drew herself from Bethany's mind and sent her sister back to her dreams. When she woke, she was relieved to see that it was still night and Ella was still asleep across the room. The doll in her hands was warm from her clutching it so tightly. She smiled at the ruffled old thing and hugged it against her. She was glad to have had the opportunity to speak with Bethany. She tucked the doll in her nightstand drawer and rolled to her side to go to sleep, her heart light.

 

Not long after returning from the Deep Roads, Garrett moved himself and their mother into the old family estate in Hightown. Philippa knew this because Carver knew. Bethany started to write to Philippa regularly, just as she started to hear from Finn again. Much to her surprise, he had refused to return to the Circle after his adventure with Solona had finished. He stayed with the Dalish woman that they had traveled with, continuing to adventure and see the world. When the templars attempted to recapture him, the woman had wrested his phylactery from the templars and Finn had left them unconscious along the road as they escaped. She was proud of how he spoke like he was happy. She only felt a minuscule twinge of regret that she could not be the one at his side. She was just glad to hear from him.

Bethany seemed to be flourishing with the Wardens. She had met a Ferelden Warden during her training that was nearly eight years her senior, but she spoke about him like he had no equal. His name was Nathaniel and he was apparently very good with a bow, and another one of Solona's recruits from Vigil's Keep.

Philippa still saw Garrett from time to time as he discreetly conducted business with the circle. Apparently a fortune and a mansion could not keep him from making his skills for hire. Philippa, however, had more pressing matters to attend to. It was coming up on Feynril's Harrowing, and she felt like he was ill prepared, no matter how hard they worked. His control over his dreams was spotty, and he had never gotten the hang of pinching himself, electing to run further into his dreams rather than wrest himself free.

Less than a month before it was time for him to take his Harrowing, Feynril was late for their morning class. Philippa waited nearly an hour before going to look for him. When she made it to his room, there was no one around, but Feynril was asleep on his bed. His brow was furrowed and he twitched and muttered in his sleep. No matter what she tried, she could not wake him. Her gut sinking in fear, she left him, rushing to the First Enchanter's office. She slipped inside and Orsino looked up with a frown when she closed the door behind her. “We have a problem,” she said breathlessly from her run and her pounding heart.

“What's happened, Phil?” Orsino asked, setting his quill down and rising from his seat to circle his desk to her side.

“Feynril was late for our class this morning and when I went looking for him... he's in his bed asleep. I can't wake him,” she choked.

Orsino's eyes widened. “We must not allow Meredith to find out.”

“She'll brand him in his sleep before we can do anything,” Philippa agreed.

Orsino nodded thoughtfully. “Let's move him to the infirmary. If anyone asks, we'll say he's ill. After that, we will work out what's to be done.”

“How are we supposed to move him?” she asked.

“I will handle that. You go on back there so you're not missed in case of a surprise inspection,” Orsino said with a reassuring smile. “We'll handle this, Phil. I promise.”

Five hours later, Philippa was sitting beside Feynril's side in the infirmary, trying to decide what she should do. Orsino had been less than helpful after getting Feynril to her, because he had to make certain he distracted attention away from her, so he couldn't be there with her. Finally, she had enough of trying to wake him with normal means. Nothing was working. She got up, closed the door to the infirmary and erected a barrier over the exit. Then she rushed back to the bed beside Feynril's and settled herself on the mattress. After a few false starts when her anxiety flared, Philippa took a deep breath, ran her fingers over the crystals on her bracelet and forced herself into the Fade. She had never tried to enter the dreams of another somniari, and frankly the thought terrified her.

She reached for Feynril's mind, not completely unfamiliar with his aura after nearly a year of casting beside each other. When she opened her eyes in the Fade, she was uncertain at first whether her spell had worked. She was inside the Gallows. She recognized the hall that led to the kitchens. The longer she stood there, the easier it was to discern that her spell had indeed worked. She could feel the demons hovering nearby, her head beginning to pulse in time with her heartbeat. The most disconcerting thing about this was that yes, there were demons. Plural. Philippa could not recall ever being approached by more than one demon at a time. She assumed that the splitting of his mind as the demons forced multiple dreams on him at once was what led most somniari to their deaths. If she wasn't careful, interference could fracture his mind. She headed toward the main hall, in the direction of the demons. She was shocked when she stepped through the door and not only was there a lesser demon, but she was faced with more people that really shouldn't have been there. With his arms crossed over his chest, Garret stood in front of the demon, scowling. Behind him, his dwarven friend, the tattooed elf, and the shape of Anders stood as well. She said the shape because the thing in Anders' body was clearly not driven by the man himself. She could see Justice peeking through the fissures in Anders' skin. He stood stiffly, his shoulders squared and his feet together. Anders was never so rigid. He always stood slightly hunched because his height normally outdid everyone around him, so he compensated by slouching. She never would have described Anders' usual posture as proud, but the spirit straightened his spine and thrust his chest forward. She approached the group, wondering exactly how they had managed to get there. Before she could say a thing, the demon that had been talking to Garrett straightened and ceased it's scheming to brush past her brother and approach her. She could feel it's excitement and eagerness.

"Rude," her brother grumbled. "We were talking."

Garrett turned and his eyes widened as the demon spoke to her. “It must be my lucky day to be approached by not only one but two dreamers.”

Philippa crossed her arms and scoffed. “Have a taste, demon. I'm not some simpering child that you can manipulate. You'll get nothing from me and you'll get nothing from Feynril. I suggest you leave before I get cranky.”

The demon hesitated, it's power reaching out to caress over her skin. She tried not to flinch at the cold touch of the demon, pushing her own power toward it in warning. “And here I thought when this one showed up, my meal would come to me. Very well, dreamer. I know when to retreat.”

The demon backed away and disappeared, relinquishing it's chance to take control of Feynril. “Phil, what the bloody hell are you doing here?” Garrett asked as the demon faded. “How did you get here?”

“She is a dreamer,” Justice growled, Anders' honey eyes replaced by the blue glow of the spirit. “Just like the boy.”

Garrett frowned at her before glancing back at Justice. “Did Anders know this?”

“He does. He believed you did as well,” Justice explained with a shrug.

“Why didn't you tell me, Phil?” Garrett asked, his expression falling.

She shrugged. “I assumed Carver or Bethany would have mentioned it. It's not like it's ever come up in our brief conversations.”

Garrett frowned again. “Am I the only one who didn't know?”

“No,” the tattooed elf grunted in a threatening tone, his face twisting in a scowl as his hand twitched near the hilt of his massive sword.

Philippa rolled her eyes. “This is not the time for hurt feelings. Feynril's mind won't last much longer with all of the demons here. We need to be careful. If we push too hard, we'll do their work for them.”

“There are two other demons here, vying for the boy's mind,” Justice said in his deep gravely voice which was so unlike Anders' soft Ferelden accent that it made her frown as she watched him emote with Anders' face. “I suggest we split up for the sake of urgency.”

Garrett nodded. “Fenris, go with Phil, please. Make sure she's safe. The rest of us will stay together. We can meet back here.”

As Garrett left with the others, the tattooed elf stepped up next to her, his jade green eyes narrowed in mistrust. She offered him a smile. “Have you ever enlisted to be a templar? You certainly have the scowl for it,”

“Wonderful,” Fenris grumbled. “Another mage with a mouth. Let's go.” He drew his sword and hiked it onto his shoulder as she headed off toward the staircase that in the real world would lead them to the dormitories.

Once they passed inside, a strange sensation washed over Philippa and she glanced around. Fenris was gone. She felt strange, like she was not in her own skin. When she looked down, her arms and torso were much thinner than she was used to and she wore a simple dress and footwraps.

Ignoring the illusion, she stepped further into the room where a young blonde boy of perhaps seven or eight sat at a desk Leaning over his shoulder was a man with long brown hair pulled off his face and held back with two braids. "That's it, Feynril. Hard on the down stroke, then lift. Good! I'll have you scribing all my letters soon. If I'd known you were such a bright lad, I'd have brought you into the business years ago."The accent the man spoke in was unfamiliar to Philippa, but she was far from worldly.

"Does that mean I can come with you to Antiva, father?" the young version of Feynril asked hopefully. "Mother said maybe this summer..." he glanced at her. "Right, Mother?"

Philippa balked, realizing that she must have appeared in the form of something familiar to Feynril. This was the demon's doing. It couldn't control her speech, however and she said, "Your father never wanted anything to do with you. Don't trust him." Feynril had shared a lot about his family in the time she had known him. She knew precisely what to say.

"Why are you lying to me?" Feynril asked, looking up at the man.

"Don't listen, son. She's always been ashamed of you," his father begged. "She wanted you gone so she could go back to the Dalish. I'm the one who loves you."

"But... why can't I remember you?" Feynril asked, his small brow wrinkling.

"This is a trick, Feynril," Philippa said gently. "He wants something from you."

"Why...? That's right! I spent my whole childhood waiting for you."

"Your mother never allowed..." the man began, but Feynril cut him off.

"My mother loves me! She showed me the letters she wrote you. You never wrote back. And it was Mother who taught me to write, not you! I've never met you before! Who are you?" Feynril stood from his seat, his fists balled.

"Don't... question..." as it spoke, the illusions disappeared and the demon was revealed, Fenris reappearing with a shake of his head. "...me!" Desire, Philippa realized as Feynril turned and fled with a shout of fear. "You... you turned him against me."

"Complete accident... I was trying to help. Honest," she said sarcastically, glad to hear her own voice coming from her throat.

The demon stood in it's true form before them, a lithe, feminine form with lavendar skin, most of which was exposed. The nipples on it's perky breasts were covered in golden caps connected to each other by a thin gold chain.The pants that puffed out over it's legs rode low on it's hips and were slit strategically along their length. It's bony tail hung from it's rear, stiff and spiked. It had two horns that curved from it's conical head that was wreathed in magical purple flame. “Well,” it purred with a chuckle. “Aren't you a ripe replacement for the dreamer you just cost me.”

“I'm not replacing anyone. You can either leave like the demon of sloth outside, or you'll leave in pieces,” Philippa threatened.

The demon hummed a throaty chuckle. “But I could give you everything your heart desires.” It shifted it's form, taking on a visage that made Philippa laugh out loud. Cullen stood before her, his lopsided grin in place and his stance casual and carefree.

“You've got to be kidding. If that's the best you can wrest from my mind, you're really not cut out for the temptation business,” Philippa taunted, her stomach doing a strange flip flop as she said it.

“Very well. If you won't be tempted, at least I will gain a death from you and your companion,” the demon said in Cullen's familiar voice.

Out of nowhere, the demon pounced, slashing for Philippa. She danced back and called mana to her fists. The magic was unnecessary as Fenris charged forward, the tattoos on his skin erupting in a blue glow that hummed with lyrium song. His body shifted in and out of focus as if he were phasing in and out of existence. The demon's claws darted for him, slicing through his chest and completely missing him as he flickered out of phase. He was like a wraith as he slashed upwards with his massive sword, cleaving the demon in two, just as a few more shades manifested on the field. Philippa watched 'Cullen' fall and then scowled, drawing her magic to the surface, thrusting a fireball at the nearest shade and erecting a barrier to protect herself as the other slithered toward her. That one she knocked back with a mindblast just as Fenris executed a move with his sword that created a tornado of destruction around him, slicing through all of the demons that had come for him. She cast another fireball to take care of the final demon and then reigned in her magic. “What are those markings?” she wondered in amazement as Fenris allowed the tattoos to return to dormancy, his body solidifying.

“Useful,” he grumbled, heading for the door they had come in, once again securing his sword on his back.

Philippa hurried out after him, seeing Garrett emerging from the opposite door across the hall with a sour look on his face, sans his dwarven friend. Below, in the middle of the main hall, Feynril stood, the heels of his hands pressed to his forehead. He was hunched around himself, clearly shaken. She pushed past the grumpy elf and rushed toward her apprentice. “Feynril!”

He looked up, his eyes wide as he looked at her. “Phil! Are you real? Please tell me you're real.”

She chuckled softly. “You forgot to pinch yourself.” She checked him over for injuries, but his fade self seemed intact.

“What else is new?” he replied with his own choked laugh.

“Listen, Feynril,” she said, drawing his attention back from Garrett who approached them from the stairs to her left. “You have the power to leave the Fade. Just open your eyes.”

"I not sure if this is real. If so, I owe you all my life. You twice over, messere Hawke." He hugged himself, looking around. "The Fade feels different now. I see the stitches, the seams holding it together. I feel I could wake at any moment."

"Dreamers control the Fade and the dreams of people in it," Philippa reminded him softly, urging him to discover his abilities as she had.

He tipped his head. "I see why the Chantry fears us. I've heard tales of magisters who stalked their enemies and used their own dreams to destroy them. You're right. I must master it, find someone to study under. The Circle does not have what I need. Perhaps Tevinter. If these powers can be trained, it would be there."

Philippa nodded, knowing that she was no longer able to help him. He was going to need more than she could teach him, not having learned from trial and error herself. She had been lucky. "I know some people who can help get you out of the Gallows."

"My mother would not look kindly on such a journey. Can you give her my farewell?" Feynril asked, glancing this time at Garrett.

"May the Maker guide your path, Feynril," Garrett said, with a sullen nod.

"Perhaps... there is a way out of this." He turned and faced the stairs up into the Gallows. Rolling his shoulders he said, "I can do this."

Philippa braced herself as Feynril reached for the cracks in the Fade that would allow him to wake up. She remembered the first time she had been able to see those same stitches. It had been her harrowing. She briefly wondered why Garrett was glaring so angrily and where his dwarven friend had gone before she awoke in the bed beside where Feynril was finally stirring. She immediately dragged her barrier from the infirmary door, hoping no one had encountered it while she slept.

Feynril sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Did that really just happen?” he groaned.

“Yes. And I meant what I said. I can help you get out of the Gallows, but it will take some time to arrange things to get you out of the city quickly...”

Before they could continue the conversation, the door burst open and Cullen swept in a snarl curling his lip. “What in the Maker's name is happening in here?” he demanded angrily.

Philippa stood in challenge. “I have no idea what you're on about. I was treating a patient...”

“I'm not in the mood for lies, Hawke...” Cullen growled.

She stepped into his space, narrowing her eyes. “And who says I'm lying?”

“Ser Paxley reported that he passed by here minutes ago on his patrol and there was a barrier in place barring entry,” Cullen continued.

“I would check my source if I were you, Knight-Captain. Feynril has been ill all day, as I'm certain you've heard. I had the door closed to maintain privacy while I treated him, but there was definitely no barrier,” she said cooly, not letting an ounce of concern into her tone. If Cullen had not seen the barrier himself, he could prove nothing.

His own eyes narrowed in mistrust, but she stood her ground, meeting his gaze unerringly. Finally, he flinched, taking half a step back. “Should I find out...”

She cut him off with a flap of her hand. “Instead of worrying about me, perhaps concern yourself with the recruit that scurried off to report a barrier instead of dispelling it himself,” she challenged. “Now if you're finished interrupting, I have things to do here before lights out.”

Cullen cut his eyes at her, but said nothing. She knew when she had won an argument. He always went silent rather than rise to her sarcasm. After he had left, Feynril got up from the bed and moved to her side. “Creators, I don't know how you're able to stand up to them like that. Just the look on his face would have made me confess to everything.”

Philippa turned to him and smirked. “And that is precisely why we need to get you out of here. You go on ahead to supper. I'm certain you're starving. I need to speak with Orsino and write a letter. Just... keep your head down, okay.”

“Of course. Thank you, Phil,” Feynril said with a sigh.

After Feynril was gone, Philippa left the infirmary and headed to the First Enchanter's office. His door was closed, so she knocked softly. His voice beckoned her inside. When she entered, she immediately needed to swallow her heart back down as it attempted to jump from her chest. Meredith was standing behind the chair where Philippa normally sat whenever she visited Orsino's office. “Ah, Phil. Was there something I could help you with?” Orsino said casually.

Philippa dipped her head. “If this is a bad time, I can come back...”

“Nonsense,” Orsino said, eyeing Meredith as she glared mistrustfully at Philippa.

“I simply wished to report that I was able to treat Feynril's symptoms and I sent him to supper,” she said pointedly.

Orsino nodded with a smile. “I'm glad to hear it. The infirmary has definitely improved in efficiency since you took over.”

“Thank you, First Enchanter,” Philippa smiled slightly and then excused herself, her heart hammering rapidly.

 

That evening, after lights out, Philippa feigned exhaustion to keep Ella from talking her ear off as she plotted her next step. She would need to be careful with Cullen being alerted to the barrier. He would keep a close eye on her for the foreseeable future, and she knew from experience how sneaky he could be when he chose to. After Ella was asleep, she got up and crept from her room she didn't make it far before she was stopped by a familiar figure at the end of the hall. He spotted her, stopping in his tracks, his eyes wide before glancing around and beckoning her to him. “What are you doing?” he asked as she reached him and he turned back around to head for the smugglers' tunnels.

“I was going to the rookery to send a message to you,” she explained.

He nodded and went silent until they got to the tunnels and could talk freely. “It may not have looked it, but I was there today in the Fade. I saw what happened and heard you tell Feynril you were going to help sneak him from the Gallows.” Philippa watched him flinch as he mentioned being present while Justice took control of his body. She bit her lip, worrying at it until he looked her over and sighed. “I know that look. Just ask...”

“What's it like? When he takes over? Are you always fully aware, or can he block you off?” she asked with fascination.

“I'm always there, Phil. Justice has never taken me over so completely that I'm not aware of everything happening around me. Although, when he is in control, sometimes it feels like I need to fight to be heard.” He paused and shrugged. “I suppose he feels like that everyday. Shackled to my body and every decision I make.”

“I'm sorry,” she said softly.

He chuckled admiringly. “I swear sometimes when I talk to you, I can see Hawke making the same expressions. It really is uncanny.”

“You make that sound like a bad thing,” she joked.

“Just the opposite in fact. It reminds me why we were friends in the first place...” he paused again, settling his honey eyes on her and scratching at his head awkwardly. “Have I ever apologized for being such as ass to you in Ferelden?”

She snorted. “No, but if you have something prepared, I'm willing to listen.”

He let out his own soft, snorting, chuckle, a brief smile gracing his lips. She didn't think that was a very common occurrence anymore, and she wished she could preserve it. “Now who's being the ass?”

She laughed. “That was the worst apology I've ever gotten.”

After sharing a moment of levity, the conversation was steered back to their immediate problem. Feynril. Anders agreed to find him swift passage from the city and to arrange to have his phylactery taken out of play. Anders left the way he had come, and Philippa made her way back to her room. When she crept back in, someone cleared their throat. She nearly jumped out of her skin as Ella stepped from the shadows. “What were you doing out of bed?” her roommate's quiet voice asked in concern.

Philippa bit her lip and said, “Would you believe I was sleepwalking?”

Ella smiled nervously. “It's slightly more believable since you're a somniari, Phil, but no I don't believe that.” Philippa moved to her bed and sat on the edge, Ella moving to join her with an inquisitive look on her face.

She sighed heavily before glancing at Ella. “If I tell you this, you have to promise you won't tell anyone. There would be a lot of people that could get in heaps of trouble if this got out.”

Ella gasped. “I didn't think it would be that serious. What were you doing?”

After glancing over her roommate once more, and deciding she trusted her, Philippa drew in a breath and said, “I have contacts outside the Circle that exist specifically to help mages. Sometimes it is to sneak letters in and out of the Gallows, or to smuggle things in and out that wouldn't pass inspection otherwise. Other times it is a more dire situation that requires further action.”

Ella sat, staring at Philippa with a dumbfounded look on her face before nodding sheepishly. “I understand if you can't say anything more. I didn't mean to pry. Maker knows I'm not one to take the templars' side.”

Philippa took her hand in hers. “It's all right, Ella. I know I can trust you. I just don't want to get you involved without need. It's dangerous doing the things I do. I've nearly been caught a handful of times.”

“What about your brother? Ser Carver. Does he know what you do?” Ella asked, averting her gaze and flushing through her dark skin.

“Maker, no!” Philippa chuckled. “Carver would be the first one to turn me in. I didn't grow up with my siblings, so he doesn't feel like he owes me any sort of loyalty.”

“That's a shame. It might be helpful if you could sway a templar,” Ella said thoughtfully.

“That's a risk none of us have been willing to take, it seems...”

Chapter Text

Philippa remembered Cullen's words from when he had defended her from Marcella, so when Feynril went missing, she made certain she was the first in Cullen's office to report the disappearance. Unfortunately, this time he was not alone. When she barged her way in like she normally did, she interrupted a meeting between him and the dreaded Ser Alrik. After setting her piercing gaze on the bald man, she looked away from him and flipped it to Cullen instead. Cullen sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, “Andraste preserve me... What is it this time, Hawke?”

“Yet again, you have allowed a mage to go missing out from under your nose, Knight-Captain. I would appreciate if you would get on with finding my apprentice before he ends up like Mharen,” she responded in her best agitated tone.

Cullen's brow rose and he fixed his amber stare on her, completely ignoring Ser Alrik in the process. “I'm not even going to ask how you know he's missing... You do realize that if we were to find the boy alive, the Knight-Commander will have no choice but to force the Rite of Tranquility. Your probation has not ended.”

Philippa scoffed. “I'd rather have him tranquil than dead! All they found of Mharen was a sack of bones!” she argued, crossing her arms.

“And what of yourself?” Ser Alrik's voice chimed in with an almost giddy sneer. “Was the boy not under your care?”

Philippa turned a frown on the man, her skin crawling under his scrutiny. “He was my apprentice. I didn't have a leash on him. Isn't that the templars' job? To make sure us dangerous mages can't escape our cells in the middle of the night?” she demanded angrily, her stomach churning at the thought that with this single conversation, she had been put under Ser Alrik's watchful eyes. She had remained blissfully anonymous so far.

Cullen sighed. “Enough.” Both Philippa and Ser Alrik went silent, sparing a glare at each other before both looking back at Cullen. “Enchanter Hawke, I will look into Feynril's disappearance. Once we retrieve his phylactery, I will send a team to track him down. In the meantime, you will go about your duties as usual until we get to the bottom of what's happened.”

Philippa pressed her lips together to hold back the relieved sigh that threatened to escape her. Meredith may have more to say later, but for now, Feynril was free, and she was not being blamed. “Right away,” she said with a nod and backed from his office, Ser Alrik's eyes following her.

 

From that moment on, everywhere Philippa turned, it seemed like Ser Alrik was just around the corner. His steely blue eyes tracked her wherever she went. It made her evening jaunts far too dangerous. She chanced a letter to Anders in between inspections to warn him away from her for the time being. Since she could no longer get to the rookery without being seen, she discreetly asked Carver to collect the ravens she was receiving from Bethany and Finn on a regular basis.

The stalking finally came to a head a few weeks after Feynril's disappearance. The templars had been hunting him relentlessly to no avail. According to Carver, the phylactery they were tracing led them to a goat farm outside the city. Philippa barely contained her mirth when she realized Anders had found a way to replace the vial of blood with a vial from a goat. Meredith took it upon herself to punish Philippa for the crime, viewing it as breach of her probation. In a massive stroke of luck, the punishment fell short of Philippa being made tranquil (after Cullen surprisingly spoke on her behalf). She was simply tossed in the dungeon for a week. She might not have even minded the punishment if it hadn't put her in reach of the sadistic Ser Alrik.

The very first night she was locked up, at least she believed it was night, (it was difficult to tell in the windowless room), she made herself as comfortable as possible on the stone floor. She had barely had the chance to fall asleep when the jangling of keys and the clank of armor drew her back from the Fade. She blinked against the harsh light of the torch that was suddenly breaking the inky blackness of the cell. She could not see who had entered, but it was obviously a templar. She knew the templars by sound, and the distinct scent of them, the lyrium following them around like the lingering smell of the earth after lightning struck. When the torch light shifted, she sat up immediately, noting the reflection of the light off his bald head. “Am I free to go already?” she asked sarcastically, attempting to mask the fear that twisted her gut. “That was the fastest week I've ever lived through.”

The responding chuckle froze her blood in her veins. “I think I am going to enjoy breaking you. We'll start with your mouth.”

Philippa inhaled a breath as he jerked toward her and grabbed hold of her upper arm. Her stomach sank as the realization that he held all the cards hit her like a charging bronto. She could do nothing. If she fought back, it would end in the brand for her, no matter the outcome. The Gallows was a former prison with extremely thick stone walls. If she screamed, it would do her no good. No one would hear her. She assumed that was why Alrik had bode his time, knowing that he would eventually get his hands on her. In the end, he hadn't needed to do a thing. She'd been thrown into his trap. “Do your worst,” she spat with rage. “I won't break.”

He uttered his spine tingling chuckle again as he drew her closer to him, making her turn her face away from his in disgust. “The longer it takes, the more fun I have, but they always break.”

He drug her to the back of the cell, settling the torch into a wall mount. Old, rusted chains hung from the walls and he expertly strung up her arms, telling her that this was not his first go round in the cells beneath the Gallows. The old metal ground against her skin, opening wounds swiftly each time she shifted even a small amount. She thanked the Maker for her height, making her just tall enough to reach the ground with the balls of her feet so she was not dangling by her wrists. As he drew his sword slowly from it's sheathe, she grunted, trying to remain as still as possible as she balanced on her toes. “Has anyone ever told you how dramatic you are?” she growled as he watched her small struggle. His leer was prominent in the flickering light of the torch, casting shadows across his already menacing expression.

He ignored her remark, fingering the tip of his blade as he paced in front of her. “I've read about you, Philippa Hawke. You make for quite the intriguing bedtime story.”

“So glad I could entertain you,” she snapped, interrupting him.

Again, he ignored her. “Your magic is... particularly disturbing. Yours and that apprentice boy you let slip. I deal in the art of harrowing. My art is much different from that little test they inflict on your kind, deluding themselves that it will make you 'safe'. The truth is, no mage is safe. Given the proper circumstances... the right pressure on a given nerve, all mages can be pushed to the brink. You all have a breaking point.” His eyes caressed up and down her and he grinned threateningly. “The question is, what will it take to drive you to that point? What does Philippa Hawke have to fear?”

She mustered a sliver of courage around the ball of terror in her gut and snorted. “Certainly not you.”

“We'll see about that, won't we?” he taunted. He lifted his sword and twirled it. Philippa attempted to brace herself, remembering back to when Cullen had cast the smite on her by the fireside. There was no bracing yourself. With the flick of his sword, the smite slammed into her chest. All of her mana was ripped from her core, and just as she remembered, her breath left her as well, whooshing from her lungs like she had taken a hit to the gut. A strangled cry left her throat as she sagged, the manacles digging further into her wrists. She could feel Alrik's eyes on her as she struggled to breathe. The second she was able to catch her breath, he threw another smite at her. Her chest felt like it was being crushed and spots appeared in her vision. She didn't even have a voice to cry out that time. Small droplets of blood began to trickle from her wrists as her body sagged under the strain and the rusty manacles dug further into her flesh.

Smite after smite slammed into her body, threatening to relieve her of the burden of consciousness as she was repeatedly deprived of oxygen. Alrik was a professional. He seemed to know exactly how much breath he could allow her between castings to ensure that she remained conscious for the duration. Her chest hurt so badly that she could have sworn that someone had dropped a ton of stone on her, fracturing every single rib she had. She had no control over any of her limbs, unable to get any kind of footing to save her wrists from the manacles. The blood that had started as a trickle was now streaming in rivulets down her forearms. She was leaking from her eyes, nose and mouth, unable to catch her breath long enough to swallow or stop the tearful reaction. After about the twentieth smite, which felt like it could have been the hundredth. Alrik paused in his assault and put his face in hers so their eyes met. She sputtered and coughed, gasping in huge lungfuls of air that came too quickly. Her body reacted, retching and gagging on the air. Bile rose in her throat and she nearly choked as she vomited and sucked in air simultaneously. The hacking soon made her throat raw to the point of agony, the vomit burning down her esophagus and up into her nose. When her fit ended, his eyes remained locked with hers. She swallowed, the simple act agonizing. Then she drew in a ragged breath into her deflated chest and said, “Is... that the... best you've got?”

He grinned as if her defiance was what he had been searching for. “I knew you were going to be a challenge. I'm so glad you haven't disappointed. I have an entire week down here with you. I'm just getting started.”

“Oh, good... I was hoping for more torture,” she croaked around her raw throat.

Alrik stepped back, sheathing his sword and pulling out a small skinning knife. He approached her again and pulled the neckline of her robes away from her skin. Slipping the knife between her flesh and the fabric, he slowly drug it down her front. The gentle whisper of fabric shredding made her cringe. A light breeze brushed over her freshly exposed skin and she flinched as his knife tickled over her lower abdomen. “You know, it's strange. I've never found the human form... attractive. When I look at the flesh of a woman, or a man for that matter, all I see is meat. Good for nothing but carving. I must say, though, you could be described as an attractive woman. Pretty face, pristine, pale skin, curves in the right places. If pain didn't break you, I wonder if vanity could be your undoing. Would you beg for help if I threatened disfigurement?”

The knife tip pressed into her skin just below her navel. She bit back the cry that threatened to escape, hoping that if he garnered no reaction he would move on. Instead, he dragged the knife further along her skin, carving a line in her abdomen, just shallow enough to sting when the air hit it. The blade was so sharp that the cut did not immediately bleed. He had managed two more slow cuts before the blood began to trickle. She pressed her lips together, breathing heavily and swiftly through her nose, closing her eyes and gritting her teeth against the pain. The cuts continued, blazing across her skin in no discernible pattern other than it amused him to place them there. The initial agony of the air across the cuts had dissipated, now all she felt was a burning sensation as they all bled freely.

Finally, Alrik stepped back and chuckled giddily. “I've had mages much older than you turn with the first cut.” He looked her over, admiring his work. “I believe that's enough for tonight,” he mused. “I wouldn't want to spoil my fun by going too fast. Sleep well.”

Alrik left her dangling from the chains, taking the torch from the wall and locking her cell behind him. Philippa forced her feet back beneath her, relieving some of the pressure from her wrists. A few of the cuts on her stomach stung with the movement, and her shoulders protested the angle. If she was smart, she would allow the rest of her mana to coil back in her chest and heal herself, but she refused. She wanted evidence of Alrik's sadism. The entire Circle would know if it was the last thing she did.

 

Philippa had not had a nightmare in years. Yet on that night, in her weakened state, when her head finally sagged from exhaustion and she fell into the Fade, demons poured from all corners, offering her a reprieve from the suffering. She pushed them all away, drawing on as much of her power as she had in her and pulled herself from the dream. This would not be the reason she accepted the help of a demon. Alrik would not win this war.

She saw no one else during her stay in the cell. Alrik must have planned it so he had full access to her day and night. Knowing Meredith, she had sanctioned the whole thing. Two more nights following the first night of torture, Alrik returned with new and exciting ways to try and chase her into the embrace of a demon. Night number two, he dedicated to fire, sufficiently sapping her of any mana she might have regained with another slew of smites before he got started. Each time he pressed the white hot brand to her skin and removed it, it peeled away a layer of flesh, the sound more irksome than the pain itself. She spent the night after he left shivering from both the burns across her skin and a mild fever that came from the infection setting up in her wrists from the rusty cuts. Again, the demons came, more insistent than before. She dragged herself free, waking with an anguished cry as all of her injuries returned to her attention at once. She cried softly, allowing herself the weakness when he was not there to see it.

The third night, after the smites, he tried a different method. He began to cast a different templar ability, one on top of the other. It was called Wrath of Heaven. Each time he cast it, a brilliant light erupted in the dark cell, blinding her. The headache that lanced though her skull was reminiscent of living in Kinloch Hold after the Veil had been damaged. Even if she closed her eyes, the light still penetrated her lids and stunned her senses. After he left, the pain lingered, her limbs shaking uncontrollably. She could not tell if her infection had worsened, but still her body was chilled. After the abuse of the endless smites, she didn't think her mana would ever return completely. She didn't think she could endure four more nights of whatever torture Alrik could think up. Her body was breaking.

Hours on top of hours passed, Philippa fighting sleep just to stay out of the grasp of the demons she could feel hovering just inside her consciousness, waiting to pounce. On top of everything, she was beginning to feel the hollow emptiness of hunger. When had Alrik last fed her? Her throat was parched, and her lips cracked and dry. She couldn't tell time in the Maker forsaken cell, but she was slowly losing her battle with consciousness. Her head shot up suddenly when a loud clattering sound echoed around the empty dungeon. She looked up to see a torch, and then hung her head again, groaning in agony as she automatically flinched in preparation of another night of endless suffering. When all she heard was the jangling of keys and no smite to accompany them, she looked up again, straining her damaged eyes. A figure rushed into the cell, placing the torch swiftly in the mount and then hurrying to her side. A mumbled oath reached her ears as the figure fumbled with the keys in his hands. “Maker's breath...”

She knew that voice. She knew it, but her slow mind could not properly place it until he shifted into the light and her eyes fell on his face. “Cullen...?” she slurred, unable to hold her head up. Her neck gave way and her head lolled again, her chin touching her collar bone.

“It's all right,” he said gently, his arms reaching up to unlock the manacles. Her arms fell limply when the chains released her, and she immediately felt the prickling agony of blood returning to the useless limbs. Her legs buckled when her weight fell on them, and she thumped against Cullen's solid armor plated chest. “I've got you,” he mumbled, shifting her weight so he could bend and scoop her up in his arms. Her head flopped forward and as he settled her into his arms, he adjusted her so her cheek fell against the cold metal of his cuirass.

They started to move, Cullen pausing long enough to kick something metal from his path just as they passed through the cell door. She swallowed a lump in her throat, praying that her relief was not an illusion of the Fade. At this point, she couldn't tell the difference. “I really hope you're not a demon,” she managed to whisper, huddling closer to him.

His arms twitched and his footing stuttered briefly as he grunted. “Even half dead, you still can't shut up,” he grumbled.

He mind fought unconsciousness still, knowing she needed to tell him what had happened. “Where... Ser Alrik...” as she fought to speak around her tongue which felt too large for her mouth, she released a groan the tingling of her arms intensifying.

Cullen grunted again. “He did this to you?”

She inhaled heavily before saying, “Yes.”

Another angry grunt escaped Cullen's throat and his arms tightened around her shoulders and legs. “I'm suddenly less annoyed that someone killed him.”

Her head jerked in surprise and then she hissed as they passed from the dungeons into the bright hallway where the last vestiges of the sun still poured in the high windows. Cullen mumbled an apology and turned his body to shield her eyes as he swiftly carried her, she assumed, toward the infirmary. “He's... dead?” she asked, the pause between her words lengthy.

Cullen shifted her weight, lifting her up so she fell against his chest as he used the arm wrapped around her shoulders to twist the handle on the infirmary door and push it open. Then he settled her back before sidestepping them into the familiar space. He laid her on the nearest bed and then flushed as his eyes settled on her and the open front of her robes. He glanced up at her face, pulling off his gloves. “Where do you keep the healing potions?” His bare hand reached hesitantly toward her, hovering just shy of touching before he grimaced and flipped his palm away from her to settle the back of his hand on her forehead. “You're burning up, Hawke. You're our healer. What can I do?”

She frowned. He was asking her? She could barely think. She was not even certain he wasn't a figment of her nightmares. “Infe...” she tried to respond, but the word stuck in her throat. She coughed, gasping for breath. She could still feel the effects of the smites that had been inflicted on her.

Cullen's eyes were wide as she coughed, rolling to her side as she tasted blood. He rushed for some water, returning with a dry cloth and a metal cup full of cool water. He held the cloth beneath her lips as the fit wracked her weakened body. When she managed to catch her breath, he helped her to sit up far enough to sip water from the cup. The water felt like a gift from the Maker as it poured over her tongue. He pulled it away too quickly and she whimpered. “Slowly,” he said gently.

Rather than try and explain, she swallowed the metallic taste that lingered in her throat from the blood she had hacked up and said, “Marcella...”

He drew back his head, his brow cocking questioningly. “Do you think that's wise? As I recall, she's not your biggest fan.”

Philippa mirrored his expression, and lifted a finger to point at him. “Templar?”

Cullen took the single word exactly as she had meant it and snorted. “Right. I'll need to inform Meredith and Orsino as well. Is there...” his hand rose to the back of his neck and he rubbed it nervously. “Did you need anything before I go?” He purposefully looked anywhere but at her partially exposed chest. “A blanket, perhaps?”

Philippa shook her swimming head as she fell back onto the blessedly cool mattress. She was mostly safe if Alrik was truly dead, all she needed was to concentrate on healing. The evidence was all over her and if Cullen's expression could be believed, the damage was extensive. She meant to thank Cullen, but when she opened her heavy lids again, he had gone. With nothing left to prolong her agony, she finally allowed herself to slip into the Fade. She didn't need rescuing by a demon. Cullen had found her. She was going to be okay.

 

Her memories from the following few weeks were spotty at best. Her strength and mana slowly rebuilt as her body healed with slight nudging from Marcella. The woman was not her biggest fan, as Cullen had pointed out, but she recognized the need to set aside her qualms and be professional. Philippa would have died if Marcella had not magically leeched the worst of the infection from the rusty wounds on her wrists and repaired the internal damage that Alrik had caused by abusing her chest with so many smites. The rest she left up to poultices, healing potions, and Philippa's own natural healing ability.

She spent a lot of time in the Fade as she healed, glad to have an escape from the burning agony of the severe burns and knife cuts as the poultices and potions did their jobs. It took nearly a week before she could breathe properly and even longer for the deeper cuts to close over. Once she was deemed healed enough to properly tell her story, Meredith and Orsino questioned her rather thoroughly, predictably turning the interrogation into a reason to bicker. They both stormed out, and Meredith later sent Cullen back to finish asking her questions. When he entered, Philippa pushed herself into a sitting position, hissing as some of the bandages rubbed her burned flesh. “Oh, good, a visitor.”

“I'm not here to entertain you, Hawke. Meredith wants a full report out from under the scrutiny of the First Enchanter. She thought perhaps you might be more apt to speak with me than herself,” he said stiffly.

Philippa grimaced as she tried to shift her weight and wiped it away for a smirk. “Clearly because your bedside manner is much better than her own.” When he opened his mouth to respond, his expression souring, she flapped her hand. “Oh don't get offended. It was a joke. What does Meredith want to know?”

He exhaled through his nose and rolled his eyes, shifting his weight. “Exactly what happened to you in the dungeons?”

“After I was confined to the dungeons, I resigned to spend the next week in the dark, bored and lonely. After dark the first night, at least I believe it was after dark, it's hard to tell down there, Ser Alrik showed up. The first thing he did was chain me to the wall. Then he started going on about how fun it was going to be to break me,” she explained, cringing as his taunting voice floated to the surface of her thoughts.

Cullen was frowning. “What did he want, specifically?”

She picked at the edge of one of her bandages. “I gathered he wanted to know how far he could push me before I turned to a demon for aid. The sadistic bastard was aiming at making me an abomination.”

Cullen sighed heavily. “I knew Ser Alrik was a bit zealous, but I had no idea he was capable of...” his eyes flicked up and down her briefly. “Why didn't you heal yourself? I know you can do that...”

“Every night, the first thing he did was relieve me of my mana. Not just once, but nearly two dozen times, back to back. By the time he finished, I couldn't see straight, my chest felt crushed, and I could barely breathe, let alone even think about casting. Then he would move on to whatever brand of physical torment he could muster. The entire time, he... talked. He compared me to some other poor souls that hadn't survived his little experiments, urged me to give in, gave me hints as to other ideas he had for torturing me.” She stopped, feeling an unbidden tear slip from her eye. She swiftly brushed it away, sniffing and swallowing. “He brought back my nightmares. It was like I was a child again, afraid to go to sleep.”

When she glanced up at him, Cullen was watching her with something akin to curiosity. It took him a moment to close his mouth and clear his throat. “Believe it or not, I know the feeling... For you to have withstood such torment with your wits intact...” In lieu of finishing his thought, he glanced away from her and flushed lightly. “Meredith wished me to ask, if given the chance, would you have used magic to harm Ser Alrik?”

Philippa felt laughter bubble up in her mouth. She let it out in a harsh guffaw. “Magic? No. Given the chance, I would have murdered the bastard with my bare hands,” she said truthfully.

Cullen returned to his frown. “Well let's count you lucky that he was killed before you got the chance.”

Philippa sucked in a breath. “I've been meaning to ask. What exactly happened? How was he killed?”

Cullen pressed his lips together. “Of course. You weren't told...”

“Told what?” she asked suspiciously.

He looked her over again and sighed, as if she really wasn't supposed to know what he was about to tell her. “On the fourth night of your confinement, it was brought to our attention around midnight that your roommate had gone missing. Ser Alrik was put in charge of finding her. He tracked her to a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the Gallows. I was not present for the encounter, and in fact did not even hear about it until evening the following day. From what I understand not much more than a charred corpse remained of Ser Alrik when he was found. Ella was nowhere to be seen and her phylactery had been removed from Alrik's body. I'm willing to assume she had outside help, but I cannot prove it.”

Philippa scowled, hatred like she had never felt rising in her gut. Her voice came out strained and gruff. “I hope he felt every inch of his flesh burning from his body.”

Cullen cleared his throat. “You should rest, Hawke. Thank you for the report.”

“Thank you,” she said pointedly before he could turn from her. “For remembering me down there.”

One of Cullen's brief smiles flickered across his face, lifting the right side of his mouth for an instant before he stifled it. “What sort of Knight-Captain would I be if I allowed my best informant to starve in the dungeons?”

“Oh, get out,” she said, rolling her eyes and shooing him. “You try to show gratitude and you get sassed.”

“At least you know how it feels, now,” he returned before slipping from the infirmary.

 

Her arms and torso were peppered in scars that would likely never heal. After all of the poultices had been removed and Marcella had declared her healthy, Philippa had been left alone to clean up and dress. She stared at herself in the looking glass, mourning the loss of her previously unmarred skin. She sponged herself clean and then quickly dressed, not wanting to look at the marks any longer. All it did was make her bitter against a man that was no longer alive to care (not that he actually would). She made her way to the dining hall, determined to not show any weakness after her ordeal.

Much like when she had first arrived in the Gallows, the hushed whispers of the other mages in the hall rose almost imperceptibly as she walked with her back stiff toward the serving tables. She could feel all of their eyes on her as everyone talked about the victim that had escaped. She maintained her air of strength as she sat at her usual table and went about stuffing food down that tasted like ash. She was pushing around her pile of peas with her fork when a shadow fell over her. She nearly jumped, noticing the templar armor. When she looked up, Carver was standing beside her with his own tray. “I know I'm really not supposed to eat with our charges, but right now, you're not my charge, your my sister. Can I join you, Phil?”

She stared up in awe at her usually professional brother and a flutter of relief washed over her. “Of course, Carver.”

He smiled and set his tray down on the table before awkwardly situating himself on the long bench across from hers. He picked up a spoon and started to stir the film from the top of his stew. “I'm not going to ask you about what happened, because the Knight-Captain already painted me a picture. I guess I just wanted to ask... are you all right?” His blue eyes studied her face, likely reading every emotion that flickered over her expression. He had grown up with Garrett and Anders was constantly telling her how much her twin reminded him of her.

“Not really,” she said truthfully. “But I will be. I just need some time to get out of my own head and back into a routine.”

“Well, if there's anything you need...” he groaned. “Beth is so much better at this kind of thing. If you need anything, I'm here.”

She smiled at him, the first genuine smile she had been able to muster since she had been sent to the dungeons. “Thank you, Carver. I appreciate it.”

He kept her company while she ate, not really having much to say in regards to anything they might have in common, but telling her some stories about growing up with Garrett and their parents. In spite of having been confined to a bed for the last few weeks, she was still exhausted and yearned for her own familiar mattress. She excused herself after her meal was finished, and shuffled to her room, expecting it to be empty after Ella's disappearance. After stepping inside, she closed the door behind her, her exhaustion making way for a small throbbing in her forehead. “You must be Phil.” She started, jumping and her recently restored mana erupting in her palms. When she spun, a woman was standing in the middle of the room, a slightly startled expression of her own on her face. She held her hands up, palms forward in a harmless gesture. “Whoa. I'm sorry. I should have expected you'd be jumpy after what you went through.”

Philippa slowly drew her mana back into her chest and swallowed her racing heart. “I don't believe we've met...”

“Right, sorry. I'm Grace,” the woman said, lowering her hands slowly.

Philippa took a moment to look her over. She had brown hair layered off her face in the front and pulled into a loose tail in the back. Over her right eye and down the side of her left cheek were light purple tattoos. Her eyes themselves were a steely grey. “Forgive my manners, but I've never seen you around the Gallows before.” Philippa was certain she knew everyone at least by sight.

Grace's expression went sour. “No. You wouldn't have. I arrived just after you were discovered in the dungeons. I was one of the mages that escaped the templars on the way from Starkhaven.”

Philippa's eyes widened. “We thought they were all killed,” she gasped.

Grace huffed, crossing her arms. “That might have been preferable to being chased relentlessly through the mountains and the coast until I was captured and stuffed back in a cage.”

Philippa hummed in sympathy. “I apologize if I'm terrible company for the evening,” she offered. “If you heard what happened, I'm sure you understand I still find myself a bit out of sorts.”

“The templars are a menace,” Grace said angrily. “I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to get acquainted once you're feeling better.”

 

After a few nights of uninterrupted sleep and some time to adjust to getting back into a routine that both involved not looking over her shulder for Alrik and not having to tutor Feynril, Philippa was starting to feel more like herself. Grace had a particular aura about her that kept Philippa from fully trusting her, but she was friendly enough until any talk of the templars came up. The woman ingratiated herself flawlessly within the Circle. In spite of her blatant hatred for the templars, Philippa had caught her on more than one occasion whispering with a few of the recruits as well as some of the more seasoned templars like Ser Thrask. Philippa was curious, but not quite curious enough to point out that she had noticed.

With the loss of the secret of the lyrium tunnels, the underground was having trouble with conducting their business inside the Circle. Philippa managed to get a few letters out to Anders via the same method she used to contact Bethany and Finn. If she didn't know better, she would have called his responses distracted. Would Justice even allow him to be distracted from his mission? He had been unusually lacking in opinion when she had told him of her run in with Alrik, and she found out from Garrett that it was because they had been the ones in the tunnel that night that had fried the bastard alive. Apparently, Justice had nearly turned on Ella and without Garrett's interference would have killed her right alongside the templars. When Garrett heard what she had gone through under Alrik's care, he had ground his teeth together and balled his fists, his eyes going distant. She saw him accepting that he had once again not been there to protect her and he uttered a curse that would have made their mother blush.

It seemed that Philippa as not allowed a sense of normalcy. Mere months after she had recovered, she and Carver were once again called to the First Enchanter's office. When she arrived, she was surprised to see Garrett standing in the back corner of the office, his face ashen and his expression purposefully blank. His hair looked scruffier than usual and his beard looked like it hadn't been tended in days. Before she could even ask, Orsino pushed up from his chair and said softly, “I will leave you three alone.”

He slipped from is own office and Philippa felt her stomach clench as she whipped her head around to look at Garrett. “What's the matter, Garrett?”

He started at the sound of her voice, a sheen of un-shed tears glistening in his eyes as they shifted to look at her. He then lowered his gaze before looking deliberately at Carver and finally speaking. “Do you remember that killer a few years back that we tracked to the foundry?”

Carver's eyes narrowed. “Where we found that sack of bones?”

“Mharen?” Philippa interjected, her stomach knotting even further.

“That's the one,” Garrett agreed in a tone that was meant to be deceptively mirthful but came out forced and broken. “It was brought to my attention that the templar we aided had continued the investigation after our dead end. My investigation was... halfhearted at best, meant to simply get Emeric to stop pestering Aveline. Turns out...” Garrett's voice cracked and he stopped talking, swallowing heavily, his breathing picking up it's pace as he fought to reign in his emotions. Philippa crossed the room and took his hands. He drew her against him, hugging her tightly. He wouldn't let her go, his chin resting on the top of her head as he calmed enough to speak again. After I questioned the man who Emeric had named his main suspect, I returned to the Gallows to give Emeric my report. When he wasn't here, I followed a note he had received that was supposed to be from me. He was dead when I got to him, killed by demons.”

Carver stood from where he was sitting and scowled. “What does this have to do with us and why are you so upset?”

“I'm trying to explain...” Garrett began, his voice getting gruffer.

“I don't want an explanation. Tell me why we're here, Garrett!” Carver demanded.

He tensed in her arms and she could feel his heart through his tunic, speeding up. “The killer. He took Mother. She's gone!” Garrett blurted, flinching as he nearly shouted the last words.

Silence fell on the room as Philippa felt her stomach sink. It was a similar surreal feeling to when she had heard about their father's death, but somehow, it was worse, as if sharing the grief with her siblings made it more real. Finally, Carver spoke, his voice choked. “You're lying.”

Garrett sighed heavily, hugging Philippa tighter to him again. “She died in my arms, Carver. I was too late to save her.”

Philippa turned her head into Garrett's shoulder and felt her own shoulders shudder as tears began to fall from her eyes. All of the times she had done things as a child and thought about how disappointed her mother would be in her manners washed across her memory, driving home a strange sort of guilt. She almost wished she had allowed Garrett to tell their mother that she was in the Gallows. Perhaps she could have seen her again before she was taken from them. Suddenly, she drew back from Garrett and looked up at him with shimmering eyes. “Does Bethany know?”

Garrett looked away. “I haven't contacted her. I don't think this is the kind of thing that should be done with a letter, but I don't know how else to...”

“I can reach her...” Philippa blurted.

Garrett frowned. “You mean your dream-walking thing?”

Philippa nodded, brushing her cheeks free of tears. “I've reached Bethany before... right after she became a Warden. And we've been writing. Coming from me, it might be better than a letter.”

Garrett looked her over slowly and then nodded. “You're right.”

 

Philippa bedded down that night, clutching Bethany's stuffed animal. Finding her sister was much easier this time around. She felt closer. When she made her way into Bethany's dream, she stood in the courtyard of a stone keep, larger than she had ever seen outside the Gallows. Shimmering images of soldiers clad in bright silverite armor sparring in a ring hovered nearby. Philippa sought Bethany, following the more solid images that were likely to congregate around the subject. She heard her sister laughing and her heart lurched at having to break her from the happy dream to tell her that their mother had been murdered. She followed the laughter and found her with a bow in her hands, a dark haired man standing rather more closely than he needed to as he straightened her form. They both chuckled and his face nuzzled closer to her neck. Philippa flushed and swiftly took control of the dream, gently nudging Bethany's consciousness so she would join her. The man's image and the bow in Bethany's hands disappeared. She looked around with a frown until she spotted Philippa standing not far away. “Phil? What are you doing here?”

Philippa smiled. “I'm sorry to interrupt your dream. Was that the famous Nathaniel you can't stop talking about?”

It was Bethany's turn to blush, her cheeks going crimson. “Maker... you saw that, did you? You arrived just in time. I've had this dream before... It gets...” she stopped talking, clearing her throat and blushing even harder.

Philippa smiled halfheartedly. “Listen, Beth, I wish I were here on a social call, but I have some news from home that shouldn't be delivered via letter.”

Bethany's eyes widened. “Maker, are Garrett and Carver all right? Garrett gets himself into so much trouble...”

Philippa shook her head and took Bethany's hands. “Our brothers are fine. It's Mother...”

Bethany's expression fell. “Oh,” she said softly. She took a moment to absorb the information and then looked up at Philippa with big eyes. “What happened?”

Philippa cringed. “Garrett was slim on details, but apparently he was there when she died. She was murdered.”

“Murdered?” Bethany gasped, her already wide eyes bulging.

Philippa nodded. “I really don't know much else. You would need to ask Garrett if you want details. I just thought you should hear about this in person... or, well, in spirit...”

Bethany's lips crooked in a gentle smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. “I am glad you thought of me... Again. I wish I could be there for you and the boys.”

“We'll manage,” Philippa shrugged lightly. “You're the one who's all alone.”

Bethany continued to smile. “I have Nathaniel. And our cousin stops in from time to time when we're at Vigil's Keep. We're in the Free Marches right now, but I can't say anything more about our mission.”

“As long as you're safe,” Philippa said, squeezing Bethany's hands that she was still holding. “We can't lose any more Hawkes.”

Bethany pulled Philippa into a hug. “You keep yourself safe as well. Try not to get on anymore templars' bad sides.”

Philippa chuckled lightly. “I live to annoy.”

Bethany's soft giggle joined hers. “Good night, sister.”

Chapter Text

In spite of her twin brother being in the loop of just about everything going on in the city of Kirkwall, Philippa was dangerously short on news from the outside. After their Mother's death, he had gone silent for months, neither Carver nor herself hearing from him other than to say he was still alive.

Inside the Circle, however, things were heating up. New factions inside both the templar ranks and the mage population seemed to be cropping up in every nook and cranny. Where Meredith and Orsino had at least partially tolerated each other when she had first arrived, in the years she had been there, that distaste had soured into outright malevolence. They were at each other's throats constantly. Philippa did her best to stay our from under their feet, only speaking up when something particularly unjust caught her attention. With Feynril's disappearance and Ser Alrik's death, Philippa had slipped back into her previous level of anonymity, coming and going as she pleased without too much attention on her and her day to day.

She had been in Kirkwall nearly six years already. She couldn't believe how swiftly time seemed to have gone by. Her life had certainly gotten much more interesting since leaving Kinloch Hold. She was out in the courtyard one Saturday afternoon doing her usual rounds among the shops when the entire place erupted in chaos. Her attention was drawn by surprised shouts out towards the docks. She turned to see what she could see, and spotted a cluster of people running from the docks, terrified looks on their faces. Moving in behind them, came a group of massive horned soldiers clad in little more than pauldrons on most of their shoulders. Their sheer size and grey skin told her they were Qunari, even though she had never seem one in person before. The huge swords and throwing spears they carried, already coated in blood, were effectively corralling the people in the courtyard. Philippa had to think fast. Her instincts from years of battle magic training kicked in. She rushed toward the center of the courtyard where the templars were beginning to gather to meet the approaching threat. She stopped ahead of the templars, waiting until all of the straggling civilians had rushed past her and threw her arms upwards. She crossed them in an X, calling her mana to her hands and then as she shifted her fingers in a precise pattern, uncrossed her arms, palms forward and erected a barrier between the templars and the Qunari.

A voice called her name. “Hawke!”

She glanced over her shoulder, her teeth gritted with the strain of keeping the barrier in place as the Qunari began to assault it. She met Cullen's amber eyes and growled. “Get the innocents to safety... Everyone inside the Gallows!” she yelled so everyone could hear her. “Knight-Captain, get me some bloody back-up. I can't hold them forever.”

She returned her full attention to holding the barrier steady as Cullen's voice receded in the din happening around them. “Templars! Guard Enchanter Hawke's back. If the barrier falls before I return, defend the Circle and get her the void out of there!”

With the influx of civilians inside the Gallows, the call to arms was swift. Within minutes, a hand fell on Philippa's shoulder, lending her strength to hold the barrier until the templars and a small unit of mages gathered behind her to fight the Qunari. Philippa waited to hear the order. When she dropped the barrier, she not only dropped it, but drew in some of the excess energy and thrust it forward to knock the Qunari back a few paces so she could dip behind the templars and regain some mana so she could help fight.

The complement of Qunari that had arrived at the Gallows was small. It was likely they had not expected much of a fight from them. Everywhere she turned, Qunari clashed with the templars and their swords. She had not truly seen templars in action before. Usually, they were just as bored as all of the mages, standing around yawning. She had to admit that their skills were impressive. Slowly, the templars and five or six mages beat back the Qunari.

When the last of the horned warriors fell, Meredith found her way to the front of the line and shouted. “If the Qunari have attacked the Gallows, they will have fanned out across the entire city. We must defend the people. Orsino, gather your best fighters. I give you sanction to fight.”

Orsino glanced warily at Meredith but said, “Very well. I will gather those I can.”

As he turned back to the Gallows, Philippa followed on his heels. “First Enchanter...”

He glanced over his shoulder at her, but continued moving. “Fetch your staff, Phil. I believe you finally have your chance to use your skills.”

As she jogged past Orsino, she smirked. “Meredith wants your best... as much as she doesn't want me, she's getting me.”

Philippa made her way to her room and grabbed up the staff that she was convinced was going to rot in the corner she had propped it in. Twirling it between her fingers, she grinned as it hummed with power as if it were glad to be handled after so long. She rushed back to the courtyard where a group of tranquil were handing out vials of lyrium to the mages that were filtering out from the Gallows. The young man that she remembered from her first year in Kirkwall that had been made tranquil for allowing Ser Samson to pass notes back and forth between him and his lover, Maddox, handed her a pair of vials. She thanked him with a nod and slipped the stoppered vials into the pouch that hung from the front of her belt.

Before long, the mixed group of mages and templars set forth on the ferry toward the city proper. Philippa buzzed with excitement. Not only was she going to be allowed to fight, but she was going to finally get to see the city up close. Six whole years and she had never left the Gallows. As they disembarked at the docks, the sounds of fighting and shouts reached their ears. Smoke clouded the streets, indicating fires throughout the city. Blood and corpses, mostly human, littered the streets surrounding the docks. Meredith glanced around herself at the destruction. “The Qunari 'stronghold' was there, just past that warehouse on the right. It seems they've cleared out to assault the city. Orsino, take your people through the Foundry district and I will sweep the alienage. We will meet back up in the market district to head into Hightown.”

“As you wish, Meredith,” Orsino said curtly before waving the mages to follow him.

Philippa was near the front of the group, her staff already clutched in her hands and ready for anything. They climbed a tall staircase from the docks to Lowtown where Orsino took a left. He seemed to know the city well, and she assumed that the First Enchanter would have more personal freedoms than the other mages of the Gallows. The group that followed them was small, consisting of no more than seven mages. She didn't know any of them personally, only having seen them in passing. Most of the other mages avoided her like she carried the plague. She had learned to take comfort in simply being alone. All around them, there were makeshift barricades burning across alleyways and blocking off districts. The air was acrid, smelling of the smoke and ash from the fires mixed with the metallic scent of blood and sour scent of piss and shit. The Qunari were massacring the city. What reason could they have for attacking innocents? The sight enraged Philippa. She had never truly seen war before. No matter the reason, there was no excuse for slaughtering an entire city.

They ran into their first group of Qunari as they passed what looked to be a factory front. Orsino displayed the reason he was First Enchanter when he drew his staff and hurled a massive fireball from the end of it, that exploded in a plume of smoke and flames in front of the Qunari. The stunned oxmen stumbled back much like the ones had when she had shoved the energy from her barrier at them back in the Gallows. Philippa twirled her own staff, dancing her fingers along the shaft in an intricate gesture that painted a glyph into the wood. When she slammed the end of it on the ground, the glyph shot from the staff, across the gap and hummed with power. Once a few of the Qunari had stumbled onto the glyph, she snapped her hand back towards her body, activating the crackling energy stored in the glyph. It sparked and a bolt of lightning leapt through all three of the Qunari. Their bodies seized as the electricity shocked through them. She watched them lose control of their limbs and fall to the ground. Remembering back to her childhood when she had smashed a table with a minuscule spell, she performed the same spell, making room for her footwork and the twirling of her staff. When she pulled the sky down with her fist, her magic smashed the incapacitated Qunari into a pulp. The rest of the mages had engaged with the rest of the group, magic crackling on the air and making the hairs on her arms and neck stand at attention.

After assessing the damage taken when the last of the Qunari fell, Philippa deemed them fit to move on, and they continued forward. As they followed the city around in a half circle, they passed an establishment that seemed to stand out from the rest. The shabby sign over the door read 'The Hanged Man', and there was an over sized dummy hanging upside down from his ankle on a rope extended outwards on a pole from the second floor. Philippa silently wished she could have seen the city when it wasn't mostly on fire.

They met back up with Meredith, briefly before heading from Lowtown into the market district of what was known as Hightown. Meredith sent Orsino and the mages ahead toward the red lantern district and beyond to the courtyard below the stairs that Orsino told her would lead them up into the Viscount's Keep. Spread out in the courtyard was a much larger compliment of Qunari than they had yet encountered. “They have a mage,” she pointed out, feeling the magic that surrounded the Qunari mage before they even stepped foot into the space from the red lantern district.

“We must be careful. Qunari 'saarebas' are nothing to scoff at. Their magic is extremely powerful,” Orsino warned, glancing at each of their people in turn. With nods from all around, he pressed his lips together. “Phil, I want you to engage the saarebas. You'll know it when you see it. They keep their mages collared. Distract it so the rest of us can take out the others. It may take a moment with them spread out so far.”

She nodded her agreement and readied her magic, drawing a barrier around herself to protect against whatever the mage might throw at her. They stepped out into the courtyard as a group, Philippa's eyes darting around the space to hone in on the mage. She spotted it across the field, a small square garden between her and her prize. Before she was spotted, she Fade stepped across the courtyard, past the garden, leaving a trail of ice in her wake. She landed in front of the mage and took in the sight of him as he noticed her. A thick metal collar nearly a foot wide rested on his shoulders, held on by chains with links as thick as her fingers. His horns had been sawed off, nearly to his scalp and his lips sewn shut. Over his eyes was a thick golden mask with little more than pinpricks for him to see through. A momentary pang of sympathy washed over Philippa, giving her pause. If she thought being a mage in Kirkwall was hard, it was nothing compared to being a mage under the Qun. She couldn't imagine going through life bound gagged and blinded. She lowered her guard as the mage stared her down. Then he raised his hands and magic flared around him. Realizing her sympathy was not going to win her friends, she interrupted his spell with her own, dispelling whatever he had prepared. Then she drew her mana from her core, twisting it through the head of her staff and pushing the fireball toward the mage. It struck his barrier, sizzling as the magic absorbed it, protecting him from being harmed.

As she and the saarebas flung magic back and forth at each other, whittling down their barriers, she could hear the others around them, fighting. Shouts of alarm rang through the courtyard. Orsino's voice finally rang above them all, calling a retreat. Philippa took her eyes off the mage for a moment to look around. She saw the others, turning to run, only to be impaled by the pursuing Qunari. Orsino was stopped by a sword wielding warrior. Instead of fleeing, he spun and engaged the Qunari. In Philippa's distraction, the mage built up a spell, hurling at her with force. The spirit bolt slammed into her barrier and she stumbled backwards, her barrier finally giving way with the powerful spell. She heard a commotion from the direction of the market district and caught a glimpse of a small group of people entering the fray. She cast as quickly as she could, interrupting the saarebas' casting as often as possible while she recharged her barrier. He started toward her, realizing what she was doing, and she took another tactical step back, understanding that he could still likely crush her with his bare hands if it came down to it. She twirled her staff and dropped the head to the ground, arching it between them. Along the arc, jagged shards of ice shot up from the ground, blocking him from getting to her.

Her attention narrowed to the foe before her, shutting out the ruckus of the rest of the battle. The saarebas was trying to smash through her ice wall as she attempted to regain some of her mana with a lyrium potion. She popped the cork, but just before the vial reached her lips, a blast of pain slammed into her back. She lurched forward with the momentum of the projectile. The vial of lyrium fell from her suddenly numb fingers to shatter on the ground at her feet, her staff clattering after it. It was suddenly difficult to draw breath and metallic taste pooled on her tongue. She fell forward onto her knees. When her head drooped, she noticed the bloody tip of a Qunari spear sticking nearly a foot out from her gut. She drew in a haggard breath and found herself chuckling hysterically. “Well, that isn't good.”

The world spun around her and she tipped onto her side, the cold stone ground reaching up to greet her with a harsh smack. She watched the saarebas smash through the ice wall with a burst of physical magic as a pitched ringing sound settled into her ears, blocking out all other sound besides the creeping beat of her own heart. A figure rushed past her, faster than lightning, leaping at the saarebas while a shout penetrated her muffled hearing as her hand reached for her staff. Her reach was short, but someone dropped down beside her. She struggled to focus, recognizing a familiar pair of honey colored eyes. She wheezed in another breath as his hands fell over her bloody abdomen. The breath she drew in caught in her throat, the blood in her mouth choking her. She coughed, fresh agony drawing a sharpness back to her and she was able to put a name to the eyes. Anders. “Stay with me, Phil!” he ordered, looking over her injury. He glanced up at someone behind her. “Can you snap this tip off so I can get the shaft out?”

A woman with a halo of red hair held back with a woven band over her forehead dropped her shield to the ground as she circled Philippa. Anders shifted out of her way, and she gripped the spear tip in both hands. With a grunt, she cracked the tip of the spear off and tossed it aside. Anders' magic swirled up around him and the woman moved behind Philippa again. Anders nodded, his hands hovering just over the broken end of the spear. The wooden shaft was yanked unceremoniously out her back and Anders' hands fell over the now open wound as warm moisture spread out to pool beneath her. She felt every inch of the shaft dragging through her insides and a whimpering cry escaped her lips. Anders mumbled under his breath, his eyes wide as he attempted to hold her guts in place while he healed. She could feel Anders' magic, stitching through her marred flesh, she could feel Justice alongside him, amplifying his mana so he would have enough, and she felt the spirit he called to his side to lend even further assistance. Her eyelids fluttered as her senses flew into overload. The metallic taste of her own blood on her tongue, the feel of Anders' hands pressed to her stomach, the sound of her own ragged breathing accompanied by shuffling, clattering and a body hitting the ground beside her, the scent of blood and leather and a hint of petrichor from the spilled lyrium, her eyes caught glimpses of what was happening around her in between the spots of black and flashes of white that accompanied the jolts of agony that shot through her. It was all too much at once. Her consciousness flickered and glimpses of the Fade interrupted the real world.

She woke up alone. The shimmering, broken world around her familiar, even in it's strangeness. Her head pounded in time with her beating heart, much stronger than it had been moments before Anders had gotten his hands on her. The source of her migraine slithered into view. She recognized it immediately. “You,” she growled, attempting to call on her depleted mana and finding herself lacking.

“The last time we met, you didn't bother to learn my name before chasing me from my prize. Call me Torpor,” the demon hummed.

“I don't care what your name is,” Philippa said threateningly.

“So rude. We will have much better manners once we have joined,” Torpor said confidently.

“You're insane if you think I'm just going to let you take my body for a ride,” she scoffed, crossing her arms.

“But you are so very hurt. It would be nothing for me to climb inside. Effortless...” it said with a hiss.

As the demon approached her slowly, Philippa panicked, falling back on an old tried and true method, grabbing a small bit of her own flesh between her fingers an pinching hard. With a massive amount of luck, it worked. She lurched up off the ground, crying out and then feeling a fresh wash of agony pulse from her gut. “Hold her still. Her wound isn't healed!” Anders said with a grunt.

“Lyrium,” she gasped, writhing as his magic still sparked through her and a pair of strong arms landed on her shoulders, pushing her back to the ground. She groaned, feeling the world trying to close off around her again. She fought against the call of the Fade.

“There's a vial in my belt pouch, Hawke... Phil, hold still so he can let go...” Anders' voice was strained and when she looked at his face, color was leeching from his cheeks quickly.

“Move over,” the red headed woman said in a soft Ferelden accent.

Her hands fell on Philippa's right shoulder as Garrett shifted to lay a single hand on her left and his free hand fiddled around Anders' belt. When it reappeared, there was a small vial of lyrium between his fingers. Anders sniggered lightly through the strain and glanced at Garrett. “Don't think I don't know you could have pick-pocketed me without me even feeling it...”

As Garrett bit the cork out of the vial and spat it on the ground, he grinned. “You act like I didn't want you to feel it.” His tone was teasing as he tipped the lyrium into Philippa's mouth. The heady metallic taste was almost non-existant as it mixed with the coppery taste of blood that still lingered on her tongue.

Anders glanced at Garrett, his concentration on the task of healing her not wavering for an instant. She could already feel the lyrium working to replenish her mana, just in case she slipped into the Fade again. Now she could defend herself against Torpor. Anders' brow rose with his mouth in a devious smirk. “Your twin sister is lying in a pool of her own blood and you take the time to cop a feel?”

Garrett continued to smirk. “I know you aren't about to let her die. Besides, Anders, love, the world could be falling down around our ears and I would take the time to cop a feel.”

She felt herself fading again as the red head protested the banter between her brother and Anders. When she slipped into the Fade, Torpor was waiting. She immediately called forth her replenished mana. “Must you fight?” the demon complained lazily.

She shook her head. “I made the mistake of letting you go already. I should have known it would bite me in the ass. I'm not going to fight you. I'm going to kill you.”

Torpor lunged for her and she swiped her arm before her, unleashing a burst of energy that knocked it back. Then she drew her palms together, pushing them forward, thumbs together as she crooked her pinkies downwards. Short projectiles of ice shot from her hands, lodging in Torpor's chest. She manipulated the ice, pushing it further into him before dropping to the ground as he writhed. She traced out a glyph that she pushed beneath him and then stood, pulling the magic from the glyph upwards as she rose. She closed her fist and the crushing prison tightened around the demon. For added assurance, she cupped her hands together and sparked a fireball between them. She drew her fingers apart until the fireball was larger than her own head and then directed it inside the closing walls of magic around Torpor. The demon shrieked in agony as the flames ate through it and her magic crushed it's crumbling remains into ash.

She dropped her arms to her sides, breathing heavily from the added exertion of the fight coupled with the healing that was happening to her physical body. She dropped onto the ground, focusing on the real world and reached for the anchor of Anders' magic. She pulled herself back into her body just as he pulled his hands away from her and slumped. Garrett's hands left her shoulder to catch Anders before he dropped. “Whoa, there...” he said as softly as his gruff voice could get.

The red head's hands also slipped from Philippa's shoulder and Philippa reached fer her own freshly closed wound. She felt the solid skin, still tender. It would be like that for some time. Magical healing, even spirit healing was merely a life saving band-aid. Her body would need to do some healing on it's own. As she rolled onto her side with a grunt, hands fell on her back. “Are you all right, Phil?”

She glanced around at Orsino as he helped her to sit up, both relief and sadness warring for dominance over his expression. “Good as slightly used,” she quipped, accepting another vial that was handed to her by Garrett's dwarven friend. This one was filled with a red potion. One sniff told her it was elfroot, and she downed it, grateful for the additional assistance in healing. “What of the others?”

Anders was sagged against Garrett's chest, her brother's fingers running lightly through his hair. Philippa twisted slightly to grab her staff from the ground for some added focus and grunted with the effort as her insides complained at the movement. Orsino picked up the staff and put it in her hands. After taking the lyrium, she had plenty of mana to spare, so she cast a rejuvenation spell, aiming it towards Anders. He cringed only slightly at the abrupt return of mana before perking up. Orsino addressed her question as Anders sent a thankful smile in her direction. “The others were all killed. If not for your brother's intervention, we would both have perished with them.”

“I think there are enough corpses on my doorstep,” Garrett grumbled, patting Anders' shoulder with a questioning look before accepting Anders' nod of reassurance and getting up off the ground, helping the other man to stand. “Orana is going to have a terrible time scrubbing the bloodstains from the welcome mat.”

“Not now, Hawke,” the red head said grumpily.

Before Garrett could respond, Orsino was helping Philippa to her feet, and Meredith's voice interrupted. “First Enchanter Orsino, you survive."

"Your relief overwhelms me, Knight-Commander," Orsino said sarcastically as he turned his attention to the group of templars that were conveniently late to the battle.

Meredith scoffed. "There is no time for talk. We must strike back before it's too late."

Orsino crossed his arms. "And who will lead us into this battle? You?" His tone was angry. It seemed he was doing the same math as Philippa. Would Meredith actually hold her templars back in hopes of eliminating the Circle's best mages?

"I will fight to defend this city as I have always done!" Meredith nodded, her fists clenching.

"To control it, you mean! I won't have our lives tossed to the flames to feed your vanity!" Orsino corrected snidely.

This was getting them nowhere. It seemed that Garrett felt the same because he left Anders' side and stepped between the Knight-Commander and the First Enchanter. "I won't have you two at each other's throats! I'm in charge."

"You?" Meredith balked, as if no one had ever had the balls to suggest she listen to orders. "You're not even of this city!"

"Neither am I," Orsino reminded her. "Yet I don't hear you complaining about us both fighting to defend our home."

"Very well then," Meredith said grudgingly, glancing between Orsino and Garrett with narrowed eyes. "But whatever you plan, be quick about it."

"Tell us then," Orsino asked. "What is our course of action?"

Garrett took a step back and shrugged jokingly. His answer made Philippa think he was surprised that they had both agreed to his demand so easily. "I take it running for the hills isn't an option?" When Meredith narrowed her eyes and shook her head sharply, obviously not amused with Garrett's joke, he dropped his grin and said, "Or we could find out what they're up to. That works, too."

Meredith's expression softened. "An excellent choice. Let's move quickly."

They all headed up to the top of the first set of stairs to the Keep where the entryway narrowed into two archways before opening back up to the final set of stairs. Philippa was feeling the strain of the continuing healing happening in her gut as her brother's red headed friend peered around the wall to get a look at the doors of the Keep. Garrett looked out as well, over her head and Orsino hovered nearby, his own eyes studying the group of Qunari assembled outside the doors.

"There seem to be a great many Qunari at the Keep's entrance," Orsino said in a hushed tone, moving back behind the wall before he was spotted.

"Then they've already taken it over," Meredith grumbled. "Clearly they've been planning this for some time."

"I don't see any of my guardsmen," the red head said worriedly.

"This is the only way in," Meredith pointed out. "We must assault them now before their numbers grow."

Orsino's eyes bugged out. "Are you mad? They have hostages! We need a distraction."

Meredith and Orsino turned to Garrett and Meredith narrowed her eyes. "Decide quickly. We have no time."

Garrett's eyes flicked back and forth between Meredith and Orsino who were both looking at him with skepticism. When his brown eyes landed on her as she hugged her sore stomach, she shrugged and slightly tipped her head toward Orsino. Garrett nodded his head imperceptibly and swiftly said, "Let's hear what you have in mind, Orsino."

He offered a soft smile before saying, "We'll need to get you inside and catch up as soon as we can."

"And just how will we do this?" Meredith asked skeptically as Orsino drew his staff and twirled it expertly as he passed by them toward the archways.

"Have confidence, Knight-Commander," he smirked. Garrett slipped through the archways and back into the shadows of the pillars along the Viscount's Way, as it was called. His companions followed.

Orsino made a spectacle of himself, drawing the Qunari's attention in a spectacular light show before throwing a few large fireballs in their direction and roasting more than one of the threats before retreating back to them with the Qunari in tow. Philippa drew lightly on her reserves, painting a boundary on the ground between the archways. As Orsino passed beneath them, she slipped mana into the primed magic and lifted her hands with effort, the muscles of her stomach complaining. Flames burst from the ground in a wall that charred the first line of Qunari and stopped the others briefly from following so Meredith and the rest of the templars could get into position at the bottom of the steps.

With her and Orsino lending magical assistance, the templars led the Qunari further and further from the Keep, slowly cutting them down without losing any of their own. Philippa caught a glimpse of one of her brother's other friends, the sultry dusky skinned woman that had called her pretty. She was making her way toward the Keep with a heavy looking tome clutched under her arm. She disappeared into the shadows when she got near the fighting, avoiding the Qunari and their spears. They were soon joined by another one of Garrett's friends, the grumpy elf with the impossible tattoos. He and another man rushed into the fray from a side street across the courtyard from the red lantern district. The man she didn't recognize wore dazzling white armor and carried an intricately crafted bow. His skin was tanned lightly and his brown hair had highlights of red through out it. His eyes reminded her of Solona's, aqua in color, leaning closer to blue where hers had been more green. He swiftly sniped half a dozen Qunari as the elf charged into the middle of the pack, his markings activating just like they had in the Fade, turning him into a streaking blue wraith that cut down everything in his path.

When the last of the Qunari fell, Meredith made a beeline for Orsino. Philippa hung back, pressing her hand over her aching stomach and leaning on her staff. The elf approached her with a scowl. “Where's Hawke?” he asked her curtly in his gravely tone.

Before she could answer, Carver jogged up to them. “Garrett went into the Keep with Anders, Varric and Aveline nearly ten minutes ago. We've been out here keeping the Qunari from following them in.”

Philippa winced as she shifted her weight. “I saw your other friend go in as well not too long ago. The busty one,” she said.

The elf grunted in what, for him, was likely considered a laugh as it was accompanied by a brief upturn of his lips. “Isabela...”

“Hawke!” Meredith's voice snapped across the courtyard and both Carver and Philippa answered to their surname, turning their heads toward the Knight-Commander. With a pointed look at Carver, she gestured dismissively toward Orsino, who was scowling nearly as heavily as Garrett's elf friend.

Carver straightened and touched Philippa's elbow lightly. “The Knight-Commander asked me and Kerran to escort you and the First Enchanter back to the Circle. She is going to take the others into the Keep to try and help.”

Philippa sighed, too exhausted to even protest. She needed rest and possibly another healing potion. The trek back to the Gallows suddenly felt daunting. She directed a small burst of rejuvenating energy toward herself, allowing her to straighten and shuffle alongside Carver as they joined Orsino and the blonde haired recruit that Garrett had helped rescue from getting possessed. Philippa needed help down the countless flights of stairs back to the docks where they could catch the ferry back to the Gallows. Orsino allowed her to lean heavily on him and he walked slowly. All the while, Philippa thought about Garrett. Was he all right? What was happening in the Keep? She wished she had been allowed to go inside with him. Although in her current state, she would have been little help.

When they reached the ferry, she climbed onto the flat raft with difficulty and then slumped onto a nearby bench. Exhaustion was licking at her again. Carver sat down beside her as the Ferry carried them back across the water to the Gallows. She glanced at him, offering a half smile as his eyes flicked over her, surveying the damage with what looked like fear. “I'm fine,” she said softly. “Anders got to me just in time.”

“You don't look fine,” he said in a whisper, glancing at Kerran. “You lost a lot of blood and you're really pale.”

She cringed as she sat up. “The worst of the damage was healed, but I will still need time to recover. Magic can't restore blood. Once I get cleaned up, a good night's sleep will do wonders for me. I promise.” Then she smirked deviously. “Why Carver, it's almost like you care about me.”

He scowled and crossed his arms at her prodding. “If I didn't keep an eye on you and something happened you can guarantee Garrett would blame me.”

She snickered and immediately regretted it, her hand landing over her stomach as her muscles complained again. “Don't make me laugh, arse.”

Carver sighed and rolled his eyes. “Come on, I'll help you to your room.” He stood as the ferry docked.

She took his offered hand, Kerran and Orsino already off the boat. She leaned against her brother as they headed back into the Gallows courtyard. Outside, the building was guarded by a few compliments of templars, looked over by Cullen. When Orsino crossed into the courtyard, Cullen held up a hand to his men and approached the First Enchanter. “How fares the city?”

“The streets have been cleared. Meredith deemed it necessary to send the remaining mages back to the Gallows while she assisted in the assault on the Keep,” Orsino said bitterly.

Cullen's eyes widened momentarily as he glanced up from Orsino and looked over their small party. If she didn't know better, she would have sworn his shoulders slumped in relief when his eyes landed on her. His intense stare lingered on her, taking in her disheveled state as he spoke again. “There's only the two of you left?”

Orsino nodded. “The Qunari overwhelmed us just outside the Keep. If not for the intervention of some civilians, none of us would have returned.”

“If you don't mind, Ser, my sister was injured in the battle. She's taken a healing potion, but she needs rest,” Carver said, his voice rumbling through her as she shifted her staff so she could lean partially on him and partially on it.

Cullen balked. “Of course. Get her to the infirmary, I'll send for Marcella.”

Philippa grunted. “I don't need a healer. I just need a potion and some rest,” she said. “The worst has been taken care of.” She squeezed Carver's hand lightly so he wouldn't mention Anders. Let Cullen think she had healed herself.

“If you think that is best,” he tipped his head in a nod, giving Carver leave to help her inside.

The entry hall was filled with civilians, templars and mages all milling about. They were all mostly unharmed. She and Carver must have been a sight as they passed through toward the dormitories. Both covered in blood and her leaning heavily on him. Curious whispers followed them, but she was too exhausted to care.

With her room in sight, she sighed in relief. Grace gasped as they awkwardly squeezed through the door side by side. “Phil! What happened?”

Carver deposited her in the chair by her desk and stepped aside so she could speak to Grace. “Let's just say I don't recommend being spitted by a Qunari's spear.”

Carver shuffled his feet and cleared his throat. “Can I do anything else?”

Grace stepped up and glared at him. “I'll take it from here. I'll assume she'll want to get cleaned up, and she doesn't need you for that.”

Carver balked at Grace's harsh words, but Philippa smiled gently at him. “It's okay, Carver. Thank you.”

He pressed his lips together and flicked his eyes to Grace before looking pointedly at Philippa. “Let me know if you need anything.”

 

Grace helped Philippa to get out of her bloody and ruined robes, cleaned her up and then helped her into a fresh set of clothing. Philippa was grateful for the help. She didn't believe that she could have done it all on her own. Once she was settled in her bed, another healing potion working its way through her, the Fade was not far from reach. She slipped into her dreams.

She was blessedly alone for most of the night and into the next day while she slept off the brunt of the healing process. When she finally woke, she felt like a new person. Her mana had been completely restored, and aside from a slight twinge in her abdomen, the initial assessment was that she was back to normal. She performed her own small examination, reaching into her core with her magic and making sure everything was in the right place.

When Philippa sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she realized she was alone in her room. She then realized that she wasn't even certain what time it was. She felt like she had slept forever. She dressed and left the room, making her way toward Orsino's office to see if there was any news about what had happened in the Keep. Worry was eating at her. Concern for her brother and Anders knotting up her stomach worse than the grumbling that reminded her she hadn't eaten in almost a whole day at least.

Philippa knocked respectfully on Orsino's closed door and when he answered, she stepped inside. Orsino was standing behind his desk, his hands flat on the surface beside a stack of papers. Sitting opposite him in one of the guest chairs was Cullen. “Apologies, First Enchanter. I can come back if this is a bad time...” she said, moving back toward the doors.

Cullen stood swiftly, awkwardly almost tipping the chair he was in to get out of the way. “Enchanter Hawke. It's good to see you're back on your feet. We were just finishing up here.” He turned to Orsino and nodded.

Orsino returned the gesture and Cullen rounded the chair, and shuffled past her as she stepped out of the way to allow him to leave. She snickered as the door closed. “If I didn't know better, I'd think I offended the Knight-Captain.”

Orsino returned her smile. “A great deal has just been dropped on his shoulders. The Viscount was killed in the Qunari assault, and his son killed by zealots. With no heir, the city needed a Viscount. Meredith has taken it upon herself to assume the position temporarily until a replacement can be elected. In turn that means that the Captain has been saddled with a lot more of her duties.”

“How kind of Meredith,” Philippa said sarcastically.

“Indeed,” Orsino said with a sneer. “At least it means that she won't be here as often.” Philippa smirked and then moved to sit in the chair that Cullen had been occupying. “Was there something in particular that you needed?”

She straightened her new set of robes. “I was curious about any news about my twin and his companions that went into the Keep.”

Orsino nodded. “Of course, forgive me. I've been handling the aftermath of the assault and the battle in Hightown, it slipped my mind that your brother was involved. He and his companions are fine. Better than actually. Garrett Hawke single-handedly defeated the Arishok in a duel and was named Champion of Kirkwall.”

Philippa burst out laughing. “Leave it to Garrett... Of course he's Champion of the city. Thank you, Orsino.” She stood, still smiling. “I'll leave you to your work.”

Chapter Text

The Gallows returned to some semblance of normal. The city itself was slower to recover, having been thoroughly ravaged by the Qunari. Philippa had been hopeful that with Meredith seldom there, the mages' lot would improve, even if just a little bit. It seemed instead to worsen without the Knight-Commander to leash her more overzealous minions. The mages seemed to be becoming more and more 'clumsy' as Philippa treated bruises and cuts that most certainly were not the accidents they were described as. When she spoke about her concerns after returning to her room each night, Grace would listen carefully, absorbing every detail.

One morning after breakfast, Philippa made her way to the infirmary as usual, but was surprised to see Ser Thrask. She greeted him with a smile. “Ser Thrask, what a pleasant surprise. Is there something I can help you with?” She had always liked Thrask. In spite of his avid belief in the maker and his fierce duty to the templars, he was always kind and sympathetic. He was what a templar should be. What Cullen used to be before Uldred.

“Good morning, Enchanter Hawke. I was wondering if you had a moment to speak privately?” Thrask said with a smile that was laced with nervousness.

She opened the infirmary door and stepped aside to allow him inside. “Of course.”

She entered behind him, closing the door. She moved toward her workstation to drop some supplies from her hands and then collected her inventory papers to start on the unenviable task of counting bandages. Thrask stood stiffly, glancing around as if he expected someone to pop out from a dark corner and interrupt him before he had a chance to speak. “I understand you've been noticing some abuses in your day to day work...” he hinted. Philippa was suddenly very interested. She lowered her papers and watched him closely before nodding. “May I ask why you haven't reported any of these incidents?”

Philippa's brow rose and she crossed her arms beneath her chest, hugging her paperwork to her. “Unfortunately, Ser Thrask, a few abused mages in the Gallows would go unnoticed, even if I had reported these incidents. My suspicions of who the abusers are would go unheeded, largely because I believe those responsible are likely some of Meredith's closest underlings. The best I can do for the abused is treat them and offer a shoulder.”

Thrask grunted. “I've heard you previously had contacts in the mage underground...” Thrask began.

Philippa dropped her arms and crossed the room to set her papers down. “I don't know where you heard that, but I've never...”

Thrask chuckled kindly. “I'm not here to turn you in. I'm aware that the underground had a setback while you were indisposed last year... That horrible incident with Ser Alrik. The underground's main method of escape was discovered and shut down. I wanted to tell you that there is another way.”

Philippa frowned warily. “Are you saying that you condone the escape of mages from the Circle?”

Thrask circled the question. “I am part of a group inside the Gallows comprised of both mages and templars united together for the single purpose of making life better for those of us that live here. We've decided that with your track record and obvious sympathy, we would like to accept you into the fold. We would like to offer you a place to take your suspicions where they will not go unheeded.”

Philippa still looked at Thrask with narrowed eyes. “I'm not making any promises,” she said pointedly.

“Then let's call this a trial period,” Thrask said. “Allow us to show you what we can do. I'll not pressure you to make a decision right away.” With that, he bowed out of the infirmary, leaving her shaking. If that had been any other templar, she would have thought it some sort of trap. She simply didn't believe that Ser Thrask had it in him.

She collected herself and went about her day, wondering exactly which of the templars and mages had gotten together and decided to make waves. It was nearing the end of the day and Philippa was finishing up her inventory when a soft knock on the door drew her attention. She made her way over and opened it, A young girl, perhaps fifteen, was standing in the doorway, her arms wrapped around her middle and tears streaming down her face. She had long blonde hair that had at some point been braided but was now hanging loose in several strands that had been pulled free. Her face was bruised around her left eye and across her right cheek. The cheek was bleeding, dripping alongside her tears. “I'm sorry to bother you...” the girl mumbled softly.

Philippa opened the door further and beckoned the girl in. When she reached for her to take her elbow, the girl flinched. Philippa drew back, understanding she had been through something traumatizing. After what Ser Alrik had done to her, she had been reluctant to allow another person to touch her, but she had been older. “Who did this to you?” she asked, gently leading the girl to the closest bed.

The blonde sat gingerly on the bed, flinching when her rear hit the mattress. When she didn't respond to Philippa's question, Philippa kept her distance and softly probed with her magic to get a taste of the extent of her injuries. What she discovered enraged her beyond sense. Aside from the bruising and cuts on her face, her wrists had been bound tightly enough to chafe and bruise as well. When Philippa reached deeper, she felt the whispers of assault that explained why sitting down had pained her.

Swallowing the outrage, she took a step closer to the girl. “Can you tell me your name?”

“Terri, messere,” the girl replied softly.

Philippa nodded and smiled. “Terri, I'll need to examine you. Is it all right for me to touch you?”

Terri flinched again. “I came to you for help, but Maker forgive me, I'm still so shaken.”

“I understand, Terri,” Philippa said soothingly. “If you'd like, I have a spell that can put you to sleep while I examine you. That way, you won't feel what I'm doing, and your mind can relax. If you're still uncomfortable, I'm willing to go at a pace that you decide.”

Terri looked up at her with absolute relief. “No, I want to be brave.”

Philippa smiled reassuringly. “I'll start with your face and work my way down. Would you like me to talk to you while I work? If there's anything I'm good at, it's talking.” She slowly reached her hands toward Terri who steadfastly straightened and allowed Philippa to touch her fingers to her face.

Terri was silent for a few moments as Philippa probed her bruises and checked for hemorrhaging. Satisfied there was nothing going on beneath the surface, she allowed healing magic to seep from the tips of her fingers and close the cut on her cheek and reduce the swelling around her eye before removing the bruising all together. “How old were you when you... grew into your body?” Terri asked timidly.

Philippa paused in her ministrations, meeting Terri's gaze with sympathy. “How old are you, Terri?”

“I'm fifteen, messere,” Terri answered.

“I thought so... I was barely thirteen when I started my menses. My body quickly caught up. I know what it's like when the boys all suddenly start to notice you...” she paused briefly and took Terri's hands in hers, looking down to assess the bruising on her wrists. “Was there a specific boy in particular that noticed you?”

Terri bit her lip and fresh tears began to drip from her eyes. “Not a boy, messere. A templar.”

Philippa's eyes shot up to meet Terri's. “A templar?” she gasped. “One of the templars did this to you?”

Terri jerked her hands from Philippa's, her eyes widening. “Please, you can't say anything. If anyone finds out I told, his friends will do much worse. I shouldn't have said...”

Philippa took Terri's hands again, soothingly shushing her. “It's all right. I'm not going to ask you his name, Terri, and everything you say inside this room stays between us, okay?”

Terri began to cry in earnest, throwing herself into Philippa's arms. “I hate it here! I just want to leave. I don't care where I go, as long as its away from this wretched place.”

Philippa hugged the frightened girl to her, moving to sit beside her on the edge of the bed. She hesitated to offer Terri a way out, not knowing if she could trust Thrask's little group of conspirators. If she knew more about what was going on with the underground, she would have tried to contact Anders for help. She allowed Terri to cry into her robes, leaving a damp spot near her collarbone. When the girl calmed, she was able to finish her examination and relieve the rest of her injuries before reluctantly letting her go. Terri gave her no more information about her abuser, and Philippa was forced to drop the subject when she clammed up completely.

She was shuffling from the infirmary to her room, her attention anywhere but on her surroundings. She had bypassed the dining hall, her stomach churning with indecision. She was suddenly drawn from her thoughts by a familiar voice. “Hawke. Shouldn't you be at supper?”

She sighed heavily, stopping and turning to address him. “I've had... a very long day, Cullen. I think I'm just going to turn in. I have a lot on my mind.”

He studied her intently with his amber gaze, his brow creasing slightly before he opened his mouth then closed it and reached up to rub the back of his neck, shuffling his feet. “Is there... Can I... Would you like to talk about it?” he stammered.

Philippa was not really in the mood for talk, but there was something about Cullen that insisted she straighten from her slouch and poke at him. “My my, Knight-Captain... Was that concern for my well-being, or concern that I might be up to something?”

His lips pressed together in annoyance and his hand fell from his neck. “A simple no would have been sufficient,” he said grumpily.

“Oh, but watching you make that face is so much more fun,” she intoned. Then she sighed.

When she didn't continue, his brow rose from it's frown. “I think that might have been the least creative attempt at facetiousness I've ever heard from you. Is something the matter?”

Philippa allowed her eyes to meet his and she studied him. How would he react to the fact that one of the templars in the ranks had forced himself on a fifteen year old girl? She crossed her arms and stared him down for a moment, then she said, “I suppose if Meredith sees fit to ignore these types of things, I have no choice but to report them to you...”

“I am serving as Meredith's second. Anything that she needs to address can be brought to my attention,” he said stiffly in response to her curt demeanor.

“An apprentice just came to the infirmary, bruised and beaten. This is not the first such incident in recent months, but it was the first to include abuse of a sexual nature,” she said.

Cullen's cheeks flushed, but he managed to remain professional. “Is there a reason you didn't report this straight away?”

She snorted and rolled her eyes. “The girl was terrified. Her face was bruised, her wrists had been bound and she had been violated. I did my best to soothe her and relieve the physical pain, but she shut down when I tried to get her to tell me who had abused her. All I got out of her was that it was a templar. I don't think she even meant to tell me that much.”

Cullen's embarrassment leaked from his face as it went ashen. “A templar? And you don't have a name?” When she simply shook her head, he continued. “And you said there have been other incidents?”

She shrugged. “I can't say if they were all the same person, or if they were even related, but I can say that the infirmary has gotten much busier since Meredith decided to spend the majority of her time outside the Gallows...” Philippa paused and flushed as Cullen's expression shifted. She felt the need to rescind the assumed accusation. “I'm not blaming you or your ability to lead the templars, but I believe the old saying 'when the cat's away, the mice will play', applies here.”

He cleared his throat, obviously offended in spite of her reassurances. “I will look into the incidents. Thank you for bringing them to my attention.” Then he turned on his heel and stormed off toward the main hall. With a sigh, she continued to her room.

 

The Gallows in Kirkwall was supposed to be a secure facility, just as any Circle was. A reassurance to the both the outside world that the mages couldn't escape, and to the mages that they were protected. After the night guard had been posted over the escape hatch in the kitchens that led to the smugglers tunnels, the previously unsecured entry and exit was supposedly not accessible. So how was it, Philippa wondered, that she was standing beside her bed over the sleeping body of a dwarf that had woken her from a dead sleep with a shout as he charged at her with a dagger? He had cried out her last name accompanied by some crazed rambling before she rolled out of the way and threw a sleep spell at him. Even if he had attacked her, Maker forbid a dead body was found in her room. “What in the... oh,” Grace gasped, getting out of her own bed to see what was happening.

Philippa was already moving. She headed to the corner of the room to grab her staff and then shoved her feet in her shoes. “If he wakes up...”

“Don't worry, he won't,” Grace growled, her magic already swirling to the surface.

Philippa cautiously left their room, but didn't wait long before she started making herself known. This was the one time that she wanted the templars to know she was up at night. She rushed for the main hall where there was bound to be a templar or two on patrol. She never made it to the hall before colliding with a solid body passing through the archway from the opposite direction. Hands landed on her upper arms, steadying her. “Phil! Are you all right? I was just attacked.”

“Carver! Maker's breath...” she paused, gathering her breath as another pair of templars appeared at Carver's back. “Grace is keeping an eye on mine. A dwarf with a knife. I put him to sleep.”

“Did he say anything?” Carver wondered.

“Nothing coherent. Who attacked you?” she asked. “Are you hurt?”

“No I'm fine. Same as you. Dwarves. They were shouting something about 'the blood of the Hawke'. After we took them down, I rushed here to be sure you were all right,” Carver explained.

“What in the bloody void is going on?” she growled as Carver sent the templars following him toward her room and took her arm to lead her toward the templars' hall.

“We need to report this. If they came after both of us, it's about our family, which means Garrett and Bethany could be in danger as well,” Carver deduced.

“Well, shit,” Philippa said as they hurried along.

 

The dwarves had apparently dragged everyone from their beds. Garrett was at the Gallows the next day, asking after them, and Philippa had visited Bethany in her dreams to check on her. She was apparently all right, but Philippa's warning had come in handy three days later. Garrett assured them that after examining the corpses in his basement, his dwarven friend, Varric was reaching out to all of his contacts to find out who was out for Hawke blood.

Security at the Gallows was tightened even further around her and Carver. Within six weeks, they were called before Meredith and the First Enchanter to be given special permission to leave the Circle to go with Garrett into the Vinmark Mountains. Carver was given her phylactery to carry around his neck like Cullen had been when they had left Ferelden. It was strangely liberating to be able to freely step foot outside of the city. Philippa had never been on an adventure before, and in spite of her life and the lives of her family being on the line, she felt lighthearted.

Along the way, Varric explained that the dwarves that had attacked them were Carta dwarves, although he had no idea why they were after them. The night before they reached their destination, Bethany finally caught up to them, traveling alone. She wore the uniform of the Grey Wardens, much like Solona had worn during the Blight, and her staff was well made, humming with primal energy. She still wore her hair down around her shoulders in thick rings, but she had matured since Philippa had last seen her physically. In spite of the years behind her eyes, she still giggled girlishly and threw herself at each of her siblings in turn, Philippa included. “Oh, Phil! It's so good to see you in the flesh.”

Philippa chuckled and hugged her tighter. “I'm glad you're all right.”

Bethany snorted. “If not for your warning I'd have been spitted in my sleep. Nathaniel was beside himself.”

Philippa smirked. “Speaking of Nathaniel, I see you're alone.”

She nodded slowly as Anders suddenly seemed very interested in what she was saying. “The Wardens couldn't spare both of us for this. Nathaniel had another mission that he was needed for. I'm supposed to join him when I'm done here.”

“Nathaniel? As in Nathaniel Howe?” Anders asked with a slight grin.

“Do you know him?” Bethany asked.

“We served together in Amaranthine after the Blight,” Anders explained. “How is he doing?”

“Busy, like the rest of us. We hardly ever get a chance to relax. Who knew Wardens had so much to contend with even when there isn't a Blight,” Bethany sighed.

They continued to Vinmark together, another day's journey. Philippa took every opportunity along the way to catch up with Anders, and to get a little better acquainted with her siblings in a casual manner like she never had the opportunity to during their brief encounters in the Gallows. Anders was just as sarcastic as ever, but his quips were a bit more subdued now that Garrett was at his side, stealing all of the one liners. Her twin seemed to love being the center of attention and Carver was none too thrilled, it seemed, to be back in his shadow. Philippa had gotten to know more about Bethany than she had the others in their letters that came at least once a month, sometimes more often if she was in the area, or had a few days off. Philippa had a chance to imagine what life could have been like if she wasn't trapped in the Gallows.

Finally as they approached a desolate and broken down road that led further into the mountains, Varric stopped them and sighed. "All right, don't say I didn't warn you." He pointed across the way to a sandy wasteland. "There it is..."

Garrett stopped beside Varric, squinting out over the desolate place. "That's where your dwarves are?"

"These are Carta dwarves," Varric corrected. "so they're more criminals and smugglers than anything else." He rubbed his beardless chin in thought. "They're not usually stupid, though. I don't know why they'd attack you."

"I can't think of anything we did to make the Carta angry... Today anyhow," Garrett mused wryly, crossing his arms in annoyance. Philippa followed suit, taking in the pinched and grumpy expression on Anders' face, while Bethany looked ahead with a frown. They had both gone strangely quiet and distracted in the last hour, their heads tipped as if they were listening for something.

"You have a plan, then? I found their hideout, but my sources couldn't tell me anything else. It's all very... strange," Varric said as he pulled his crossbow and fiddled with the arms before closing them back up again and harnessing it.

"Why do you say that?" Philippa wondered as the rest of the group glanced warily at each other. "It's just the Carta, isn't it?" Garrett had made the dwarven criminals sound like no big deal as they had talked about them over the course of their trek.

Varric shook his head. "As far as my contacts in the Carta know, they shouldn't be here. There shouldn't even be a here. This place is invisible. A big blind spot on the map. Bianca's never been this suspicious, and she's twitchy to start with." Philippa had learned that Bianca was the name of Varric's rather impressive crossbow that he treated with a mild reverence that made most people uncomfortable.

Garrett smiled slightly. "That doesn't necessarily mean anything. I get attacked a lot."

Varric chuckled. "A fine point. So what's the plan?"

Garrett waved his hand dismissively and Philippa could almost hear herself as he spoke. "Oh, I'm sure this is all a misunderstanding. Later we'll all have tea and we'll laugh."

"Oh!" Varric said with equal sarcasm. "your name is Hawke? I thought it was Locke!" He laughed at his own joke and Philippa snorted softly.

Anders sneered a bit as he approached them. "I just don't like the idea they can get at you. It worries me." His hand ran carefully down Garrett's arm in a familiar gesture.

Garrett pressed his lips together and patted his cheek gently, chuckling a bit. " You worry too much. Let's go," he said starting to walk toward whatever awaited them.

Not much farther down the road they came across a cart, overturned and on fire. The crates it had been transporting were untouched and there were dwarven and Bronto bodies strewn all over. Philippa wrinkled her nose. "Someone doesn't like intruders."

"They're from the Merchant's Guild," Varric grumbled. "The Carta doesn't kill guild members! That's... really strange."

Varric had already used 'really strange' to describe the situation. Even not knowing him as well as her brother did, that seemed like it might mean something eerie. This place was giving off a strange vibe and Anders hadn't stopped frowning since they had gotten within walking distance. As she carefully strolled with the others along the dried up ravine that led them to the closest resemblance to a man made structure, she heard a raspy voice cry out from above. "It's the Hawke!" She shuddered, the voice echoing from what could have been anywhere. Her eyes searched the small places that someone could be hiding in and found nothing but maddening flickers of movement.

As they pushed further along the road, more shouts from the voice spoke of 'The Blood of the Hawke' and she swore she heard mention of their father's name. They passed under a broken down tunnel that led into more desert. At the end of the tunnel, the source of the voice finally showed himself. "You!" he shouted in awe. "You're finally here! You've come!" Garrett placed himself ahead of them all, raising a single brow as he looked over the dwarf. Philippa had certainly never seen the dwarf before. She had been convinced that there would be some deeper meaning to this and she would at least understand when they reached their destination. He was average looking in every aspect. Dark hair, beard, Carta uniform. The only thing off was his eyes. They were bugged and wild, dark rings around them showing either sickness or a severe lack of sleep. He turned from them and held up his hands as if praising the heavens. "Everyone! It's the children of Malcolm Hawke! They've come to us!"

"What does our father have to do with this?" Garrett wondered aloud, taking a defensive step forward as more dwarves began to descend on them. Father had been dead nearly ten years.

"It began with him and ends with you! Blood for blood. That's what we were told," the crazed dwarf said with vigor.

"You're not making any sense," Philippa informed him casually, stepping up beside her twin as the dwarf looked at them with an eerie sort of lust, like he wanted nothing more than to slice them to ribbons. With Philippa's movement, the others grouped around her and Garrett, hands hovering over weapons.

"You've come to us now, and that's the only thing that matters!" he insisted.

"You tell me, how could I refuse such a delightfully worded invitation?" Garrett snarked in response to the multiple attacks he had been subjected to over the weeks as the 'most vulnerable' of the Hawkes.

"We must have the blood! You don't understand!" the dwarf growled, sinking further into nonsense as they spoke.

"Oh, blood! Why didn't you just ask?" Garrett continued with sarcasm.

The dwarf balled his fists. "We will take it! Corypheus will walk in the sun once more!"

With his shout, the rest of his people descended on them from the cliffs. Philippa sprung into action, immediately lifting a barrier around them all. Then she drew her staff as a spell of haste fell over the party, supplied by Anders' familiar magic. It had been some time since she had last felt him casting. It was comforting to have someone at her back that she was familiar with. Bethany's magic was lighter, less urgent and thrumming than Anders' as she cast a repulsing glyph around Garrett's feet. Her twin chuckled tauntingly as several dwarves charged at him while he casually drew his daggers, only to be thrown back like they had slammed into a wall. Varric began to pick off the other dwarven archers along the raised sides of the cliffs surrounding them. Any of them that managed to get in closer by some miracle were cut down by either Carver or Garrett, swifter than they could reach the back line.

They pushed further toward the gates to what looked like an arena. The whole time, Philippa wondered just who this Corypheus character was, and what her long dead father had to do with the Carta wanting their blood. Inside the gates, she realized it was less an arena than a heavily defended courtyard with wooden battlements surrounding it where more dwarves with bows crouched and rained arrows down on them. She did her best to stun the magic resistant archers with her lightning while Carver and Garrett made their way up the ramps to both sides to rush around the circle of ramparts and cut down the aggressors.

Once the ramparts were cleared and they headed back down, she twirled her staff to carry it, crystal to the ground, so she could drag latent mana from the ground as they proceeded. Then Varric said to Garrett, "The Carta doesn't normally act like this. They're businessmen!"

Garrett grunted in agreement. "I'd like to know who this 'Corypheus' is. With a name like that, he's bound to go 'mwa-ha-ha' at some point. I just know it. And really? More blood? Why can't it ever be spit... or a lock of hair?"

Varric chuckled in disgust. "You really want to encounter a spit mage?"

Philippa let out her own chuckle as Garrett guffawed. "For variety, sure," he shrugged.

They made it out of the pit-like enclosure and followed a walled off path deeper into the mountains toward the chasm. There were placards posted along the way that helpfully gave them a little bit of insight into the structure ahead.

Philippa shuddered as she read the placards It was a dwarven prison a very long time ago. "How many generations of warriors stood guard here? And why does that make me nervous?"

To break the uncomfortable silence that followed her words, Garrett sighed. "Someday, I'll visit a place with no ancient evils, horrors, devouring plagues, or insanity... Maybe a beach."

Varric chuckled in disbelief. "The day you go to the beach would be the day an armada of angry demon pirates shows up."

Anders chuckled softly, but his heart wasn't in it. She could feel his tension as they approached the chasm. She didn't spend every day with him anymore, but she couldn't believe his behavior was normal. Garrett's concerned glances told her she was right. They rounded a corner and the structure came into view. Amgeforn if the placards could be believed. It was a massive tower built directly in the middle of the chasm. "Will you look at that?" she gasped, impressed with how well hidden a gigantic tower like that was. In spite of the danger they faced, her heart was racing with not fear, but excitement. The sight of the structure made her want to explore it, to learn it's secrets like she had the Gallows and Kinloch. Was this what had made Finn stay away from the Circle after he left? It was thrilling.

They continued deeper into the chasm and toward their best guess at the entrance to the fortress. There was a collection of outbuildings before the main structure and they were crawling with more dwarves trying to kill them. As they fought through the seemingly endless horde, Philippa suddenly found herself in darkness as the chasm closed in around them. She kept hold of her staff during a break in the fighting and Garrett glanced over his shoulder at Varric. "I'm surprised you agreed to come, Varric. You hate being underground, and you avoid the Carta the same way you do the Merchant's Guild."

He chuckled. "There's no way I'd miss watching you make these motherless nug-lickers cry."

She chuckled as they made their way down to a look out point in the structure they were in that gave them a sparkling view or the tower and the surrounding maze of tunnels and roads. It smelled of death and decay with a hint of moisture. Bethany sighed and glanced at Anders. "I was hoping I wasn't feeling them."

Philippa frowned. "What is it, Beth?"

"Darkspawn," Anders grumbled.

"You can see them crawling all over the place below," Carver pointed out. "I'm a long way from needing money these days. If I wanted to visit the Deep Roads, I'd join the Wardens. They can have their burden. And I'll keep mine." The jab was pointed at Garrett, but Bethany rolled her eyes.

"Everyone remember the rules," Garrett said in a gruff tone. "Keep your mouths closed and try not to get their blood on you." With nods from everyone, they continued forward.

"Once more to the Deep Roads. I remember when that seemed so daunting... full of promise. We were young and stupid. Let's hope we're not just older," Bethany said softly to Garrett.

As they began to see signs of life, Garrett began to pause in each room and search for clues that might give them some insight into what they were really dealing with. He seemed well practiced at investigating, so she followed his lead, trying to be helpful. This was about all of them. The deeper they went, the more Philippa realized that these dwarves were living here in this Maker forsaken hole. She found a lengthy report by a scout in one of the first rooms as they spread out to hunt for clues.

My team was sent to evaluate the fortified structures that overlook the northern caravan routes in the Vinmark Mountains. The Viscount's library suggests the buildings were part of an Ancient Grey Warden fortress, constructed to guard the pass but abandoned after the Free Marches gained independence from Tevinter.

Our examination revealed construction that is remarkably sturdy for its age. The fortress' foundations reach deeper into the rock than expected. Two levels below the surface, we discovered a series of twisting, underground passages, chiseled out of the mountain itself. I commanded the men to set up camp there.

Not an hour later, one of the newer men reported voices from the depths. He flew into a frenzy, demanding that we leave immediately. Those unused to tight spaces often display such hysteria. Thankfully, I was able to calm him before his raving affected the rest of the team.

But he was gone this morning. Tracks lead deeper into the caverns. We shall follow him.

Philippa frowned at the mention of Grey Wardens when she thought about Anders' increasing silent agitation. Varric lightly punched Garrett's arm. "I hope you told Bodhan where you were going. If we never come back, maybe someone will send a search party after their Champion." When he offered him little else than a forced grin, glancing over at Anders who was scowling, he continued. "You have any idea why the Carta's after you, Hawke?"

"Not in the slightest," Garrett shrugged, setting down a time worn paper and leaving the room. "But I intend to find out."

When they finally entered the Carta's apparent hideout, it was evident that they were all feeling the awkwardness of not knowing why they were even there. The constant banter between Garrett and his friend was calming Philippa's nerves, but finally, Anders piped up, unexpectedly downtrodden and mildly conspiratorial. "While we're stuck down here, Meredith could be burning down the Circle..."

Everyone else just glanced at each other and Garrett moved up alongside him and reassuringly took his hand. There was something really bothering him and she couldn't be certain but she thought it might have something to to with Justice and the Wardens. He was not himself. Even she could tell that. Garrett gently let his hand go to read over a few papers on a nearby desk.

You will find Malcolm Hawke's heir in Hightown. By the grand stairs to the Keep. The home will be well defended, but do not spill Hawke's blood. Use the poison if capture proves difficult. If you have to kill anyone else, do it quietly.

And don't go near the young dwarf. He sees things.

-In the name of the Master, Corypheus. May he see sunlight again.

More on topic than he had been since they arrived, Anders said, "I've never heard of dwarves using blood magic. But they're obviously after you for something. I'm guessing Corypheus is some kind of demon?"

Garrett sighed and slapped the pamphlet back down on the table. "I guess we only get that answer from Corypheus."

They pushed forward, overhearing a disturbing conversation from a few other dwarves. "If I get the Hawke's blood, Rhatigan says I can go into the tunnels and drink of the Master."

Philippa did not even want to hear any more. She rushed ahead of the others, rounded the corner and unleashed a fireball into their midst, cutting off the conversation. When the group was dead, they kept pushing further in. They split up again in the next room, hunting for more information. When Philippa opened a chest that had a small orb inside, she felt a brief caress of mana. When she picked it up to study it, it was warm to the touch and Anders grunted, rubbing his forehead. "Does anyone else hear drumming?" he mumbled.

There was a letter in the chest as well.

The Wardens did not guard the key with care. It was left in a repository, with objects of little worth. Trinkets. Dusty Grey Warden trophies. Not even a guard posted. Fools. If only they knew what they had, and had lost.

It will not wake at my touch; it sleeps and it's power remains within. The Great One says it requires Malcolm Hawke's blood to awaken it. Only then can it's powers set him free.

I will find the heirs to the blood and the Great One will reward me. Yes. Let it be soon.

Anders had moved up beside her to read the letter as well. "A key, tuned to your father's blood. Sounds like a ritual element for blood magic." He turned to Garrett and moved to his side to touch a hand to his upper arm. "Be careful, Hawke." Garrett accepted his concern with a smile. Philippa was unsure if he even remembered talking about the drumming when she had picked up the orb. He seemed to snap back to himself as they forged deeper into the fire-lit Carta headquarters, attempting to join in on the banter just to make Garrett stop frowning at him. "More Deep Roads. Why did we agree to do this again?" He grinned at Varric.

"Because I love trouble, and you think Hawke is cute. That wasn't a serious question, was it, Blondie?" Varric said with a chuckle.

"He is pretty cute," Anders agreed with a smirk, reaching out to squeeze her brother's rear as he walked beside him, the others ahead of them.

It had amazed Philippa at first, when she had noticed the flirtatious hints during the Qunari invasion, that her brother and Anders were an item. It made her feel a bit strange that her twin was now sleeping with the man that had taken her virginity. Then, Anders had never been one to care about such things, and Garrett didn't seem like he minded in the least. She and Anders had fallen apart spectacularly, but that didn't mean that he and Garrett would not work out in spite of how alike she and her brother were.

Bethany interrupted the new silence with a sad sigh. “I'm glad Mother... well, she didn't need to deal with this. Attacks on all of us... Why couldn't they go after Gamlen?”

Garrett snorted before Philippa could comfort Bethany. “Good taste?”

Bethany's answering laughter made Carver scowl. “I wish the things lurking in the dark had such a discerning palate. It'd be almost comforting. Understandable. Instead of what I've seen. Thanks to... this life."

Garrett's brow rose and he looked at his little sister. "You'd have less to know about it if you were, you know, dead."

"Sometimes I wonder..." Bethany sighed, twirling her staff between her fingers.

Philippa got her chance to comfort as she walked beside Bethany, taking her arm in hers and smiling. Bethany responded by laying her head on her upper arm briefly with a small smile. "You're not looking so sunny, Sunshine," Varric pointed out.

Bethany nodded, still clinging to Philippa's arm. "It's not how I wanted to come back. If I did at all."

Varric scoffed. "Well, maybe the old place didn't roll out the welcome, but it's still home, right?"

"I've spent more time as a Warden than I did in Kirkwall," Bethany reminded him.

"It ain't the buildings I'm talking about. It's good to see you," Varric smiled kindly.

"Thank you," Bethany returned, patting Varric's shoulder.

As they descended further in, Philippa was beginning to think that the Carta had run out of dwarves, even though they had yet to meet the famous Rhatigan. That was up until she began to hear monotone chanting from just around a corner. She sighed as they pushed forward. "The Hawke's blood! The Master will rise. He will be free!"

"Gerav?" Varric gasped as he laid eyes on the speaker.

"Varric? N-no one told me you would be part of this. We were just going after the Hawke..." the dwarf said, more lucidly that she thought was possible with the look in his eyes.

"Why have the Carta been attacking us?" she asked, hoping to get a better answer than Garrett had been getting when he asked.

"I c-can't say. The Master must be free..." he stumbled.

Varric approached him with a brow quirked. "Really, Gerav? I thought better of you than this... I mean gutting the occasional competitor for fun and profit, that's the game. But what are you all even doing here? Worshiping demons?"

"We drink the Darkspawn blood. He calls us..." the dwarf admitted. That explained the glassy look in his eyes. Those that drank Darkspawn blood and didn't perish became what was known as ghouls. He must have been in the process of changing, as had the others they had killed on the way in.

"Why would you do that? Won't you just die?" Garrett asked in amazement that anyone would willingly drink Darkspawn blood.

"It's the only way... to hear the music." Gerav said desperately.

"Oh, come on, you nug-licker! Snap out of it. There's no gold in hallucinating," Varric shouted.

Garrett sighed and crossed his arms. "Manners, Varric! Introduce me to your lunatic friend."

Varric glanced up at him then said as sarcastically polite as he had. "Hawke, this is Gerav. He's a greedy, brilliant, bastard son-of-a-nug from the Carta. Gerav, this is Hawke, the one whose blood you want to drink or bathe in or whatever. But if you're after eternal youth, I've got to tell you he's no virgin. None of them are... I don't think..." He turned his gaze over his shoulder to flick his eyes from Philippa to Carver, and finally to Bethany. None of them held his gaze. With a nod Varric turned back around. "There, see?"

"The Master is calling. He needs the blood," Gerav insisted, throwing his hands up and ignoring Varric's jab at them.

"Gerav... buddy... This isn't like you," Varric continued to try to talk him down. Philippa could tell that they had apparently been good friends. He pulled Bianca from his back and knocked a bolt, the click clack resounding in the hollow underground room. "Look. I've still got Bianca, never misfired a day in her life. You don't want her to see her papa like this, do you?"

"Varric?" Garrett said sympathetically. "You want to spare this bastard?"

"Not if he's after you, Hawke," Varric insisted, lowering and aiming Bianca. "Bianca, I think it's time to say goodbye." When he fired, Gerav ducked down, a smoke pellet bursting against the ground so he could escape the bolt. Several more dwarves flooded into the room. "Reinforcements! You bastard!" They made short work of the dwarves and Varric moved to kneel beside his old friend. "You poor stupid bastard..." he sighed as he closed Gerav's eyes. "I used to do business with the Carta, back in the day. Gerav was a nutcase then, too, but in a good way. He was trying to design a new type of repeating crossbow. Bianca was the only one that ever worked." He stood and brushed off his hands, hanging his head. "I can't believe he ended up like that."

Garrett laid a hand on his shoulder in sympathy and he gave him a half smile before they continued onward. They needed to root out all of these dwarves before they had an army of ghouls after them. They didn't have to go far before they finally met the leader and his pet Bronto. He was just as tainted as the others, but his ramblings were mildly more intelligible. "Hawke, they told me you were going to be trouble. I swore to Corypheus we'd bring him Malcolm Hawke's blood. One way or the other."

"What does this have to do with our father?" Philippa demanded.

"The Master wants you. I don't ask why," he said with a glare.

She sneered. "Corypheus wants some blood? Sure! Let me just open a vein... How about a kidney, too?"

"Corypheus, we have done as you command. Your sacrifice is here. You will see the surface once more!" Rhatigan shouted to the heavens before unleashing his Bronto on them along with a cluster of more crazed dwarves. The thick iron barred gate slammed closed behind them.

All of her companions took hits in the fight, bleeding and sweating as the massive Bronto charged back and forth through the room. She watched Anders get pinned near a rear wall, a volley of traps jutting up in front of him. Across the room, the Bronto dug in its heels and marked him. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw no escape for him. She slammed her staff head into the dwarf she was engaged with, jumped over another set of traps at her feet and threw herself in front of the charging horn of the Bronto. If anything happened to Anders that she could have prevented, she would never forgive herself, and likely Garrett would blame himself for allowing Anders to come with them. "No!" Anders shouted in terror just before she jammed her staff into the ground in front of her and the barrier sprung up thick before her. She felt it to her bones as the heavy animal collided with the barrier. It pushed her back, the impact cracking the spell. She gritted her teeth and dug in her own heels, pushing back. She was no match for the two ton creature and it's momentum, until Anders' palm fell on her shoulder and his mana swirled around her to strengthen the barrier. "Hold on, Phil." She took in a breath and centered her power, focusing on keeping the thrashing creature away from them both until someone could get close enough to kill it. She watched Varric as he assessed the situation between them and the nearest helping hand, Carver, the sheer number of traps and dwarves a massive hindrance. Varric lowered Bianca and began firing at the dwarves in the way as Bethany reached out with her mana and froze the spike traps in the floor. Finally, Carver charged across the field, slipping around everything in his way. He slashed upwards, his sword beneath the Bronto's chin. He cleaved through it's thick hide and even thicker neck, removing it's head in one swing. The blood pooled around Philippa's feet as she dropped the barrier and her shoulders slumped. Her reserves were dangerously low after that stunt. Anders' hand fell away and he cast her a concerned glance before moving back into the fight and helping Garrett and Varric to finish off the dwarves while she took a breather to try and regain some of her mana.

Carver stepped around the pooled blood on the floor and rested his hand on her back. "Are you all right, sister?"

She nodded. "Go help the others. I'll just take a lyrium potion somewhere out of the way."

Carver pressed his lips together and after a quick assessment from his flicking eyes, he nodded and left her to recharge. She noticed Rhatigan's body to her right and the rest of the threats were being quickly neutralized now that they weren't dodging an angry Bronto. She shuffled over to the dwarf, something glowing beneath him. She frowned and crouched, dragging his body over to his back. In his hand, he clutched a strange looking key. "What the...?" she wondered aloud.

Garrett moved to crouch beside her, nudging her with his elbow. "All right?" he asked. She nodded distractedly as something about the key called to her and she was mesmerized, reaching for it without a second thought. Before she could touch it, Garrett, grabbed her hand and pulled it away from the glowing object. "Let me. Ancient glowy magical things have a habit of biting." She drew her hand back with a nod, clutching it to her chest. When Garrett wrapped his fingers around it, the magic in the key burst to life and it grew, the cloaking spell on it shattering and throwing it to full size in his hands. He held it in his palms, still on his knees as the key became a large, ugly looking dagger. The metal of it's core hummed with cracks of blue and she got the sensation that it was reaching for her, fingers grasping for her blood and her magic in spite of it being in Garrett's hands. She gritted her teeth at the sticky sensation and then Garrett cried out. "What is this?" he gasped, as the others gathered around them. "I can feel it... inside me."

As the magic slowly dimmed and both the dagger and her skin calmed, Garrett panted, looking over the twisted dagger in his hand, turning it over with reverence. Anders choked and said, "That weapon draws on your blood, Hawke. There are dangerous magics here."

The truth rang inside her head like a bell. She swallowed as her racing heart slowed, and pointed to the weapon. "This is going to take us to Corypheus." She noted more dwarves fleeing further into the structure and as the others watched Garrett with concerned looks on their faces, his eyes tracking the dwarves as well. He flipped the dagger's hilt into his palm, grinned, stood, and gave chase.

When the wooden Carta buildings gave way to proper dwarven carved Deep Roads the likes of which Philippa had never laid eyes on, Garrett continued like a man possessed, heedless of the obvious trap until it sprung on them. A magical barrier flew up between them and freedom. "Those sons of bitches," Varric grumbled as they stopped to investigate, Anders grabbing hold of Garrett. "The whole blasted thing's sealed over."

Garrett growled in frustration, looking down at the dagger and cursing his own stupidity. The magic in the dagger had led them all into a trap. Anders tried to dispel the barrier to no avail and Philippa grunted. "I guess we should have seen that coming."

They needed to find another way out. She moved away from the barrier and took in her surroundings. The path they had followed had spilled them in the Deep Roads, Anders grunted painfully and said. "There are Darkspawn here. A lot of them." Bethany nodded in agreement, grimacing. Philippa wondered what it was like to sense Darkspawn, whether it was like when she felt demons hovering around her in the Fade. Did it give them headaches, or was it like a hair raising sensation. She made a note to ask Bethany if she got a chance.

Across the way from their location, the tower stood, looming high above them as well as deep below. It was a marvel of construction that must have taken decades to build. She could see the place crawling with darkspawn beneath the Grey Warden heraldries that flapped in the tiny amount of air that was making its way down this far from the surface to swirl through the stifling environment. "And they wonder why I prefer the surface," Varric grumbled from her other side.

The dwarves they had been chasing had disappeared and Garrett started towards the direction they had gone in. "Back in the Deep Roads. Like it or not, hmm?" Bethany said softly to Anders as they followed Garrett.

"Like it or not," Anders grudginly agreed.

"Must be hard, after walking away from the Wardens. Not everyone gets that choice," she said.

Anders turned on her, his expression grim. "You know what I chose. Or what chose me."

When Bethany balked, Philippa stepped between them. "Hey," she hissed. "It's not her fault."

It was Anders' turn to look cowed. "You're right, Phil. I'm sorry, Bethany."

"It's all right," Bethany said softly, moving ahead of them to walk beside Carver.

Philippa hung back slightly, holding onto Anders' elbow. "We might not be as close as we were once, but I can tell when something is bothering you..."

"It's nothing," he lied.

She snorted. "And I'm the Divine..."

Anders rolled his eyes. "There's something down here... Like whispers in my head..."

Philippa took his hand comfortingly. "You'll let me know if it gets worse. Maybe I can help." He didn't answer, but allowed her to hold his hand.

The deeper they went, the worse she felt, trying to ignore the foul magic that was permeating the area. There were demons nearby. She could sense them in the back of her head like a fresh migraine. As she tried to staunch the twisting in her gut, she walked ahead of the others, crossing through a doorway. A hulking genlock caught her by surprise, seeing her as soon as she entered and abandoning the meal of dwarf that it was enjoying to growl and charge her. She backpedaled into Anders and his barrier swirled up around them all as his hands landed on her arms to steady her. A couple more darkspawn joined the fray and Philippa began to panic. They were bottle-necked in the doorway. Anders and Bethany were safe from the Blight sickness, but the rest of them needed to be extremely careful. When they had cut down the genlocks, Garrett and Carver forcing their way through the door with brute force, a hum of magic caught her attention. Ahead of them there stood a demon, trapped behind a powerful binding spell. As she focused on the spell, she noticed that it extended beyond the exit from the room and they would need to break it to get through. "Do you feel that?" she asked absently, her eyes looking for the bundles of magic that needed dispelling.

"Careful," Anders warned as he readied himself to fight the demon. Philippa and Bethany moved to the two large Griffon shields on the walls. She passed her fingers through the glowing red orb of magic embedded in her shield as Bethany did the same with hers. The magic flicked across the room to embed in the binding in front of the demon. She approached the binding to pass through the final orb and the binding dissipated, leaving her face to face with the demon.

It was a low level demon, but it's presence, nonetheless was like a hammering in her head. It easily fell to them, but as she felt the trickle of magic leaving the area and her headache eased, a great booming voice echoed through the hall. A shimmering blue aura hovered near the binding. '...be bound here for eternity, hunger stilled, rage smothered, desire dampened, pride crushed. In the name of the Maker, so let it be. I can do nothing about the Wardens' use of demons in this horrid place. But I will have no one say any magic of mine ever released one into the world..."

The aura shifted away and disappeared, leaving a sour taste in the back of Philippa's throat that turned her stomach out of nerves rather than disgust. "That voice seems... oddly familiar."

Anders seemed to sense the shift in mood as she and her siblings all shared a closed mouth glance before moving forward. His response was to awkwardly try to turn the moment to levity. "One good thing about being trapped in an ancient underground prison... not a lot of templars."

Garrett played along, easing his own discomfort by allowing him to move up alongside him and nudge him. "You should set up shop. It's no worse than your current digs."

"Good point!" he said in mock excitement. "I could be quite comfortable here, actually. Clean the taint off the floor, maybe hang a few pictures... It might even be a step up from Darktown."

"A new base of operations for Kirkwall's mage underground," he suggested.

"It's got potential..." he mused with a chuckle, wrapping an arm around his waist. Varric snorted and Carver rolled his eyes as they continued to search for a way out.

As they searched, they were set upon by more and more Darkspawn and fewer and fewer dwarves. It seemed as if Anders' episodes were getting worse as well, the closer they got to the tower. They stumbled upon a note in a small makeshift camp by a Warden that was fairly recently written.

All we hear is that this is one of the great Grey Warden secrets. 'It must be protected at all costs'. As usual, we're most concerned with deceiving our own people. But why hide that the Deep Roads were shaped not only by dwarves, but also by us?

I found records dating back to 1004 TE, the wake of the First Blight. Early Wardens discovered that some Darkspawn could think and speak and commanded portions of the Horde even after the Archdemon's death. A few could wield magic with the skill of a Tevinter Magister, and the Wardens greatly feared them.

It was here, in the Vinmark Montains, that Warden Sashamiri set her trap to capture and study the greatest of these creatures, the one whom they called Corypheus.

At least the note gave them a bit of insight into what Corypheus was. So he was no demon at all, but an ancient Darkspawn. Anders frowned over her shoulder as he read, obviously giving a great deal of thought to something, even as distracted as he looked. During one of his episodes, Anders decided it was time to poke at Carver. "So, templar. Is the order everything you wished for? Pithed any good mages lately? That's what you do now, right? It must wear on you, given your lineage. No wonder you're quiet."

He continued to prod until Carver turned a snarl on him. "Be grateful. For some reason my brother cares for you. Be thankful, understood?"

Anders glared at him, but thankfully Garrett stepped between them. "Helmet and Staffy should learn to get along," he scolded mockingly, leading Anders away from Carver by the elbow.

Varric intervened before it got worse, placing himself beside Carver and saying loudly, "I'll bet the Knight-Commander was thrilled one of her templars was attacked in the Gallows."

"Ecstatic," Carver agreed, still glaring at Anders.

"Did she make you clean up the mess?" he teased.

Carver finally looked down at Varric and sighed, calming before grinning. "We hired some dwarves. Proper ones, with swabbing beards."

Varric rubbed his own shaved chin and mumbled with sarcasm. "Good to know the Paragons have steady work."

Garrett stopped them short with a hand up as Philippa also noticed a figure crouched behind a crumbled pillar ahead. When the figure noticed them, it shot up and hurried as quickly toward them as his bent and twisted form would allow. His hair and beard were balding in patches and the smell of taint, which was quickly becoming unforgettable, was all over him. He was dressed in shabby and beaten down heavy Warden armor. His eyes were glassy and discolored as they looked at Garrett in shock. "The key! Did they find it? The dwarves? I heard them... looking... digging... How do you bring the key here?" His voice sounded rough and unused to speech.

"You mean this?" Garrett asked, holding the twisted dagger up to be examined. "How is this a key?"

"Magic, old magic, it is. Magic from the blood. It made the seals. It can destroy them," he rasped.

"We came in here to find Corypheus. Do you know where... or what... he is?" Philippa wondered, moving beside her twin. He had obviously been here quite some time, maybe he had answers.

"Do not say his name!" the ghoul gasped. "He will hear you! Do not wake him. Not when you hold the key!"

"Let me guess," Garrett sighed as the crouched man hovered near them, continuously reaching out and pulling back as if having an inner struggle. "You want to drink my blood, too?"

"Blood?" he wondered. "The blood of the Hawke? Are you the Hawke?" he inhaled, putting him closer to Philippa, in spite of Garrett holding the key, before he drew back and wrung his hands together. "Yes. I smell magic on you. But you hold the key!" He pointed to Garrett. "The key to his death... Yes, I can show you out, yes."

He nodded vigorously as Garrett moved slightly ahead of her, obviously perturbed by his attention on his twin. He was unlike any ghoul she had ever heard about. His ability to speak was a feat on it's own. "Who are you? What's wrong with you?" she asked around Garrett's shoulder.

"You ask me that? I am the one who belongs here, not you. You are no Darkspawn," he snapped defensively.

"He's in Grey Warden armor," Anders pointed out. "Maybe he used to be one?"

The man nodded. "You hear it, no? Hear it calling? I smell it in you," he growled, his attention drawn to Anders and then to Bethany. "I know the way out. Follow me. Down and in. Down and in."

Garrett snorted. "Because I always like to follow the advice of tainted, crazy people..."

"Not crazy, no. Trust me. I know the prison's secrets..." the Warden twitched and fidgeted as he spoke, but he was making a bit of sense. "The seals hold us in. Anything comes in, nothing ever leaves. Not without the key. You must use it, yes. On the seals. Every seal, you touch the key to it. Only then they open. Only for the Hawke." She turned to pace briefly as she realized that he was telling them to use blood magic to escape. The thought gave her a queasy feeling. "Not back. Not up. Only way out is down and through the heart. Down... Down in the depths..." With that, he ran off and disappeared into the cracked and broken darkness around the tower.

"Well, that made everything much clearer," Anders grumbled.

They found another note at another camp along the path and read it quickly to see if there was any more insight.

The Grey Wardens' prison in the Vinmark Mountains is believed to have been constructed more than a thousand years ago. The original method of construction has been lost to history, but the Warden-Commanders of the Free Marches have maintained the prison's secret through the centuries.

The prison is concealed in a great rift in the Vinmark Mountains, far from any easily-traveled mountain passes. The Wardens themselves have spread rumors of banditry and beasts to prevent explorers from approaching. The prison consists of a central tower built into the rift with magically-maintained bridges allowing access at different levels. Each level is sealed by a blood magic ritual in which a mage of untainted blood uses his own life essence to create a magical barrier that is permeable from the outside yet impenetrable from within. This one-way access has caused other Darkspawn... and perhaps unwary travelers... to be caught within the prison's confines. Those who disappear inside never re-emerge.

"How cheery," Philippa grumbled before leaving the note and following the others out.

"I've tried to forget about this side of myself," Anders said from Garrett's side, although his words were not spoken privately, his volume loud enough for everyone to be privy. She wasn't certain it was intentional. "Justice is... so strong, sometimes the Wardens seem insignificant. But seeing that poor bastard brings it all back. The Darkspawn taint, the call of the Archdemon... It's inside me, as much a part of me as Justice."

"Ooh, baby, tell me more..." Garrett said, attempting to draw the melancholy from him.

He sighed and cringed. "You should find someone else, love. You don't want all the ugliness I'm going to bring into your life."

His attempt to push Garrett away seemed to only make her brother inch closer to him. He grabbed his hand and squeezed it. "Nobody's perfect."

"I've got to hand it to you, Blondie. You make that work every time..." Varric said with a bemused grin.

They rounded a corner that circled the central spire of the tower and Philippa noticed a dais in the middle of the room. Green magical energy surrounded the space, where four urns were set at equal intervals around the glyph on the ground. She could feel different types of magic resonating inside the urns. As she approached, the hair on her arms and neck stood at attention, the air charged. The second she stepped onto the dais to examine the spell more closely, the magic expanded and burst with an audible pop. A demon manifested before her and she backpedaled to get away from the hulking figure, her head exploding in agony. It was shaped like a demon of Pride, but instead of electricity coursing against its skin and giving it a purple hue, it was as fiery as a rage demon. Garrett lunged with the key, leaping for the demon with a shout to draw it's attention from her so she could get out from under it's feet. They whittled away at the beast, each of them taking turns drawing it's attention for the others to attack. When it finally fell under Carver's blade, the Warden reappeared from the shadows looking quite pleased.

"Let me guess," Garrett said rubbing his hands together. "The first seal?"

"Two thousand years," he marveled, limping toward the dais. "The magic holds. Never broken. Give it the key. Let it take the magic back to itself. Absorb it, all who came before..."

He backed away and Garrett stepped back up to the dais. The magic called to Philippa as Garrett approached the urn that seemed to house lightning magic. It was the same urn she would have chosen. Holding the key out before him, the urn offered up the power it held. The key drank up the magic like a man lost in the desert. The rest of the urns went dormant and the lightning trickled up his arm from the dagger.

"The blood works. It is good," the Warden said greedily.

"All this talk about my blood is a little creepy," Garrett admitted. "Are you at least planning to tell me your name?"

"Name..." he said as if the word were foreign. "So long since I've said my name. La... Larius! I was Larius!" He shook his head and frowned as he paced. "There... was a title, too. Commander... Commander of the Grey."

"He was a Warden," Anders confirmed with a sigh. "Poor wretch must have come down here on his Calling..."

"Yes! The Calling... the songs get louder. Only death stops them. I am dead. But I never died," Larius agreed.

Philippa nearly felt the flutter in Garrett's heart as he spun to glance at Anders whose expression was stricken as he saw the concern in his eyes. "Anders? What are you talking about?"

He cringed and took his hand. "Wardens aren't immune to the taint forever. In time, we start to hear voices. The same ones Darkspawn hear. That's when they send you into the Deep Roads to die."

His confession threw her. She knew Wardens made sacrifices, but she wondered how long most lived. She glanced at Bethany. Garrett's mask slipped just a little bit. She turned back to Larius as Garrett asked with a choked voice, "I've opened the seal. Will the prison release us?"

"There are more. Follow them in. All the way to the heart. Many locks. Only one key." Suddenly, he jerked to the side and Anders twitched, his head cocking to the side. Philippa turned to Bethany and saw her frowning as well. "C-Corypheus calls! In the Darkness! What waits there?" He ran off again and Garrett looked questioningly at Anders.

His smile was meant to reassure, but his knuckles whitened in Garrett's hand as he visibly fought the urge to strain his ears to listen. What was he hearing? She was concerned. He had been struggling since they'd arrived. They moved forward and didn't make it far before Anders grumbled. "I'm not listening. I'm not listening."

As Philippa grabbed his hand to ground him, Garrett walking ahead, his shoulders slumped, Varric offered his insight. "Come on, Blondie. You're strong enough to overcome this."

Philippa wasn't so certain at this point. She had never seen Anders so distressed. Her concerns for him were temporarily pushed to the back of her mind as they were set upon by more roving Darkspawn before descending to the next floor to hunt for the next seal. At the bottom of the stairs, they found another of the trapped demons, her magic breaking the binding so they could kill the shade. The voice repeated itself and a sudden coldness descended upon her as he uttered a phrase so familiar she could hear him saying it as if he were standing right in front of her. "Be bound here for eternity, hunger stilled, rage smothered, desire dampened, pride crushed. In the name of the Maker, so let it be. I may have left the Circle, but I took a vow. My magic will serve that which is best in me, not that which is most base."

She shuddered, lifting her palm to glance at the hum of magic as it pooled in her hand before dissipating. "Father used to say that. I remember..." Bethany moved to her side, taking her free hand. She balled her fist and swallowed the emotion that was rising in her throat. In spite of his own current distraction, Anders rubbed a hand up and down Garrett's spine comfortingly as his face twisted into hurt. How had their father gotten mixed up with the Wardens?

More questions and Garrett's obvious desire to get Anders the void away from this place pushed them to move forward. The Darkspawn were thicker, the deeper they went and concerns mounted as she kept close watch on herself and anyone else susceptible to the taint. Another binding followed close behind and again the voice spoke. She whimpered as he explained to whomever might be listening. "Be bound here for eternity, hunger stilled, rage smothered, desire dampened, pride crushed. In the name of the Maker, so let it be. I've bought our freedom, Leandra. We can go home now, us and the twins. We'll be together. I hope they take after you, love. I would wish this magic on no one. May they never learn what I've done here."

She gaped. " 'The twins?' He... he's talking about us. All those things he did, he did for us, for his family."

Garret moved to her side and pulled her against him as Anders spoke softly. "It must be overwhelming to hear your father's voice again. How are you feeling?" His question was directed at Garrett.

She fell into her twin's embrace, sorting through the jumble of emotion as it surged through her. Garrett chuckled softly, his voice rumbling against her as he spoke about their father. "Father always liked popping out of nowhere to startle us children. It would make us scream with laughter. It's nice to know that hasn't changed."

Bethany and Carver were in a similar embrace when Philippa pulled away from Garrett. He held on to her, still, his arm around her shoulders as they left the fading memory of their father. His opposite hand took Bethany's and Carver took Philippa's. The four Hawke siblings, together, sharing the burden of the knowledge that their father had used blood magic to gain his freedom so he and their mother could be together. It didn't matter who they had become or how far apart they had been drawn in recent years. They would always have each other.

Anders' distraction seemed to be getting worse and worse. Before they made it to the next key, he shouted loudly, startling Philippa. "No! Get out of my head!" Garrett's arm tightened around her briefly as he cringed.

She simply shrugged helplessly when Garret looked to her for advice, and flicked her eyes to Anders who seemed to have come back to himself for the moment. She allowed Garrett to place Bethany's hand in hers and he fell in beside Anders to keep an eye on him. Then she spotted Larius on the path ahead. She took in the awful look of him and tried to shove the image of Anders and Bethany slowly succumbing to the taint out of her mind as it flashed by unbidden. "He is waking," Larius said as they approached. "The magic grows lax. He feels us walk where no step goes."

"Are you talking about Corypheus?" she asked, taking over so Garrett could stay beside Anders.

Larius nodded. "He calls. Like an Old God. He mimics their cry."

"Can the rest of you hear him? I figured it was just me," Anders asked desperately.

"I can," Bethany admitted softly.

"He calls them to free him. The dark children and the light, any with taint in their blood," Larius explained.

"If Corypheus isn't an Old God, what is he? Human, demon, Darkspawn?" she asked, practically begging for answers.

"More than Darkspawn. More than human. He thinks. He talks. He pierces the Veil."

Anders grunted. "An awakened Darkspawn, an emissary. When I was with the Wardens in Amaranthine, we met an emissary like that. Powerful, persuasive. I didn't realize there were others."

"He wants what was once his," Larius said.

"How could this Corypheus be sending people after us if he's asleep?" she wondered.

"He can call, dream, but not know." The explanations were getting more cryptic and Philippa was developing a headache. "When the seals are gone, he will wake. And he must die."

Another thing was nagging at the back of her mind. "Why are you down here? How have you survived?"

"The Calling. The music. It is our death."

Anders nodded slowly. "The Wardens say once the Corruption goes far enough, the Darkspawn can't sense you anymore." He glanced at Garrett with sadness, hanging his head. "They'd think he's one of them. He'd be in no danger on that front."

"Yes," Larius said simply. "I lived, but I died. The Corruption feeds me. So many years in darkness..."

"When you run off, where do you go?" she wondered, having only seen the one path that they had been following. He was getting around much faster than them.

"I know the darkness before the seals. Here, the voice is too strong." He turned and began to hobble off again. "I cannot stay!"

She sighed and watched him disappear again. "That is really getting old," she mumbled.

They soon found themselves out of the structure and mucking through a squishy bog-like area complete with a thick fog that swirled around their feet as they walked. Anders grumbled. "Ugh. This is much... wetter... than I remember the Deep Roads."

Philippa started to notice signs of dwarven activity, although it was ancient, half buried and covered in filth. She felt herself smiling as she imagined Finn's first trip into the Deep Roads and the ensuing panic it must have caused him. It was times like this when she missed him terribly. Varric paused as they passed a corpse and spoke for the first time since he had tried to talk Anders from the brink, drawing her from her thoughts. "That looks like Legion of the Dead armor. It's an Orzammar thing. No matter your crime, if you join the Legion and vow to die fighting Darkspawn, your name is cleared."

Anders chuckled. "I had a friend from the Legion once, a girl named Sigrun. Not nearly as dour as you'd expect."

Philippa could see the trail that would lead them to the next tower and back upwards through the seals. She hoped. She had been so eager for adventure, but now it was turning into a nightmare. She made her way with the others through the mushy terrain and cringed at every clinging bit of mud that tried to grab at her feet and hold them in place. Aside from the occasional deep stalker and some more Darkspawn, the stroll was quiet. That was until Anders began to fall behind. He shouted again, his features twisted in anger. "Stop! Just make him stop talking! Make him stop!"

Varric chuffed and said, "Hang in there, Blondie. We're going to get you out of this."

She paused to glance over her shoulder at him just as he doubled over and dug the heels of his hands into his eyes and then grabbed his temples. He cried out in pain and she moved to take a step toward him. "What's wrong?" Garrett begged as he thrashed.

"I can't...the voices... W-Wardens... the Joining... I have too much taint in my blood. I can't shut him out...." he looked up at Garrett, his eyes pleading. "Help me, love..." he winced again and gritted his teeth. "I will not..." She felt the drastic pull on the veil around them as Justice reared his ugly face, splitting Anders' skin, the blue spirit energy cracking through. It looked just as it had in the Fade. Anders had been suppressed. When he stood from his crouch, Anders was gone. Justice growled as mage fire erupted around him. "... be controlled!" he roared.

"I can't take you anywhere!" Garrett growled angrily right back at the spirit. From the sneer on Anders' face, Justice was ready to try and kill them.

Justice pulled Anders' staff and crackling electricity surged through it. He slammed the butt on the ground and two shades appeared at his back, making her cringe. Garrett charged for Anders, singling out Justice. Philippa threw a stone fist for his gut and knocked him back so the shades were in front of him. It was deliberate, so Carver would be able to take them out without hurting Anders. Garrett skirted the shades as Carver engaged them. Garrett was knocked back by a glyph of repulsion, falling in a heap. Bethany erected a minor paralysis glyph to keep Justice in place. Philippa called more magic and cast a mana drain, siphoning Anders' mana so Justice couldn't use it. She gasped at the level of power he held in his core. She was lucky she was used to her own somniari enhanced energy. Had he always had all of that power, or was it directly related to Justice? She took in all that she could and then poured the rest into her staff. The glyph wore off and Justice realized what she had done. With a growl of rage, he rushed for her, gripping Ander's staff like a sword and swinging it for her head. She ducked the swing and used her own staff to jab into his chest, the blow backed by physical magic. She was trying her hardest not to hurt Anders too much. Just enough to make Justice rush off and lick his wounds. He stumbled back with the force of her blow and she swung the staff around again, connecting with his side. She cringed as she heard the crack of his ribs and he fell to the ground, landing hard on his back, the air whooshing from his lungs with the impact. She felt Justice defeated as he began to slip back insde, and Anders rolled gingerly to his side. She rushed to him, steadying hands on his shoulders after she dropped to her knees next to him. The cracks along his skin faded and he reached around himself to grip his aching side. He hissed and attempted to sit up. "I'm so sorry," she apologized.

He shook his head, allowing her to inch closer and touch her hand to his chest and return some of his magic and heal his cracked ribs. "Thank you, Phil." She helped him to his feet and he leaned on her only briefly before the healing took effect. "I... I guess they're right. You never can leave the Wardens. I hope I can hold against him. Against them both..."

"Would distracting you with a kiss help?" Garrett asked jokingly, as he limped over to them, taking the leaning mage against him, trying to cover up his concern. At his somber look, Garrett pouted. "No?"

"Come on, I can see the next seal," Varric grumbled.

Philippa stopped them only briefly to examine the cause of Garrett's limp and patch him up. The next seal was guarded by another bound Pride demon that continuously made illusory clones of itself, making it impossible to focus on killing it. After chasing around it's copies for nearly ten minutes, Philippa's head was throbbing unbearably. They were finally able to drop it and Garrett let the key pull the mana back into itself again, opening the way forward. As they crossed the path toward the stairs that would lead them up into the main tower, the ground rumbled beneath them. As Philippa stumbled, Larius appeared again. "He feels the seals weaken. He knows you are close. You must be ready..." Then he jerked his head around like a cat that heard something interesting. "What's that? Who? No... no. They're here!"

Philippa sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, her head still aching. "Who is it this time? Puddles the Turtle? The Holy Cheese-wheel of Andraste?"

"The Wardens," he corrected. "They listen to Corypheus. They want to bring him the light. Stop them. You must stop them." He limped away and disappeared around the base of the tower just as a group of four people came around the other side. They were all dressed in similar Warden armor. From the look of the armor, two were rogues, one a warrior and the leader, a mage.

The mage was distracted as she spoke to the warrior. "Something's happening. The prison's breaking down. But it's stood up to tunneling before. What can..." Then she noticed them and gasped. "You! You have the key! And you've come through the seals. But how? Champion? Are you the one? The same Hawke, child of Malcolm? The Carta said they were close. You must be him. I am Janeka. I lead this unit of Grey Wardens." She was looking directly at Garrett.

"Seems everyone's interested in your father," Varric mumbled.

"Then you don't know?" Janeka said with a frown. "Without Malcolm, this prison would have fallen thirty years ago."

Garrett took the key in his hand and said, "Let me guess, it had something to do with this fancy thing?"

"The Grey Wardens built this prison to contain one of the most powerful Darkspawn we've ever encountered. But even the best magic fades. The Wardens need to reinforce the seals. This requires the blood of a mage untainted by... Warden training. The last to perform the ritual was your father."

"Our father was a blood mage?" Philippa gasped, her eyes widening.

"To avert the Blights, forbidden magics are sometimes necessary. He did not bind the demons, if that is your concern. That was done in another era, before the Chantry's laws," Janeka explained with an acceptance that any sane person should be uncomfortable with.

Garrett sighed. "Why do my family stories never involve embarrassing vacations in Antiva?"

"We need your help Hawke," Janeka said, ignoring the quip. "I have done extensive research on this Darkspawn and I believe the original Wardens were wrong. He isn't a threat to humanity... he's our greatest opportunity. A Darkspawn who can talk, feel, reason..."

She was interrupted as Laruius reappeared from the shadows, outraged. "Corypheus cares nothing for Blights. He used you!"

The warrior gaped. "The Warden-Commander!"

"Don't listen to this... creature. He's half Darkspawn himself," Janeka growled. "I know how to harness Corypheus, use his magic to end the Blights."

"No!" Larius insisted. "The Wardens knew. Corypheus is too powerflul."

"Don't do it Hawke," Anders begged. "The Warden-Commander made a deal with one of these. We still don't know the consequences."

Varric apparently disagreed. "Worth the risk. If he doesn't help, it's one more big Darkspawn to stick a bolt in. No big deal."

"Corypheus calls her, and she listens. She brought him the Carta, sent them for you!" Larius accused.

"You must help us!" Janeka countered angrily.

Garrett looked overwhelmed with everyone seemingly looking to him because he was carrying the key. Philippa shook her head and piped up, curious at the logic. "Why would this Darkspawn want to end the Blights?"

Janeka jumped on the opportunity to plead her case. "He is no mindless monster. This search for the Old Gods comes at a terrible cost to his people."

"This sounds very familiar," Anders sighed.

"He tricked you!" Larius said desperately to Janeka. "These are not your thoughts, they are his Calling."

"How many of them died in Ferelden alone? And that was the least of the Blights," Janeka countered.

"How could you trust any deal this Darkspawn makes with you?" Garrett asked her curtly.

"Do not think me foolish, Hawke. I am making no deal. I have a spell which can control Corypheus, bind him to my will." Philippa hated the sound of that. "He will be a new, important weapon in the war on the Blights. No more, no less."

"Are you talking about using Blood Magic?" Carver growled.

"Everything that was done to him was through the power of blood. The Wardens imprisoned Corypheus before the Chantry banned such magic. It is the only way to hold him," Janeka said nonchalantly.

Bethany nodded her agreement. "Corypheus may be as great a threat as the next Blight. We can't risk freeing him."

Janeka's lip curled back and she stared down Garrett. "We'll find a way to do this with or without you, Hawke. This prison will be broken. The Blights will end. Come!" She backed up as she called to her companions. They rushed away and Janeka pulled her staff to throw a fireball at their feet before they could give chase. Angry, Philippa pushed her own magic outwards, blowing out the flames, but Janeka was already gone.

"With me! We will beat them to the seal!" Larius called, already limping toward one of his shortcuts. They followed. When they made their way inside the tower, Larius stopped them and pointed to an urn that was similar in shape to the ones that circled the seals. This one looked to be dormant. "This... this was part of the prison's defenses from centuries ago. Old wards... unstable, dangerous. The Wardens had them neutralized. Bringing them back to life will stall Janeka."

Philippa reached out tentatively to touch her palm to the urn. The metal was cold to her touch and she siphoned a bit of mana into it. It flared to life with a pop and her nerves hummed. She could feel the entire nexus of wards around the tower, guiding her to which ones would open her a path. It was powerful magic. "If Larius is right about Corypheus, we're going to have to hurry," Anders said, placing a hand on Garrett's shoulder to gently urge them forward.

When they entered the first large chamber at the base of the tower, the entire room was filled with pillars housing dozens of the urns. "Do not touch anything!" Larius warned vehemently. The old defenses are active again. Very unpredictable, very dangerous."

From the other side of the room, a group of dwarves ran in and the first one said," There! That's the one Janeka wants dead!"

"You do Janeka's bidding?" Bethany crossed her arms and glared.

"Janeka shared knowledge of Corypheus with the Carta. When she releases the Master, we will be rewarded," the speaker growled.

Garrett sighed. "How many of you are there? I thought I dealt with you already..."

The speaker grinned deviously and glanced around at the urns. "We may die here, but we will take you with us."

"No! Don't!" Larius shouted as the dwarf bolted for the nearest pillar and spun the closest set of urns. A barrier sprung up behind the Carta, blocking them in the room. Philippa grimaced and drew her weapon.

"To arms, and pray that Corypheus honors our sacrifice!" Apparently they were no longer trying to keep them alive or preserve their blood. The dwarves spread out around the room and attacked. Larius pulled out his rusty greatsword, lending a hand as best he could to fend off the attack. Philippa was careful where she slung her magic, not to make the situation worse. When the crazed dwarves fell, she moved to study the barriers.

"Trapped," Larius spat. "Carta fools, always where they don't belong. This shouldn't have happened."

" 'Don't touch anything' is usually an invitation to touch everything. Didn't you know?" she asked him over her shoulder as she recognized a stream of magic connecting every urn that faced each other the stream was present from two corners of the room. She frowned and Larius paced.

"Always a punishment for playing with things you don't understand." he rubbed his patchy balding head and then glanced around. "There is a way out. Deep down, a small memory, a fading thought... I've been here before. Yes, yes. Think. There must be a way. I was here once before, a long time ago. The magic... the magic flows in streams. They must be joined for the way to open. Yes... that's it," he said victoriously.

Phillippa moved to her right where the magic was flowing from the corner. It stopped three pillars away and she glanced around to figure out which one she needed to turn to reconnect it with the opposite corner. Choosing a pillar, she reached up with the end of her staff and latched it on the iron foundation of the two urns on the pillar. With a tug, the urns spun, connecting the stream to the pillar. The second urn on that pillar was now facing the center of the room, so she walked across to the one opposite and noted where the rest of the magic was streaming from. Twisting two more of the pillars connected the stream and she felt the barriers fall.

"That's it! It worked!" Larius celebrated. "Quickly now. We've a ways to go yet!" He hurried forward and kept stopping to hustle Philippa and the others forward as she couldn't help craning her neck to take in the impressive structure. He was shaking his head and finally said, "The Hawke was fascinated by the old construction. Always stopping to examine the carvings. A learned man." It made her smile that she had so easily reminded Larius of her father.

She pushed ahead, guiding them to the urns as her part in rekindling the magic tugged at her. Unfortunately, they eventually crossed paths with Janeka. "Did you really think those old wards would stop me?" she asked, pushing casually away from leaning on the wall as if she had been waiting for them. She glared at Larius as she approached. "Look at you, barely able to string two thoughts together. You've only made it this far because of Hawke."

"You can still turn away. Do not listen to his voice!" Larius begged her.

"You're a fool, Larius, and you should have died here years ago." Her staff was in her hands and Philippa felt the pull of a summoning. A revenant appeared, immediately jamming its sword into the ground and chucking it's whip-like chain for Larius. Philippa dipped out of the way, backing up as Larius fell, his feet yanked out from under him by the pull of the chain. Several arcane horrors sprouted up in the corners of the room, as Janeka fled, to protect and heal the revenant.

"Well, that just isn't fair," Philippa growled as she slipped to the edge of the room to observe the magical connections around the revenant through the fresh throbbing that the demons drew to the surface of her forehead. The arcane horrors were using the magic of the mage corpses they were possessing to protect the revenant. Larius scrambled back to his feet as Carver hefted his sword as if he were going to rush toward the revenant. "Carver, no!" Philippa shouted before he took off, and his head snapped to her. He frowned. "It's protected. The horrors first!"

Everyone heard her shout, and Garrett danced out of the way of the revenant's chain as it whipped toward him, shifting his footwork so he could start in on the floating piles of bones draped in ragged robes. Soon, everyone had their own horror to contend with, slinging steel and magic all around the room. The revenant seemed to sense what she was, zeroing in on her after she had so spectacularly drawn attention to herself. Sweat dripped down her brow as she kept moving, dodging the heavy metal chain as it slammed, clanked and rattled just shy of it's mark. The revenant was casting a line, and she was the fish. It was only a matter of time. She tried to help the others, but every time she paused to cast, the chain whipped through the air. Finally, she had enough. When the chain next hit the ground, Philippa spitefully whipped her staff down and touched the head to the chain. Fire traveled up the chain toward the revenant, briefly welding the links to the ground so it delayed the thing from pulling it back. Then she instantaneously hit it with a frost spell. The sudden cold on top of the heat embrittled the chain and she dropped down, grabbed the chain and yanked back. One of the links in the middle snapped and she was propelled backwards with the momentum, half of the chain still in her hands. She got tripped up by the slack and fell on her ass.

Pissed that she had destroyed it's toy, the revenant bore down on her from across the room. She tossed the ruined chain aside and snatched her staff back up from where it laid on the floor beside her. The revenant was fast, looming over her within seconds. It raised it's sword and brought it down straight for her head. A quickly cast barrier stopped it, but still, she rolled out of the way onto her stomach so she could push to her feet. Once there, she Fade stepped away to regroup. The revenant followed, barely giving her time to reinforce the barrier and turn to see where it was. The sword came down again and she raised her staff to block the blade. The impact jarred her, pushing her arms downwards. The revenant lifted it's sword again and she quickly cast a mind blast to stun it so she could slip away again.

"Phil get away from that thing!" Garrett shouted.

"I'm bloody trying!" she retorted as she Fade stepped again. "Just take out those horrors! I'll distract it... apparently."

One by one, slowly, the horrors fell, breaking down the thick shielding around the revenant. She could feel it's defenses beginning to whittle away. It was time to go on the offensive. She spun, throwing a winter's grasp spell at her pursuer, but instead of freezing in place, it shook off the spell like she had never cast it. Wishing she had a moment to breathe and kick herself for forgetting that revenants were basically immune to frost spells, she growled angrily and as she ran twisted a glyph into the air with her fingers. Then she spun and pushed mana through the glyph, releasing a torrent of tiny spirit bolts. Most of them connected, but the revenant shrugged off a few, lifting it's large round shield to deflect the magic. Next, she touched her staff to the ground and with the butt, flicked a cone of fire toward the revenant, creating a space between her and it that it would be stupid to try and cross. With the second that gave her, she prepared a crushing prison and slipped the glyph beneath it's feet. Then she drew the magic upwards in a cylinder around the creature. She hugged the magic tighter around it, crushing it like one would ball up a sheet of parchment. It's shield clattered to the ground followed by it's sword. Then the revenant's metal pieces of armor began to dent and crumble. The dropped sword, trapped inside the prison with it, scraped across the floor and then twisted upwards, pointing into the revenant's gut. Philippa balled her hands into fists, controlling the squeeze of the magic. The sword pierced whatever flesh was remaining on the reanimated corpse, and it shrieked, making her throbbing head at least ten times worse.

Her body caught up with the strain and she stumbled, dropping her hands and the prison. When the magic receded, the revenant's body fell to the ground with a muffled clatter. She touched her fingertips to her forehead and the world spun around her. Before she followed the revenant to the ground, someone caught her. "Whoa, there."

She recognized Garrett's voice and huddled against him. "Did I get it?" she asked, her vision swimming.

"Yes, sister. You got it..." he said gruffly. As he held her aloft, she felt him shift. "Anders..."

A shadow moved into place beside Garrett and he reached out to touch her forehead. "She isn't hurt. She told me once that the presence of demons affects her differently than a normal mage."

"She gets terrible migraines," Bethany's soft voice agreed from not far off.

Anders' healing magic hummed in the air and some of the fog over her vision lifted. "She also used a ridiculous amount of mana against that revenant," Anders explained. A spell of rejuvenation caressed over her skin. When she opened her eyes, gathering her feet underneath herself, Anders smiled at her. "Phil, did you bring any lyrium potions?"

She nodded slowly. "Carver... has them."

"Meredith wasn't exactly liberal with handing over a bunch of lyrium potions," Carver grumbled as he approached. "But this should do the trick."

He handed one of the tiny vials filled with the glowing blue liquid to Anders who popped the cork for her. "Drink up, Phil. You'll feel better."

The metallic tasting potion almost immediately made a marked improvement in her ability to stand on her own two feet, singing through her veins and restoring what mana was still missing after Anders' spell.

When he saw her standing again, Larius shuffled closer. "We must hurry!" he urged.

They followed after Larius, leaving the room that Janeka had meant to be their tomb and heading up a crooked set of stairs. It led them up out of the Deep Roads and past the top of the chasm ledge. It felt liberating to breathe fresh air again, but the view still left a lot to be desired. The top of the prison jutted up before them, the closer look making her cling even more tightly to the hand that Garrett had kept locked with hers. It was topped with a dome, four griffon statues encircling the open area beneath. Visible waves of golden magic swirled from the statues to the center where the final seal stood. "Oh!" Varric said in awe. "That's nice!"

"What's so nice about it?" Garrett asked skeptically as they began to cross the bridge over the chasm that led to the seal. The wind whipped past them, and she inhaled deeply, glad to be out of the depths.

"I was just wondering what someplace sinister and foreboding would look like. And here it is," he remarked, gesturing with his hand.

Just before they crossed into the tower from the bridge, Janeka appeared with the other Wardens. "You're too late, Larius. Hand over the Hawkes, and I'll give you a quick death."

"The Hawkes have made their choice... the right one," Larius argued.

"The right choice, or the only choice? Malcolm Hawke was not allowed to disagree," Janeka said with a victorious sneer.

Larius' sputtered reaction made Garrett drop her hand and turn to scowl directly at the ghoul. "It is the past. It doesn't matter!"

"Larius?" Philippa demanded, moving up beside her twin. "What does Janeka mean by 'not allowed'?"

Larius frowned and turned a glare on the other Wardens. "How does she know this? Alec, did you tell her? Malcolm Hawke was reluctant, had to be... persuaded." Larius turned away to gaze out over the chasm below. "I was Warden-Commander. It was my duty. I delivered an ultimatum... help us, or you'll never see her again."

Garrett growled in anger. "You were going to kill our mother!"

"No, never! He came with us. I never had to decide her fate," Larius pleaded, turning back to them and begging the siblings to see. "She was never told about what passed between Malcolm and me."

"You see, Hawke," Janeka pushed, singling out Garrett. "How can you trust anything Larius says?"

Philippa took the level headed role as her siblings all glared angrily at Larius. "Larius' threats were reprehensible, but he's still right about Corypheus."

Janeka sighed. "You can come willingly or not. I just need your blood."

The threat was clear as she and the other Wardens drew their weapons. After what they had just fought through, Janeka and a few Wardens were a walk in the park. Bethany swiped her arm outwards before Janeka could even blink. The spell crackled around the tower, thick bolts of lightning striking every few feet, frying the Wardens and leaving scorch marks on the ground.

"He stirs," Larius said urgently as the magic calmed and the Wardens laid dead. "Slay him now, before he wakes. Before his strength comes. The key. It's not strong enough. Use your blood. Free him and slay him."

Philippa stepped inside the tower with the others. The magic felt oddly familiar and the key pulsed in Garrett's hand, reaching out to her Carver and Bethany as well. She observed the workings of the spell, breaking it down in her mind, her eyes closed as she reached out to feel the flow of mana. They would need to go around to the four statues and dispel the wards around them before Garrett approached the seal. She moved deliberately toward the first statue, the magic primed in her palm. When she touched the griffon's clawed foot, an audible pop sounded and the golden mana slowly flowed away from the statue and back toward the center. "It worked!" Anders gasped. "You can see the binding spell's already weakened."

"Just three more to go," she mused as she stepped away from the statue and headed around the circumference of the tower.

Bethany dispelled the second statue, and the air began to become thick. "Are you certain this is a good idea?" Carver said warily.

"It takes Hawke blood to open his prison. I imagine he won't stop until he has what he wants," Philippa pointed out, moving for the next staute.

After the third statue, Anders said through gritted teeth. "He's almost free now."

The air suddenly thinned rapidly and Varric hummed. "You feel that? It's like... something is lifting." They all converged on the last statue and as she reached for the claw, Varric grunted. "Last chance to change your mind."

When the dispel took hold, she turned and looked at the seal. The upraised dais was now accessible and the urns stood ready for the key. The others hovered around the edge of the tower's walls, watching as Garrett slowly climbed the tall stairs up to the dais. In the middle was a small well. He pulled a dagger from his belt and held it above his arm, the key still clutched in his left fist. He hesitated, a strange look on his face. After only a moment, he gritted his teeth and dug the blade across the side of his arm. The blood flowed freely, visibly dripping into the waiting well. When the well was full, Philippa could feel the magic waiting for the key. Garrett seemed to feel it too, slipping his other knife away and letting go of the key so it hovered from his grasp to float above the seal, glowing brightly as it absorbed the golden magic that was swirling around the dais. Then suddenly, he was thrown from the dais, landing hard on the ground between them and the seal, the key landing beside him. He scurried to his feet, grabbing the dagger and readying himself for anything. Philippa moved to his side, touching a hand to his shoulder. He had a few scrapes from hitting the ground, but otherwise, he seemed fine. As the others grouped around them and Garrett brushed himself off, Philippa glanced up at the creature manifesting from the magic. It swirled up from beneath the ground like a ballet dancer, twirling in place. It was anything but beautiful, however.

It reminded her of a Darkspawn emissary like they had seem along the way through the deep roads, but different. There was an intelligence behind it's eyes when it glanced around after being set down on it's feet. The look made her uneasy. It had on a long mage robe below a mostly bare chest, the skin fused with what could have been metal armor at some point. It was tall and skeletal, it's shoulders only as wide as they were because of the furry pauldrons that jutted out from another metal piece around it's neck. It's face was much like it's body, the skin stretched around pieces of jagged stone that stuck out at odd angles. What really made her shudder was when it opened it's deformed mouth and spoke in a deep eldritch voice. "Be this some dream I wake from? Am I in dwarven lands? Why seem their roads so empty?" His gaze finally fell on her and the others and Anders cringed. He pointed a long skeletal finger at them and continued. "You! Serve you at the temple of Dumat? Bring me hence! I must speak with the first acolyte!"

"Dumat..." Anders said in wonder. "was the first Old God to become an Archdemon. There haven't been temples to him since ancient Tevinter."

"You look human," the creature said in awe. "Are you not citizens of the Empire? Slaves then, to the dwarves? Why come you here?" He tipped his head in curiosity before almost shrugging. "Whoever you be, you owe fealty to any Magister of Tevinter. On your knees! All of you!"

Philippa nearly snorted. "You're a Darkspawn. Dark...spawn..." she repeated slowly. "Ravaging the Deep Roads, spreading the Blight. Does this ring a bell?"

Her tone drew his attention to her and he narrowed his eyes. "You are what held me. I smell the blood in you." He glanced around again as if taking in his surroundings before turning his face to the sky and calling out. "Dumat! Lord! Tell me. What waking dream is this?" he paused and when he obviously got no answer, he hung his head and mumbled. "The light. We sought the golden light. You offered... the power of the gods themselves. But it was... black... corrupt. Darkness... ever since. How long?"

"The Golden City," Larius gasped. "The first violation. The Magisters who brought the Blight."

"That's ridiculous!" Anders snapped. "There were no magical bogeymen who trespassed in the Maker's city. It's a story."

Garrett shrugged. "Unless Corypheus is for real, everyone who knows what happened is long dead."

Anders pursed his lips and offered them a disbelieving smile. "You don't think it's a little convenient? What does every sane man and woman in Thedas fear? The Blights. Why not pin those on mages too?"

Corypheus interrupted their debate. "What manner of speech is this? How long have I slumbered?"

"He tainted the world," Larius accused. "He speaks to all who carry the corruption. Darkspawn, Wardens. He brought Janeka here. Brought you..."

"If he's been calling the Wardens to free him, what's his plan? He seems confused," Bethany pointed out.

"He slept. While the seals held, he could not wake. He knows nothing of time that passed," Larius said. "We must kill him now. Before he comes to."

Garrett puffed out his chest and grinned wryly. "First he went after the Maker in His house, then me in mine. I'm honored."

Corypheus suddenly seethed. "The city! It was supposed to be golden! It was supposed to be ours! If I cannot leave with you, I will leave through you! I seek the light!"

Larius turned and fled back out to the bridge as Corypheus took to the air, magic surrounding him. He floated down to their level, wrapping his arms around his core as if preparing to cast. She did not recognize the spell, but cast a barrier to encompass everyone. He unleashed the blast and they were all thrown backwards. It took her a moment to regain her equilibrium, but then she was casting. Every spell she could think of rattled off her fingers and into the staff in her hands. She had no idea how to fight an ancient Magister. She started with a dispel that did absolutely nothing. Crossing that off the list, she reached for offensive magic. She tested some smaller spells, not using too much mana, just to see what would hurt him. He seemed vulnerable to physical magic, so she grabbed hold to the air above him and yanked downwards, The Fist of the Maker staggered him, temporarily putting him on the ground. "I made your sacrifices, Lord. Strengthen me now!" he shouted as he got back up. He drew in his magic again and unleashed it in another burst of energy. He disappeared and seemingly teleported. As she looked around for him, her eyes landed on the dais as he called out again, his arms upraised. "Dumat! Grant me your powers!" He reached for the furthest griffon statue from them and the golden magic swirled from the bird's beak, dancing along the air to settle in his chest. "Ah! The fire in my veins!" he said exultantly. When the power was completely within him, he threw his hands to the sides and jets of flame began to pour from his palms as he spun in a slow circle. "You cannot avoid my fires!"

"You've got to be kidding me..." Philippa grumbled as she scurried out if the path of the flamethrowers that were his hands. She and the others clustered into the nearest statue alcove as the heat rushed past them, licking over her barriers.

He's absorbing power from the statues," Anders pointed out.

She poked her head out to see where the flames were. When they passed by their hiding place, she ducked out of cover and slapped her palm down on the statue's foot, attempting to weaken the fire. "We should destroy them! While we can!" Carver shouted. She attempted to slam a stonefist into the statue, but it was made of sturdier stuff.

"If you figure out how, do let me know," she grumbled as the second jet of flame approached. She was forced back into cover as it circled. Understanding that dispelling just one statue would not be enough, she moved out from the alcove and moved between the flames, heading counter clockwise toward the next statue while Corypheus mocked.

"I am an acolyte of Dumat! You cannot harm me!" The stench of demon filled the air and her head began to throb again as she dispelled the next statue and a pair of guardian shades popped up on either side of their cover. It was close quarters as they fought, but the shades went down easily enough. After that, each time they damaged a statue, the shades appeared, forcing them to expend energy to kill them while Corypheus spun, spewing his flames of death. When she'd taken out the last one, he reigned in the flames and shouted. "Perhaps a little something more!"

"Watch out!" Anders shouted as she watched him disappear again. When he reappeared, he was nearly on top of them. She repeated her testing of spells, focusing more on frost since he had been throwing flames at them like a dragon.

"Burn, you miserable insects!" he growled as he flung a fireball down among them.

"What? He has fire, now?" Varric complained, swiftly reloading Bianca.

"He absorbed it from the statue!" Anders explained as he traced a glyph in the air before him and then passed a barrage of ice shards through it. They raced through the air and slammed into Corypheus, most of them pinging off his metal chest plate.

The ones that did connect made him angry and he disappeared, porting to the dais again where he reached for another of the statues. "The power is mine! I am restored!" A great burst of green energy surged from him and he laughed maniacally. "Scurry, little rats! The maze closes in."

Bethany immediately dispelled the statue beside them already and they fought off the shades. When Philippa looked out to see him circling with his fire again, she also noticed that large chunks of rock had jutted up from the ground, creating a maze through the tower. "Now what?" she grumbled. It was going to make getting to each statue that much more difficult. She waited until the blaze of fire passed and followed it closely, trying to ignore the sweat that had broken out on her forehead. She skirted in and out of the rocks, looking for the shortest path to the next statue as the flames got away from her and the other side crept up behind. One wrong turn would make for a very crispy afternoon. Finally, they made it, slamming themselves in a tight balled group behind the wall for cover from the chasing flames. Leaning against Garrett as the flames licked around them all, she felt his heart pounding as quickly as hers. They were all feeling the strain of this fight. She was the first to step out, so she could dispel the statue.

"You will die before you touch me, worm!" Corypheus taunted from the safety of his dais.

Varric grumbled as the shades fell. "He's boxing us in. Find a clear path!"

She followed the same scurrying technique as she had, the flames feeling like they were even closer that time as they fell in behind the safety of the walls. She hated that she was doing exactly what he had said, scurrying like a rat. She slammed her palm down on the statue, dispelled the magic, killed the shades and moved on. Hating every step through the magical maze. He came at them again as the final statue was dispelled. "Here he comes!" Carver shouted, his sword at the ready.

Sweat was dripping from all their faces and a few of them had cuts and burns. None of them were leaving unscathed. She felt Anders gearing up to send healing out to them and she stopped him. "Save your mana. We're fine."

He frowned at her, but abandoned the uncast spell when Garrett nodded as Corypheus popped up between them. "He's covered in rock! We need to stun him, get it off!" Varric shouted as she noticed the rockarmor spell. It was the first spell he'd used that she was remotely familiar with. She spun her staff, gathering momentum to slam him with a physical blast of mana, drawing his attention. He was looking no worse for the wear compared to them and she batted him around a few more times, cracking him in the face with the head of her staff before he retreated to the center of the dais to draw from another of the statues.

"Dumat! Grant me your powers!" With both hands outstretched in opposite directions, he greedily lapped up the magic from the two remaining statues, his only sign of weakening that he felt the need to do both at once. "The lightning likes me! Feel the chill. You cannot outrun it. You cannot escape."

"Sweet mother of pearl!" Varric gasped as the rocks began to crackle with lightning and massive icicles began to fall from the ceiling at unpredictable intervals.

"Watch out for the ice!" she shouted as Carver was nearly impaled the second he stepped foot inside the circle of the tower.

"And the rocks!" he agreed. "Don't get too close!" Anders slipped a lyrium potion into her hand with a wink and grin as she tried to eyeball a path through the now sparking maze after they dispelled the staute in their alcove. With a weary smile, she thanked him, downed it quickly, and they started from the alcove as a group, moving through the rocks quickly to avoid the circling flames, falling ice and sparking rocks.

"If he pulls a dragon out of his ass, I'm leaving," Varric grumbled, as they fell into the alcove, the fire hot on their heels. She reached out and dispelled the statue. "There has got to be a better way to do this!"

She tended to agree. So far they were really not making a dent in his power, but they were all flagging. She glanced at the others, wracking her brain for another plan. Coming up short, she sighed and dipped out of the alcove after the rotation of flames passed by. She skirted to the next statue and as her hand fell on it, Corypheus growled in anger. "No! You are stronger than I thought... but not strong enough." Her heart fluttered in hope. Their efforts were having an effect. She could feel each dispel getting easier and the demons released were getting weaker.

She smirked in victory, a new wave of determination washing over her. She ran from the alcove, Garrett reaching to grab her and missing. She stepped out of the way of a falling stalactite of ice, and ran around a cluster of rock. In her path, two formations of rock were connected by a long current of electricity. She ran toward it, seeing no other way back out unless she backtracked into the flames. She ducked beneath the current, rolling back to her feet and coming out on the other side into another cluster of ice falling toward her. She lifted her hands and the cold struck her barrier, making her fingers go numb. She gritted her teeth against the barrage and then pushed forward. The flames were gaining. She ran for the alcove, her dispel charged. She balked as she passed into the outside and the snow and lightning blazed around her in the previously cloudless sky. "What is going on out there!" she gasped as the others rushed up behind her, having followed the fire that had been licking at her back.

"He's summoned a storm around the entire tower!" Bethany gasped as well.

She pursed her lips. "Get ready." She slammed her palm down and the demons appeared. When the last one fell, she turned to see him disappear, eliminating the fire threat. "Here he comes."

Corypheus appeared in their midst, hovering impossibly above the ground. Philippa began to cast, but before she could finish, he spun in a rapid circle, shards of ice slinging from him in all directions and sending them scattering as he cackled. "Is there a chill in the air?"

"I bloody told you he would cackle," Garrett grunted as one of the shards caught Philippa's leg and drew blood right before another cut across her neck.

"Congratulations, Hawke. You're always right. Can we kill him now?" Varric shouted from behind one of the rock formations. She dipped behind her own rock, trying to make a plan for the event that he did indeed pull a dragon from his ass.

"Run all you like. I can reach you anywhere!" He taunted, proving his point by unleashing some lightning around. A bolt struck uncomfortably close to where she was crouched and it made her angry. She stood boldly from behind the rock. He spotted her instantly as she heard a cry from across the room, distinctly Garrett's voice. His pain made her even angrier. Corypheus summoned some spirit energy and released it toward her in a beam from his palms. She stabbed the butt of her staff into the ground before her and drew the protective circle around herself. When the magic slowed, she lashed out with a fireball wrapped around a stone fist. It collided with his chest and he stumbled back, shouting in surprise. He growled at her, recovering quickly, cupping his hands around more spirit energy before him, she flipped her staff and drew in the power in the air. Throwing her hands out before her, she interrupted his casting with a blast of charged energy that slammed into him and brought him to his knees. He knelt on one knee, clutching his chest and breathing heavily as the room went eerily silent and all of his spells crumbled. He looked up at her in disgust and with the final insult, she drew in everything she had left and slammed the butt of her staff into the ground before her, focusing all of her energy through the humming crystal. Giant spikes of ice jutted up from the ground around him and his entire body went rigid as it turned to ice. For a few moments, she considered shattering the new statue, but then it fell to it's side and shattered on its own, the pieces skittering in all directions.

She leaned against her staff, and the others rejoined her. Anders was limping and his face looked ashen. Garrett had a burn on his forearm that had destroyed his gauntlet. The sweat was pouring off of her and she pushed her hair back from her face as she smiled, slipping her staff into it's harness and touching her palms to both of them, expending just a little bit more mana to heal them. Anders pursed his lips, obviously used to being the only healer. The bloody gash in her neck burned as the sweat found it's way into it. She ignored it. She knew Anders was in no shape to be healing if he hadn't already done so for himself. They had all taken a beating. Him especially. When Garrett knelt to fish through Corypheus' melting remains, he found a strange looking amulet around what used to be Corypheus' neck, he gingerly plucked it from the mess, and she attempted to block out the squishing sounds as the body parts shifted. "That amulet..." Anders gasped when it spun in the air as Garrett stood. Anders moved to Garrett's side and Philippa took a good look at his face. He looked better. The lines that had pinched his eyes and the frown on his forehead had both left him with Corypheus' death. She smiled to herself as he continued. "No one's used that pattern since before the First Blight." He took it in his fingers to study it and Garrett let go of the chain so it dangled in his hands instead. "It was unique to a small sect in Tevinter who worshiped the god Dumat. Corypheus really was an ancient magister..." His eyes widened as he looked up at Garrett. Anders' voice was wispy as he spoke. "I always thought the Black City was just a story..."

Garrett touched his arm and spoke gently. "Even if it's true, it doesn't justify punishing mages over a thousand years later."

"Do you think?" he snarled. Then he sighed. "What else might the Chantry know that we don't? I... I'll need to study this further." he pocketed the amulet and Garrett took his hand. Philippa was ready to be free of the Vinmark Mountains.

Larius reappeared as they headed for the exit to find one of the magical bridges the Warden journals had mentioned. He was walking straighter, his eyes slightly less milky and when he spoke, his voice was steadier. "You did well, Hawkes. More than the Grey Wardens of old were able to accomplish. I will tell the Warden-Commander of your service here."

Anders lifted a single brow and smirked. "You think the Wardens will give you a warm welcome looking like that? I don't think we're supposed to come back from the Calling."

"I must try," Larius lamented, hanging his head. "You've gained an ally today." He looked back at Garrett.

"Why are you talking like that?" Philippa asked worriedly. It was strange to hear him so lucid.

He shrugged. "My head is clear now. Without Corypheus' call, I can think again. I thank you for my freedom," he said with a pleased grin.

She figured his explanation made sense and she shrugged. "And here I thought I just gained a headache."

"I will never forget what you did here. The prison stands no more. My gratitude you have, for my freedom," he repeated and then simply walked off.

"Let's get the bloody hell out of here before Hawke's luck lands us in another epic battle with ancient evil," Varric japed.

"You can't blame my luck all the time," Garrett complained as Philippa reached out with her mana to see if she could feel for a way across to the ledge. She moved toward the edge of the bridge they stood on and a hum of magic drew her a few feet to the left.

Anders chuckled. "It is notoriously bad, love."

"Is that how I got stuck with you lot?" Garrett teased lightly.

Philippa approached the spot and called on her magic, concentrating on the spell that was woven into the stone beneath her. She lifted her arms and poured the magic into the bridge. From beneath in the chasm, several specially carved stones lifted and snapped together with loud bangs, forming a bridge for them to cross all of the way to the ledge. As it continued to form, she stepped up on the first stone and took a tentative step, her arms still upraised and her attention still on completing the bridge. "Stay close behind me. I don't know how long this will last. It's not my spell."

They crossed the narrow bridge as slowly as they dared, Philippa concentrating on her footing as much as the spell. If she looked down, she just might need a clean set of smallclothes. When they reached the other side, she wanted to kiss the solid ground. Instead, she wobbled on her feet as the others stepped from the bridge and then her arms dropped like sacks to her sides and the bridge crumbled. "Whoa, there!" Garrett gasped, catching her as the world spun around her.

Philippa snorted. "We've got to stop meeting like this, brother."

Carver grumbled from nearby. "Tell that to your insistence on overdoing it."

Garrett scooped her up in his arms and chuckled. "Just as bullheaded as the rest of us. The Circle couldn't change that... Let's get a few miles between us and this place and we'll make camp for the night. I'm sure we could all use a good nap."

"A good coma, maybe," Bethany quipped.

Chapter Text

Bethany traveled with them for almost four days before she said her goodbyes and split off to meet up with Nathaniel. It had been really nice to spend time with her in person, and Philippa was already missing her sister by the time they passed through the gates into Kirkwall. The Hightown market greeted them, and as they passed through the fancy shops, the scents of the city swirling around them in the afternoon bustle, Garrett paused before climbing the stairs toward the red light district. "You know, I'm sure Meredith has no idea you're back yet. Would it be too much to ask, Carver, for you to pretend for a few hours that you don't have a duty to return the 'dangerous mage' to the Gallows? I'm sure Orana would love to have someone to cook for besides me and Anders. Come have tea at the estate..."

Carver's scowl wrinkled his brow, but Philippa touched his shoulder, excited at the prospect of a real live home cooked meal. "I think we've earned a treat," she said, hoping she said it convincingly.

Carver's eyes flicked between her and Garrett and them he let out a loud sigh. "Fine, but if we get caught, I'm telling them you convinced me with blood magic," he joked gruffly.

Garrett let out an approving bark of laughter and nudged Varric. "You owe me a sovereign."

Then he turned, threw his arm around Anders and tugged him along behind with a huge grin on his face. Just at the bottom of the Viscount's Way stood the estate entry. Hung on the outside of the alcove that dipped inwards to the door, was a pair of shields adorned with a crest, painted in red. Garrett fished out his key and opened the door, bowing them inside. The entryway was dimly lit, small rugs ringing the center of the room at the feet of several benches that lined the walls. Garrett whistled loudly as he passed through and was answered by barking and then the bounding of feet from deeper in the house. The massive mabari hound that Philippa had seen at Garrett's heel the first time he had come to the Gallows, thumped through the archway that led into the sitting room. Anders gave the slobbering hound a wide berth, an adoring look on his face as he passed further into the house while the hound pounced on Garret and knocked him to the floor, licking his face. Garrett chuckled happily. "Off, Alfie, you mutt. You're full of energy. Has Aveline been neglecting your walks again?"

A woman's voice greeted Anders inside the sitting room "Welcome home, Master Anders." Then a thin, blonde, elven woman wearing a bit too much makeup on her sharp cheekbones and wide eyes scurried into the entryway. Her eyes studied the gathering and she bowed low. "Master Garrett, you've brought guests. I trust your trip went well."

"Swimmingly," Garrett said, pushing the dog off him and standing. "Orana, this is my twin sister, Philippa, and my younger brother, Carver. They're staying for dinner. Do you think you could whip up something?" The mabari shifted it's attention to Carver, wagging it's entire hindquarters in excitement.

"It's a pleasure," the soft spoken woman said with another pair of bows in their direction. "Is there anything else you needed?"

With a shake of Garrett's head, the elven girl bowed out toward the sitting room where Anders had disappeared. Carver knelt and scratched the mabari's shoulders. "It's good to see you, too Ser Alfred. Did you miss me?"

The mabari barked sharply, his tongue falling from his mouth. Garrett took Philippa by the arm and led her through the archway as Varric made himself comfortable and headed toward a staircase downwards. "Bring us a good vintage!" Garrett called after him to which he responded with a wave of his hand over his shoulder. "Welcome to my humble abode, sister."

The sitting room was warm and welcoming, brightly lit by sconces holding up mage crystals. The fireplace burned tall to their right. The mabari, Alfie, followed Carver in and settled himself on the throw rug in front of the fire. Lining the corner on the left were short tables weighed down by what looked to be lab equipment. A young dwarf with blonde curly hair jumped up and down excitedly in front of the nearest table. "Enchantment!" she cried.

A second dwarf, a bit older with brown hair and fine clothing smiled kindly. "Welcome back messere. As usual, your letters are waiting on your desk. And may I ask who this fine young woman is?"

"Bodhan Feddic, this is my twin sister, Phil. Phil, this is Bodhan and his son Sandal," Garrett introduced them briefly. As Anders reappeared at the top of the stairs near the left hand side of the room, his road clothes stripped and swapped with a casual green tunic and brown pants, Garrett hustled her forward. "Let me show you around. Come on Carver... you too."

Garrett led them into a small reading room off the left hand side of the sitting room, another fire burning to their right. Above, up a short set of stairs, was a rather impressive library which her brother had stocked to bursting, likely with Anders' help. Then he led them around to the dining room and the kitchens where the blonde elf was busily preparing a meal for them that already smelled delicious. Philippa was impressed with the icebox that Anders had put in, enchanted to keep things like milk and meat cold, extending the spoil time. He explained that he had one similar in his clinic in Darktown for women that helped out by donating milk for orphaned infants, as well as ice packs that helped reduce swelling from bumps and bruises.

After the tour, they retired to the reading room where Garrett had plenty of chairs for them all to sit and relax while Varric set down a bottle of wine, pouring himself a glass before sitting as well. It was nice to just sit and socialize like a normal human being. Philippa had rarely had the chance to do so, even in Kinloch. There had always been a templar just around the corner, listening in on every word, and there had definitely never been alcohol. Even Carver loosened up, removing his metal plate so he could lounge properly in his chair. The food Orana made was delicious. Roasted chicken topped with a rich polenta and mushrooms prepared in truffle oil, and steamed broccoli on the side. It was much more elegant than anything she had ever tasted, and she savored every bite, complimenting the woman until her cheeks turned red.

As the sun was setting, Carver sighed heavily. "We really should be getting back."

They gathered their things as Garrett hovered, flicking his eyes back and forth between them. Finally, he spoke up as he handed Philippa her staff that she had leaned behind her chair. "You don't think that Carver might accidentally 'lose' your phylactery?"

Before Carver could even defend his own morals, Philippa shook her head wildly. "No, Garrett. Carver is happy in the Gallows, and I may not be happy, but I'm where I should be. I can use what little influence I have to help. If I were to escape, Carver would bear the punishment for allowing it to happen."

Garrett sighed. "You just look so happy. Even when we were being attacked by an ancient evil magister, you were so... in your element."

Philippa reached up, settling her palm on her brother's cheek, her fingers slipping between the soft hairs of his beard, and smiled. "There is more going on in the Gallows that needs my attention. I appreciate your concern, Garrett, but I know what's best."

Garrett pulled her against him and kissed the top of her head and addressed Carver. "You two look after each other."

"Of course we will," Philippa agreed, hugging him in return. "And thank you for helping to get me permission to go on my first adventure. I had fun."

Garrett released her with a final ruffle to her hair and then as he stepped away to say a few words to Carver, Anders stepped up in front of her. "The Circle did one thing right in raising you, Phil. You're handy to have around in a fight."

"Oh," she said with a sarcastic grin. "The ultimate praise. I should mark my calendar."

Anders scoffed. "Shut up and take the compliment, you ass," he said before pulling her into a hug like Garrett had. "It was really good seeing you."

Philippa and Carver left Garrett's estate and made their way back through Hightown and into Lowtown before heading for the docks and the ferry to the Gallows. "Thank you, sister, for standing up for me," Carver said sheepishly as they settled onto the ferry and began to float quietly toward the Gallows.

She shrugged. "It's like I said. I care about you and your career, and there are other things in the Gallows that need my attention."

 

While they had been away, there had apparently been a hubbub inside the Gallows. Philippa found out from Grace that several of the templars that were in league with Thrask and his merry band had gotten into the Phylactery chamber and several of the blood vials had been destroyed. A little more than a handful of mages had taken the opportunity to flee the Circle. Meredith and the rest of the templars had been relentlessly tracking down those missing. All but three had been found and already punished severely. When Meredith had found out that Philippa and her siblings had returned to the city, she immediately had a note sent to Garrett in hopes of enlisting his help to find the others. She assumed that the families of the missing mages might talk more easily to the Champion than the templars.

While Meredith was scrambling to recover the mages, Philippa was seeking out Thrask. While outside the Circle and free, she had realized that, her alone, appealing to Cullen for support was going to likely lead nowhere. Things were best accomplished with a team working together. What better team than the collection of mages and templars already set on a common goal?

After Thrask had accepted her into the fold, the girl that had come to her in the infirmary, Terri, returned almost a week after she had attended her first secret meeting. Again, Terri had been beaten and violated, but would still not give the name of her abuser. When Philippa examined her this time, she found a disturbing truth. Terri's abuser had left her with a little surprise. Philippa knew what it was like to be the subject of an illegitimate pregnancy within the Circle, having watched one of her best friends go through it back in Ferelden. When she grudgingly offered the news to Terri, the girl shut down almost completely, her face going ashen. "I don't want this. I never wanted this," she squeaked, glancing up at Philippa with sodden eyes.

Philippa bit her lip. She had never condoned Anders and his many escape attempts, but sometimes there were no other options. "Terri, there is nothing I can do here to help, but I know some people that might be able to get you out of the Circle. I know it's not ideal, but there is a clinic in Darktown. The mage who runs it is an old friend. He can get you the help you need and to get you away from the Circle and whoever keeps forcing himself on you." She tucked the girl's hair behind her ear gently, looking for an answer.

After a few moments, Terri nodded slowly. "I can't stay here anymore."

Philippa took her hands in hers. "Give me a few days and I will talk to the right people. I promise, we'll get you out."

 

Philippa attended bi-weekly meetings late at night, sometimes outside the Circle itself. Thrask and his little group had found several inventive ways to leave the Gallows without being noticed. It was in one of those manners that they snuck Terri out under cover of darkness. As the months droned on and the meetings continued, Philippa began making friends with some of the templars and mages that shared the desire to simply be out from under Meredith's heel. They wanted the Circle to continue, but for it to do so without the harshness of the Knight-Commander's tyranny.

Months after Terri's disappearance, Cullen spearheaded an investigation into the abuses of the templars against their charges, apparently on the word of a trusted outsider who had angrily informed him of the pregnant apprentice that had shown up in Anders' clinic. Predictably, the templars who might know anything about the situation closed ranks, and the ones that had no clue were of little help. Cullen's investigation got him nowhere.

Near the end of his investigation, Philippa was cleaning up after her shift in the infirmary when a knock sounded on the door. She called out an invitation, unable to answer the knock with the armful of pillows she was carrying. A soft chuckle sounded after the gentle rattling of plate that indicated her visitor was a templar. "I didn't realize I would be speaking to your softer side this evening, Enchanter Hawke."

His familiar voice and the teasing lilt brought a mild flutter to her chest that she ignored. Peering around the pillows, she smirked to match his lopsided grin. "Why, Knight-Captain, I believe that was an attempt at levity. It's good you came to the infirmary. You're definitely ill... or possessed." She frowned thoughtfully as she teased. "Or both. Either way, you could take a few of these off my hands like a gentleman."

"O-of course," he stuttered, jerking toward her and lifting the top four pillows from her arms so she could see over the remaining three. He stood awkwardly, holding the pillows and glancing around. "Uh, where..."

"Oh," she interrupted, rolling her eyes at her own thoughtlessness. "The cabinet on your left... bottom shelf." Cullen nodded and walked the pillows to the cabinet and placed them where she had indicated. She followed, setting down her own pile. "Now that I can see you properly, is there a reason you came to see me?" she asked with a grin, crossing her arms.

"Oh, right, yes," he said, standing a bit straighter. "A while back, you came to me about a young woman you had treated that had been sexually abused. While I tried to follow up on the information, with so little insight, the investigation went nowhere. It has recently come to my attention that a young woman that hailed from the Circle, went missing not long ago." His next sentence was punctuated with a sigh and roll of his eyes. "While I'm certain you had nothing at all to do with her escape from the Gallows, I would like to ask if you knew anything about her."

"If you're asking whether I knew she had fallen pregnant, yes I did. I was the one who initially diagnosed her condition after she came back to the infirmary black and blue and freshly violated," Philippa said boldly, unconcerned whether Cullen might see her hiding the fact as a punishable offense.

As he usually did when conflicted, he pressed his lips together and narrowed his eyes. Instead of prodding at her knowledge of her escape, he gritted his teeth and sighed again. "Were you at least able to find out the name of her rapist, this time?"

Philippa backed down from her challenging stance and lowered her eyes to shake her head solemnly. "I wish I had. I'm sorry."

"So am I," he agreed softly.

 

After that conversation, Cullen was forced to drop the investigation because he didn't have enough information to discover which of the templars had attacked Terri. Thrask and the others were working on something big that Thrask informed her would be the turning point in their fight to bring down Meredith.

She was brought into the plan without prior knowledge. She and the templar Kerran that Garrett had saved from possession years back, were both sent to the meeting point for that evening with the first wave of escapees. She and the templar had become fast friends in spite of his previous negative encounters with mages. They were in a warehouse on the docks, a short walk from the ferry landing. One ferryman in particular was in on the secrets of the group, shuffling them from one side of the water to the other for a small fee paid by Thrask. They were waiting casually for the others to arrive when a familiar enchanter rushed in and started shouting that they had been betrayed. That was when she found out that she and Carver were meant to be bait. A few templars that followed the panicking mage bore down on her. Reacting on instinct, she grabbed Kerran's wrist to protect him and unleashed a mind blast to free herself. She abandoned the warehouse while the others were stunned, quickly getting Kerran to play along and pretend he was still on their side so he could warn Garrett. She and Carver were to be a lure for Garrett. She needed to get back to the Gallows and warn Carver before they attacked him, if it wasn't already too late.

She slipped quickly along the docks to the ferry and had the man transport her back to the Gallows. She was rushing, hoping to reach Carver in time, but instead of Carver, she ran into another templar. She had seen him around the Circle before, but never paid him much heed. He had dark hair and a ruddy complexion that was riddled with pockmarks. When he grabbed her tightly by her upper arms, she attempted to tug free and scowled at him. "Is there a reason you're out of bed, mage?" he growled in an overly gruff voice that sent shivers down her spine as his hands tightened the more she struggled. Before she could retort with a smart remark, he leaned in closer to her ear and lowered his voice. "You know I heard you were the one responsible for costing me my favorite toy. That means, you're going to replace her."

Philippa's stomach sank and she opened her mouth to shout, but she felt the voice drawn from her throat in an effective silence, the likes of which she had not experienced since she had been transported to Kinloch Hold as a child. She tried to struggle free of his grasp again, her heart racing in panic, but received a backhand to her right cheek in payment. His gauntleted knuckles connected so sharply with her cheek that her vision blackened briefly and when it returned, it was accompanied by flashing stars before her. Her head slumped before she whipped it back up, shaking off the shock of the blow to the face. She was being dragged out of the exposed hallway. With the realization, she attempted to dig in her heels and make it that much harder for him to subdue her. She was not going to go down without a fight. She managed to twist one of her arms free, but the hand he had been holding her with swiftly found her hair and dug in deep, yanking at her head and forcing her to follow or be ripped bald.

He didn't lead her far, straight to one of the classrooms, abandoned at this time of night. He shoved her inside and closed the door behind him. He leaned her backwards over one of the large tables and released his hold of her arm, holding her down by her hair alone. His now free hand moved to caress her cheek, making her cringe away in disgust. Her reaction simply made him angry. He pulled the caressing hand back and then used it to slap her again. It was with his open palm this time, saving her from the plates on his gauntlets. After the slap, he began to caress her face again. She closed her eyes and tried to look away, breathing rapidly. "Terri was such a young and pretty thing, but you..." he hummed in appreciation. "Those mesmerizing eyes beneath your dark hair and nearly unblemished skin... I could watch you choke on my dick all night."

Philippa tried to whimper, but the silence had stolen her voice. All that came out was a harsh snort as she tried to twist her hair free of his grip. When he leaned in, his breath hot on her cheek, she pressed her lips tight together to avoid his tongue. Nausea and disgust swirled in her gut, anger soon following. She thrashed with her arms, grabbing hold of anything within reach and throwing them as far as she could to make loud clattering noises, praying that someone would hear. Ser Doyle, she recalled that as his name, realized what she was doing and briefly released her hair to pin her arms again. It put her at an angle where she could just barely fight back. She lifted her knee and jammed it into his crotch, making him cry out and release her wrists for just long enough that she could get her arms between them and shove him away.

Recovering swiftly, he grabbed her, spun her around and the hand that hit her this time was a closed fist. The blindness returned and the world spun. When she returned to her senses, her chest was pressed to the table and he had lifted her robes up above her knees. In his distraction, she realized, he had neglected the silence. She opened her mouth and shouted as loudly as she could, making him drop her clothing that was balled in his fist and press the hand over her mouth instead. With a grunt he said, "Terri was never this feisty. It only took a few slaps to put her in check..."

Philippa opened her mouth and angrily took the meat of his hand between her teeth, biting through the leather of his glove. He pulled it free and the fist collided with her temple again. She lost a few more moments, but she refused to allow the Fade to take her. She would fight until she couldn't anymore. Even without her magic, she had been taught how to defend herself.

She could feel his growing member pressed up against her rear as he reached to hold both her wrists together above her head. She cringed, still wriggling against his grip. Suddenly, a loud clatter sounded behind her and within seconds, a meaty thunk joined the cacophony. His grip slackened and with the lapse, she yanked her arms back, drawing them beneath her to push him off her back. She didn't care who had come to her rescue, but she owed them more than she could ever express. Even her time with Alrik had not frightened her as much as being pinned to that table. Her hands were still shaking as she heard Doyle hit the floor behind her, her heart racing and her stomach flipping in terror.

Hands landed lightly on her shoulders, and she flinched, spinning with her hands balled into fists. "Easy," his familiar and somehow soothing voice said gently.

She couldn't help herself. Silently sobbing, Philippa threw herself at Cullen, landing in his arms, her own limbs folded between them and her face instinctively hovering near his neck. As the templar skill faded, Philippa silently prayed that he would set aside his shield for a split second and comfort her properly like Garrett was so very good at. After a moment, her prayers were answered. Without further hesitation, Cullen's arms lifted and he wrapped them tightly around her, protectively guarding her as she allowed her tears to slip free of their cage and stream down her cheeks. Soon with the silence gone, noisy sobs joined the tears, hiccoughing from her throat. He allowed her to cry, one eye on Doyle and the other on the door. When her wits returned, her face and head catching up with the multiple blows she had endured, the throbbing and stinging nearly became indistinguishable from each other. She could hardly see through her left eye and she was certain blood was trickling down her cheek. Drawing in a ragged breath, still huddled against Cullen's chest, she said softly. "I think I found your rapist."

They had known each other for so long that she could tell that his next words were directly catered to the mocking tone in which she had made that announcement. "That's not exactly the investigative method I would have used, Hawke."

Inwardly thanking the Maker that he was helping her bring light to the terrible situation, she retorted. "And that's precisely why you didn't find him. Aren't you glad I think outside the box?"

Sighing softly, he drew her away from his chest, his hands on her shoulders. "Maker's breath, look at you. Are you all right?" In an oddly intimate gesture, he lifted her hair from her face to study the growing bruises.

She nodded lightly, her hair falling from his fingertips. "I will be... may I?"

He withdrew his hands and nodded curtly. She reached into her core and called on a nearby spirit to assist her in mending the damage to her face and arms. As the gentle healing magic washed over her, Cullen watched somberly. Once she was finished, the spirit departed and she blinked a few times, before glancing up at him. With a sigh, he finally cringed and said, "Hawke, I need to ask... It's after midnight. Why aren't you in bed?"

They were too far from her room for her to lie, but then before she could think up an excuse, her eyes widened. "Shit! Carver!" She started to panic anew. "Cullen, I don't have time to explain, but somewhere along the coast, there is a group of mages and templars gathered together. They must have Carver by now. They meant to take me, too, but I managed to escape. They're trying to lure Garrett into joining them to overthrow Meredith."

Cullen was silent for so long that she thought she might have broken him. His face was slowly reddening and his hands slowly balling into fists. When he finally spoke, his amber eyes flicked dangerously to hers and he growled. "Go back to your room."

Those five words were all she needed to understand that he was thoroughly pissed at her. He likely knew she had been a part of the conspiracy. At that particular moment, she was getting a reprieve because he had one templar lying unconscious at their feet, a criminal, and another of his templars abducted to the wounded coast. His plate was full. She took a step back from him, her expression apologetic before she skirted Doyle's prone figure and Cullen's seething person.

She rushed back to her room, knowing that Cullen was capable of handling things. She had screwed up enough. No need to make it worse. Thrask's group had been secretive, even within their own, never knowing who they could really trust. When Philippa arrived back at her room, she was both surprised and not surprised to see that Grace was not in her bed. She had seen her roommate making nice with some of the others that she knew were involved with the group. She briefly wondered if Grace had been a party to the conspiracy that had planned to use her and Carver as bait. Her hands still shaky after the incident in the classroom, she shuffled to her desk, sitting in the chair, her staff abandoned near the door. The mirror looking back at her showed the drying blood that had dripped down her cheeks from the cuts she had healed. Dark circles ringed the underneath of her eyes and her eyes themselves were bloodshot from the tears she had shed. She brushed aside the bangs that hung in her face, making certain she had handled all of the bruising and then took up a scrap of cloth to scrub away the remaining crusted on blood. She didn't want a single reminder of what had just happened.

After she had cleaned herself up, she stripped to her small clothes and got into her bed, huddling beneath her blanket. The Fade was calling and for some strange reason, she needed to speak to the one person she hadn't seen in years. She closed her eyes and reached out, not knowing if she would even be able to find him wherever he was. She was relying on the memories of all the times she had been inside his mind before. She drew herself across the miles, following the formerly familiar taste of Finn's magic. She was proud when she actually found him. In his dream, he was holding up a torch, wearing finely made trousers coupled with a rugged vest and tunic combination. His hair had grown slightly and was no longer quite so carefully styled as it had been before. The woman beside him was dressed in light leathers, dyed a leaf green that blended nicely with her sun-kissed skin, her entire midriff exposed from the bottom of her breasts to her belly button. Her dark red hair was worn simply, dangling to just below her shoulders. She had a pair of daggers in her hands and they were looking prepared for a fight. Philippa waited for a moment to see if the fight would come, but after a few moments of them exchanging familiar small-talk, she sighed and wondered if she should even disturb him. She had left him behind and he had made his own way, but she still missed him from time to time. After a brief debate with herself, she finally bit her lip and selfishly wiped away the dream.

The elven woman disappeared and Finn dropped his torch, cursing as he looked around. She could see in his shoulders, the moment he realized what was going on. He spun, a wide grin on his face as his eyes hunted for her. "Maker's breath, Phil!"

She breathed a sigh of relief at his excited greeting as he rushed to her and gripped her up in a tight hug, lifting her momentarily off the ground. She clung to him when he set her down, burying her face in his scentless chest. "I'm sorry. I just needed to see you."

"Don't be sorry! It's been ages since I've seen you!" He held her at arms length, still smiling. "You look..." his expression shifted as he took in her own somber gaze. "Terrible... Has something happened?"

She hugged herself, jostling his hands from her arms. "This place... the Gallows..." she sighed heavily, blinking back more tears. "I tried Finn. I was the good little mage, doing everything that Meredith dictated. My cooperation even eventually earned me the job as head healer in the infirmary." A raspy chuckle escaped her. "Probably the worst idea to let me see the aftermath of all the abuses that happen here almost everyday. I should have known my mouth would get me in trouble someday."

Finn reached out and took her shoulders again. "Phil, tell me what happened," he urged gently.

She sighed heavily. "Nearly a year ago, after I returned from the Vinmark Mountains, I joined a group here in the Gallows. A cooperation of mages and templars, working together to make our lives better. There was a young apprentice, barely fifteen, who was raped and beaten by a templar. She never told me his name. After she fell pregnant, my group managed to help her escape the Gallows. That was months ago. Tonight I was out at one of our meetings and found out that someone inside the group had thought it a good idea to use me and Carver as bait to draw Garrett into helping them to overthrow Meredith. I managed to get away, and I rushed back to the Gallows to see if I could get to Carver before they did. I was waylaid by another templar. He..." she paused, swallowing the sudden lump in her throat. "Ser Doyle. He confessed to being the one that had abused Terri. He said I was responsible for taking away his plaything, so I was going to replace her..."

Finn's eyes widened and then an expression she had never seen on his face passed over his eyes. He was angry. Genuinely enraged. "What did he do to you?"

"Nothing I couldn't heal, thank the Maker. I thrashed around so much that I was able to land a good knee to his groin that made his silence falter long enough for me to shout. By some miracle, Cullen heard me," she explained, her hands shaking again. "Of course, now he knows I was out of bed after hours."

Finn sighed and pulled her into a hug, "Are you going to be all right?" he asked her gently as she huddled against him again.

"Honestly?" she asked, lifting her chin to look up at him. "I have absolutely no idea how to judge Cullen's actions anymore. He's not been the same since we left Kinloch." She cleared her throat and pulled away from his hug. "Maker, it's really good to see you. Is this how you dress now?" she teased, plucking at his vest and trying to staunch her feelings.

He grinned deviously, "It is. I returned my old robes to the Circle. They can keep them."

She chuckled. "I think they make you look dashing. Ariane must not be able to keep her hands off you."

Instead of the expected flush of his cheeks and avid denial she had expected, Finn threw his head back and laughed. "Ariane is certainly a passionate creature, though it took her a very long time to stop scowling at me when she first adopted me."

Philippa snorted. "You make it sound like you're her pet."

"At first, I must have seemed like a puppy. I was so far out of my element... as you well know. She kept food in my belly and clothes on my back. The years have made me a much better traveling companion, I think," he mused.

"Little Flora, all grown up," Philippa teased.

He cringed and laughed again. "Maker no one's called me that in years."

Philippa allowed herself a few more minutes to enjoy talking with Finn and avoiding the real world. Her friend had certainly grown into his own while she stagnated in the Gallows. Finally, she sighed. "I probably should be going."

Finn's shoulders slumped slightly and his eyes flicked up and down her person one last time. "Listen, I know we have different lives now, but please, Phil, don't ever think you're not welcome to pop in to my dreams. I still care what happens to you."

She reached out and hugged him tightly. "It was so good to see you, Natty."

He chuckled. "I'm not sure you can call me that anymore, but you will always be my Weaver. Keep me posted."

"I will," she promised with a genuine smile.

Chapter Text

Philippa waited. When Cullen had returned from the Wounded Coast with a slightly battered Carver and a significantly thin herd of other mages and templars, which included the previously excommunicated Samson, she had expected him to draw her into the investigation. Days passed, and as each of her 'cohorts' were separated and interrogated, she waited. Grace never returned, and Philippa was not certain of her fate. She didn't dare ask, for fear of drawing attention to herself. After a week with barely a glance in her direction from anyone, Philippa started to feel a pit growing in her stomach. Instead of relieved that she had not been summoned, she felt nervous, like she was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Finally, she couldn't take it any longer. Near lunchtime two weeks after Doyle had pinned her to the table, Philippa left the infirmary and made her way warily to Cullen's office. His door was closed, and she was hesitant to disturb him in spite of her usual tendency to barge in uninvited. She lifted her hand to the door to knock, hovered briefly, bit her lip and pulled her hand away again, hugging it to her chest. She glanced up and down the hall, seeing Meredith's door open, and Orsino's closed. At the end of the hall that led to the templar barracks, the door into the gardens was open as well. She debated wandering into the gardens for a moment to collect her thoughts, but the thought of being caught outside of her schedule again without reason flipped her stomach. She swiftly spun back around and knocked four times on Cullen's door, then froze, her chest tightening as she realized what she had done. She considered running, but his voice called through the wooden door and it was inviting.

Inhaling a deep breath and steeling herself, she reached for the handle and let herself into Cullen's office. He looked up from his papers and she stepped in, hovering in the doorway and leaving the door open for an easy escape. Cullen looked briefly shocked, and she drew her hands together, wringing her fingers nervously as she watched him accept that it was her that had just entered. His eyes studied her swiftly, and she saw him note that she had come without her staff. "Can I help you with something, Hawke?" he asked curtly.

She cleared her throat softly and dragged her fingers apart, only to have them reach around to hug her own gut. "I was... It's been some time since... Since the coast, and I was only wondering..." she paused and did her own brief study of his noticeably still posture, as if he were holding himself rigid for fear of any sudden movement chasing her off. "Everyone else involved has been questioned..."

"And you were wondering why I haven't mentioned you were involved?" he asked, his tone softer than she expected and his eyes shifting away from her.

She nodded briefly. "If it's not too much trouble," she said, with a ragged chuckle.

"As if you've ever caused me anything but..." he retorted. Then he sighed and set his quill down to rub both hands over his face. "No one else knows what really happened with Doyle that night. I've painted him as one of the conspirators. I told Meredith I caught him trying to abduct you as they did your brother. She wanted you questioned, but I told her you remembered nothing. You may have been involved, but I... I believe you've been through quite enough to justify letting your role slip beyond notice."

Philippa stared at him, feeling her mouth falling slightly open. When her senses returned, she closed her mouth and managed to find her voice. "Th-thank you."

His expression shifted back to the familiar scowl that he had adopted since Kinloch and he pointed a finger at her sternly. "Don't think this means I won't be keeping an extra close watch on your movements. You were a victim because you broke the rules, Hawke. If you and your merry band hadn't helped that apprentice escape, Doyle may not have come after you."

Philippa balked briefly as she felt her anger swirl to the surface. "Better me than an innocent teenager," she barked, crossing her arms in place of the nervous self embrace they had been wrapped in.

"If she had reported the crime and given a name, it may never have gotten that far," Cullen snapped back.

"She was terrified!" Philippa growled, her voice breaking as her own memories of being pinned down beneath the templar surfaced. "How would you feel if someone took away your voice so you couldn't even cry out for help? How would you feel knowing that they were there, living under the same roof as you, free as they pleased to abuse their power... lurking." She felt a tear drip down her cheek. She was crying. When had that happened?

Cullen stood and reached out a hand. "Hawke, I'm sorry. I wasn't blaming you for what he did. Even though it probably sounded that way. Andraste preserve me, I didn't mean..."

She angrily brushed away the tears. "Are we done?"

Cullen's reaching hand lifted awkwardly to rub over the back of his neck. "O-Of course."

As Philippa turned to leave, a great rumbling shook the entire Gallows, making her reach out to steady her footing beneath the arch of the doorway. "What the bloody Void was that?" she gasped. Cullen spun and looked out the window behind his desk as the floor rumbled again, a booming sound joining the shuddering earth. A red glow permeated the sky and she found herself rushing to Cullen's side to see as well. Spearing upwards from the direction of Hightown, the beam of red light reached for the heavens, spreading outwards as the rumbling came to a head with a trembling explosion. Pieces of stone and mortar burst from the light to swirl in a maelstrom around the center and then lifted upwards, another explosion, midair, throwing the debris outwards over the city.

"Maker's breath," Cullen gasped, staring at the destruction as bits of the stone made it all of the way to the Gallows, falling like meteors outside the building.

"Was that the Keep?" she asked in a whisper, her heart racing as quickly as her mind was with questions.

"No," Cullen said and pointed. "You can still see the top of the Keep poking over the rest of the city. I think that was the Chantry."

"That explosion was magical," she pointed out. "I've never seen anything like it."

"Shit," Cullen cursed, moving to grab his sword and shield. "Meredith and Orsino were heading to the Chantry when I saw them last. Fighting as usual..."

"You can't think Orsino had anything to do with this?" Philippa said, scurrying from his office on his heels. "I don't even know what kind of magic that was... and I've had a lot of time to read."

"I don't know what to think, yet," he growled as they headed for the main hall where both templars and mages were out of their classrooms and dorms, chattering and speculating among themselves. "One thing I do know, is that for once, you had nothing to do with it. Collect your staff and meet me in the courtyard. Perhaps someone will have news of the Knight-Commander or the First Enchanter."

Philippa didn't argue. She left Cullen and ran for her room to arm herself. After the staff, she ran to the infirmary and grabbed some supplies in case she was needed in the city to help the injured. There were bound to be both casualties and collateral damage from an explosion that large. With a satchel over her shoulder, she left to find Cullen in the courtyard.

When she finally got outside, there was already fighting happening between the mages and templars. She stared in shock as a drove of templars cut down a handful of mages, and the friends of the mages retaliated. She tried to find Cullen, seeking out his blonde hair in the throng of people, but there was simply too much going on for her to differentiate one templar from the rest. She drew her staff, raising a barrier to protect herself, and slipped into the fray, trying her best to cast spells that would incapacitate the attacking templars, allowing the mages to fall back. She didn't find Cullen, but finally, she ran into Orsino. He seemed unhurt, acting a little more savagely than she was to free his people. He was flinging fire and death from the end of his staff. She approached him, calling out his name. "Orsino!"

"Phil!" he called back when he located her in the crowd.

"What is going on here?" she asked, stepping out of the way as a templar swung a sword down at her, nearly missing cleaving her head in two. She twirled her staff, using the head to whack the back of his head when he stumbled with the over swing. He fell to the ground, unconscious, and she stepped over him, making her way to the First Enchanter.

"A friend of your brother's blew up the Chantry. He was a mage, and naturally, Meredith has painted all mages guilty. She has invoked the Right of Annulment on the Circle," Orsino explained.

"Anders?" she asked with a gasp, temporarily dumbfounded. Orsino pushed her behind him and cast some more spells at the approaching templars.

"I thought you knew him. I could never prove your involvement with the Underground, but I suspected," Orsino grunted. "Anders was always very tight lipped about those he worked with."

"Why would he do this?" Philippa wondered, breaking out of her stupor to help Orsino, refusing to use deadly force like he was. She simply used her physical magic, pushing back the approaching templars before they could spit them on the tips of their swords. It wasn't their faults. They were following Meredith's orders. They didn't deserve to die any more than the innocent mages they were attempting to slaughter.

"To remove the chance for compromise," Orsino quoted, drawing in his mana and releasing it in a burst of spirit energy that passed through a glyph he had drawn in the air, seeking out multiple targets and slamming into them to knock them down. After nearly a half an hour of fighting, multiple casualties on both sides, Orsino had backed up onto the stairs, trying to get the remaining mages inside. He called out, drawing her attention from the spell she had prepared. "Champion! You've survived, thank the Maker! We must..." His words were cut off as a great rattling sounded near the entrance to the courtyard from the docks. Garrett stopped as the crowds parted and Orsino slowly moved down the stairs toward him, Meredith approaching from the docks. Philippa followed Orsino and Garrett stepped aside, putting himself between Meredith and Orsino as they met each other with angry scowls.

"And here you are..." Meredith growled. Garrett's tattooed elven friend, Fenris stood at her back, drenched in blood. Garrett averted his gaze from the elf as Philippa watched him balk at the hurt glance her brother had thrown him. Then she noticed that Bethany was standing with Garrett, decked out in her Warden armor. How had she gotten to Kirkwall so quickly?

"Let us speak Meredith!" Orsino begged. "Before this battle destroys the city you claim to protect." From the chaos in the Gallows and the amount of blood that seemed to coat Garrett and his companions, it seemed like it was a little late.

"I will entertain a surrender. Nothing more," Meredith said curtly. "Speak if you have something to say."

Philippa glanced between the two of them, both looking like they were out for blood. She supposed it made sense. This had been coming for almost eight years. "Revoke the Rite of Annulment, Meredith, before this goes too far." Orsino was practically pleading. It felt like he knew that no matter how powerful his mages were, and regardless of who was on his side, they were not going to win this war. "Imprison us if you must. Search the tower. I will even help you. But do not kill us all for an act we did not commit." She noted his glance at Anders who was still standing at Garrett's back, looking subdued, but he quickly looked away.

Meredith was beyond pleading. "The Grand Cleric is dead, killed by a mage. The people will demand retribution, and I will give it to them." Orsino turned away, shaking his head in sorrow. "Your offer is commendable, Orsino, but it comes too late."

Garrett sighed as if he had expected nothing more. "I was kind of hoping for a happy ending," he grumbled.

"I doubt we'll be seeing that," Orsino sighed as well.

Fenris spoke up, drawing Garrett's gaze again. "You realize this is a cause you cannot hope to win."

Her brother pressed his lips together and crossed his arms. "I suppose dying with you at my side is too much to ask?"

Fenris balked and looked away, his mouth opening and closing in indecision. Then he looked up and his eyes narrowed. "I..." He looked to Meredith. "I have changed my mind, human. I will stand with my friend."

Meredith grunted as Fenris moved to stand with Garrett. "As you wish. I did not ask for your assistance."

Philippa noticed Carver behind Meredith as he spoke up, scowling at Garrett. "And what about me? Are you really going to fight your own brother?"

"I could ask you the same question, Carver," Garret said, his eyes picking her out of the crowd. He tipped his head toward her and Carver followed his gaze.

Carver also blanched, looking from Meredith to Philippa and them back to Garrett. "This isn't what I want. I..."

"Ser Carver," Meredith interrupted, drawing Carver's back straighter as he automatically stood at attention. "I suggest you remember our purpose."

"I..." Carver set an apologetic look on Philippa before his shoulders slumped. "Yes, Knight-Commander."

Philippa had no chance to be shocked as her brother turned on her in favor of Meredith as the Knight-Commander spoke. "I suppose I should have expected no less from you, Champion. So be it. You will share the Circle's fate."

Philippa then noticed Cullen standing sheepishly behind Meredith and trying in vein to hide his tall form from her accusing gaze as he noticed her setting it on him. "So what is it to be, Meredith?" Orsino asked, drawing Philippa's gaze from Cullen. She supposed she wasn't surprised. Cullen had told her time and again he still supported Meredith in spite of her insanity. What would make him change his mind now. "Do we fight here?"

Meredith shook her head and her voice softened. "Go, prepare your people. The rest of the Order is already crossing the Harbor."

"This isn't over," Orsino growled, turning from Meredith and heading into the Gallows. Garrett followed, not bothering to look back, and Philippa fell in beside him. There was no changing Meredith's mind.

Once they were inside, Orsino gathered those remaining in the Harrowing Chamber. Most of the mages were either terrified or injured. Philippa was glad that she had brought her supplies. Without bothering to await orders, she hustled to the edges of the room to begin assisting the more badly injured of her peers. Orsino stood stoically in the middle of the room, glancing around at his people and sighing sadly. Finally, he squared his shoulders and lifted his head, clapping his hands together sharply to draw attention to him.

"My fellow mages, heed me!" Once he had everyone's eyes on him, he said, "The templars will come. For all our power, we cannot defeat such an army. There is only one option for us all... survive. Do not submit! Do not fall on your knees before them! Get out of Kirkwall! Spread word to the other Circles! They will not get away with this." The mood in the room shifted. Philippa felt the determination swell from the other mages at Orsino's words. He certainly knew how to give a pep talk. "Prepare your people, Champion," he said, turning to Garrett. "and then speak with me. If we have any chance of surviving, it will be with your help."

Her brother nodded slightly and looked around at those who followed him. Their mood seemed similar to the mages. They were disheartened and concerned. With a heavy sigh that he quickly covered up with a plastered on smile that she recognized all too well, Garrett began to move among his friends, saying a few words to each of them. Philippa continued to help those who were hurt, and she could feel Anders doing the same. After doing all she could, she got up from her crouch, lifted her satchel from her shoulder and dropped it in a corner. Without prompting, Anders approached her. "Are you all right, Phil?"

She turned to him, noting his pinched brow and the way he kept glancing at Garrett. "No worse for the wear," she said with her own deep sigh. "Was this really you?"

He flinched at her accusing tone. "Maybe someday, if we survive this and we have the time, I will explain..."

"I don't want your explanation," she said sharply. "Look around you, Anders. These people... these mages... they are suffering for what you did. If I've learned anything from this madness, it's which twin has the bigger heart. Lover or no, I don't think I could have forgiven your actions if I were in Garrett's shoes."

She turned away from him, leaving his expression fractured, and headed toward Bethany who was huddled in a corner, hugging herself. "Phil! Maker's breath, I'm so glad to see you alive."

"Not that I'm not glad to see you, Beth, but your timing is impeccable," Philippa pointed out as she hugged her sister.

Bethany chuckled softly. "I happened to be in the area on Warden business. We saw the Chantry explosion from Sundermount. Nathaniel tried to stop me from coming, but I had to make sure you were all safe."

Philippa bit her lip. "What are we supposed to do when Meredith sends Carver through that door?"

Bethany flinched. "I really don't want to think about it."

Philippa settled her hand on Bethany's shoulder and squeezed it lightly as Garrett approached them both. "Ah, my two favorite siblings," he said with a forced grin before hugging them both at once.

Bethany clung to him tightly. "With Mother... I never got the chance to say goodbye. I don't want that to happen this time. Brother, if we... if we don't make it, never doubt that I love you. I wouldn't have chosen this life, but the Maker gave it to me for a reason."

Garrett blanched, holding her at arms length. "Does that mean you've forgiven me?"

Bethany sighed. "I used to imagine what would have happened if I'd stayed with Mother instead of going on that damned expedition. But the Wardens serve a purpose, a noble one. I can't regret helping them."

"Of all we did, if you could change one thing, what would it be?" Garrett asked with a smile.

"I would have stayed behind and convinced Carver not to join the templars. He is always such a show-off. Everything else... the Maker is wiser than we can be in a lifetime." She shrugged lightly. "Who am I to question His plan?"

Garrett sighed. "He picked one damned roundabout way to show that."

Bethany snorted softly. "You never change, do you? Maybe the Maker knew we needed that much time to understand." She reached over and took Philippa's hand in hers. "Thank you for supporting our people. It means a lot that you, at least, haven't turned against us."

Garrett chuckled. "What sort of older brother would I be if I turned on my sisters." He looked at Philippa, his expression serious. "I promised you that I would always be there to protect you, and I've been doing a terrible job of it. It's time I made up for that."

Philippa fell into her twin's arms, hugging him tightly. "Just promise me one thing. When this is all over, you be careful with Anders..."

Garrett physically cringed in her arms before backing away. "I... I really don't know what to do with him at this point. I spared his life and let him come with us, but..." he sighed heavily. "I need to finish this battle first."

Philippa nodded and Garrett pulled her and Bethany to his side again to kiss them both on the head before moving to the other side of the room where he finally approached Anders. Their conversation was muted, but Anders seemed to be smiling at whatever Garrett told him. She could not see her brother's expression from her angle, but she suspected it was the same plastered on smirk he had been sporting since Carver took Meredith's side. Finally, he left Anders with a light and tentative kiss and then approached Orsino. "Champion, are you ready?" he asked. When Garrett nodded he gave a small, worried smile. Then you'll need to give orders to your people while I do the same for mine."

He left Orsino to it and moved to a small section of the room that was not so crowded and beckoned his people closer. They gathered around him, Philippa finding herself falling in around him as well, and he cleared his throat. "We've all fought together before and templars are not a new enemy. Those of you without magic, pick a mage partner and keep the templars off them while they cast. It's the best way to get everyone through this in one piece." Once everyone had their orders, Garrett moved his eyes from one of them to the next, taking in their concern. "So, this is it. Some of you are worried. Maybe I am too, but I'm not staying long enough to find out. What I know is that I don't like being cornered, and I can fight harder scared than they can angry." Then he smirked. "We're getting out, and I'm buying when we do!"

There was a loud thump outside the door and Orsino jogged to Garrett's side. "Champion, it is beginning."

Philippa drew her staff and waited, Garrett moving instinctively to her side. Fenris moved to stand with Bethany, the sultry pirate was covering an elven mage Philippa had never met, and Varric was making a very small meat shield for Anders. The red headed guardswoman was off to the side, watching over everything at once. The door rattled again and Philippa guessed she was hearing the sound of a battering ram. She laid down no less than three glyphs at the entrance and she felt the others emulating her traps along the corridor that made a bottleneck of the door. Someone among them was casting with blood magic. She could feel the sticky sensation just like when Jowan had pulled on the Veil when he escaped Kinloch. The first waves through the entrance were going to have a very bad time of it. Someone laid the ground work for a wall of fire in an arch around the hall that spilled into the room. It would likely spring up as soon as anyone got close enough.

Philippa felt her spells burst as the glyphs activated beneath the feet of the first men through as the door shattered. She immediately set down more further in as the templar bodies began to pile up in the hall, making it harder for more of them to make their way inside. Finally, the templars started to bring their abilities into play and dispelled the majority of the traps that had been laid as secondary lines of defense by other circle mages. They trampled over their dead comrades and pushed past the wall of fire, the spell completely taken out of play. As a few templars made their way in, Philippa noticed a mage or two slipping past the madness and trying to escape. They were cut down almost immediately.

When there was a lull in the action and Philippa could take a breath and check on the injured, she noticed Orsino looking around at all of the mayhem. "Look at it all," he sighed. "Why don't they just drown us as infants? Why wait? Why give us the illusion of hope?" He spun and growled angrily. "I refuse to keep running! I won't wait for her to kill me."

"I hope you aren't giving up without even taking a shot at Meredith," Garrett chuckled as Philippa approached him and healed a cut on his forearm that was bleeding profusely.

"I am not giving up. I'm giving in," Orsino growled, a knife appearing in his hand. "Quentin's research was too evil, too dangerous, so I put it aside. But I see now there is no other way." More templars started to rush in and stopped in their tracks as Orsino shouted. "Meredith expects blood magic? Then I will give it to her. Maker help us all..."

He slit his own wrist and mana and blood began to swirl around him. Garrett shouted, but it was too late. Philippa cringed against the headache as Orsino's body lifted into the air and the sticky pull of the magic made her recoil. The bodies of all the mages around the room began to drag limply across the floor toward Orsino. As they reached him, they lifted, limbs flailing and flopping unnaturally as their clothes began to disappear and their flesh fused. Random body parts stuck out at strange places all over the massive lump of magically fused flesh and bone. Philippa could barely make out the shape of a man as the abomination grew and swelled before their eyes. When the spell ended, it had two spindly legs and two bony arms. The rest of it's body was a giant round ball with a nasty little head on top that had two sets of arms sticking out and flopping around comically from it's neck and where it's ears should have been. It's eyes were cloudy but they burned with anger. It's mouth gaped, showing off large rounded teeth from between which a long dripping tongue sagged. It let out a gurgling roar before it started to attack. It didn't discriminate, attacking not only templars but Garrett's people and Circle mages.

Philippa felt sandwiched. She spun and saw more templars coming down the hall and she threw up a wall of fire between them and the room. "You'll stay put while we deal with this if you know what's good for you!" she shouted. She ignored whether they were going to listen or not and began to attack the blobby Orsino.

The thing was made of magic and most of her attacks seemed to bounce off of it, so she allowed Garrett to distract it with his blades while she approached it from the rear to put her staff to use as a quarterstaff, beating heavily against the sagging flesh. Being so large, it was lumbering and slow. Philippa thought it defeated when the body fell to the ground, but from inside the neck, the head slipped out, looking like a gigantic grey tadpole with arms. It hissed and scurried away faster than she thought possible. "Ew," Anders said, perfectly summing up what was going on in her own stunned mind.

"Find it!" she shouted as shades and undead began to manifest around the room, amping up her headache to maximum. Most of the other mages were already dead, having been slapped around the room by the hulking mass of flesh made up of their comrades. She did a head count and sighed in relief seeing that her siblings and Garrett's friends were all still whole. Then as they killed off the shades and undead, Philippa noted that a flow of magic was seeping from each of the bodies and into the mass, healing all of the damage that they had done to it. "Shit," she growled. Suddenly, the scurrying head reappeared, and flitted across the room, running on it's hands and jammed it's tail end into the hole it had left in the top of the monster. Then the abomination stood up, whole again, and swiped at Garrett and Fenris with a bony arm. The it turned it's attention on her. She rolled out of it's way, separating her from the others. What she needed to do was kill the head. That was the source. That must have been what was left of Orsino himself. As the others worked to weaken the body, Philippa formed an idea. She sheathed her staff and ran for the giant thing. She jumped up and dug her heels into the squishy flesh of it's round belly and grabbed hold of the flopping arms coming from the head. She ignored concerned shouts and began to repeatedly jam her fist into the head, using her physical magic to strengthen her blows and stun the creature, then pulled with everything she had. She felt the suction give and adjusted her hold, grabbing closer to the head. Pulling again, she gritted her teeth and leaned backward, pushing with her legs. Finally, the head wrenched free and Philippa had to toss it away and lean forward to ride the body down as it crashed to the floor. She scrambled up as quickly as possible, tripping on her skirts, while the head tried to right itself. No sooner had it gotten upright than Garrett was across the room and jamming the spiked heel of his boot into it's face. The sickening crunch of it's skull and the squish of it's brains made bile rise in her throat, but still, he stomped a second time, just to make certain.

"Gross," Varric grumbled, quickly checking that her wall of fire was still in place and the templars properly kept at bay while they recovered. "You had better hope your house is still standing when this is over, Hawke. You need a really long bath."

"The house should be fine. The blast was concentrated to the Chantry alone," Anders pointed out, immediately pressing his lips together as several of them turned a glare on him.

"Come on. We still need to deal with Meredith," Garrett sighed, shaking his leg to flick most of the gore from his boot. Philippa slipped around the pile of meat that had been the abomination. "Phil, I will never again underestimate your willingness to punch an abomination to death. That's twice, now, you've figured out the magical mechanics behind a threat and proceeded to show me up."

"She's impressive... You're very impressive," the dark haired young elven mage said rapidly, smiling sweetly. "I'm Merrill, by the way. I forget the rules on asking your name."

Garrett chuckled, ruffling the girl's hair. "It's all right to ask, Merrill. That's Phil."

"Oh, your twin! I've heard so much about you, but we've never met. I'm Merrill... Shoot, I already told you that..." the elf rambled, making Philippa glance at Garrett and smirk. He shrugged and tipped his head so the others would follow.

The fight through the Gallows led them to more and more carnage. She felt as if she were doing a terrible job of helping defend the mages. The ones that had been outside the Harrowing Chamber had either managed to flee or were among the corpses strewn throughout the Gallows. She tried not to look, ignoring all of the death that had been wrought. Women, children, people she had been associated with laid dead. They found small pockets of hidden mages and she directed them to the tunnels that let out in the sewers. The templars they came across, they were forced to kill. When they made it back to the courtyard, Meredith was waiting with another small army. Philippa was oddly relieved to see that Cullen was still alive and standing at the Knight-Commander's back. Carver was with her too, looking around at all of the destruction with an indecisive look on his face. "And here we are, Champion. At long last."

Garrett brushed imaginary dirt from his sleeve and said, "I imagine you've wanted to be rid of me for some time."

"I bear you know ill will," Meredith said casually. "You've done this to yourself. In defending these mages, you've chosen to share their fate."

Almost immediately, Cullen stepped from behind Meredith to face her and place himself blatantly between her and them. "Knight-Commander, I thought we intended to arrest the Champion."

"You will do as I command, Cullen," Meredith growled, as surprised by the insubordination as Philippa was.

Even more surprising were Cullen's next words. "No. I defended you when Thrask started whispering you were mad, but this is too far."

"I will not allow insubordination!" Meredith drew her greatsword and Philippa gasped at the pull of magic and the humming song that accompanied the act as the sword glowed red. "We must stay true to our path!"

"Andraste's dimpled buttcheeks," Varric whispered as Garrett, Bethany and Anders all seemed to recognize what they were looking at, and Meredith pointed the sharp end at Cullen, making him back up a step, his hands up in submission.

Meredith glanced at them and grinned. "You recognize it, do you not? Pure Lyrium, taken from the Deep Roads." Meredith brought the sword in front of her and grazed her fingers gently along the blade. The red glow illuminated her face in the twilight hours, making her look the part of the sinister villain that she was already playing so well. "The dwarf charged a great deal for his prize."

"It seems a lot more sword-like than I remember," Garrett japed, his expression far from the joking facade he was putting out. She had no idea what powers the sword held, but the tension in the courtyard had just increased tenfold.

Meredith sneered. "All of you, I want him dead!" Garrett stood his ground, trying very hard not to flinch as Meredith pointed the sword at him, the tip mere inches from his nose. The humming of the Lyrium song made Philippa's skin crawl. It was not the usual pleasant melody of normal lyrium.

"No! I won't kill my brother for you!" Carver shouted, stepping from behind her and moving closer to their group.

"You dare!" Meredith growled, her eyes narrowing.

"Enough!" Cullen shouted. "This is not what the Order stands for. Knight-Commander, step down! I relieve you of your command!"

Meredith's arm fell limp, her eyes widening in shock. "My own Knight-Captain falls prey to the influence of blood magic. You all have! You're all weak, allowing the mages to control your minds, to turn you against me." She was turning rapidly and brandishing the sword in all directions, the templars around her all backing up instinctively as she accused them. "But I don't need any of you! I will protect this city myself!"

The sword was back in Garrett's face and he stared Meredith down boldly. Carver stepped forward, putting himself in the sword's path. "You'll have to go through me."

Cullen drew his sword and stood beside Carver. "And me."

"Traitors," Meredith snarled. "I'll have both your heads."

"She's lost it, just like Bartrand," Varric whispered out of the corner of his mouth.

Meredith took a deep breath and closed her eyes, twirling the sword so it pointed at the ground. She stabbed it into the stone and a rush of magic built up around her. "Blessed are those who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter!"

Meredith rushed at Garrett, yanking the blade free. Philippa drew her staff and arched it between them, a wall of fire blazing up from the ground. It slowed Meredith only briefly as her blade cut through the magic. When Philippa swiped her staff upwards and connected with Meredith's chin, the woman stumbled backward and looked surprised. Then she rushed forward again with new focus. Philippa had never really seen Meredith fight before, and her skills were impressive. Even with so many surrounding her and challenging her, with the help of whatever magic the sword possessed, she was a force to be reckoned with. After Philippa had challenged her so spectacularly, she had given up all interest in Garrett and was bearing down on Philippa with every attack. Philippa did her best to stay out of her reach, but Meredith had super human speed, thanks to the sword. Even after she Fade stepped, Meredith was there, swiping at her. With another jab as Philippa backpedaled, the sword made contact. Fiery pain lanced through Philippa's gut as the tip of Meredith's blade pierced her flesh. It slipped through her as if she were made of butter. As she yanked it back out, ready to finish her, Carver pounced from Meredith's left, ramming into her with his shoulder.

Philippa's vision swam as she looked down at the new hole in her torso. She remembered being impaled on the Qunari's spear, but it was nothing compared to the fire coursing through her veins, now. The sword was made partially of raw lyrium. The regular blue lyrium, if handled incorrectly was deadly, especially to mages. It attacked the nervous system, firing off every pain sensation at once, overloading their system. She reached down and placed an unsteady hand over the leaking wound, trying to staunch the blood. She stumbled to the side, smacking against the upraised median on the stairs and cried out, trying to call for her mana as she dropped her staff. She slumped, her legs giving out as the pain arched in waves through her nerves. Hands landed on her arms, guiding her a bit more gently to the ground. "Hawke, can you hear me?"

She nodded, her aching body recognizing his humming Ferelden accent, even if she couldn't focus her eyes to look at him. "Satchel," she mumbled and then remembered she had set it down back in the Harrowing Chamber. She flinched and gritted her teeth as a fresh wave of agony jolted through her. "Shit."

His hand pressed over top of hers, reminding her she was supposed to be putting pressure on it. The sensation of the weight of his hand made her hiss and wriggle away from him. He grunted in response. "Now is not the time to be your stubborn self, Hawke." She attempted to relax and his hand settled more heavily on her side. He was silent for a moment, but then he said, "This wound isn't all that deep. Maker, why is it bleeding so heavily."

She swallowed, tasting that coppery taste of blood that she recalled from being spitted before. "Lyrium..." she said in explanation.

He grunted again. "Of course..."

She shifted, moving to lie on her side. "I need... healer..."

Cullen growled. "You are a healer, Hawke. Bloody wake up and help yourself."

A soft snort escaped her lips. "Oh, right..." Her mind wavered in and out of concentration as the battle raged around her and Cullen held his hand pressed against the seeping wound. She fumbled for her magic, knowing she was incapable of healing this on her own. She shouted into the Fade, calling for help. If she had been in her right mind, she would have been more careful, but as she bled out and her nervous system slowly fried, she didn't have time to be picky. A new pain joined the one already lancing through her, letting her know that more than a few demons had attempted to answer her call. She feebly pushed her way through them as they clamored for her attention searching for one of the friendly wisps that she usually turned to when she needed to cast a spirit healing spell. Finally, the wisp found it's way to her, slipping into her core to supply the energy necessary to staunch the bleeding and purge her blood of the lyrium leeching through her veins. As the wound closed over, she gasped in a breath, the discomfort of her flesh mending itself prickling through her and raising gooseflesh on her arms. "Andraste's ass," she cursed as she could finally focus on Cullen's face. She slipped her hand back over the closing wound, cringing and jostling his palm off her. "I'll be fine. Go... help..." She still felt woozy and her head was swimming, but the others needed every sword they had. Cullen looked reluctant to leave her, but she pushed him away, propping herself up against the median.

With hatred blazing in her eyes Meredith fought. Philippa watched as those still fighting, knocked her down to her knees. Garrett approached her, ready to finish it, but she called out. "Maker, your servant begs you for the strength to defeat this evil!" Her eyes were glowing red and she stood.

Philippa's jaw nearly hit the ground as Meredith jumped and she sailed upwards to do a flip a few stories in the air before coming down with a crash onto the outcropping in the middle of the stairs above where Philippa was leaning. When she jammed the sword into the stone again, shock waves of magic resonated outwards from her toward the massive bronze statues lined up outside the Gallows. One by one, the statues began to come to life, animated by the sword's magic. Garrett's eyes widened as he grumbled something to himself as he backed further away from the statues and Philippa started to think about what types of magic might work on a 60 foot statue made of bronze. She started with the most obvious. "Get back!" She shouted at the templars who had rushed the legs of the statue as it stepped from it's perch and made it's way down toward them. She dragged herself to her feet and harnessed all of her electricity to unleash it on the nearest statue. It froze, seizing as the lightning traveled through the conductive metal it's body. It fell quickly, the head rolling away from the rest of the body as more of the statues began to come to life.

Philippa fell back on her ass and Anders shouted at her. "Stay down! We've got this!" She hoped that between the three of them, Anders, Bethany and Merrill would have enough electricity to handle all of the slave statues. They needed to take out Meredith. Fast.

It was difficult to get a lock on her even with your eyes as she flitted with inhuman speed back and forth through the fray and took advantage of the distraction of the statues. However, every now and then, someone would get lucky and land a hit on her. Meredith retreated to her outcropping and did another of her power ups before darting back down to engage Garrett personally. The Knight-Commander was bleeding and had several bolts sticking from her limbs, but she didn't seem to notice as she swung at Garrett. He dodged in and out of her reach, swiping his blades at her until his pirate friend stepped in as he began to flag.

Finally, Meredith took a bad hit from Bethany's magic and stumbled backwards, a few of the statues crashing to the ground. Garrett bore down on her as she shouted. "I will not be defeated!" She held the sword up before her, pointed at the sky. "Maker! Aid your humble servant!" Her voice was strained and the magic surrounding her was beginning to let off strange black tendrils of wispy smoke. When she drew on the sword's power again, it glowed a bright red and then suddenly shattered, a shock wave of energy knocking everyone back and Philippa shielded her eyes. The sword burst into so many pieces that they were too small to see as they were carried away on the wind. Meredith screamed in agony and clutched at her head as she fell to her knees, the magic swirling around her and burning her up from the inside. The short ragged shouts began to slow and as they watched, Meredith seized and shook, her body freezing in an agonized claw at the sky before turning black, veined with fiery rivulets of orange as though she were made of cooling lava.

Garrett approached her with caution as the last of the statues fell. Philippa dragged herself to her feet again, clutching her side as she limped toward the Knight-Commander. Garrett's companions made it to his side, just in time for the remaining templars to surround them. He stood stock still as the mood of the courtyard was decided in silence. One of the female templars ran over and knelt before Meredith, reaching out to touch her before pulling her hand back in fear before even making contact. Cullen watched it all stoically, his amber eyes moving back and forth from Meredith to Garrett and then to Philippa. She noted the stream of blood that was trickling down his chin from a nasty looking cut on the right side of his face. When the templar shook her head at him, he made one last brief scan of the room before making eye contact with Garrett. They exchanged an understanding and he took a few steps back, his sword lowering to his side. Philippa watched as the rest of the templars followed his lead and backed away, opening up a hole for him and his people to leave.

Garrett looked at Philippa and beckoned her toward him. With a grimace, she cringed, shaking her head before swaying. Carver was beside her, catching her before she could fall. Maker knew she should go with Garrett. If she ever had a chance to be free, it was now. If Garrett had anything to say about it, no one would stop her from leaving. She was certain she was probably the only mage left in the Gallows, but that was no reason to abandon her life and everything she knew. The city would need to rebuild, and if she knew anything it was that her brother was likely going to grab Anders and get as far away from Kirkwall as they possibly could. Without Anders, there would be no healer to help the innocent people caught in the middle. She had a duty to help wherever she could. "Go, Garrett..." she said softly.

He gaped at her and then looked from her to Carver and then to Cullen, who shrugged lightly. "I'll make sure she's safe," Carver said sheepishly from her side.

Without another word, Anders settled his hand on Garrett's shoulder and her brother glanced at him before giving her one last look and turning away from the Gallows.

 

Philippa numbly stood around the new statue in the gallows courtyard with the remaining templars, clutching her side as it continued to lance jolts of pain through her body. She was in need of a healing potion, but she dreaded the walk back inside. It was as if everything surrounding the Gallows had frozen. No one seemed to know what to do. Bodies littered the courtyard, laying among the remains of the bronze statues that had fallen inert as the sword's magic dissipated.

Finally, Philippa broke the silence by clearing her throat. "Does..." She hissed as her side sparked again. "Does anyone need healing?" She glanced particularly at Cullen and his bloody mouth.

A few of the templars flinched at the sudden sound, but Cullen was the first to step forward. "No one moreso than yourself." He reached up, touching his fingers to the inch long gash in his upper-lip that had barely missed his nose on the way down. Hissing lightly, he continued. "Ser Carver, get your sister inside and into a bed. Get her whatever she needs. The rest of you, start gathering the dead. Once we get the Gallows sorted, we will need to get back into the city and help the guard restore order."

Carver moved back to Philippa's side and offered her his arm. She took it gladly, leaning lightly on him as he helped her shuffle around and back toward the stairs. "I want to go with the templars into the city," she said as Carver helped her navigate the obstacle laden floor of the main hall.

"That is up to the Knight-Commander," Carver said softly. "First, I think you should lay down before you fall down."

It sounded strange for Carver to be referring to Cullen as the Knight-Commander, but it made sense. With Meredith dead, it was only fair that as the one who had led the templars in the final battle, he should assume the role. "Will they really make Cullen the Knight-Commander? Doesn't he need to be voted in by the Chantry?"

"What Chantry?" Carver asked grumpily. "Anders made sure there was no Chantry in Kirkwall. We're on our own until news reaches Orlais."

They made it to the infirmary and Philippa gingerly lowered herself on to the edge of a bed while directing Carver to the healing potions. As the potion worked it's way through her system, purging her blood of the last of the lyrium poison, the ache in her side slowed to a dull throb. Her fingers still tingled at the tips, making her think there may be a bit of nerve damage that no spell or potion would heal. It would take time for her body to recover after what it went through.

After a few minutes, Cullen knocked on the open door, making his presence known before stepping into the infirmary. "You're looking better, Enchanter Hawke," he said formally. Someone had performed a swift stitching on his lip. She studied it carefully before she answered him, wondering why he wouldn't take a potion, or allow her to heal him. The stitching, for the haste it had been done in, seemed to have been done with a steady hand. The wound had been cleaned, the skin surrounding the area red and aggravated.

She shook the empty bottle in the air before her, "The wonders a healing potion can work," she said. "Although, being spitted by a sword made of raw lyrium has made it to my list of 'don't do that again'. It's right underneath torture, but slightly above being hit with a smite."

Cullen broke free of his formal stance and an exhaled breath escaped his nose in amusement. "I'll keep that in mind."

"I want to go into the city," Philippa announced.

"I don't know if that's..." he began, but she cut him off.

"I stayed, not because I have any allegiance to the Gallows, but because if I left with Garrett, the city would have no one with any magical healing ability. The common folk are going to need my help as much as anyone injured here... I also think that if we were to find any of the mages that managed to escape, it might make coaxing them back into the Circle easier if they could see that I was with you and not being murdered where I stood. We can avoid more bloodshed, Knight-Captain," she said pointedly, narrowing her eyes and challenging him to argue.

Cullen sighed heavily. "The rest of the templars are sweeping the Gallows now, under strict orders that anyone they find is to be brought into custody alive. There has been enough death for one day," he agreed. Then, pinching the bridge of his nose, he sighed again. "I want you to stay here for the time being, if you're up for it, and tend to anyone that might be injured. After the bodies have been cleared, I will put together a small unit to head into the city. Pack whatever you will need."

Chapter Text

A few hours later, Cullen came to the infirmary to collect Philippa. She had treated no less than seven templars with minor burns or bruising, and they had found a handful of mages still hiding out inside the Gallows. She treated the terrified mages and assured them that the nightmare was over. She had every confidence in Cullen and his ability to see reason since he had so thoroughly stood up to Meredith in defense of her and her family.

In the courtyard, a large pyre had been built and the bodies of both the templars and mages were being stripped of armor and laid together. Philippa frowned. "What happened to the abomination in the Harrowing Chamber?" she asked softly, keeping her voice low in respect.

Cullen looked down at her as he walked beside her. "We couldn't move it. Some suggested we... separate it down... I quashed that idea, as you can imagine. I was actually hoping you might have a suggestion. Once we return, that is."

Philippa nodded as they left the courtyard and headed for the docks and the waiting ferry. "I could erect a barrier around it and burn it, just like a pyre, but a bit hotter. That should get the job done quickly without damaging the Chamber. Then all you'll need is a dustpan."

Cullen frowned slightly at her levity. "I'll remind you those were people before the First Enchanter defiled them."

"Yes. Mages like me. That Meredith ordered killed for no reason. I'll remind you, Knight-Captain, that I was there when Orsino betrayed himself. I had to fight that monstrosity. I'm well aware what that thing used to be," she retorted. "If I don't laugh about it, I might just scream. And then I would be of no use to anyone." She pushed ahead of him, climbing onto the ferry to sit down on an isolated bench near the rear. The other templars that he had chosen included Kerran, Carver, Moira, and Paxley. She crossed her arms and legs, staring out over the water.

As the ferry started toward the city, she could see fires burning all over, remnants of the explosion. Some buildings where the huge stone rubble had landed were shattered or crumbling. The closer they got to the docks, the more she could hear the sounds of screaming and crying. The ferry pulled up alongside a rather impressive ship docked in the harbor, some familiar faces on deck, making it ready to sail. There were more welcome faces when she made her way off the ferry. "Garrett!" she called, rushing to his side.

He had cleaned himself up, dressed in some casual clothing and carried a pack with him that looked weighed down. He turned at the sound of her voice and smiled widely. "Phil!" He hugged her tightly. He opened his mouth to speak to her, but then noticed her small armed escort as they followed her. "I suppose this doesn't mean you've changed your mind and are coming with us."

She glanced back around at Cullen who shooed the other templars back, allowing Carver to approach as well. "You see what is happening in the city, Garrett. You know I can help. I understand you need to leave, but I'm needed here."

Garrett sighed and hugged her again. "I'm glad you got here when you did. It's good we get to say goodbye."

"When you get wherever you're going, send me a letter. You don't have to tell me any details, I just want to know you're safe," she requested. "And remember what I said in the Harrowing Chamber..." she flicked her eyes to Anders who was talking with Merrill a short distance away, his own pack over his shoulder.

"I'll be careful, sister. And I promise to write. Take care of yourself." He kissed the top of her head and let her go.

She went back to the templars and stood beside Cullen, rubbing the tips of her tingling fingers together as Carver said his goodbyes, making the rounds between a few of the others, knowing them better than Philippa had. She could feel Cullen's eyes on her as she watched the scene unfold. He leaned closer to her, his voice low. "Are you feeling all right?"

She looked up at him and he nodded his head toward her busy fingers, his brows raised in question. "Just a few fried nerve endings from the lyrium. I can still cast, and I feel fine. It will just take time. Lyrium poison is not something a normal mage usually walks away from."

His right brow rose a little higher than the other. "Do you think you survived because of... what you are?"

She shrugged, rubbing her palms on her thighs before flexing her fingers and trying to ignore the tingling. "It's my best guess. A lot of things I've learned about being a somniari are in some form, 'my best guess'," she chuckled. "I don't really have a guidebook."

He hummed thoughtfully. "I suppose I should be grateful that you are apparently more discerning than you let on. Magic and guesswork are rarely a good combination."

"Oh, I don't know. It's worked for me so far," she said with a smile.

The right side of his mouth lifted ever so slightly before he wiped away the answering smile, flinching as it tugged at his stitched lip.

 

After Garrett boarded the ship, Carver returned to the group and they set out to sweep the city, Cullen speaking with Garrett's red headed guard friend first. Guard-Captain Aveline, apparently. Varric also seemed ready to lend a hand, offering to head into Darktown and flush out anyone that might be causing a ruckus in the undercity. Aveline grudgingly shooed him off when he smoothly talked his way around her objections.

As they made their way through the city, starting with the warehouses on the docks, putting out fires and helping when they found people in trouble, Philippa had ample chance to let her abilities free. She snuffed fires and lifted rubble, healed the injured and offered amnesty to the few mages that they discovered. Cullen said nothing when she used her soft and soothing tones to talk the frightened mages from the brink. She had been right when suggesting her presence would show that the senseless killing was at an end. The mages trusted her, and finally, after so many years, she could see that Cullen trusted her.

Kirkwall was a big city. They had barely made it a third of the way through Lowtown when Philippa felt her mana dwindling. She toughed it out until she had nothing left. Cullen grimaced and set his hand on her shoulder. "I would offer you a lyrium potion, but we discovered that during the chaos, our stores were raided. There's nothing left."

She balked. "I thought only the Knight-Commander and the Tranquil had access to the lyrium stores."

He scowled. "I have my suspicions as to the culprit, but I have no proof."

She drew him to the side, out of earshot of the other templars. "I can rebuild my mana without lyrium. What about the templars? They need their daily ration or..."

He cut her off. "I'm aware, Hawke. I'm estimating we have about a week before we start to see a decline in performance and symptoms of withdrawal. I've sent a raven to neighboring cities requesting aide. All we can do is wait and get the remaining tranquil to prepare as much as they can in the meantime."

She pressed her lips together in sympathy. "If I can help with anything in the infirmary, let me know."

Cullen sighed. "Right now, I need to inform the Guard-Captain that our healer is spent. We should return to the Gallows and you should get some rest." Before she could protest, he held up his hand. "I will send a second group to continue the sweep of the city and make it known that anyone in need of medical care is welcome to see you in the Gallows... tomorrow."

His stern expression told her there was no use in arguing, so she sighed and swept her arms toward the docks. "After you, Knight-Captain."

 

Cullen sent Paxley with the message to Aveline, and they all headed back to the Gallows, four more mages in tow. The Gallows was going to be a very empty place. Phillippa was dragging her heels by the time they got off the ferry and headed back into the Circle. In the courtyard, the pyre that had been stacked as high as they dared, was already burning, lighting the darkened sky. The scent of the smoke and oil, mixed with charring meat and burning wood threatened to turn her empty stomach. It made her realize that she had not eaten anything since breakfast, foregoing her lunch to pay Cullen a visit before everything blew up. Quite literally.

She was too tired to care. Inside the Gallows, was just as empty as she had expected. She had been out and about at night before in the desolation that was the Circle after hours, but the feeling was different when she knew that the mages weren't all tucked in their beds. It was eerie. She was struck with the realization that she was currently walking about the Gallows after hours without having to fear being witnessed by a templar. With that realization, she diverted from her path that had been leading her straight to her room, and headed for the kitchens after all. If she didn't put something in her belly, all of her healing magic, and the efforts she had put forth that sapped her mana would come back to bite her in the ass.

She grabbed an apple and half a sandwich before slipping back out of the kitchens and this time heading directly for her room. She inhaled the sandwich as she walked and started in on the apple just before reaching her door. There was something comforting about her personal space as she stepped inside and closed the door behind her. She moved to her bed, settling her staff in a crevasse by the door, the bottom wedged against a crack in the floor so it didn't fall. She sat on the edge of her bed, reaching for her nightstand with her still tingling fingers as she took another bite of her apple. She pulled open the drawer and lifted Bethany's stuffed animal from inside, tucking her legs up under her to sit cross-legged. She laid the well-worn toy in her lap and smiled, thinking about how far her sister had come. She had a gentle heart and was a talented mage. She had been forced into a life that she hadn't asked for, much like Philippa herself, and also like Philippa, she had rose to the challenge, accepting it and mastering it. She glanced away from the toy and smiled at her tiny glass dragon that had survived so much, sitting on her nightstand beside the candle holder. With her twitching fingers, she didn't dare pick that up like she had the toy. As she finished off the apple, she wondered what was next.

 

She woke in the morning after a fitful sleep. In her weakened state, the damage to her system still healing and her drained mana, the demons had seen fit to bother her. That was what they were anymore. A bother. No longer the terrifying bogeymen she had endured as a child. She could sleep through their nagging, simply moving herself to a different part of the Fade if she wished, but that took energy. She hadn't had an abundance of that the night before, so she had endured the whisperings of no less than three demons as she tried to ignore them, rebuilding her strength for what promised to be a busy day.

She dragged herself from her bed, going to her trunk and pulling out her final set of spare robes. She headed to the showers to get cleaned up, seeing no one along the way as she normally would. After scrubbing the mess from her skin that was still clinging after her brief wash up the day before, she stood before the mirror in the washroom, inspecting the angry looking scar that ran a good five inches up her side. It was bright red and jagged, the red lyrium having leeched the edges of the cut so quickly that even the pristinely sharp blade didn't leave a clean cut. The other scars from her days in the dungeons with Alrik still stood stark against her pale skin, but they were trifles compared to the ugly marks that Meredith's blade had left behind. And yes, marks was plural, for when she turned around, the entry wound had a twin on her back where the blade had exited, just shy of the small scar that had practically disappeared from the Qunari spear. The flesh around the new mark was still tender and her insides ached, much like after the Qunari incident as well. The most troubling concern was her still tingling fingertips. It was going to be difficult to handle small objects while that persisted. Sighing, she slipped into her clean robes and tossed her hair to the side so it would dry.

She reported to the dining hall simply out of habit. Finding only templars in attendance, she sheepishly gathered a few mobile items and heading directly for the infirmary to avoid the surprised stares of the templars at seeing a mage roaming free in the Gallows. All of the others had been isolated after they were found or returned from the city. She nibbled on her blueberry muffin, picking the sugary crust from he top as she strolled down the hall. When she reached the infirmary, Cullen was waiting just inside the door, startling her when he cleared his throat as she entered. "Enchanter Hawke..."

Her knee-jerk response sent her a step or two in reverse and she dropped her orange. He reached out and caught it before it hit the floor while she cursed him. "Maker's breath! Why are you lurking?"

He nervously apologized, handing her back the piece of fruit before rubbing the back of his neck. "I... didn't realize I was 'lurking'. I finished the letters that I needed to send out to Orlais and the Divine, and I came to see how you were. You're getting a late start. Are you well?"

"A bit sore," she admitted, moving to her desk and setting down the few things in her hands. "But I'm ready to face the day. So long as nobody goes insane today and tries to kill everyone, that is."

He nodded. "If you're feeling up to it, I was wondering if we might go to the Harrowing Chamber and take care of the..." he cleared his throat, searching for the word he felt was most palatable. "mess."

"Of course," she agreed, brushing her hands together to remove the crumbs from her muffin. "I worry what that might draw out if it stays too long. Not to mention the odor that might come off a pile of fused corpses if left too long." She followed him from the infirmary, his stride stiff. She found her eyes wandering to the stitched up cut on his lip. "Why don't you let me take care of your lip?" she asked cautiously.

He cringed at the thought of that, and grunted. "Your mana can best serve for more important things than my tiny nick."

"I'd call that more than a nick, but suit yourself." She shrugged. At least the Gallows Harrowing Chamber didn't require a long trek up several flights of stairs like Kinloch had. She wasn't certain she would have the stamina.

As they passed into the chamber from the long narrow hallway, Philippa reached over and rubbed her palm over the bracelet that Finn had given her, prodding at the damage Orsino might have done to the veil with his insane spell and the demons that had followed it through. "What is that?" Cullen asked with curiosity as she twisted the bracelet around her wrist, frowning.

She glanced up at him, smiling. Then she held her arm up for him to get a better look at the bracelet. "These crystals are cut specifically to resonate with the strength of the Veil. Finn had it made for my birthday after I started my somniari studies. It helps me focus whenever I need to get into the Fade, or like now when I can get a look at any damage that might have been done to the Veil. Plus it's pretty," she added jokingly.

He pursed his lips, repressing a smile. "So what is it telling you now?"

"That we're bloody lucky," she said, dropping her arm back to her side and approaching the detached head that Garrett had smashed with his boot. She knelt reluctantly and drew her staff, using it to flop a few bits of the wrinkled mess back into place. With a wet smack, one of the eyeballs rolled out of it's socket. "We're going to need to comb Orsino's office once were finished here. He was hoarding books on blood magic somewhere." She got up from her crouch. "We can't risk the next First Enchanter finding those secrets. I don't know every mage in the Gallows. Who is Quentin?"

Cullen frowned as he seemed to ponder briefly before he recalled what he had been searching for. "Quentin was no Circle mage..." he flinched before he lowered his tone. "He was... Quentin was the mage responsible for your mother's murder."

Philippa allowed the information to wash over her, rubbing her hands together as she held in a breath. Finally, she sighed it out, and crossed her arms. "Well, apparently Orsino learned his tricks from him. Just before he... changed, he said, 'Quentin's research was too evil, too dangerous, so I put it aside. But I see now there is no other way'." She rolled her eyes and stepped back from the tadpole head. "It seems our 'First Enchanter' was in league with a murderer. It's a wonder how so much went on under Meredith's nose. As 'vigilant' as she was, she never knew what Orsino was doing behind closed doors."

Cullen studied her briefly, his brow creasing. "What would you have done with the 'research' if it had fallen into your hands?" he wondered softly.

She looked around at the horror, her lip curling back. In response, she drew on her mana, encircling the over-sized hunk of body-parts in a barrier and filled the bubble with a maelstrom of fire, pouring everything she had into the heat. The flames burned blue as they flickered over the mound of flesh, charring and melting the mass with the swiftness of a falcon swooping in to capture its prey from the water. She shuddered to think what the fire might have done if she hadn't encased it in the barrier where it was safe. "Those words never would have seen the light of day," she said softly as she watched the body disintegrate into the promised ash that they could easily dispose of.

He huffed slightly, but his expression said it was in thought rather than disapproval. "And that is answer enough for me," Cullen said. He paused momentarily as they both stared while the flames petered out. When she drew in her barrier, he glanced at her again. "If you have nothing else on your plate, I would appreciate of you accompanied me to the First Enchanter's office. You would know better than myself, what to look for.

"Have we heard any news from the city in regards to the injured?" she asked, following on his heels as he turned to exit the Harrowing Chamber.

"There were a few clerics that were out of the Chantry at the time of the explosion, and they have set up a small clinic in Lowtown to help with minor injuries. Understandably, many of the common folk are reluctant to trust any mage right now, even if your intentions are simply to help. I doubt we'll see many outsiders here," he explained gently as she felt her expression shift to annoyance.

"And the other mages in isolation? Are any of them in need of the infirmary?" she wondered, completely unsurprised by the city's reaction.

"There are only a few, but none of them seem in need of healing. It won't be long until they are released. We just needed to be certain they weren't going to lash out after they were brought back into Gallows. Templar casualties numbered nearly as high as the mages, and we don't have the manpower if they turned on us now."

She cringed and asked the question that she was dreading. "Do you have a count of the dead?"

He sighed, betraying his own grief. "It's impossible to tell at this point. We don't know how many of the mages were able to flee. That was another matter I was going to ask your assistance with..." he said. When she didn't protest, he glanced warily at her. "The phylactery chamber requires both a mage and a templar to enter. As the only mage in the Circle it seems I can trust at this point, I would appreciate your assistance in opening the door. If I can catalog the phylacteries that have gone dark, I will be able to say for certain how may mages were lost and how many simply escaped."

She allowed herself a small smirk, "Such high praise, Knight-Captain. 'The only mage in the Circle it seems I can trust'. What ever shall I have to aspire to now?"

"I'll admit, I was surprised when you didn't leave with your brother. Your actions previously certainly portrayed a low opinion of the Circle," he pointed out as they approached the First Enchanter's office.

As she unlocked the door with a small bit of physical magic, she pushed it open. "There is very little I remember of my family before I went to Kinloch Hold. The one thing that still lingers is something my father used to say. 'My magic will serve the best in me, not that which is most base'. Those words have gotten me through a lot of difficult times." She flicked through a few piles of papers on the desk. "I need to remind myself now and then, that I am better than the monster most people see me as simply for being born with magic."

When she realized he had stopped in the doorway as she stepped further into the room, she turned to regard him. His expression showed a pinched brow as he studied her, his nose slightly wrinkled just at the bridge. It wasn't disgust though. Again, he was looking at her like he was rewriting the carefully forged assessment of her that he had stored in his mind for the last eight years. "You're saying you wanted to leave, but you stayed so you could help?"

"Someone needed to be a face of reason for the mages. That someone was certainly not going to be Orsino. He allowed himself to be corrupted, just like Uldred." At mention of Uldred, Cullen flinched, but allowed her to continue. She sighed. "How much do you actually know of mages like me? Dreamers?"

He looked away sheepishly. "I was only told that you attract demons. Moreso than any other mage."

She rolled her eyes, moving to the bookshelves to study the spines of the books and tomes Orsino had on display. "Of course. Because what more should a templar need to know?" She paused, noticing the cracked and broken spine of one of the books and she pulled it from the shelf. "You said to me once that I was the 'worst of the lot'. Demons flock to me like a 'bitch in heat'. I believe those were your exact words." She crooked a brow at him and he shuffled his feet, his cheeks flushing. She opened the book to discover that the actual tome had been hollowed out, another, much smaller book hidden within. "While it's true that demons are certainly attracted to my power, their presence is also painful. For me that is... When I encounter a demon in the Fade, I get a headache. It's... tolerable, for a time, but the reason I requested to leave Kinloch after Uldred's coup was because he had nearly shattered the Veil in the tower..." She plucked the soft, leather bound book from it's hiding place and carefully untied the string holding it closed. "I could feel them... The foulness of them, hovering around me everywhere I went, and their presence outside the Fade is ten times more potent. Nothing in Thedas could ever convince me that allowing myself to become an abomination would improve my situation." She held up the notebook after looking through the first few pages. "So if I'm going to be stuck here, I'm certainly going to be useful."

His eyes grazing thoughtfully over her spoke volumes. He had heard what she had said and absorbed it, his thoughts on the matter unvoiced. Instead, he approached her, cocking his head to look at the book. "Is that what we're looking for?"

"Without delving further, I can tell it's technical notes, mostly about anatomy. It is a piece of what we need. The rest is probably scattered about the office. Orsino knew what he was doing when he kept these things. I'd love to know how he got his hands on them after my brother killed Quentin," she grumbled.

"The Champion never offered the templars the location of Quentin's lair, so we were never able to go in and sweep it for paraphernalia. It's likely one of the mages working with Thrask obtained the information and was able to retrieve the research," Cullen suggested.

"That's possible. It's also possible that Orsino was working with the bastard all along and knew where to look himself," she pointed out. "I knew Orsino hated Meredith, but for him to endanger so many lives... He was as mad as she was. He was just quieter about it."

Cullen sighed. "It would seem you're right. Let's find the rest of these notes and dispose of them. I'm glad you brought this to my attention. Thank you, Hawke."

 

It took them hours, shuffling through Orsino's cluttered office. He had another thin notebook in a false bottom in one of his desk drawers, another tome squirreled away underneath a bookshelf, twin volumes on opposite sides of a trunk, and another notebook in the seat of his wingback. Separately, the tomes were ambiguous, if a bit dangerous, but together, you got walking body parts. Philippa shuddered to think that state her mother had been in when Garrett found her. Glancing through the necromancy book, her expression must have betrayed her thoughts, because Cullen moved to her side and gently pulled it from her hands, closing it and setting it aside. She hugged herself. "We should burn these, like the body. No one should know these things."

She called her mana, but before lighting the fire in Orsino's fireplace, she looked at Cullen for permission. He nodded, his lips pressed together. She sent the sparks out and the logs caught easily. She stared at the flickering flames for a moment then picked up the smallest notebook first, tossing it onto the fire. The flames licked over the leather, looking like they were not touching it at all, and sending an odor like the scent of charring flesh through the room. The delicate pages inside burned much more quickly. Cullen deposited the next book, the fire crackling hungrily. They stood in silence as they burned all six books until there was nothing left. Finally, Cullen spoke. "I'll have the tranquil come in here and clear out the rest of Orsino's things." He glanced at Philippa and offered a small smile that made him flinch when it aggravated his stitches. "You may return to the infirmary. I apologize for interrupting your breakfast..." he shuffled his feet again and then continued. "It should be nearly lunch, now, however. If you'd allow me to make up for it, we could go to the dining hall."

She crossed her arms and smirked. "Together? Do you have ulterior motives, Knight-Captain, or are you actually trying to be sociable?"

"I was trying to be polite, but if you're going to be your usual self, I might change my mind," he returned.

She continued to smile and held her palm out. "After you, Knight-Captain."

Philippa had never really spent time with Cullen when he wasn't being a templar. She had assumed that he was stoic by default, but when they weren't discussing the Circle, or magic, or the chaos that seemed to follow them around, he was actually secretly funny. She would never, of course, admit to that opinion. She maintained her own sarcastic demeanor and allowed him to play off her, keeping the conversation light as they shared a meal amidst a dining hall full of templars with little to do but watch as the Knight-Captain and the least trusted mage in the Gallows got on like friends while they shared a meal.

 

Philippa continued to help Cullen when he needed it, the rest of the mages slowly being let out of their cells and back into the fold. The trouble was, nobody quite knew what to do with them. Some were apprentices, and some Harrowed mages, but none seemed to suit the needs of any of the others. So all they did most days was keep to themselves or the library idly taking on menial tasks while the templars made sure no one got into any mischief.

The Phylactery Chamber was disheartening. The day following the search of Orsino's office, Cullen led her deep into the ground below the Gallows, even further than the dungeons. When they reached a door that hummed with an enchantment, Cullen pulled his sword, knelt, the sword pointed tip to the ground in front of him, and uttered a short phrase that sounded like a prayer. She watched him closely, hearing a small pop in the atmosphere as the phrase changed the flow of energy around them, before he stood and re-sheathed his sword. "I've primed the door. Now, it requires the touch of mana from a mage who's been through the Harrowing. Any spell should do," he said.

She drew a small bit of mana and cast some spirit energy at the door. The lock clicked and Cullen smiled. She glanced at him and asked, "Was the Harrowing Chamber in Kinloch Hold similarly guarded?"

He hummed. "It was."

"So how were Solona and Jowan able to gain access and destroy Jowan's Phylactery?" she wondered as Cullen pushed open the door and stepped into the hall where another door stood, ringed in runes. She felt her magic dampened as she approached the door and shuddered.

He handed her a small iron key, explaining as he produced a matching key for himself. "The apprentice had somehow ingratiated himself with a young Chantry initiate. She knew the way into the Chamber and they convinced Amell to help them. As for the rune door," he tipped his head toward the door they stood in front of. "They procured a rod of fire and melted the lock on the door into the halls that led to the repository and then used that same rod to amplify the magic in a relic there and blast a hole in the wall on the opposite side, avoiding the door all together."

Philippa chuckled. "Sol always was a bit too smart for her own good."

"That sounds terribly familiar," he mumbled with a smirk as he slipped his key into the hole on his side of the door and indicated she do the same.

"Careful, Knight-Captain. Keep complimenting me and I'll start to believe you like me," she joked.

"Maker forbid," he said with his own chuckle.

When they stepped inside, Philippa was awestruck by the Chamber. Walls of shelves lined the circumference or the room. A thin layer of ice coated the floor and several surfaces, a dusting of snowflakes covering the rest. The room was magically kept in a perpetual winter to preserve the blood vials. She hugged herself against the cold and glanced around. "So when you say, 'went dark', what do you mean?"

"When a Phylactery is put into use by a templar, the spell surrounding the essence from it's donor will cause it to glow. The steadier the glow, the closer to the person you are. If the Phylactery does not react, it means the mage is dead," he explained. Then he sighed, looking around at all of the shelves laden with Phylacteries. "This is going to take some time. I thank you for assisting in opening the door, but you don't need to stay if you don't wish."

She pursed her lips at him and then smiled. "How about I go and get us some nice warm tea, and I'll keep you company. Maker knows I wouldn't want to be down here on my own."

He looked mildly shocked, but he nodded his head slowly. "I can't say I relish the idea either. If you have nothing else that requires your attention..."

She snorted. "I'm a mage with no responsibilities and an empty infirmary. It's not like I'll be taking a stroll into the city any time soon. I'll be right back."

She headed back up through the dungeons and toward the kitchens, passing by the storage rooms on her way. A clattering sound drew her attention to the storage room. She slowed to a crawl as heavy breathing joined the sounds of someone making a mess. She paused completely outside the door and craned her neck to peer through the crack that had been left in the door. Inside, she saw the recently reappointed Ser Samson turning the entire place upside down. She was conflicted. If she left and tried to find someone to tell, he may be gone when she got back. If she confronted him herself, she was well aware of how helpless a templar's abilities could make her. She bit her lip and finally decided against caution.

She pushed open the door and cleared her throat. "Ser Samson? I'm fairly certain that the tranquil did not organize this room for you to come in here and tear it apart. "

He started at her sudden entrance and spun around. The look in his eyes was wild, like a starved animal. "You!" he bore down on her, grabbing her upper arms in a vice-like grip. "You're close with the Knight-Captain! You must know where he's hiding it!"

She wrenched free of his grip and he proceeded to run his fingers through his greasy black hair. "Whatever you're after, I don't think the Knight-Captain is hiding anything," she said in response, trying to speak around the madness in his eyes.

"It's singing... all around... I need it," he whimpered, the heels of his hands going to his temples.

Finally, it dawned on her. Lyrium. Samson was looking for lyrium. It had barely been a couple of days since the Circle's stores had been ransacked, and already, Samson looked like he had been deprived for weeks. In his state, there was no way she was going to be able to talk him down. He paced back and forth a few strides at a time, muttering and cursing, his hands shaking uncontrollably. "Everything was lost during the Annulment," she explained softly. "Everyone is going without lyrium."

Her voice drew him back to her and he lunged for her again. This time, she stepped out of the way, but he was faster than she would have thought possible. He slammed into the shelf behind her and immediately whirled around, seething. Before he could grab a hold of her again, she threw up her hands, grateful that he seemed to not be lucid enough to remember he could do more to her than grab her. She quickly cast a sleep spell and the disgraced templar crumbled with the clatter of his armor in a heap. Philippa stood in the store room, momentarily stunned. How had Samson gone from the friendly templar that snuck love letters between mages to the violent, lyrium crazed addict laying in front of her?

Finally, she straightened her robes, slipped from the room and closed the door behind her. Racing back down to the Phylactery Chamber, she burst in on Cullen, making him whirl around with wide eyes, his hand on his sword hilt. "Don't smite me!" she said, holding her hands up in front of her. "I didn't mean to startle you, but there is a situation in the store room that needs your attention."

"Can't you ever just walk into a room without giving me a heart attack?" Cullen grumbled, releasing his hold on his sword and inhaling a breath that he sighed back out. "What's going on?"

"I think I may have found who ransacked the lyrium stash?" she said questioningly, uncertain if it had been Samson, initially, that had hoarded every vial they had, but he was certainly painting himself to be desperate enough to be trying to get more than his allotted share if given the chance.

Cullen's brow rose. "And where are they now?" he asked.

"Asleep in the store room. Come on, I'm not sure how long it will be before he's discovered," she said, urging Cullen to follow her. She was already halfway out the door.

He followed her to where she had left Samson in a heap. When she opened the store room, cautiously, Cullen took her by the arms and moved her out of his way so he could enter first. When his eyes fell on Samson, he sighed. "I thought as much."

"You said before you suspected someone. Was it Samson?" she asked, stepping in to stand beside him as he stared down with disgust curling his lip in spite of the flinch of pain it caused him.

"Ever since he returned, he has been showing signs of heightened addiction..." he glanced around at the store room and the mess that Samson had made. "Why Meredith agreed to allow him to take up the shield on your brother's suggestion is beyond me. He clearly was no longer fit to serve."

Philippa remembered Samson returning at the same time Carver had been kidnapped by Thrask's group. Perhaps he had been one of the conspirators. "Maybe it was one of those 'keep your enemies closer' types of situations. He was part of a group that was planning to overthrow her, after all."

Cullen confirmed her suspicions with a grunt. "Towards the end, I'm not certain Meredith was any more sane than Samson."

"What are we going to do with him?" Philippa wondered.

Cullen sighed heavily. "We'll take him to the dungeons. If the withdrawal doesn't kill him, I'll... figure out something more permanent. If you would stay with him, make sure he doesn't wake up, while I fetch someone to help carry him?"

"Of course," Philippa nodded her agreement.

 

After Samson had been secured in a dungeon to sleep it off, Philippa and Cullen returned to the Phylactery Chamber, their conversation a bit more subdued than previously. It only got worse as more and more of the Phylacteries turned out dark. Between the twenty five or so odd mages they already had at the Gallows, and the ones whose Phylacteries reacted with only a light glow which indicated they were miles away, only about 32 mages had escaped the Annulment with their lives.

As they stood in his office, having done the final count out of the cold of the chamber, Philippa's already tingly hands gripped the parchment where Cullen had scrawled the names of those lost, and they shook. She had known casualties had been high, but the numbers on the paper seemed to make it that much worse. Either the shuddering of the paper or her expression betrayed her, and Cullen tentatively laid a hand on her shoulder. "I know you didn't have many friends here, not like you did in Ferelden, but you cared. Probably more than the First Enchanter himself. I'm sorry."

She offered him a brief smile before sniffing and clearing the knot from her throat. "I suppose it's time for me to focus my caring on those that are still alive to benefit from it," she said, trying not to let her voice break. "I never thanked you, did I?" she asked, suddenly realizing her oversight.

"What for?" he asked, removing his hand and tipping his head, his hands settling casually on the hilt of his sword.

"You stood up to Meredith to defend my family," she pointed out. "Without you, I'm not certain the rest of the templars would have stood with Carver."

His mouth curved teasingly. "I didn't do it for you. It was the right thing to do."

"My apologies, oh humble Knight-Captain Ser. Far be it from me to force my gratitude on a person," she snarked back, setting the paper down on his desk.

He hummed a short chuckle. "Take the rest of the day off, and do try to stay out of trouble. Don't... wander the halls and happen across criminal templars."

She snorted. "I can't make any promises. It's not my fault I'm always in the right place at the wrong time." She backed from his office as he shooed her with an eyeroll.

Chapter Text

Nearly a week following the Annulment, Cullen received a pair of letters. One was from Starkhaven, promising a horde of templars and all the lyrium stores they could provide as quickly as possible. It was a good thing, too, because all of the templars were beginning to look ragged around the edges without the lyrium supply they were used to. There had been enough of the raw stuff hidden away that the tranquil were able to prepare a small amount to ration out to all of the templars, but it had been almost five days since they had run out completely. The second letter was from Orlais, the Divine's assessment of the situation, and orders to be followed.

Cullen called Philippa to his office shortly after receiving the letters. When she arrived, he had a small crate on his desk and he was taking things from shelves and putting them into it. "Going somewhere?" she asked.

His brow was pinched, like he had a headache, but his smile seemed genuine. "Just down the hall. I've had word from Orlais. It seems I was promoted."

Philippa smiled teasingly and bowed low. "Knight-Commander. Finally graced with the title that goes with all the work you've been doing for years."

He snorted. "Mock if you will, but..." he shuffled through a few papers in his desk and produced an official looking parchment. "Have a look at this."

She took the parchment from him and glanced over it.

 

Acting Knight-Commander Cullen Rutherford,

I received your reports on the situation in Kirkwall and I must say that I am in no way surprised by what happened. I have had my eye on your city for some time now. Firstly, allow me to commend you on your efforts in re-establishing order within the city after the tragedy that befell the Chantry. Grand Cleric Elthina was a dear friend and will be missed sorely. May she rest at the Maker's side. In light of those efforts, allow me to officially name you Knight-Commander of Kirkwall. May your reign be less hectic than your predecessor.

Secondly, I would like to thank you for drawing my attention to the tragic fate of the mages of the Gallows. With the demise of the First Enchanter, your Circle is in need of an appointment. You mentioned a loyal mage that assisted in the final battle with Meredith and later sacrificed her own time and energy to helping you with sweeping the city and tending to the injured. That is the kind of self sacrifice and diligence that sets a mage above their peers. I hereby officially name Enchanter Philippa Hawke of the Kirkwall Circle it's new First Enchanter.

Maker bless and keep you both, Most Holy Divine Justinia IV

 

Philippa gaped, re-reading the letter, certain she had been imagining things. "This can't be right," she said finally, her heart beginning to race. "I'm a somniari. I can't be First Enchanter!"

Cullen's brow quirked. "The Divine is well aware of your abilities, believe me. She has simply seen exactly what I saw in the courtyard. I was out here when the First Enchanter first arrived back at the Gallows after the explosion. When you entered the fray, you were the only mage who did not immediately attack with deadly force, even though I am fully aware of your capabilities. Ser Carver described your time in the Vinmark Mountains in detail, even if he did not reveal precisely what happened. I believe he described your mana pool as 'seemingly endless'."

"It almost sounds like you recommended me for this position," Philippa said with a frown as she set the parchment back on the desk.

He shrugged. "I may have added a few personal opinions on the matter into my letter to the Divine." He suddenly looked away, his cheeks reddening. "I realize that my attitude toward you in the past has been... unfair. This past week has done nothing but solidify my realization that I judged you too harshly. You are capable of a lot more than anyone ever allows you. I... I believe it's time we changed that."

His hand was rubbing the back of his neck in his usual nervous tick. Finally, Philippa allowed her shock to settle, taking a deep breath. She crossed her arms to prevent her fingers from rubbing together and snorted in amusement. "Someone needs to find you some lyrium, Knight-Commander. You've completely lost your marbles."

His own amused laugh struck her as strange. She didn't think she had ever heard him truly laugh before. It was a reserved sound, slightly more genuine than the usual brief chuckle he allowed to escape. She decided she liked his laugh. "Anyhow," he said, dropping his wandering hand. "As soon as I received the notice, I sent a few tranquil to clear out Orsino's old quarters, and his office is now yours. Obviously there is no rush for you to move your personal belongings..."

"What about my duties?" she wondered. "I don't know the first thing about Orsino's day to day responsibilities."

"That will all come with time. Nobody expects you to jump in and be an expert your first day. However, I believe you are up to the task. In helping me over this last week, you've already assumed a few of the duties normally reserved for the First Enchanter." He picked up the crate, the wood clunking against his breastplate as he adjusted his grip before moving around his desk and walking past her. She followed him from his old office and down the hall to where Meredith's office was. He set the crate back down. "I'm right across the hall, of course, should you ever need my assistance, or you have a question." He paused and cleared his throat. "Or if you ever just wish to talk."

Philippa picked up a blank sheet of paper from the edge of the new desk and a quill from the inkwell. "First Enchanter's duties, day one... First and foremost, make sure the Knight-Commander isn't insane..." she scribbled as she talked. "Secondly, make sure you, too, are not insane..." She glanced up and smirked. "Well, it looks like we're one up on our predecessors."

"One of us is, at least," he said with a chuckle, beginning to unload his things.

"Knight-Commander," she gasped in mock horror. "Are you admitting to being insane?"

He snorted. "Get out of my office, Hawke."

"You can't just send me to my room like an apprentice anymore. I've got clout, Ser!" she joked as she set down her scribbled notes and backed from the room.

"I'm already regretting my recommendation. Perhaps I'll get a lock put on my door so you can't just barge in anymore," he retorted.

"I'm right across the hall. If you don't see me coming, I worry about your vision," she reminded him. "Perhaps instead of barging in, I can just yell from my desk."

"Maker forbid," he said with a roll of his eyes.

She crossed the hall, still smirking and entered what was to be her office. She hoped to glean some information from what Orsino had left behind. A ledger sat open near the top of his desk, listing all of the mages living in the Gallows, and small notes on their abilities and specializations. With a heavy sigh, Philippa knew that she was going to have to face that book sooner or later, and revise the final list of those remaining. In the meantime, she leafed through papers stacked up on his desk. There were some personal correspondences, requests for entry from other Circles, some that he had tagged, notes about Meredith, more notes on the movements of certain mages within the Gallows, and finally the bookkeeping. He had a ledger that tracked all of the funds going in and out of the Circle via the tranquil shops and the herbalist. He also tracked what the Circle spent for supplies to sew robes, metal wood and crystals to make staves, the mages' supply of lyrium, and deals he had going with local farms for crops and meat. She heaved a sigh. She had a lot to learn. She was suddenly grateful for all of the years she spent teaching herself by trial and error. She was good at winging it.

 

The next day, one of the clerics that had survived to start the small clinic in Lowtown, arrived with her own fancy letter from the Divine, giving her the authority to officially name Philippa and Cullen First Enchanter and Knight-Commander. The ceremony came with a new set of robes and a staff for Philippa, and a new sword and shield for Cullen.

Philippa had to admit that the robes were quite comfortable. They were not as heavy as the ones she had been wearing the last eight years, but they were made far more superior than her usual clothes. The base color was a deep red, and the silky fabric flowed around her so lightly that she barely felt like she was wearing anything at all. She could feel enchantments woven into the seams, for protection and a boost to her creation spells. The shoulders were bare, as her other robes had been, but there was no heavy leather to cover up her exposed flesh. The edges were trimmed in black and gold, and the belt that rode her hips was made of thin leather with a few pouches for her to keep whatever she wished. Thin, finger-less gloves in black, and a pair of comfortable boots completed the look

The staff was just as well made. If she didn't know better, she might have guessed that Cullen had a say in its design as he did her new title. The shaft was slender, fitting nicely in her palms and the grips spaced perfectly for her reach. On the head, the body of a dragon was wrapped around the crystal, hoarding it like it was treasure. It's wings swept upwards, the tips touching above it's head. The colors it was painted matched her robes, the base black and the trimmings red. After the ceremony was over and she had a moment to look over the rune-work etched into the wood in gold, she came across another engraving that told her Cullen had most definitely had a say in the design of her staff. In a swirling script trailing from the tip of the dragon's tail and down the shaft, a familiar phrase flickered in the light. Best. Not Base.

She could tell that the lack of proper lyrium was beginning to affect Cullen, his fingertips reaching for his forehead several times as the small gathering following the ceremony lingered on, the few mages and templars in attendance reaching for any excuse for levity. She started, realizing she had been watching him closely with a frown, when Carver approached her with his own pinched expression hidden behind a smile. "Congratulations, Sister. I think Father would have been proud to see you rising so high in spite of being forced into the Circle."

Her fingers trailed over the light engraving and she smiled. "Thank you, Carver. I didn't ask for this, but I'll be damned if I don't work to the best of my abilities to improve the lives of the mages here."

"Without Meredith, perhaps you'll actually succeed where Orsino failed," Carver agreed, patting her back lightly. "The new Knight-Commander is not exactly an advocate for mage rights, but I think he'll listen to you."

"Cullen isn't all that bad," she admitted. "He actually used to be sympathetic, to the point of harboring feelings for one of the mages back in Ferelden. But after the fall of the Circle, and whatever happened to him..." She sighed. "It has taken a long time to earn his trust back, in spite of having nothing to do with the coup." She shook her head and focused her attention on her younger brother. "How are you doing, Carver? Any ill effects from not having enough lyrium?"

He shrugged. "I haven't been taking it as long as some of the others, so it seems my symptoms aren't as severe. I have a bit of a migraine, but other than that, I think I'll survive for another few days until the Starkhaven knights arrive."

"I'm glad to hear it," she said, her attention wandering again to Cullen as he fidgeted in his armor, scowling at anyone who approached him to talk. His stitches would need removing soon, she noted, as his scowl was made more menacing by the wound. He may have trusted her, but not enough to allow her to heal his lip. Baby steps.

Having been assured that Orsino's quarters, now her quarters, had been cleaned out and were ready for her to move in, Philippa decided that now was as good a time as any. Many of the party goers were avoiding her, still unsure what to make of her. She was going to have quite a bit of work to do if she was going to ingratiate herself with the rest of the mage population in the Gallows. When Carver was finished with her, she stood and slipped from the dining hall and headed for her old quarters. After gathering her meager personal belongings and the few books she kept in her room, Philippa started toward templar hall. Her quarters were beyond the garden, just before the barracks began to spread along the rest of the wing.

The room was more along the lines of what she was accustomed to in Kinloch. When she stepped in the door, the first viewing point was a large window that let in a beautiful amount of sun. The three panes of glass were shaped like one side of a hexagon, creating a small nook that was fashioned into a seat decorated in pillows. The afternoon sun was cascading in through the glass and shining along the floor toward where the four-post bed sat. Tiny particles shimmered in the air as she moved through the light toward the vanity to set down her belongings. The bed had long curtains mounted to the upper frame that could be drawn to block light. Among the other pieces of furniture in her new space, there was a bookshelf, a desk, a fireplace, and a squat nightstand. Like she was used to, a trunk sat at the foot of the bed where the tranquil had brought her a few spare changes of clothes and some nightdresses.

She placed her glass dragon on the left hand side of her vanity and caught a glimpse of herself in the new red robes. If it were even possible, Philippa believed that the red robe suited her even more so than the blue apprentice robes she had grown up in. Instead of blending with her eyes, the contrast in color made them pop, highlighting what Finn had called her best feature, and blended with the black of her short hair. Smiling at her reflection, she moved from the vanity and removed her staff from her back to set it by the door where a small hook extended from the wall to lean the shaft against. Then she put her books on the shelves, and carried Bethany's doll to the sitting window and nestled it among the pillows. She sat down on the cushioned seat, testing the comfort of the padding. She sunk deep into the cushion, leaning back into the pillows propped along the windowsill. The seat was ridiculously comfortable, and she could see herself spending a lot of time in the window reading. The view out the glass gave a stunning look at the ocean beyond, and one of the small gardens outside the Gallows.

"You left me to the wolves," Cullen's teasingly annoyed tone made her jerk back to the present as she had been staring out the window, wondering if she might be able to get a portable spyglass to go stargazing with once darkness fell.

She snorted. "A party full of people more interested in getting the ear of the new Knight-Commander than worrying about what little old me was up to? It looks like you slipped away without my help. Although, it may have been the silent threatening you were doing every time someone spoke to you."

"I don't do 'social gatherings'. I'd much prefer being done with it and moving on. There's work to be done," he grumbled, rolling his shoulders in his armor.

She frowned. Softening her voice, she noted his discomfort and said, "Are you holding up all right?"

"A few aches and pains. It will pass..." he said dismissively.

"And your head?" she asked, his brow furrowed even as he tried to pretend it was all right.

He grunted. "As you might expect. It helps to focus on something

She kicked out her feet and hopped from the window seat with a smile. "You don't happen to know anything about bookkeeping, do you? The last thing I actually purchased was sold on drastic discount because I was adorable."

He smirked. "Are you certain it's not because they wanted to shut you up?"

"I was seven, and much more timid than I am now," she responded, crossing her arms and cocking her hips.

"I find that hard to believe," he said, holding his hand out for her to lead the way.

 

They worked late into the night in Philippa's office, Cullen explaining a few of the details of Orsino's notes and adding his own estimates that would need to be spent on repairs. Eventually, the ledger at the top of Orsino's desk that she had been avoiding could no longer be avoided. It would take her days to properly mark down the dead and pen letters to their families, if they had any, but the update was necessary to get a proper account of supplies and food needed.

She tapped her fingertips on the book, her arm extended across the desk. She was just beginning to see an improvement in the nerve damage she had suffered from the red lyrium blade, and the taps of her fingers on the leather was not excruciating or uncomfortable, just mildly off-putting. She drew her hand back, rubbing her fingers on her palm, and then she sighed.

"It's late, Hawke. We've done all we can here, tonight. Why don't you start work on that in the morning. Go and get some rest," Cullen suggested, seemingly understanding how she might be feeling.

She glanced over at his sympathetic expression, the flickering mage light on her desk catching in his amber eyes. She cleared her throat, adjusting her seat and reaching upwards to stretch out her back and ignore the strange feeling in her gut as she looked upon him. "That's the best idea you've had all night, Knight-Commander." Then she snickered, the late hour catching up with her. "night, Knight..." she repeated.

Cullen sighed, rolled his eyes and closed the ledger with a thwap of sound. "Go to bed, First Enchanter."

 

Two days later, Philippa had made it nearly three quarters of the way through the ledger. The letters to the deceased mages' families were getting no easier to write as they piled up at the edge of her desk. She worked with her door open, the few glances up at Cullen as he worked across from her, oblivious to her attention, had a soothing effect on her somber mood. He got visitors from time to time. He would acknowledge them, give an order and they would leave. It was much the same for those two days, until a messenger came to his office. She glanced away from the exchange, not wanting to look like she was being nosy, but she listened as best she could while carefully writing deceased next to the name of a young mage of 22 named Milva. She drew a fresh parchment from the pile and dated the letter. Before she could trace Milva's name to her surname and remaining family members, a soft knock rapped on the open door. She glanced up to see Cullen.

His eyes were sunken, dark circles beneath them from either too much work, or not enough sleep. With the size of the bags, she was guessing it was a combination of the two. His hands were shaking today, she noticed, as he attempted to settle them on his sword hilt in his usual casual manner. She set her quill back in the inkwell and gave him her full attention, folding her own hands atop the desk. "Look at this... a pleasant distraction," she joked with a chuckle.

"I've just received word that the Starkhaven templars are entering the city and should be crossing on the ferry within the half hour. I thought it best we greet them as a united front, if you're up for the task," he said, licking his lips. She still needed to get on him about removing those stitches.

Flicking her eyes away from their distraction with his lips, she pushed her chair back from the desk. "Anything to get me out of this room." She followed him to the Gallows entrance and out into the Courtyard. It was a crisp autumn day, a few stray leaves clattering across the ground from the nearby trees in the gardens as they stepped out into the fresh air. Her robes fluttered against her legs in the breeze as she glanced around at the stalls. Nearly half were still empty as she meticulously reassigned duties in between heart-wrenching sympathy letters. Once she was finished with the ledger, she was going to need to figure out the new schedules for the remaining mages, and see if she couldn't convince any neighboring Circles to relinquish some talent to replenish her numbers. It was an unenviable task, and she was dreading it. She inhaled deeply of the chilled air. "Maker's breath, it feels like forever since I've been outside."

"You've been pouring over those books non-stop..." he pointed out, not offering his opinion, or a solution, just stating casually that he had noticed. Her stomach flipped lightly and her hands trembled. She crossed her arms over her chest, what in the Maker's name was wrong with her?

As his heavy eyes rolled over the courtyard, she caught herself looking at his scar again. "Those stitches need to come out," she said reaching up to tip his chin toward her to get a better look.

He flinched as her hand landed on him, and she pulled it away immediately. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I didn't meant to..." he sighed. "Once we deal with the Starkhaven templars, you may do what you please with my mouth..." She snorted loudly and started to giggle. When he realized what he had said, his face flushed crimson and he glanced away from her. "Andraste preserve me, you know what I meant."

"Do, what I please... I'm making a note of that," she said still chuckling.

"Maker's breath," he sighed, his cheeks slowly returning to normal as he ran a hand through his thick curls. Just at the front of his hairline, a small lock sprung loose from the rest, falling over his brow. Philippa nearly reached up to tuck it away, but caught herself, turning away from him swiftly to hide the reddening of her own cheeks.

The sound of approaching templars from the docks provided the distraction she needed to breathe deeply of the crisp air and shake off the sudden state of flustered he had unintentionally put her in. They waited beside each other much like Meredith and her entourage had awaited their arrival from Ferelden, at the top of the stairs, backs straight.

The man leading the group of templars that boasted nearly thirty men, all carrying crates, approached them with a confident swagger. He was just under six feet tall, and his armor, like most templar armor, made his shoulders look much broader than they actually were. This brown hair was styled simply, pushed back off his face and tucked behind his ears. A light stubble marked his chin only slightly less predominately than the heavy tattooing on his chin and nose. A scar that resembled an upside down Y graced his right cheek beneath his sleepy ice blue eyes. He smiled, approaching Cullen first with his hand extended. "Greetings!" he said in an accent she had not heard since she had been in Ferelden before Kilian was transferred. "Knight-Captain Rylen, at your service." When he directed his gaze to her, she reached out her hand in greeting as well, but instead of shaking like he had Cullen's, he took it in his and lifted it to kiss her knuckles respectfully. "Ma'am." Cullen grunted, and she could not tell if it was annoyance of mockery, as his expression was blank. "Me and the lads got here as quick as we could."

"Welcome to Kirkwall," Cullen said holding his blank expression. "I'm Knight-Commander Cullen. This is our First Enchanter, Philippa Hawke. I hope the road was kind."

Rylen glanced between the two of them and the slight distance that had opened up between them after his suggestive slip of the tongue and her unintentional reaction. They had each taken a shuffling step to the side away from the other. He ignored the awkwardness and his smile returned. "As much as I'd love to gab about the trip, I'm certain you've got more than a few templars with the shakes. Point the lads in the direction you want them and we'll get to distributing."

Cullen's eyes had wandered beyond Rylen to the men carrying the crates behind him. When he said nothing, licking his lips again, Philippa cleared her throat. "I believe the dining hall would probably be the best place for you to set up. Don't you agree, Knight-Commander?" Without waiting for his response as he jerked and recovered his senses, she continued. "If you'll follow me, Captain Rylen, I'll show you the way. Knight-Commander, perhaps you could have a few tranquil gather the rest of the templars?"

Cullen cleared his throat as well, his amber eyes focusing on her instead of the crates. "Of course. Good idea."

Philippa shot him one final concerned glance before leading Rylen and the rest of the newcomers toward the dining hall. They swiftly set to work lining the tables along the wall and setting the crates atop them for quick distribution. While they set up, Philippa found some parchment and a quill to track the templars as they received the lyrium so none would get any more or less than the rest. She was drawing up a few columns on the paper when Rylen approached her. "Don't worry, Ma'am. Your Commander will be right as rain once the lyrium hits his system."

Philippa shook her head distractedly. "The Knight-Commander has been through much worse. I just know what stepping into a role that was previously filled by a crazy person feels like. Pile the withdrawal on top of that and it's bound to make the strongest person flinch."

"And how are you holding up? I understand you had a bit of a rough patch during the Annulment," Rylen asked her, genuine concern playing across his features.

She glanced at him, allowing her shock at his concern play across her face. "I'm on the mend. Nothing time won't cure. I appreciate you asking... I might return the favor. The journey from Starkhaven was long. I'm the healer around here, for the time being. Does anyone need attention?"

"No, I think we're all mostly knackered. It'll be good to sleep on a bed again," he said with a smile.

Soon, the templars started to filter in, and Philippa took names down as each templar was given a draught of lyrium. The process went quickly, and surprisingly without incident. Cullen was the last to accept his vial, making certain that everyone was taken care of before himself. She watched the tension leave his body as soon as the shimmering blue liquid touched his lips. When all was wrapped up, Cullen sent the rest of the new templars with Carver and Ruvena to show them to the dormitories. Rylen stayed with him and Philippa, making certain he had a complete understanding of the situation before Cullen offered to show him to his quarters. Rylen turned down the offer, saying he preferred to walk a place on his own and figure it out rather than be led to and from.

That left Philippa standing in the middle of the dining hall with Cullen as they watched the new Knight-Captain saunter off. She shrugged and turned to Cullen. "Feeling better?" she asked.

"It's almost embarrassing to say 'yes'," he admitted, returning her glance. "You never realize how much you depend on something until it's not there."

"Well, my stitch cutters are in the infirmary." She made a shooing gesture with her hands. "Off you go."

"Maker's breath, I'm not a child, Hawke," he grumbled even as he turned and started off toward the infirmary.

"No, but you're a patient, and you promised," she countered, following him as he went.

 

Cullen fidgeted as she took his chin in her hands and tipped his head into the light so she could see better. She tsked at the hurried stitches. "You could have prevented a lot of scarring here if you had just let me heal this with magic," she mused as she took up her suture scissors and steadied his head exactly where she needed it.

He sighed heavily. "It's not that I don't trust you," he said before she pressed her finger to his mouth to keep his lips still while she expertly snipped the catgut string that had been used. All three stitches came open easily, and she removed her finger so he could speak again. "I just... I'm still not completely comfortable with magic being used on me. She took up her tweezers and gingerly grabbed the end of the first stitch and tugged it free. A small trickle of blood followed it from his skin and she lightly touched a cloth to it to staunch the flow. "You understand..."

She drew her eyes away from what she was doing to meet his, noticing that he was already looking directly at her eyes. Blue met amber briefly before she flicked her gaze away to go back to her work before she got distracted again. He was doing that to her a lot lately. "I don't... but I would like to... If you're not comfortable with telling me everything, I understand, but, at least, perhaps anything that I might do that would cause a problem if I don't ask permission first."

He sighed and flinched as she pulled the second stitch free. "It's not that simple. It's not any specific thing. I endured a lot in my time in Uldred's care, as you might have guessed, and I can never tell what might trigger a bad memory until I'm in the moment." She tugged at the final stitch and set it aside before dabbing the last of the blood away. "The lyrium... It helps me forget some of what happened there. When I go without, sometimes, the memories return. After this last week, I'm not certain which is worse..." he stopped himself, and she realized her hand was still touching him.

She pulled the soiled cloth from his face and tipped his head again. The partially healed scar barely touched the line that separated his cheek from his upper mouth and curved downwards and over his upper lip. She bit back the urge to trace it with her fingertips, and took a step back from him, lifting her eyes back to his. "The point is, you've come a long way, Knight-Commander. I seem to remember a man willing to smite a mage for lighting a fire," she said with a smile.

His brow creased, and he continued to look up at her, still sitting in the chair she had parked him in. Slightly off topic, he asked, "Why do you never use my name?"

"Beg pardon?" she asked, starting to clean up.

"Ever since we came to Kirkwall, I don't think you've called me by my name," he pointed out.

She thought back to their interactions over the years, and shrugged. "You're not just some templar, anymore. With titles comes respect." Was she truly putting that restriction on herself? It was far from intentional, but her quickly thought up excuse made sense, so she went with it.

"Right... of course," he said with a nod, glancing away. She thought she caught a glimpse of reddening in his cheeks. "It was just an observation, First Enchanter."

She flinched as he called her by her title. Did he see her use of his title as her trying to distance herself from him? She didn't mean it that way. It was habit by now. Even he had pointed out that she had been doing it for years and he had never taken offense before. What had made him ask now? She was quiet for a moment, allowing him to drift into his thoughts as she picked up a jar of a poultice mixture to apply to his lip to stave off any potential infection. Inhaling a deep breath, she said softly, "I didn't nearly suffer the way you did in Kinloch, but I was there. If you ever feel the need to... He may be king, but even the lion sometimes needs his pride."

He glanced back up at her, his expression mildly shocked. "I... thank you. I'm just..." he sighed and looked away again. "I can't. I'm sorry."

She gingerly swiped the poultice on his scar and pulled away quickly. "Only you would be apologizing for not accepting help," she said with a shaky laugh. "Knight-Commander Rutherford. The Lonely Lion."

His chuckle joined hers. "And only you could make being a lion sound timid."

"Even lions start out as kittens..." She reminded him. She screwed the lid back on her jar and set it down with a tap on the table. "All finished."

"How bad is the scarring?" he asked, that one piece of rogue hair slipping free again to grace his forehead.

"Without magical intervention, you should bear a mark about an inch long from your lip to just below your cheek," she observed. "But I don't see any permanent muscle damage, so if you still have full functionality now, that shouldn't change. You should thank whoever stitched you up for having steady hands."

"I'll bear that in mind," he said, smirking slightly with the side of his mouth she had just been working on. The scar was somehow mesmerizing, tugging on the right side of his face as he stood from the chair. "And thank you... for today."

 

Normalcy was returning to Kirkwall where it felt like there never had been any to begin with. Under Cullen's rule, the templars were not so much a pack of bogeymen, but a well maintained force. Any discrepancy in behavior, and he acted swiftly, where Meredith had allowed bigots and bullies. Many of Meredith's pet templars were cast from the Order and replaced by Knight-Captain Rylen's men. Philippa managed to work beside Cullen and figure out the books so they could make up for the lost lyrium and resupply. With only the remaining mages and all of the templars Cullen had reassigned, their food consumption had dropped significantly.

When Philippa wasn't pouring over her desk and staring at ledgers, she took time to maintain the infirmary and to find a place for every mage and apprentice based on Orsino's notes on their abilities as well as brief interviews she conducted herself where their opinions were taken into account. Back in Kinloch, she had always had an extremely busy schedule. She preferred it that way. With Cullen's permission she took one day out of the week to leave the Gallows under templar supervision and re-open the clinic in Darktown that Anders had run for so many years. She had a strict policy when it came to the templars. They were in no way allowed to intervene, or listen in on any of the conversations she had with her patients. They were posted outside the doors in civilian clothes so they didn't look so menacing. Along with Varric, a Ferelden woman named Lirene who remembered Philippa from her days in the mage underground, was a great help in encouraging folks in need to go to the clinic if necessary. Having known Anders gave her a small amount of clout when she started out. Her discretion and bedside manner was what brought patients back and drew in new ones. She soon extended the hours to two days a week.

Life inside the Gallows was much less tense. Mages still had a curfew, but Philippa noticed and encouraged the newfound social atmosphere. The dining hall was no longer a quiet, and dull place. People actually talked among each other in a lighthearted cadence. She accepted some new faces from other Circles, and also had to learn the intricacies of creating a Phylactery when a handful of newly found apprentices were brought into the fold.

Not long after the Chantry's destruction, a meeting of the College of Magi, Grand Enchanter Fiona at the head, was called. Philippa received an invitation to attend in Cumberland as First Enchanter. After a lengthy discussion between her and Cullen, where he actually encouraged her to go, she ultimately decided to remain in Kirkwall while they were still rebuilding. The Circle needed it's First Enchanter.

She received word weeks later from Garrett, stating that he and Anders had been in attendance alongside Solona. The meeting had ended in chaos when the Lord Seeker had demanded order and one of the mages had attacked him. They managed to escape and were making their way back to Ferelden. Anders' actions, however devastating, had a domino effect across Thedas. Circles began to rise up everywhere, more and more of her fellow First Enchanters vocalizing their wishes to exist out from under the heel of the Chantry and templars. Soon, the backlash hit Kirkwall.

 

Philippa had been First Enchanter for nearly three years. In spite of her early reputation in Kirkwall, she was well liked among her people and the templars alike. She and Cullen worked well together, their ability to compromise and find a solution that was amenable to everyone, almost unheard of among most Circles and their leaders. Outside of the Gallows, however, the relationships between mage and templar were tense on a good day.

Garrett kept her informed of what he and Anders were up to usually on a monthly basis. He was slim on the details of where they were usually, but she understood his caution. Anders was probably the most wanted man in Thedas.

One day, Philippa received a letter from the Lord Seeker himself. As she read over the almost unbelievable letter, her attention was drawn from the task when Cullen strolled into her office and parked himself casually on the edge of her desk. "Did you get this, as well?" he asked distractedly. When she glanced up at him, his amber eyes were skimming across his own formal parchment with the seal of the Seekers melted into the wax.

She lifted her parchment and flapped it in the air between them. "Has everyone in the Chantry gone mad? What are we supposed to do with this?" she asked.

He sighed and looked up from his paper to meet her gaze. She had accepted the fact years ago that she could get all of the flutters in her stomach that she wished, but Cullen was never going to be anymore than just Cullen. She had first begun to realize what her problem was, when a demon had slipped through her defenses shaped like Cullen and offered her himself. It had been difficult to turn away. Even in the Fade, she had fantasized about what it might feel like to kiss that damned scar on his stupidly handsome mouth. More than once she had been distracted by his unruly curls. He had recently started to style his hair differently, using a mildly scented pomade to turn the tight curls into beautiful blonde waves, but no matter what, that one bit of hair always found a way to break free and grace his forehead, driving her mad with the urge to brush it back into place. In lieu of doing so, she brushed her own hair back and rested her forehead in her palms. "We shouldn't rush into a decision right away," he said in response to the frustrated set of her shoulders.

"You realize what this means, right?" she asked, looking up at him again before continuing. "If the Circles have truly been disbanded and the templars no longer work for the Chantry, your lyrium supply is going to dry up quick." He cringed slightly and she bullied forward. "Let's also not forget that not every Circle is as well adjusted as ours, as insane as that sounds. This is going to lead to war. When the mages start to leave their Circles because daddy said it's okay, mommy is going to bring the belt down hard. There will be mass annulment orders and a lot of thirsty templars. I can guarantee right now that nine out of ten First Enchanters read this letter and immediately called their mages together to set them free..."

"What was your first instinct, Hawke?" he asked simply.

"Believe it or not, I hate this. Do you know how many of our mages know nothing about the outside world?" she snorted self deprecatingly. "Myself included... Half of them wouldn't survive a week without the safety of the Circle. The other half would likely survive long enough to meet a rogue templar and get run through. And what of the tranquil?..." Her mind was now racing along with every scenario that she could imagine. It made her feel ill, and she stood, beginning to pace.

"And this is why you're First Enchanter here," Cullen pointed out. "And why I said we shouldn't make any rash decisions. We can use your contacts in the Underground to help find a place for our mages, the children especially. If any of them choose to stay behind, we won't abandon them."

"What are you going to tell the templars?" she asked pausing her pacing to look over at him. He was surprisingly unaffected by the news, making her frown.

"Believe it or not, Rylen and I have seen this coming for some time now. In spite of evidence to the contrary, the man is surprisingly perceptive. I've been preparing the templars here in the event this day came," he explained.

Her frown deepened. "So... what? You came over here just so see my reaction? We've worked side by side these last three years and you just decided to leave me out of your contingency?" Heat rose to her cheeks as she got angry, her fists balling.

"I was confident you would do the right thing, Hawke, and I didn't leave you out. I came to offer suggestions from someone who has been strategically planning for this," he said, his own expression shifting to a frown. "I'd like your opinion on my ideas."

Her reaction had been pure emotion, and she flushed again, this time in embarrassment. She liked to think she had gotten to know Cullen in their time in Kirkwall, and she should have known he was not being malicious. "I... I'm sorry. This is just... a shock." She straightened her robes and moved behind her chair to lean on the back of it, biting her lip in thought. "Do you know how many templars are willing to stay behind and help in case we can't place all of the mages, or some don't wish to leave?"

Cullen cringed again. "Without the promise of pay and steady lyrium, I fear the answer is very few. Some, those who became templars because they believed in the Order, will likely stay on longer than others."

She sighed heavily, dropping her head so her bangs fell down to dangle over her face. Then she pulled back, straightening and drumming on the back of the chair. He watched her every move with the same intensity he always did. "Okay. I'll need to speak with Lirene and Varric. Perhaps they have contacts that will be able to help with finding homes for the children that have no families to return to, or the ones whose families abandoned them. I will also need to gather all of the mages for a meeting and set up a volunteer system. If they are confident in their own ability to make it in the world, they are... free to go, I suppose." She frowned and cursed. "Maker's breath, what about the children who still need training? How could the Seekers just dissolve the Circles without contingency plans?"

"If I might offer a suggestion?" he asked gingerly, as if her agitated state was something to be concerned over. When she nodded, he continued. "Have your meeting with the mages first. See how many of them want to stay on. If there are enough, broach the subject of keeping the children here as well, under our care so they might continue their education. It will still be beneficial, but they won't have templars breathing down their necks."

She frowned. "You don't think the Chantry will get a wad in their knickers if you allow that to happen?" she asked.

Cullen's signature smirk lifted up the right side of his mouth and he said sardonically. "With all due respect, the Chantry doesn't pay me anymore..."

Philippa allowed herself to chuckle, attempting to relax her shoulders and the knot in her stomach. "The lion shows his true colors... What do we do if the mages react less than ideally?"

He pursed his lips. "We have no control over their reaction anymore. If they wish to leave, we can't stop them. The best we can do is pray they see reason. Perhaps remind them that not all templars they meet will be as forgiving as those here."

 

Philippa spent a good two hours preparing herself to call the mages together. After she felt as prepared as she could get, she called the meeting, setting it out in the chill of the courtyard in the late autumn air. She was hoping that the brisk temperatures might help to deter a lot of the mages from running off as soon as they had the news. She donned her own cloak, the black fabric covering up her red robes and making her look more like the rest of them. She wanted to appeal to them, not feel as if she were bullying them. Once everyone was gathered, and no templars were in the vicinity, courtesy of Cullen, Hawke raised her arms for quiet. "My fellow mages... This morning, I received a letter from the leader of the Seekers of Truth. What was contained inside it concerns every mage in Southern Thedas... But I'm not worried about every mage in Southern Thedas. My concern lies within the walls of the Gallows and those who reside here. Many of you, like myself, came to the Circle when you were just children. Others of you are still children. When I explain the contents of this letter, I implore you to think long and hard before you make a decision. Please, take a lesson from my experience, and do your best to think of not only yourselves, but of those around you that may have become like family. I have no right to make your decisions for you, however, and I leave it completely in your hands.

"As you might have noticed, I called you all outdoors on this chilly afternoon. Take a look around and heed the fact that there is not a single templar in sight. This brings us to the letter. Both Knight-Commander Cullen and I received this letter and have chosen, together, to not view the words within as direct orders. It states very clearly that as of three days ago, the Lord Seeker has dissolved all of the Circles across the continent." Murmuring began among the mages assembled, and she cleared her throat to indicate she was not finished. The whispers ceased and she continued. "With this letter, you have all been freed. It is my duty as First Enchanter to concern myself with the well-being of every mage in the Gallows. I am in no way telling you to leave the Circle or that you are no longer welcome. I am well aware that, like myself, many of you have no home to go to. Both myself and Knight-Commander Cullen are working on solutions that will help everyone. Men and women, young and old... To leave is your choice, but do not make it rashly. Keep in mind that outside of Kirkwall, there are other templars that, unlike those here, will not be as open to the idea of mages being free of the Circle. Should you choose to leave, you will not be stopped. The ferry is open, and the city guard and residents have been informed of the situation. Your Phylacteries have been set up by the docks for you to take with you as you leave. The Chantry cannot hound you any longer." She stepped to the side and held out her arm in invitation.

Surprisingly, only about a half dozen of the mages present broke off and headed directly for the docks. The rest of them continued to watch as their peers boldly got onto the ferry and were not assaulted in the undertaking. This caused them all to glance around at each other in indecision. When the murmuring ceased again, Philippa drew attention back to herself. "I know these are confusing times, and it is imperative that we lean on each other for support. If you are uncertain if you wish to leave, take some time and think it over, discuss it among yourselves. No matter the outcome, personally, I will be staying on to aid those who need it. As for the children, I have personally contacted each of your families and am awaiting responses. I will be offering classes for those who wish to attend if you still feel that controlling your abilities is an impossible task. That is what the Circle is here for. To understand and nurture your magic. I'll not be sending anyone away that is not confident they wish to go. This is your freedom and your choice."

With her speech finished, she smiled confidently and headed back toward the Gallows entrance, her outward appearance much more calm than her insides which were a jumbled mess of nausea and concern. She had never asked to be First Enchanter, and now everyone was looking to her for the right thing to do. She shuffled back to her office, unhooking her cloak and draping it over her arm. Time would tell how many more she lost.

 

Nearly a week later, she had mages trickling out each day after making preparations for themselves. She kept true to her word, helping as many of the children as she could to harness their powers before their families came to get them. She made it clear that if there were any questions or if anyone needed help, she would remain in the Gallows. It was looking like she was going to be the only one left at this rate. The tranquil had been reassigned around the city, only a select few remaining in the Gallows to continue preparing the lyrium as their stores slowly dwindled. Cullen was working tirelessly to find a legitimate means to continue supplying it to their remaining templars, but it wasn't looking promising. Something had changed in the Knight-Commander, but with as busy as they both were, she couldn't quite put her finger on what it might be.

When Cullen knocked on her open door, then let himself in, she glanced up momentarily to grace him with a smile before returning to the ledger open in front of her. "When did you say Rylen and his men were taking their leave? I'm trying to make certain the Gallows will have enough coin to see us through the month." He didn't respond right away and she glanced up again. He was waiting patiently for her attention with a slight grin lifting his scar. She chuckled to herself. "Sorry. My mind is in a million places right now." She slipped the book further up her desk and folded her hands. "You have my undivided attention."

"Undivided attention? Is there some sort of honor in that? I'm fairly certain your attention is rarely undivided," he teased as he approached her desk. There was something in his hand, but he cleverly hid it beneath his other, resting them both casually on his sword hilt.

"Nevermind my attention. You're up to something, Knight-Commander. I can smell it," she returned, letting him know she had seen the shimmering object in his fist.

He rolled his eyes and unfolded his hands. "I received this package today from Orlais, and I thought you might want this back." He loosened his grip on the object and it tumbled from his palm to dangle from a thin silverite chain. "It was one of the few that weren't lost when the White Spire's Chamber was destroyed."

She gasped and stood, reaching to take the vial between her fingers. "Of course mine would survive," she chuckled as the phylactery hummed to life when she touched it.

He pushed his hand further toward her. "It's yours, Hawke. You should have it, like the others, to do what you wish with it."

She bit her lip, staring at the object, but never fully taking it in her hand. Finally, she looked up at him and took his hand in hers, turning it over so his palm faced upwards. Then she picked up the tiny hourglass and placed it in his palm. Closing his fingers over it, she said, "I want you to have it. Maker knows what the future will bring, and I'd prefer someone I trust held onto it." Before she pulled her hands away from his, she noticed the slight tremble in his fingers. She assumed it was just nerves. She knew he wasn't usually comfortable with physical contact. She stepped back and smiled. "I appreciate you bringing it to me."

"I..." he paused, cleared his throat and stuttered. "Uh... Thank you... I'm... I appreciate your trust... But you could just be rid of it. Destroy it if you wanted."

She shrugged. "Like I said, we don't know what the future holds. It might be useful."

He sighed and took the phylactery back, looping the chain around his neck and tucking it under his gambeson. "I'll keep it safe."

"Thank you," she said with another smile, returning to her desk and her paperwork.

 

It wasn't long before her prediction became reality. The rest of the mages left, Cullen could no longer support the increasing lyrium needs of the remaining templars and they were forced to leave as well and seek more unsavory means of buying their lyrium. Carver was one of the last to leave, but fortunately, he had somewhere to go. Garrett wrote them both letters, temporarily signing over the family estate in Hightown, to them. Since Philippa had begun holding hours in the clinic in Darktown, sans a templar escort, she had drawn a crowd well enough off that she was able to begin charging for her services to those who could afford it. She was so good at her job that the nobility paid her to help cure what ailed them.

Her final days in the Gallows were spent trying to help Cullen to find places for the remaining tranquil, hiring on a few herself to help in the clinic with making potions and maintaining the enchantments Anders had put in place. It was a bittersweet time. She had known nothing other than the Circle since she was a girl. She had lived, loved, learned, and fought confined within the walls of one Circle or another for 28 years. She prayed that her wits would be enough to help her survive.

It was a Wednesday afternoon when she packed up her things, a few books included from the library that would likely rot in the empty Gallows, and hefted her pack onto her shoulder. As she glanced around her quarters for the final time, a soft knock sounded on the door that she had left open. She turned to see Cullen standing sheepishly in the doorway. She smiled, knowing that the expression never reached her eyes, and shrugged. "I suppose this is it," she said with forced levity.

"I suppose so. I was hoping to catch you before you left..." he said.

She snorted. "Like I would leave without saying goodbye to my favorite Knight-Commander." With his eyeroll, her grin faded. "Where will you go?"

"I... have some prospects..." he said evasively. "I wanted to warn you before you leave, Hawke. There is a group of Seekers that have arrived in the city. I'm uncertain what they are after, but I think it's best you're careful if they come calling. Just... don't be yourself, all right?"

"Knight-Commander, keep talking like that and I might get the impression you don't like me," she teased.

"I've adapted. Whereas a group of Seekers might not be as forgiving as I am. Be cautious, and keep Carver close. That's all I ask," he said gently. It wasn't an order, but a request.

"Since you asked me so nicely..." she said teasingly. "I promise I won't snark the Seekers." She paused and watched him run his hand through his hair and then shift it to the back of his neck and shuffle his feet. "Promise me you'll take care of yourself, too," she said in a more serious tone.

He hummed lightly. "As you wish, Hawke."

She moved toward the doorway where he stood and impulsively reached up and touched his face. Amazingly, he didn't shy away. She lifted onto her toes and lightly kissed his cheek. "Goodbye, Knight-Commander." His cheek was cold beneath her lips and when she pulled away, he turned his head to glance at her with a mildly shocked frown, his face flushing crimson.

"Goo... Goodbye, Hawke. May the Maker watch over you," he said with a practiced tone.

Before she made any more rash decisions, she turned and left, walking through the Gallows halls for the last time.

Chapter Text

It was going on fall in Kirkwall. Philippa had been living in the Hawke estate for nearly three months alongside Carver. He had started out in a rough state, but Philippa had enlisted both Lirene and Varric's help in securing a private seller who would provide them with lyrium for a reasonable price under threat of Varric pulling their most profitable account out from under them. It certainly helped to have a businessman for a friend.

It didn't take long for the Seekers that Cullen had warned her about to come sniffing around. The group was led by two women. One was a curt Nevarran with sharp facial features, brown eyes, and a scar that dug deep along her left cheek. Her black hair was short, much shorter than even Philippa kept hers, and braided around her crown. The second woman was much more soft spoken, her accent Orlesian. She had red hair judging by the wisps of it visible from beneath the hood she wore that shaded her features. Her soft blue eyes spoke nothing of her personality, but Philippa could tell the deception was intentional. You would learn nothing of her if she didn't want you to. Where the Nevarran woman wore her impressive sword and shield brazenly on the outside of her clothes, the cloak the Orlesian wore covered whatever weapons she might be hiding on her person. Philippa played the fool when they asked what she knew about Garrett's whereabouts, although, she really had not much clue. She could have found him if she wished, like she had found Bethany so many times, but whatever these women wanted from him, she was not going to reveal more than she had to. When Carver had brazenly stepped between them, his sword on his back and his arms crossed, they had left without much more fuss.

It wasn't a week later that Philippa received a letter that she had not been expecting at all. It was addressed 'Former First Enchanter of Kirkwall, Philippa Hawke.' When she turned the envelope over, the seal was that of the Divine herself. She broke the wax, wondering what exactly the Divine wanted with her.

 

First Enchanter Hawke,

While I am aware that most of the mages of Southern Thedas have been blown on the wind like the seeds of a dandelion puff, I was pleased to see that you had not strayed far from what you believe to be right. The dispersal of the mages in Kirkwall was the most organized and least violent across the nations. I hear your clinic is flourishing and you are still using your magic to serve man, as it should be.

Let me get to the point. The recent events across the continent have made me realize that I must step in to try and stop this war and make peace between the mages and templars. It is the people of Thedas suffering in the wake of this chaos, and I simply can't have it. I have arranged for a conclave between the leaders of each group. The conclave will take place on 23rd Harvestmere in the sacred resting place of Andraste herself. The Temple of Sacred Ashes will stand as neutral ground where representatives from both sides will be free to meet without fear of hostility. I am writing this letter in hopes that you would consider lending your voice to the side of reason.

May the Maker bless and keep you, Most Holy Divine Justinia IV

 

"Do you think you're going to go?" Carver asked her after she had allowed him to read over the letter as well.

"I feel like it's the right thing to do, don't you? We could help stop this insanity before more people get hurt," she said.

" 'We'?, sister? This letter doesn't mention me at all," Carver said with a mild bitter tone that she had learned was just the tone he took whenever he felt left out.

"You were a templar, Carver. Your opinion matters just as much as mine," she pointed out with a small pout.

He rolled his eyes and sighed. "I'll accompany you to Haven, but I'm not climbing some bloody mountain to listen to 'important people' talk about the same horseshit we've been living for the last ten years."

Philippa had been wearing Garrett's old clothes around the estate, and she glanced down at her shabby appearance. Knowing it was not wise to travel in her old robes with the state of things, she resigned herself to going shopping.

Garrett's elven servant, who had been left to care for the mansion while he was gone, agreed to stay on once Carver and Philippa had moved in. Orana was extremely helpful when it came to picking clothes for Philippa and Carver, even though the task seemed impossible for herself. She almost always wore the same old dress in spite of Philippa insisting she get herself something nice on her silvers. She led them around the shops, Helping them both pick out clothes that were suitable for traveling as well as fancy enough to be worn to something that you had been invited to by the Divine herself. Carver ended up with a pair of brown hide trousers and a simple padded vest. He insisted on the bare arms, much like she remembered he had worn the first time she had met him. He covered his forearms with leather wrist-guards. Her outfit was a bit less showy. She got a pair of black hide breeches that hugged her body almost like she was wearing leggings. Over the bottom of the pants, she wore long matching leather boots that the stall owner had insisted were the best for climbing uneven terrain. She was going into the mountains after all. The shirt had wide sleeves that puffed out around her arms only to be cinched every few inches by leather straps that were sewn into the fabric. The shirt was red, much like her robes had been, and the vest that went over it was black. She also got a travel bag, a belt with several pouches, and a harness for her staff.

Satisfied that they were going to look as normal as possible, they headed back to the estate to pack supplies while Orana made arrangements for them to cross the Waking Sea by boat.

 

It felt odd to be leaving Kirkwall. Almost as odd as it felt to be returning to Ferelden. On the three day long crossing to Amaranthine, Philippa did her best to blend in with the rest of the crew and passengers, keeping her staff out of sight until they were docked in the city. "You know, Beth is stationed somewhere just outside the city," Carver pointed out as he hitched his pack further onto his shoulder when they paused on the docks, trying to get their bearings.

"With everything that's going on, I would imagine she is probably out of the Keep," Philippa pointed out.

Carver sighed. "You're probably right. Let's stock up on rations. It's a long road to Haven."

Carver wasn't wrong. Without holdups, they would likely be walking for a month or more. Philippa was relying on Carver's ability to read a map, and plot them a course. She knew some geography, but she had never done any real traveling on her own. All she knew was that Haven was south east of their current location, but she had no idea what roads to travel or which direction was which once she was out of sight of the ocean.

Carver had them traveling across country for a good part of the trip, keeping off roads and highways to maintain some anonymity. Even with his caution, they still ran across the occasional bandit or roving groups of mages or templars. Just as they had predicted, neither of the groups were particularly friendly no matter how you introduced yourselves. Mages were friendly at first until they spotted Carver's sword and the vials of lyrium he carried on his belt. Templars attacked Philippa on sight, feeding the necessity for Carver to step in a few times and cut them down when the smite came from a hidden foe. If not for her brother, she would have been dead likely several times over. All of what was happening made her concerned for those of her friends and family that were mages. How were Anders and Garrett faring on their own? Were Bethany and Solona all right? Had Finn and Ariane been smart enough to lay low after the Circles fell apart? Then there were those whom she hadn't seen in years. Neria, Kilian and Faye, even Wynne. As she thought about her friends having to leave their Circles and find their way, it terrified her that she might find out that they had been killed. It wasn't unlikely with all of the chaos all around.

It took them thirty-six days to reach Haven on foot. Philippa was thankful for the sturdy boots she had purchased, and the fact that she was not wearing robes that would hinder her movements. It had been surprisingly easy to adjust to breeches after wearing robes for as much of her life as she could remember.

Haven was inundated with all sorts of people, stocking up for the trek up the mountain to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. They received a few sideways glances from some templars, but it seemed that the Divine had strictly made Haven a violence free safe zone. Philippa once more tried to convince Carver to make the climb with her, but he was adamant that he was simply there to be her body guard along the road. Now that they were at Haven, he was going to relax while she took care of business.

She left her pack with Carver, keeping only her staff and a few potions and rations in her belt pouches. She lifted the hood on her cloak and left the city, following a few other mages and templars that were heading up the mountain. It was one day until the conclave, and Philippa was excited to get there early to get a read on the atmosphere of the situation and possibly catch a glimpse of the Divine herself. She was also quite curious to explore the Temple. She had read that during the Blight, Solona had discovered a cult in the mountains that had worshiped a High Dragon they believed was the reincarnation of the prophet Andraste. If there was anything left of the dragon's nest or even relics the cult may have left behind, she wanted to get a look. It was sometimes hard to remember that she was free to roam about, and she had never taken the time to do any dreaming while she and Carver were on the road, because she simply forgot that she was in uncharted territory. The dreams in the Circles had become dull and stagnate over the years. Without another's mind to play off like she had in Kinloch with Finn, all she had were her own dreams. Here, there were so many places and ruins that would hold memories for her to learn from, even if those memories were skewed by perception.

The mountain path quickly grew frigid. She had forgotten just how cold Ferelden winters could be, and they weren't even fully greeting winter yet. At the end of Harvestmere in Kirkwall, they would probably have another month before they started to see snow. Here in Ferelden, the mountains had already seen some powder, and the frigid air threatened to freeze her to the bone. She tugged her cloak more tightly around herself and pushed forward, her un-gloved hand clutching her staff as a walking stick to maintain her balance on the slippery terrain.

There was a smattering of both mages and templars around her as they all made the trek together, but not a soul was speaking. It was a long and boring climb. She wished once more that Carver had elected to come with her so she would at least have someone to speak with, even if his company was less than ideal. He was not the templar that she would have preferred to be making the trip to Ferelden with. Her mind wandered to Cullen. How was he faring in Kirkwall? She had heard nothing from him after she left the Gallows. It had been months. She allowed a sigh to escape her lungs, the heat of her breath rising in a plume before her face.

When she finally reached the summit where the entrance to the Temple stood, she paused to gape at the impressive structure. She remembered being similarly impressed by the Circle tower on Lake Calenhad when she had first arrived as a child. Tall spires stood around a central building made of stone. Statues of Andraste lined the path standing several stories tall. Philippa was humbled. She had not been raised Andrastian, the Circle not particularly catering to religion if you weren't already an avid believer. She somewhat believed, but she had always found the stories of Andraste and the Maker hollow. The had always felt like propaganda. Her boots sank in the snow at her feet as she stood still for a moment and took in the grandeur of the final resting place of Andraste herself. Several templars and some mages stopped at the summit as she had, and took a knee, uttering short prayers before continuing on into the Temple.

Philippa followed behind, entering on the heels of a group of templars. Inside the grand entry hall, whose ceiling stood dozens of stories tall supported by pillars that disappeared into the darkness above, Philippa stepped off to the side, out of sight and out of the way. She wanted an honest read of the atmosphere before she went any further. To get that, no one could know she was listening. Groups were congregated around the room between 3 and 10 large, segregated between mages and templars. Not a single group was mixed. Unlike herself, many of the mages looked like they had been on the run for the last several months, still wearing tattered and worn robes. Again, her thoughts went to her friends and family. She did not see anyone she knew among the mages or templars in attendance. The tension in the room was high as all of the groups discussed the ongoing war, or simply glared across the room at an opposing group. Philippa quietly made her way toward the rear of the room where she saw a dais atop which stood an ornate throne flanked by a pair of templars and occupied by an elderly woman. She had a kind face and sparkling eyes that Philippa could tell would be as empty as the red-headed Orlesian Seeker's had been if she set them on you. She wore pristine white robes with a thick band of gold embroidered red that flowed down her entire front. Her hat stood like a beacon a good foot off her head, similarly colored with a veil down the back that covered her neck and shoulders. She looked upon the room with a disappointed and calculating expression. She had to be the Divine. Even though Philippa had never seen her in person before, there was no mistaking the leader of the Chantry.

 

If there was anything Philippa had learned about being a Somniari, it was that she never failed to remember her dreams. She could recall them as vividly as she could recall memories. Her eyes flew open and she shot up into a sitting position with a gasp. Her hands went instinctively to her forehead and then the heels dug into her eye-sockets. Flashes of white hot pain shot across her vision and she cried out in agony. She had no time to react or adjust before hands were on her. They dragged her from where she sat, making her vision swim as she was forced to open her eyes and see where she was going. The swift movement of being dragged sent a fresh stab of pain through her temples. Before she knew what was happening, she was shoved onto her knees. The cold stone floor, beneath her as she fell, rattled her brain some more and bruised her kneecaps. In her attempts to catch herself, her arms gave out from under her, her left in particular tingling and numb. Someone grabbed hold of her collar and yanked her back onto her knees so she was kneeling. She closed her eyes against a wave of nausea brought on by the rapidly increasing throbbing that was happening inside her skull. Cold metal was secured around her wrists and the chain attached to the manacles clattered so loudly, she thought she might go deaf. She tried to lift her arms to press her hands to her ears and block out the cacophony, but the manacles were attached to an eighteen inch flat iron bar the held her arms apart.

When her attention fell on the manacles, she shoved down the blatant pulsing of her heartbeat behind her eyes and stared in awe and confusion at her left hand. Across her palm, from one side to the other, tracing the crease in her skin, a gash nearly an half an inch wide tore along the flesh. There was no blood, and no pain that would indicate that her skin was open, but with her very eyes she was looking at the wound. It was flickering with an eerie green burst of light, pulsing out of time in uneven increments. The sensation had her gritting her teeth as her fingers twitched around her palm. She lifted her limb, ignoring the group of men that had chained her as they drew swords and stood in a protective circle around her as if she were a danger. The pain in her head became a background concern as the gash in her palm became the center of her focus. As she stared at it, suddenly, it flared to life, the flickering light exploding in a burst that shocked up her arm and into her jaw. She cried out, turning her eyes from the bright light as it nearly drew tears to her sensitive pupils.

Within minutes, the door across the room swung open, slamming against the wall and letting in a splash of light. It was in no way the light of sunshine, and Philippa frowned as the reality of what was happening began to come into focus around her. She had been so distracted by her throbbing head and the curiosity on her hand that she had disregarded the fact that she was apparently a prisoner of some sort. From the bright and noisy doorway, two new people entered the room and the men with swords on her sheathed them. She glanced around, taking in her surroundings. On three sides, she was surrounded by cells, making this a dungeon of some kind. The lack of sunlight put her underground. Her arms were chained to the floor by thick iron rings bolted into the stone. A few torches burned in mounts on the walls, lighting the damp room dimly.

The dim light was enough for her to make out the pair of figures that had entered. They were both familiar. The pair of Seekers that had questioned her in Kirkwall. The Nevarran, Cassandra Pentaghast she recalled, had swapped out her Seeker's armor for a simple pair of purple hide pants, tall black boots, a hide shirt and a fitted cuirass that was draped with a heraldry that Philippa didn't recognize (not that she was an expert). She still carried the sword and shield strapped to her person, and her expression was as stoic and unforgiving as Philippa remembered. The Orlesian, Leliana, had completely changed her look as well. Her Seeker's uniform and cloak had been replaced by hide pants completely hidden by her tall boots and spiked greaves, and the tails of her chainmail shirt that dangled in four pieces around her thighs. Her hands and arms were covered in brown gloves that matched the color of her pants, and she had leather pauldrons set directly into the chain shirt. Atop everything she wore a purple hooded cowl that was secured in the front with a pin in the shape of the same symbol that Cassandra had across her chest.

They entered the room together and Philippa dropped her hand to her knee, glancing between the two of them with narrowed eyes. They separated to circle her, raising her tension level to uncomfortable. What Cassandra said next, nudged it over the edge into downright concerned. "Tell me why we shouldn't kill you now?" Without giving her a chance to respond, she continued. "The Conclave is destroyed. Everyone who attended is dead. Except for you."

Philippa felt her eyes widen in shock as her heart lurched. Her fist closed around the strange mark on her palm briefly as finally, her brain began to respond through the pounding headache she had. "What do you mean everyone's dead?" she managed to squeak around a dry throat. She began to panic, her breathing coming more rapidly as she realized that she couldn't remember a thing after she had entered the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Her mind was drawing a blank.

Without answering her question, Cassandra leaned over, grabbed up her forearm and showed her the mark on her own hand. "Explain this!" she demanded through gritted teeth before shoving the arm back down again.

"I... I can't," she blurted, her own lack of memory more disturbing than the fact that the mark was there. She had never had a gap in her memory. It was unsettling.

"What do you mean you 'can't'?" the Seeker grunted in disbelief as Leliana began to circle her as well.

Philippa swiveled her head back and forth, trying to watch them both as they menaced her, her heart racing even faster. "I bloody well don't know what that is... or where in the Void it came from," she said in a panicked tone. Phillippa had never allowed herself to seem less than confident, but the fear of her situation had wiped away her usual swagger.

"You're lying!" Cassandra raged, leaning down to grab hold of the front of Philippa's clothing and shake her. The jostling made her groan as it rattled her aching head.

Leliana intervened immediately, pulling the Seeker off her and walking her back a few paces. "We need her, Cassandra."

As the two women had a silent argument, Philippa looked down at the palm of her hand again and reflected on the information she had just been hit with. "All those people... dead?"

Leliana looked away from Cassandra and approached her with a sway in her hips. "Do you remember what happened? How this began?"

Philippa closed her eyes and wracked her brain as it pounded uncomfortably. Her brow creased as flickers of memory pulsed and receded like a slowly dwindling dream. There were only a few things she could scarcely recall. "I remember running. Things were chasing me, and then... a woman?" That was the thing that she was most curious about. Who had been with her. All she could remember was a flash of a face, but not who the face had belonged to.

"A woman?" Leliana asked with a curious tone, crossing her arms.

"She reached out to me, but then..." Philippa sighed and closed her eyes again, shifting to press her fingertips to her forehead. Trying to recall was giving her a bigger headache on top of all her other aches.

"Go to the forward camp, Leliana. I will take her to the rift," Cassandra said in a much gentler tone than the one she had been using with Philippa. Leliana gave one last interested glance in Philippa's direction before nodding.

Cassandra knelt before her and began to unlock her restraints, only to re-tie her hands together immediately. "What did happen?" Philippa asked her, hoping that cooperation might get her some answers.

Cassandra set an almost sympathetic look on her as she secured the ropes around her hands and helped her to her feet. "It... will be easier to show you."

Philippa followed the woman through the dungeon and into the adjoining hallway. It was lit by hanging bowl chandeliers in intervals along the way. To the sides as they walked, Philippa noticed locked cells filled with stacks of books, scrolls and parchments. The light was confined to the hallway to protect the small libraries from fire. Philippa frowned, wondering where they might be. How long was the gap in her memory? How had she gotten from the Temple to where she was, or were they still in a forgotten hole in the Temple?

They took a left turn at the end of the hall and followed a tall flight of stairs from the dungeons. The setting was nothing like she had expected. It looked like they had been in the basement of a Chantry that belonged to a small village. Light blazed from torches mounted on pillars that lined the area where pews had once stood. They had since been moved out of the way and stacked in rows behind the pillars in the alcoves on either side of the runner of red carpet that spanned the length of the hall, all of the way to a narrower section in the rear that had several rooms carved in a U shape. Whatever warmth the Chantry might have held in the past was lost to the dark corners and dismal expressions of it's guardians. Cassandra led her to the tall, heavy wooden doors of the exit. Two of the men guarding the doors saluted with their fists over their chests, and then pushed the doors open. Cassandra stepped out into the glare of the sun, Philippa following slowly on her heels and shielding her eyes from the harsh light. She nearly collided with the Seeker as she stopped just outside the doors. Philippa's gaze followed hers, and she blinked rapidly, several times to be certain she was actually seeing what she was seeing.

The day was overcast, but she recognized the village as Haven. She took in the light snowfall happening around them and the muddy state of the gravel streets of the village before her eyes were drawn upwards. High in the sky, a vortex of clouds was causing the dimness of the sun. The outskirts of the vortex looked to be regular gray storm clouds that faded to lighter fluffier clouds towards the center of the swirl. Lightning crackled among the clouds, but it was no normal lightning. The flashes were the same color as the magical green mark on her palm. The center of the vortex was also the sickly bright green color. Large rocks defied gravity, floating near the top of the eye and a thick magical curtain of energy reached from the eye and below to the ground, disappearing from Philippa's sight in the mountains. If her sense of direction was correct, it hovered directly over the Temple of Sacred Ashes.

As she stared up in awe, Cassandra spoke. "We call it 'the Breach'. It's a massive rift into the world of demons that grows larger with each passing hour. It's not the only such rift. Just the largest. All were caused by the explosion at the conclave."

Philippa dragged her eyes from the Breach and frowned at Cassandra. The Veil was torn open? That explained the massive migraine she was suffering. "An explosion can do that?"

"This one did," Cassandra said wryly, moving from where she had gotten ahead of Philippa when she had stopped to gape. "Unless we act, the Breach may grow until it swallows the world."

As if on cue, a loud pop of sound resonated across the sky and the mark on her palm flashed and crackled, the magic dragging her to her knees. She cried out, pulling her hand into a fist and cradling it against her stomach as the magic fizzled, leaving a tingling sensation that crept up her forearm. Reaching from the mark, thin veins of green magic were seeping up her arm, spreading out the agony across her skin.

Cassandra took a knee in front of her, gesturing in explanation. "Each time the Breach expands, your mark spreads... and it is killing you." Philippa felt the blood drain from her cheeks and her stomach flipped. She was dying? "It may be the key to stopping this, but there isn't much time."

With the realization of her fate, her anger flared and she snapped at Cassandra. "So if I do what you want, will I live through it?"

"We have no way of knowing," Cassandra said truthfully, standing and dragging Philippa back to her feet. She guided her along with a hand on her back through the village. Most people wore accusatory scowls and stood with crossed arms, glaring at her being led to her doom. By way of explanation, Cassandra said, "They have decided your guilt. They need it. The people of Haven mourn our Most Holy, Divine Justinia, head of the Chantry. The Conclave was hers. It was a chance for peace between mages and templars. She brought their leaders together. Now, they are dead." They left the village and passed through a short stretch of woods that lined the main road. Finally, they came to the paved and built up road that would lead them into the valley where the Temple stood. "We lash out, like the sky, but we must think beyond ourselves, as she did." Philippa did not quite know how to feel whenever the fact resurfaced that she was the only survivor. Why her? And why survive, only to die by the mark on her hand? "Until the Breach is sealed." Cassandra gently tugged her to a stop just through the gates to the path and circled around in front of her drawing a knife. "There will be a trial. I can promise no more." She cut the ropes binding Philippa's hands and Philippa rubbed at the chafed skin. "Come. It is not far."

"Where exactly are we going?" Philippa asked, her tone careful to sound curious and not accusatory as she fell into step behind Cassandra. Cooperation was key to her survival if she survived at all.

"Your mark must be tested on something smaller than the Breach," Cassandra explained, not really revealing exactly where they were going.

The further from the village they walked, there were fewer villagers and more uniformed soldiers. Some were idle, catching a few breaths along the side of the road. Others ran, bustling from one place to another. And still more were deep in prayer, the Chant of Light carrying on the air. They bypassed blockades on the road and she noticed large balls of fiery magic blazing from the Breach above to fall to the ground all around the valley. It explained the sporadic patches of burning blockade that they kept running into along the road. She was just about to ask for some information when the Breach let off another loud and debilitating pop that had her tripping over her own feet and falling to the ground. Her skull lit up like fire, the pulse reaching further than it had before and blinding her momentarily. Cassandra was at her side, helping her back to her feet and giving a reassuring pat to her shoulder. "The pulses are coming faster now," she said, sealing the need for urgency. "The larger the Breach grows, the more rifts appear, the more demons we face." The rippling magic had reached her wrist now.

Philippa took a breath and followed, slowly building back up to a jog as Cassandra led her forward. "How did I survive the blast?" she wondered as Cassandra slowed a bit when they approached another stone bridge over the frozen lake below. She hadn't even noticed the frigid cold around the pounding of her head

"They said you... stepped out of a rift, then fell unconscious," Cassandra explained. "They say a woman was in the rift behind you. No one knows who she was." At least that told her she had not been the only one to see the woman. "Everything farther in the valley was laid waste, including the Temple of Sacred Ashes. I suppose you'll see soon enough." So they were heading to the Temple. Philippa rubbed at the mark on her hand and wished she could remember anything. The Temple had been immaculate when she arrived. The loss of memory was frustrating. If she lived through this, she would need to do some serious dream-walking on a hunt for information.

Near the end of the bridge, one of the balls of green fire slammed down in front of them, shattering the bridge and spilling her and Cassandra onto the glassy surface of the frozen lake. Philippa landed on her side, the wind briefly knocked out of her before she rolled down off the rubble she had hit and onto the lake. Broken pieces of bridge and bits of the carts full of supplies that had been in the way of the fireball rained down around her. She shielded her head as everything settled and then slowly pushed to her knees, Cassandra already blasting past her with her weapons drawn and shouting for Philippa to stay behind her. Philippa watched as she engaged with one of the demons she had mentioned. It had no legs, hovering around on the air. The robes it wore tapered in at the waist and then rounded back out to form a hunched upper body, giving it an hourglass shape with two spindly arms that grew from it's upper body. A shade, she identified. A lesser demon, but enough to set her teeth grinding as it's physical presence nagged at her mind. As she watched Cassandra fight, light whispering sounds reached her ears and she looked around to identify the source. Between her and Cassandra, a patch of the ground was covered in a hazy black and green wisp of smoke and light. As she realized that a demon was readying to manifest, she panicked, crawling back toward the rubble to put distance between her and the demon. She glanced around in haste and finally spotted a shimmer of metal sticking out from an overturned crate. She scurried to her feet and lurched the crate open, shuffling around the straw packing for a weapon. By sheer luck, among the daggers, bows, and swords, a couple of staves were nestled. She grabbed the closest one, the magic in the wood licking against her skin as she activated it with a touch and tasted what sort of power it had. It was not particularly well made, but it would save her life. She turned on the demon as it crawled up from beneath the ground.

The staff twirled in her hands on instinct and she pushed a winter's grasp spell toward the approaching shade. It froze in place and Philippa grunted in effort as she shifted her grip to the lower end of the shaft and swung the head like a bat. It slammed into the frozen demon and shattered it into pieces with a sharp crack that resounded across the lake. Philippa flinched at the sound and glanced around for more threats as Cassandra's sword pierced the original demon's belly and it melted out of existence. When she saw nothing else manifesting or slithering toward them, she sighed heavily, her breathing labored with the strain of the fall and the fight. "It's over..."

Cassandra charged at her, sword raised and scowl in place. The pointy end of the sword ended in Philippa's face and she suddenly knew how Garrett had felt while Meredith pointed her sword in his face. “Drop your weapon! Now!”

Philippa lifted the staff, her hand gripping the wood a little more tightly even as she raised her left hand in a defensive gesture. It was a terrible time for her questionable sense of humor to surface, but she was in no mood. She chuckled nervously at the sword being brandished in her direction, gently using the head of the staff to nudge it a bit further to the side. “Do you think I need a staff to be dangerous?”

“Is that supposed to reassure me?” The woman snarled. Her dark brown eyes narrowed in annoyance and the sword remained pointed, pushing back.

“I haven't used my magic on you, yet,” Philippa reasoned, the freezing mountain winds picking up to blow her hair into her face. She watched the Seeker's face through the wisps of hair as her words sunk in. She didn't dare twitch until Cassandra realized she truly meant her no harm.

Those angry pools of brown slowly softened as Philippa stood stark still. Finally, Cassandra let out a heavy sigh and her legs pulled together as her sword turned and was slipped into a sheathe at her hip. “You do not need a staff, but you should have one. I can not protect you and I should not expect you to be defenseless. I should also remember that you agreed to come willingly.”

Philippa's breath heaved out in a sigh that puffed out around her in a halo of fog, and she loosened her grip on the staff to hold it casually in her tingling left hand while she brushed the hair from her face. The next half hour or so of fighting gave Philippa a chance to try and suss out any information from Cassandra that she could, as well as search her own memories to try and recall anything from the last day...? days...? week? Maker knew how long. No matter how hard she tried, nothing came back to her. Cassandra was slim on details, and knew nothing of what had happened to Carver. She had left him in Haven. Where had he gone? Was he all right? Every half answer led to three more questions. Her brain was slowly turning to mush as she attempted to answer them all while she was physically and mentally assaulted by the presence of so many demons right out in the open. Cassandra seemed oblivious to her headache, urging her forward relentlessly.

Soon, the Seeker paused, a hand up to stop Philippa as well. She cocked her head to listen. Philippa was glad for the reprieve, hoping to catch her breath. “We are close. You can hear the fighting.” She took off again at a run.

“Who's fighting?” Philippa asked, her pace quickening as she followed Cassandra up the hill ahead, with a sigh, her staff coming in handy to keep her footing in the blanket of snow covering the stairway.

“You will see soon. We must hurry!” Cassandra called behind her as she began to sprint more quickly.

At the top of the hill, the ground leveled briefly, putting them back on the path they had been following above before the bridge had been destroyed beneath them. To their right, the path had once crossed over the frozen lake as a wooden bridge, but the structure had been destroyed. Ahead was no different, but below in the dip among the debris, several soldiers were engaged with a group of demons that seemed to be pouring from a much smaller version of the breach in the sky. It was currently a hovering green crystal snapping and crackling and reshaping before her very eyes. Within an instant, the crystal burst open, and through the green slit in the air, she could see an image of the Fade beyond. Philippa could feel the Fade licking over her skin. Cassandra immediately dropped from the ledge where they stood and charged at the nearest demon. Philippa maintained her small amount of high ground, surveying the battle as she forced her eyes from the tear in the veil belching demons. She was not the only mage on the field, she realized, as powerful, unfamiliar, magic burst in a ripple of fire from her left. She looked to see a tall, bald elf wielding a staff with a particular amount of grace. He was average looking in every way from his drab clothing to his anonymous features. He had all of the common features of an elf, and nothing on him particularly stood out from this distance. It made Philippa uneasy to be seeing someone so common looking wielding such powerful magic. It was as if he were drawing directly from the Fade itself, manipulating the energy seeping from the rift.

Her observations happened in a split second, and she moved to defend a few of the soldiers that were caught between a pair of shades. As she dropped down after erecting a barrier around herself, she pushed her way forward with a few physical spells to get close to one of the shades and begin protecting the soldiers. With her and Cassandra's help, the demons went down a little easier. When the last shade was felled across the field, Philippa realized she had made her way all of the way beneath the rift. She looked up, glimpsing the twisted reflection on the other side. Before she could even squint to get a better look, someone grabbed a hold of her wrist, aggravating the scraping pain of the mark. She spun, hissing and flinching, to see who held her, and it was the strangely innocuous elf. His expression was strained and his breathing quick as she felt him reign in his own power before piercing her with his gaze. His large eyes were grey with flecks of brown and blue, the likes of which she had never seen before. His heavy brows were knitted together as he spoke to her over the sound of rushing water that the rift was making. “Quickly! Before more come through!”

He lifted her arm towards the rift and the mark reacted to the magic. The magic flared, shocking up and down her forearm before a tendril of thick green light arched from her palm to the center of the rift. She felt a building of power that threatened to wash over her senses. Just when she thought she could take no more, a loud snap shattered the rushing sound and the rift closed, leaving her palm tingling as the power returned where it belonged. She pulled her hand away, cradling her burning fist against her chest as she gaped at the elf. “What did you do?”

The expression on his face had changed to one of contained amusement. Up close, he had a strong jaw and a narrow, dimpled chin. He was attractive for an elf, even without hair. His body was tall and lithe and he dressed in a simple tunic and green lambskin vest. He wore no shoes below his matching green leggins and footwraps. His staff was tucked on his back behind a travelers backpack. He stood in a manner that conveyed propriety, but casualness that she recognized as the stance of someone who knew how to be charming. His tone when he answered her was self assured and a little bit proud. “I did nothing. The credit is yours.” He inclined his head slightly in a short bow of concession.

"I closed that thing? How?" she asked, pulling her hand away from her chest to look at the slowly calming blaze of green on her palm. Even the veins had receded from her wrist and now merely trickled along her palm and up her fingers.

Another tip of his head came before he spoke. “Whatever magic opened the Breach in the sky also placed that mark upon your hand. I theorized the mark might be able to close the rifts that have opened in the Breach's wake and it seems I was correct.”

Cassandra approached, her tone curious. “Meaning it could also close the Breach itself?”

The elf let out a short chuckle. “Possibly. It seems you hold the key to our salvation.”

Philippa blinked at him, her mind trying to wrap itself around the statement when another voice rose from a few feet away. “Good to know. And here I thought we'd be ass deep in demons forever.” She spun at the familiar voice, a smile spreading across her face as she looked down on Varric. He returned her grin. "Leave it to you to get wrapped up in this mess, Charmer."

Varric loved his nicknames, as she had learned, and it was not long after she had left the Circle before she had inherited her own. She chuckled shortly, rolling her eyes as she took in his appearance. His nose was crooked and recently broken, a deep gash across the bridge evidence to that. She wondered how that had happened. "Well, I feel a lot better now that I have you and Bianca at my back."

"Absolutely not!" Cassandra objected. "Your help is appreciated, Varric, but..."

He cut her off with a sarcastic chuckle of his own. "Have you been in the valley lately, Seeker? Your soldiers aren't in control anymore. You need me." His expression said he was enjoying rubbing salt in a wound between him and Cassandra. Varric was good at prodding. She wondered why he was there, but Cassandra didn't give her a chance to ask.

She let out a grunt of disgust and waved an angry dismissive hand, turning from him in frustration. "My name is Solas, if there are to be introductions," the elven mage interrupted, making certain that they remembered he was there. "I am pleased to see you still live."

Philippa tipped her head in curiosity as Varric added his own explanation. "He means, 'I kept that mark from killing you while you slept'."

"You're apparently the expert here," Philippa said with curiosity, her eyes widening. She had spent most of her life in the Circle, learning about obscure magic, but what was happening in the sky was beyond her. There was something behind his gaze. Like he knew much more than everyone and was awfully pleased with himself for the fact.

“Unlike you, Solas is an apostate,” Cassandra said with a surprising amount of acceptance in her up-until-then harsh tone.

“All mages are now apostates, Cassandra.” Solas said, his tone never changing from the scholarly hum that he had put forth so far. Then he switched topics as his gaze again fell on Philippa. “You should know that the magic involved here is unlike any I have seen. Indeed, your prisoner is a mage, but I find it hard to imagine any mage with such power.” He obviously didn't know what she was, not that she thought she could rip open the Fade with her somniari powers, but she was most likely more powerful than anyone he had met.

“Understood,” Cassandra said politely. “We must get to the forward camp quickly.”

She started off toward a break in the guard rail as Philippa realized that the path ahead was blocked by a crumbling roadway. She trailed behind, watching Solas follow behind the Seeker, his footfalls almost silent. “Well,” Varric said with a sigh, tapping Philippa's elbow as he passed to catch up. “Bianca's excited.”

She stuck close to Varric as they pushed forward, following Cassandra and fighting demons along the way. He probed her for information about why she was there, and she found out from him that Cassandra had less than politely 'invited' him to come to Haven and share his story about Garrett with the Divine, since he knew so much about her brother and Anders. According to Varric, he hadn't seen Carver either, but he assured her that it didn't mean he wasn't somewhere in the Valley helping in the fight. Anyone who was in the village when the explosion happened was mostly unharmed. Just as she was shaking off a sharp flare of the mark on her hand, Varric looked at her with a half frown. "So... are you innocent?"

"If I'm being honest, Varric, I have no idea. If I had a hand in all of this, I don't remember why or how. I don't remember anything beyond stepping in the front doors of the Temple," she said truthfully, seeing no sense in lying now. In her state, she couldn't even have thought up a convincing lie if her life depended on it.

"That'll get you every time. Should have spun a story," he advised with a chuckle.

"That's what you would have done," Cassandra accused with a sneer. Every time Cassandra said Varric's name it was like she was spitting poison, and even when addressing him, the tone was the same.

"It's more believable, and less prone to result in premature execution," he shrugged just before more demons fell from the sky to interrupt.

When the demons were dead, Cassandra looked around at the mess of corpses all around. "I hope Leliana made it through all this."

"She's resourceful, Seeker," Varric said with compassion, ignoring all of the apparent tension between the two of them to allay her fears. The more Philippa got to know Varric, the more she understood why Garrett had gotten so close with the dwarf over the last ten years. As much as he pretended otherwise, he was a genuinely good person.

At the top of the hill they were climbing, they finally came back across the stone road. The gate onto the next section was blocked by another rift. Philippa helped to kill demons until the shifting crystal shaped itself into the shimmery window and then threw her arm up towards the rift. Her mark reacted again and she took a moment to reach out and feel the magic, trying to familiarize herself with how it reacted with her own mana. It was strange, foreign, to her mind, but she was certain that she could bend the mark to her will. She was adept at controlling her power with an indomitable precision and now the mark was part of her magic. The rift snapped closed and soldiers on the other side of the gate cranked the heavy doors open so they could enter. "We are clear for the moment. Well done," Solas praised.

Varric chuckled in agreement. "Whatever that thing on your hand is, it's useful."

They walked into what must have been the forward camp that they had been heading for. It felt like hours since she had been pulled from the darkness of the Chantry dungeon. Ahead, Leliana stood, looking unscathed, beside a man in Chantry robes. "We must prepare the soldiers," Leliana said loudly.

"We will do no such thing!" the man returned, his tone suggesting he had been arguing the same point for several hours.

"The prisoner must get to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. It is our only chance!" Leliana argued back.

"You have already caused enough trouble without resorting to this exercise in futility," he snapped.

Leliana scoffed, crossing her arms. "I have caused trouble?"

"You, Cassandra, the Most Holy... haven't you all done enough already?" he asked in exasperation.

"You are not in charge here," Leliana said in a mildly threatening tone.

"Enough!" he swiped his hand in finality. "I will not have it!" He looked up from whatever papers he had been studying on the table in front of him and growled. "Ah, here they come." Clearly he was disgusted as he set a scowl on Philippa.

"You made it!" Leliana said in relief, rounding the table to greet them. "Chancellor Roderick, this is..."

Before Leliana could finish, he cut her off. "I know who she is. As Grand Chancellor of the Chantry, I hereby order you," he pointed to Cassandra. "to take this criminal to Val Royeaux to face execution." Philippa's heart skipped. Wasn't it enough that the mark was already slowly killing her? He had to add execution to the sentence and speed things up? She couldn't even remember what had happened.

" 'Order me'? You are a glorified clerk. A bureaucrat!" Cassandra scoffed.

The Chancellor clapped back. "And you are a thug, but a thug who supposedly serves the Chantry!"

"We serve the Most Holy, Chancellor," Leliana reminded him. "As you well know."

He threw his arms up and gestured wildly. "Justinia is dead! We must elect a replacement, and obey her orders on the matter!"

Philippa knew a circular argument when she heard it, having endured much the same in her years in Kirkwall between the First Enchanter and Knight-Commander, so she joined in. "Maybe we should be more worried about the gaping hole in the sky?"

He turned his angry glare on her. "You brought this on us in the first place!" Cassandra approached him, her hand twitching near her sword hilt. He didn't seem to notice. "Call a retreat, Seeker. Our position here is hopeless."

"We can stop this before it's too late," Cassandra insisted.

"How?" he asked, much more softly than he had been speaking yet. "You won't survive long enough to reach the temple, even with all your soldiers."

"We must get to the Temple," Cassandra argued. "It's the quickest route."

"But not the safest," Leliana interjected calmly. "Our forces can charge as a distraction while we go through the mountains."

Cassandra gasped at the suggestion. "We lost an entire squad on that path. It's too risky."

"Listen to me," the Chancellor pleaded again. "Abandon this now before more lives are lost!"

A loud pop from the Breach had her hand shaking and lifting uncontrollably toward the sky. She grabbed her wrist with her opposite hand and brought the limb under control as the pain slowly subsided. When she looked up, all eyes were on her. "How do you think we should proceed?" Cassandra asked.

Astonished that her opinion was being asked, her mouth fell open as she pressed her thumb into the throbbing of her marked palm. "Now my opinion matters?"

“You have the mark,” Solas pointed out.

“And you are the one we must keep alive,” Cassandra added.

For all of the good that'll do in the long run. Philippa thought, her eyes narrowing. “I say we charge. If this mark doesn't kill me on the way up the mountain, I'll be surprised.” She pushed past Cassandra who almost immediately fell in behind her.

“Leliana, bring everyone left in the valley. Everyone.” Cassandra called as he kept pace behind Philippa.

“On your head be the consequences, Seeker,” the Chancellor snarled.

Philippa rolled her eyes at the comment. What good was it to warn Cassandra that this was going to fall on her. Just because he was scared, didn't give him the right to bully people that were just trying to help. As her head continued to pound, she slowed her angry pace and allowed Cassandra to retake the lead. When they reached the entry to the courtyard outside the ruined temple, Philippa heard the signs of another scuffle going on behind the door. It was partially open and she darted up the steps and slammed her way through the entryway. Her magic uncoiled from her chest and rushed to her fingertips then she saw a unit of soldiers fighting a group of demons beneath another small rift. She heard the footfalls of her companions behind her as she surveyed the battlefield. “How many rifts are there?!” Varric shouted as she heard him crank Bianca and place a bolt into position.

“We must seal it! Quickly!” Solas shouted as his magic tugged on hers. She bolted ahead, her staff already spinning as she stopped a good distance from the rift in the back-line. She jerked to a halt and slung a spell that pulled up the ground in front of one of the demons, knocking it away from the soldier that was preoccupied with a fiery demon of rage. She immediately forgot the demon she'd knocked back, instead focusing her magic on the rage demon. She called forth a Winter's Grasp spell and the demon froze in it's tracks, its arms upraised and it's body looming over the frightened soldier. The claws at the tips of its lava fingers poised to grip him up and rip bloody gashes into his flesh. The scene was surreal for a split second as time slowed and a bolt whipped past Philippa's head and planted in the demon's chest, shattering the frozen monstrosity.

Philippa looked down as green ripples of smoke, like ripples on the surface of water, began to form beneath her feet. Light whispers carried over the air like someone calling to her. She backed away as the chanting made the ripples spread. She was knocked off her feet as a new kind of demon shot up from the ground inside the smoke. It was easily ten feet tall and its limbs were long and wiry. It's face was made of one large vertical mouth lined in jagged rows of teeth that stretched down through it's neck and into it's chest. Terror, she realized and froze, her staff forgotten on the ground beside her. It was not the first time she had ever encountered a terror demon, but it was the first time it had been in the flesh. The thing reared back, a terrifying shriek deafening her as it howled towards the sky. She clapped her hands over her ears, the agony of her headache nearly splitting her in two as the sound bounced around inside her skull, just as a soldier stepped between her and the demon. His shadow blocked out the sun as he held his shield aloft against the demon as it raked claws downwards towards him. Of all things in that moment to catch her eye, she was surprised to notice the armor he wore. It was like none she'd ever seen before. Simple leather pants covered his legs, tucked into battle worn boots covered in plates that were specifically designed to protect his shins and knees. Blowing in the wind was a stark red cloak that was designed to wrap around his body for maximum efficiency and warmth, leaving nothing that might trip him up while he fought. Beneath the cloak was a simple breast plate to protect his body and he wore leather gloves with wrist guards. On the guards she took note of the Templar emblem. The helm on his head was adorned like the collar of his cloak with dark red and black fur and shaped like the head of a lion. She shook her head, dislodging the ridiculous thoughts and scrambled to her feet grabbing up her staff in the time he had bought her. He seemed to have the demon in hand, fighting with vigor and a strange grace she didn't normally associate with Templars as the thick mane of fur around his neck ruffled in the wind. Leaving him to it, she hopped into a jog, ignoring her headache to help with the rest of the battle. When the demons were slain, and all she could hear was the eerie sound of running water that came along with a rift, she lifted her hand and the mark took over, closing the rift.

“Sealed, as before.” Solas said, his startling approach making her jump. “You are becoming quite proficient at this.” He leaned forward with both hands on his staff and a self satisfied smirk on his face.

“Let's hope it works on the big one,” Varric said a bit less enthusiastically as he stared up at the Breach.

“Lady Cassandra. You've managed to close the rift. Well done,” the new voice that entered their midst was so familiar that she even recognized it through the helm. He pulled the helm from his head and she gasped as he addressed Cassandra and was so distracted that he didn't even notice her. His amber colored eyes were ringed with the signs of exhaustion, but still his tone was upbeat. His blonde hair settled in delicate waves, one piece hanging over his forehead that had come loose from the rest. She took a moment to wonder just how awful her hair must look after everything she'd been through and she ran nervous fingers through it as Cassandra gave her all of the credit for closing the rift and his gaze fell on her. Finally, his gaze slipped from the Seeker to fall on her, and she thought he might faint as his face paled. "Maker's breath, Hawke!?" He looked from her to Cassandra and his expression soured. "You didn't tell me who your prisoner was..." he growled angrily. "You let me think... let her brother think she was dead!"

Before Cassandra could answer, Philippa inserted herself into the conversation. "Wait, you told them I was dead?"

"I did not," Cassandra denied. "We knew nothing about what had happened, and when we found you, we knew even less of your involvement. I could not risk any sympathy until I could speak to you."

Philippa rolled her eyes and directed her attention to the templar who was staring at her like she were a ghost. "Carver's all right? Where is he?"

Cullen sighed heavily. "After the explosion, he came to us, wanting to help fight the demons. Last thing I heard he was in the valley with another unit of soldiers. If I can, I'll get word to him that you're alive." His shocked expression softened and he smiled crookedly at her. "It's good to see you."

She returned the smile, her eyes flicking deviously to the lion helm. "It's good to see you too, Knight-Commander."

He balked. "It's... just Commander, now. I'm not part of the Order, anymore. If we survive this, I'll explain." After a moment, he sighed. "Let's hope they're right about you. We've lost a lot of people getting you here."

She snorted and nodded in agreement. “You're not the only one hoping that,” she grunted, still not sure if she was going to be able to do what they expected of her.

“We'll see soon enough, won't we?” He turned back to Cassandra, all hint of his smirk gone and he said, “The path to the temple should be clear. Leliana will try to meet you there.”

“Then we'd best move quickly. Give us time, Commander,” Cassandra said, beckoning her and the others to follow.

“Maker watch over you... For all our sakes,” he said softly, the wind nearly carrying his words away before they reached her ears. He jogged off towards where they'd come from and paused to take a limping soldier under his arm and help the man back towards the makeshift camp.

Philippa tore her gaze from the Commander and followed Cassandra further into the ruins of the temple. The Seeker gasped as she laid eyes on the destruction up close. Apparently she had not been up there yet. The ground had leveled out and they were inside the ring of destruction. She gasped as she looked around at the countless bodies strewn all over. Not a single one remained that was not charred beyond recognition. Some of them still smoked, rivulets of bright red shining from beneath the blackened skin. Most were frozen in the moment of their death, some sprawled on the ground, others kneeling and still more were killed so quickly that they remained standing, the blast of heat and magic anchoring them to their spot. It was horrific and the smell of sulfur and charred flesh had Philippa's eyes watering and her stomach churning. She carefully placed her feet as she walked, not wanting to accidentally tread on stray bones or body parts. Ash was still raining from the sky to replace the snow that had built up on her hair. "The Temple of Sacred Ashes," Solas gasped in horror.

"What's left of it," Varric mumbled, being as selective with his footing as she was.

"That is where you walked out of the Fade and our soldiers found you," Cassandra explained. "They say a woman was in the rift behind you. No one knows who she was."

They passed down into a hallway that was surprisingly still standing and followed the sharp turn around to come out on the central hall. It was likely that the conclave would have been held in that room if it had ever gotten off the ground. There was a central spire that divided the room and all of the way around the large open space was a balcony. Philippa looked out over the hall and spotted a gigantic rift that was currently formed into a shifting green crystal. The flow of energy from the Breach found it's bottom in the rift, wisping off in a few other directions, but always wrapping back around itself. "The Breach is a long way up," Varric mumbled as he passed by her, his neck craned upwards toward the sky where the vortex of clouds hummed.

After only a few moments of staring in awe at the catastrophic mess in the sky, Leliana's soft voice broke through the hum. "You're here! Thank the Maker!" Philippa glanced back at her, but returned her gaze to task as her hand tingled.

"Leliana," Cassandra requested. "Have your men take up positions around the temple." A shuffling told her the request was being heeded. Suddenly, Cassandra stepped directly in front of her. "This is your chance to end this. Are you ready?"

Philippa looked back up at the impossibly high Breach above them. "I don't suppose you have a ladder?"

"No," Solas corrected, pointing at the crackling crystals of the rift below. "This rift was the first, and it is the key. Seal it, and perhaps we seal the Breach."

There was a lot more maybe in that statement than Philippa would have liked, but the circumstances left her with little choice. It seemed it was, give it her best try, or die from inaction. Cassandra seemed as unsatisfied as she was, but the Seeker sighed and glanced between her and Solas. "Then let's find a way down. And be careful."

They followed the balcony around the room, looking for a way down. Great stalagmites that looked out of place became visible as the balcony closed in around them. They hummed with veins of green light that pulsed gently. As more people filtered in, taking up defensive places all around, the rift began to react. A booming voice echoed from everywhere and Philippa cringed. NOW IS THE HOUR OF OUR VICTORY! BRING FORTH THE SACRIFICE! "What are we hearing?" Cassandra gasped, her hand reaching for her sword as the noise startled her.

As the booming voice spoke and Solas explained that he believed it to be the echo of the person who created the Breach, Philippa picked out another sound. A melodic hum was emanating from around them. She looked around to find the source, and all she saw were bright glowing spikes of crystal emitting a warm and inviting cloud of red fog to match their color. The scar on Philippa's side that had come from Meredith's blade seemed to resonate with the humming, a dull ache forming to join the rest of the pains she was enduring. "You know this stuff is Red Lyrium, Seeker," Varric's voice broke the spell of the crystals jutting from between the spikes of rock and Philippa flinched, rubbing her side and stepping away from the nasty stuff.

"I see it, Varric," Cassandra spat, her lip curled back in disgust.

"But what's it doing here?" he asked, his brown eyes slightly wider than normal and the inflection of that particular word making her realize that there was likely more to the story of red lyrium than what Garrett had explained to her.

"Magic could have drawn on lyrium beneath the temple, corrupted it..." Solas guessed.

Varric shuddered. "Ach. It's evil. Whatever you do, don't touch it."

KEEP THE SACRIFICE STILL. The booming voice was calm, but overbearing, and there was something naggingly familiar about it, but it was impossible for Philippa to identify exactly what.

SOMEONE HELP ME! Philippa didn't recognize the new female voice, but Cassandra didn't allow her to remain ignorant for long. "That is Divine Justinia's voice!"

They were finally forced to hop down into the crater that was the center of the room. Philippa approached the rift and the voices continued. SOMEONE HELP ME! The Divine repeated.

WHAT'S GOING ON HERE? Her own voice shocked Philippa and she touched her throat with no memory of speaking the words they were hearing. A short, shadowy play acted out before them. Spirits of the Fade repeating the events from their perspective, offering them a glimpse of a few of the events leading up to the Divine's death. Cassandra pounced as the mark flared, excited to be so close to the rift. "That was your voice. Most Holy called out to you. But..."

She was cut short by a crackling of energy and then a strangely surreal magical happening. A bright flash made Philippa back up, shielding her eyes and before her, an image of the Divine hung, bound at her outstretched wrists by something they could not see. In front of her was a tall and twisted, shadowy black figure holding something before it in it's palm. Then she watched herself jog up and say, "Whats going on here?"

"Run while you can! Warn them!" the Divine pleaded, but it was too late.

The black figure spoke quickly. "We have an intruder. Kill her, now!"

As it raised it's arm to point toward Philippa's figure, the flash came again and all of the phantoms were gone. Solas moved up past her to study the rift while Cassandra badgered her with a string of questions. "You were there! Who attacked? And the Divine, is she...? Was this vision true? What are we seeing?"

Philippa rounded on the woman and sneered. "I don't remember!" she growled for what felt like the hundredth time. Why was no one listening? Her head was screaming with the proximity to the Breach, and her side aching from the lyrium all around. Death just might have been more comfortable.

"Echoes of what happened here," Solas interrupted. The Fade bleeds into this place. Cassandra left her alone and charged toward Solas to listen to his explanation as Philippa pressed the heels of her hands briefly into her temples. "This rift is not sealed, but it is closed... albeit temporarily." He turned and graced them with his attention. "I believe that with the mark, the rift can be opened, and then sealed properly and safely. However, opening the rift will likely attract attention from the other side."

"That means demons. Stand ready!" Cassandra ordered, her voice rising to address the assembled soldiers.

Once everyone was in place, Cassandra gave Philippa a nod and she approached the rift. She reached for the mark, feeling the flow of energy from it to the rift. Normally, she was closing the rift, but this time she needed to do it backwards. She reached up, directing the magic as best she could and it connected. When opening a rift, the feeling of a great pressure was switched to a sensation that everything was being sucked out of her, like being hit with a smite. She cringed and pressed forward. Finally, the magic severed, snapping the rift open. She had no chance to reverse the magic and seal the rift before a massive pride demon manifested from the other side. Philippa stared up at the demon, her headache renewed a thousandfold as it bellowed a horrible laugh before a ball of energy appeared between it's palms and lightning crackled around them. She backed away from the demon as it bore down on her. Thankfully the archers on the walls drew it's attention away. It turned its head and roared in anger, throwing it's arm back and a whip of lightning slapping across the open area with a loud crack. Philippa Fade stepped away, opening a small portal that jumped her a short distance from the thick of the fight. She landed beside Varric who was rapidly firing repeating bolts from Bianca. “You certainly know how to keep things interesting, Charmer," he said with a chuckle.

"As long as you aren't bored," she returned, summoning her magic again to begin fighting the giant demon.

He shot her a smirk before returning his attention to the demon. "It's almost like having your brother back."

“More coming through the rift!” Cassandra called.

Philippa narrowed her eyes toward the rift and saw some more smaller demons leaking through the seam. “You keep whittling down that big one,” she said to Varric who nodded almost imperceptibly. “I'll handle the new arrivals.”

She focused her attentions on the two shades who had begun to slither across the field. She whistled noisily, hurting her own ears and drawing their attention before shifting a firewall spell to the top of her staff and setting the ground between her and the demons ablaze. They reared back as she Fade stepped again to pass through them and land behind them, leaving a freezing trail that stopped them from following her. The ice was quickly melting in the blaze from her firewall, so she called another ball of fire to her palm which she released in their direction. On instinct, she reached for the rift again, hoping to possibly seal it before anything else came through, and again the mark made a connection. When she completed the connection and pulled her blazing hand back to wrap around the staff, the big demon roared and fell to a knee. The other two fell dead, slithering back into the ground and disappearing. “Disrupting the rifts hurts the demons!” She gasped. It was a good bit of information to have even if it didn't close the rift. She whirled and began to throw spells at the still kneeling demon, hoping to chip away at it's defenses before it could recover. It took several times of her using the mark on the rift to help whittle down the demon, but finally, it fell to it's knees and Cassandra ran in to slice through it's neck. Philippa took the opportunity to rush to the rift and raise her palm to it a final time. "Do it!" Cassandra encouraged.

The rift licked eagerly at the open mark, igniting Philippa's senses all at once. Her nerves burned, her ears rang, and the smell of stagnant water was so intense that she could almost taste it. The last thing she remembered was a brilliant flash of light.

Chapter Text

Philippa's next human recollection was a piercing headache. Before opening her eyes, she cringed, slowly drawing on her mana to cast a few small creation spells to assess her well-being. Short of the migraine, her health seemed normal. She flexed her palm, still feeling the strange tingling mark that connected her to the Fade. As she groaned at the prospect of opening her eyes to the light around her, someone spoke. "Phil?" his voice said softly.

She forced her lids open and in spite of her headache, she smiled at her younger brother. "You're alive," she grunted, pushing up onto her elbows and reaching up with her right hand to press her fingers to her forehead.

"I could say the same about you," Carver said with a scowl. "Could you imagine what Garrett would do to me if you had died in that Temple?"

"Always thinking about yourself," she said teasingly, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed she had been put in. Slowly standing, she got a better look at her surroundings. Carver sat in a chair a few feet from a simple wooden door in the front of the one room cabin, his arms crossed. The walls and ceiling were also wood and the floor was covered in a smattering of different animal fur rugs. It was rustic and homey, likely having belonged to one of the residents of Haven. The bed was sized for two, and of a typical Ferelden style. A few well placed torches and paintings lined the walls. There was a single window on the opposite side of the room where the bed sat nestled in the corner, blocked in on the side and bottom by small nightstands. The one by the head of the bed was an old barrel atop which sat some medical potions and poultices. The one at the foot had a mug and an untouched bottle of wine. A lute rested against the table. There were a couple of bookshelves on either side of the door and along the windowed wall sat a writing desk and chair, a few more barrels, and a small chest. On one of the barrels, a wash basin sat with a rag beside it, and on the other, a looking glass. A fireplace was squeezed in between the bookshelf and the nightstand at the foot of the bed. "How did I get here?" she asked, increasingly disturbed by the gaps in her memory. She needed some time to breathe so she could consult the Fade and try to find out what had happened to her. "And where are my clothes?" She realized that she had been cleaned of the layer of blood and dirt she had accumulated while fighting, and changed into a casual set of pajamas in an ugly tan.

Carver tipped his head to a basket beside his chair. "A servant brought those a few minutes ago."

She walked across the room and knelt slowly, hoping that the headache might eventually let up. She picked out her clothes and they had also been washed and mended. Carver picked up his chair without fully standing and turned himself and it around so she could change. "Everything feels calmer around here," she observed as she pulled off the pajama shirt and slipped back into her comfortable tunic and vest.

"The Breach stopped growing, just like the mark on your hand. The whole village has been abuzz about it for the last three days," Carver said to the door.

"Three days?" she gasped. Maker knew how long it had been before that, and her stomach reminded her it had been a very long time since she had eaten. "How long ago was the Conclave?"

"You left Haven to climb to the Temple a week ago," he informed her.

She flinched and finished getting changed, using her fingers to brush her hair into some semblance of neat. "So do I get to go on trial now?" she asked sarcastically.

Carver glanced quickly around to be sure she was changed before standing and turning to face her fully. "Trial? As far as I know, you're our savior..."

She harrumphed, crossing her arms. "Well, that's a switch."

"Seeker Cassandra asked to see you as soon as you woke up," he said as she whisked her eyes over his person to be sure he was all right.

She sighed. She had been hoping to take a moment to put some food in her belly. "Right. Where is she?"

"I'll walk you to the Chantry," he offered.

She wasn't certain what to think of Carver's attitude. She knew how he felt about being overshadowed by his siblings. She hadn't exactly chosen to be burdened with the mark on her palm, but according to Garrett, Carver tended to blame you for things even if you had no control over them. Her musings were interrupted as she followed him from the small house, and surrounding the path through the village, were dozens of people. Soldiers, civilians, elves, humans, and dwarves all stood in droves to stare in awe at her as Carver led the way through the village. She caught a few whispering voices talking about her and what she had done at the Breach. Some were impressed, beyond measure, and others viewed her actions as not enough. She took a moment to glance up at the sky. The Breach was still swirling like a big angry storm cloud, but it was no longer spewing fiery green meteors that deposited demons wherever they landed. Whatever she had done had sort of worked, and the veins of magic had receded from her palm all together, leaving only the glowing gash itself. It was a step in the right direction.

They went upwards into the village and she noticed all of the makeshift living space in the form of tents and lean-tos that had taken over the open space in the middle of the town. Carver noticed her looking around and he leaned closer to her. "This reminds me of Lothering during the Blight. Refugees came from villages further south seeking a place to stay. Accept now, it's not refugees, but soldiers. No one is really certain what to do about the hole in the sky." He stopped outside the Chantry doors. "I'll uh... I'll wait out here if you don't mind. That red head terrifies me."

Philippa snorted and rolled her eyes as she pushed open the heavy door and stepped into the cool Chantry. No one seemed to be in the main hall. Philippa followed the runner carpet beneath her feet toward where she heard muffled voices. The closer she got, the more she could hear. “Have you gone completely mad?” she heard the Chancellor's voice as clear as day. “She should be taken to Val Royeaux immediately to be tried by whomever becomes Divine.”

The next voice to rise was Cassandra's. “I do not believe she is guilty.”

“The mage failed, Seeker. The Breach is still in the sky. For all you know, she intended it this way,” the Chancellor argued.

“I do not believe that,” Cassandra's voice was insistent.

“That is not for you to decide. Your duty is to serve the Chantry.”

“My duty is to serve the principles on which the Chantry was founded, Chancellor. As is yours.” Philippa found herself pressed against the door, listening intently and trying to gauge the atmosphere into which she was about to walk. If the Chancellor had any sway, she was in deep water.

She sighed and pushed the door open to step inside. The room was small, bookshelves lining the back side. To her left and right on the walls, statues of Andraste were carved into alcoves. In the middle of the room, there were two wooden tables pushed together with a few papers strewn across the surfaces. Cassandra and Leliana stood on the other side of the table looking irritated. And Chancellor Roderick, standing on the left hand side of the table pounced as soon as the door clicked open. “Chain her! I want her prepared for travel to the Capitol for trial.”

Philippa's breath caught in her chest as she noticed the two Templars in full plate guarding the door that she had just walked through. Shit. Cassandra was just as quick as the Chancellor, however, and she growled. “Disregard that. And leave us.”

Philippa released her breath as the Templars saluted with fists to their chests and followed Cassandra's orders. As they closed the door behind them, Philippa shot the Chancellor a victorious smirk as she approached the large table that he, Cassandra and Leliana stood around. “You walk a dangerous line, Seeker.”

Cassandra moved from where she stood to tower over the man. “The Breach is stable, but it is still a threat. I will not ignore it.” The candle light cast shadows on her face, making her already high cheekbones and chiseled jaw stand out more starkly and the deep scar across her left cheek look more menacing. Philippa was definitely glad that the warrior seemed to be on her side.

“So I closed the giant rift and you still think I'm a suspect?” she asked cautiously, gauging everyone's reactions to her when she spoke.

“You absolutely are.” The Chancellor grumbled.

“No. She is not,” Cassandra said with more finality.

Leliana spoke up finally lending her voice to the fray. “Someone was behind the explosion at the Conclave. Someone Most Holy did not expect. Perhaps they died with the others...” Her blue eyes flicked menacingly toward the Chancellor and Philippa could see why Carver had said he was afraid of her. “Or have allies who yet live.”

The Chancellor took a step back. “I am a suspect?”

You.” Leliana confirmed. “And many others.”

“But not the prisoner?” The Chancellor asked in shock.

“I heard the voices in the temple,” Cassandra said. “The Divine called to her for help.”

“So, her survival... That thing on her hand... all a coincidence?” the Chancellor asked skeptically as Philippa crossed her arms under her chest, her fist clenched around the mark as it tingled in her palm.

“Providence,” Cassandra corrected. “The Maker sent her to us in our darkest hour.”

Philippa dropped her arms. Had Cassandra just called her a chosen one? “You realize I'm a mage?” She reminded the woman skeptically.

“I have not forgotten,” Cassandra said with a gentle smile and a light bow of her head. “No matter what you are or what you believe, you are exactly what we needed when we needed it.”

Philippa averted her gaze, again feeling heat rush to her face. Leliana spoke next. “The Breach remains. And your mark is still our only hope of closing it,” she said softly.

“It is not for you to decide!” the Chancellor spoke up again.

While Leliana had distracted him, Cassandra had fetched a large heavy book from a shelf behind her. She slammed the book down on the table and jammed a finger at it. “Do you know what this is, Chancellor?” The symbol of the Chantry blazed on it's cover and Philippa was curious. She stepped closer to look at the book. “A writ from the Divine, granting us the authority to act. As of this moment, I declare the Inquisition reborn.” Cassandra removed her finger from the book and bore down on the man, that same finger nearly jabbing him in the chest as he backed away. “We will close the Breach. We will find those responsible, and we will restore order with or without your approval.”

The Chancellor narrowed his eyes and looked between the three of them before realizing he was outnumbered. He turned and left, slamming the door behind him, making Philippa flinch. Cassandra's shoulders slumped and she reached up to nervously scratch at her short cropped black hair before dismissively waving that same hand in the direction of the door. Philippa leaned her palms on the table over the book. Her heart was fluttering rapidly as she stared at the Andrastian Sun on the cover. “This is the Divine's directive,” Leliana preached passionately, her gloved fingertips touching the book reverently. “Rebuild the Inquisition of old. Find those who will stand against the chaos. We aren't ready. We have no leader, no numbers and now, no Chantry support.”

“But we have no choice. We must act now...” Cassandra added. “With you at our side.”

Philippa looked up. Who me? Both Leliana and Cassandra were watching her intently. She flinched but sighed. They needed her mark. If it kept her out from under Templar scrutiny, she would help. “The prisoner swoops in to save the day? It's not what I pictured when I woke up,” she quipped.

“Neither did we,” Leliana said, smiling from beneath her purple hood.

“Help us fix this before it's too late,” Cassandra reached out her right hand with hope in her eyes.

Philippa grinned, hoping this was not going to take much longer, and then grasped Cassandra's forearm with her right hand. Cassandra's fingers wrapped around her arm as well and they shook in agreement.

 

Having survived the initiation into what was being called the Inquisition, Philippa was allowed to leave the Chantry. Carver was awaiting her outside as he had promised. It was no longer overcast as it had been then she'd left the dungeon. The sun was out and some of the snow on the paths through the village had melted away. After they headed to the Tavern and she got a much needed meal from a soft spoken young woman named Flissa, Carver explained what had been going on in Haven while she slept. The world was in shambles. With the Conclave destroyed and the Divine dead, the mage-templar war had renewed. With her stomach filled, Philippa was eager to make herself useful. Anything she did would be a distraction for the headache that she was beginning to realize was likely going to be permanent as long as the Breach loomed in the sky.

She left Carver, and headed out into the village. The first person she met was a young woman named Threnn who introduced herself as Inquisition Quartermaster. After speaking to Threnn for less than five minutes, Philippa could tell that nearly everyone in the village that performed a service of any kind was short on materials. She made her way around from the Quartermaster to the Apothecary and the Smith, promising to do whatever she could to help them at least identify mining and logging sites, as well as pick the odd elfroot or spindleweed whenever she came across them. The Apothecary, Adan, was the most pleased with her offer to help, and offered to mix her up anything special that she might need in exchange. Taking him up on the offer, she wondered if he might be able to brew her something to dull her migraines. He promised her results by morning.

As she walked back through the village, looking for any other ways to make herself useful, she spotted Varric sitting by a fire between two small tents. The camping equipment was a regular thing in the village and outside the gates. Haven was not a large village and they had taken every bit of extra room and thrown up tents to house all of the soldiers and pilgrims flocking in as news spread.

She headed for Varric and he glanced up when her shadow blocked the light he was using to lovingly rub oil on Bianca's joints. He set aside his work and scanned the area before speaking. "So, now that Cassandra's out of earshot, are you holding up all right? I mean you go from being the most wanted criminal in Thedas to joining the armies of the faithful. Most people would have spread that out over more than one day."

With a harsh chuckle, she rubbed at her brow. “I don't even know what's happening anymore.”

“That makes two of us,” Varric mused. “For days now, we've been staring up at the Breach watching demons and Maker-knows-what fall out of it. 'Bad for morale' would be an understatement. I still can't believe anyone was in there and lived.”

“I would hope I would be able to tell if this was a dream, but I'm equally convinced this is a prank,” she joked, although the joke was not altogether untrue.

“If this is all just the Maker winding us up, I hope there's a damn good punch line coming. You might wanna consider running at the first opportunity. I've written enough tragedies to recognize where this is going. Heroes are everywhere. I've seen that. But the hole in the sky? That's beyond heroes... We're going to need a miracle.” He sighed again and picked up the crossbow, returning to his meticulous care.

"That's me," she mumbled grumpily. "A bloody miracle."

Before she could turn and walk away, he grunted and kicked out the stump beside him, offering her a seat. When she sat, his eyes shifted over her. "I noticed what happened in the Temple with the red lyrium. Your scar... does it react to the stuff?"

"That was my first encounter with it since the Gallows, but it seems like even after the remains of the stuff was leeched from the wound, it still knows what created it. That must sound insane," she said with a chuckle, her hand absently rubbing over the spot on her side.

"That... doesn't sound insane at all," he admitted. "I've seen that stuff do some really weird shit. I'll tell you about it when we have more time..." he nodded his head behind her and she turned to see a soldier approaching.

"My Lady, Seeker Pentaghast asked to see you in the Chantry," the soldier said to her, his fist crossing over his chest in a salute.

She turned to Varric with a questioning glance, unused to the level of respect she was receiving. He shrugged and waved his hand dismissively, indicating she should go. She stood and followed the soldier to the doors of the Chantry where Cassandra was waiting for her. The Seeker tipped her head and dismissed the soldier, turning to head inside. Philippa followed her quietly. She flexed her palm, glancing down at the tingling mark. "Does it trouble you?" Cassandra asked, stopping their forward momentum.

Philippa shook her head with a frown. Since the veins of magic had receded, it no longer throbbed like her head was, but still it was strange to look down and see it there, pulsing with magic. It was not everyday she came across something she didn't understand. "I just wish I knew anything about it. I'm used to understanding my magic.” No matter how much Cassandra may believe Philippa was chosen by Andraste, she couldn't bring herself to believe it.

“We will find out. What's important is that your mark is now stable, as it the Breach. You've given us time and Solas believes a second attempt might succeed, provided the mark has more power. The same level of power used to open the Breach in the first place. That is not easy to come by,” Cassandra said with a reassuring grin. The more time Philippa spent with Cassandra, the more the woman surprised her. She put forth a very gruff attitude, but underneath it, she was apparently more considerate than she wanted anyone to believe.

Philippa crooked a brow and grinned. “So the idea is to supercharge something we barely understand? That will go swimmingly.” Her tone said she was clearly teasing and Cassandra picked right up on it.

“Hold on to that sense of humor,” The warrior smirked, beginning to head towards the open rear door where only hours before they had agreed to rebuild the Inquisition. I suppose this is the war room now, Philippa thought as she followed closely behind. The room didn't look much different. There were a few heraldic additions and three people stood behind the table which had been covered in a map of all southern Thedas, held down with various and sundry items at the corners. One of which was Cassandra's Chantry book in the corner closest to where Leliana stood on Philippa's left. Two of the faces were familiar, but the third was new. “Of course, you know Commander Cullen. Leader of the Inquisition's forces,” Cassandra said, her palm outstretched to indicate him as he stood behind the table directly across from where Philippa had stopped.

He wore the same strange armor he'd been wearing on the field although it had been cleaned up since she'd seen him last and he didn't have the lion helm. He had also tamed his stray bit of hair, but he still looked tired. His lips quirked in his usual lopsided smile, taking away from the bags under his eyes. “I'm pleased you survived,” he said genuinely.

Before she could respond with 'That makes two of us', Cassandra bullied ahead. “This is Lady Josephine Montilyet. Our ambassador and chief diplomat.”

The new face smiled brightly. In fact, she was all smiles as Philippa took her in, her light brown eyes sparkling. Her skin was the color of milk chocolate and her hair, done up in a very Orlesian style, was black. She wore a heavily ruffled top that flared out from her waist over top of a pair of matching pants and boots like tassets on a rogue's armor. The entire ensemble was dyed blue and gold. She held a stack of papers on a thin piece of wood for support that sported an angled top where a inkwell and candle rested so she could work from just about anywhere. A quill was poised daintily between her fingers on her right hand. “I've heard much,” she said inclining her head, her accent Antivan if Philippa was guessing correctly. “It's a pleasure to meet you at last.”

“And of course you know Sister Leliana.” Cassandra continued.

“My position here involves a degree of...”

Before she could finish, Cassandra finished for her. “She is our spymaster.”

"Yes," Leliana said with a bit of annoyance as she swayed her hips, her hands clasped behind her back. Just like Cullen's relaxed stance, hands on his sword hilt as usual, and Josephine's smile, Leliana's swaying was a compensation it seemed. "Tactfully put, Cassandra."

All of their eyes fell on Philippa and she realized it was finally her turn to speak. “While this is all fascinating, why am I here, exactly?” she asked. She had been a prisoner not long ago, and now she was being introduced to the leadership as if she were integral. She grinned, uncertain how genuine the atmosphere was in the room. Glancing between them all, she saw Leliana trying to hide a small grin of her own. Cullen's eyes were fixed on her and the mark on her hand, but his lips were still quirked upwards. Josephine had busied herself with scribbling frantically on a parchment stacked on top of a pile of others on her clipboard.

Cassandra seemed ready to dive right in to business and she said, “I mentioned that your mark needs more power to close the Breach for good.”

“Which means we must approach the rebel mages for help,” Leliana suggested quickly, drawing a shocked gasp from Philippa who had not expected anyone to want to deal with any more of her kind.

“I still disagree,” Cullen interjected, shaking his head. His fingers were loose on his sword hilt and his stance relaxed, or as relaxed as the Commander could get, Philippa supposed. “The Templars could serve just as well.” Philippa frowned. Templars were trained to suppress magic, not power it up. What was Cullen thinking?

Cassandra sighed and spoke Philippa's thoughts. “We need power, Commander. Enough magic poured into that mark...”

“Might destroy us all,” he finished before she had a chance. “Templars could suppress the Breach... Weaken it so that...” One of his hands left the sword hilt to gesture strictly before him. Philippa noticed it was shaking mildly before he set it back down.

“Pure speculation,” Leliana interrupted, her hands clasped calmly behind her back, her hips swaying gently as she shifted from one foot to the next.

I was a Templar. I know what they're capable of,” Cullen insisted, his voice barely a whisper. Something was going on with Cullen. She had spent years around him, learning his mannerisms. Unfortunately, she was having trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time and the conversation happening around her was more important than Cullen acting strangely.

“Unfortunately neither group will even speak to us yet,” Josephine piped up, using her quill to gesture emphatically. “The Chantry has denounced the Inquisition and you specifically.” The point of the quill pointed at Philippa.

Philippa rolled her eyes. “Shocking,” she said sarcastically, not surprised in the least after Chancellor Roderick's reaction to her.

“Shouldn't they be busy arguing over who's going to become Divine?” Cullen asked, his shaky hand gesturing again. He seemed personally put off by the denouncement judging by the scowl that twisted his lips. Philippa caught herself watching those lips as he spoke and flushed lightly, turning her attention away. This was hardly the time for her inappropriate crush to rear it's ugly head.

“Some are calling you the Herald of Andraste and that frightens the Chantry,” Josephine said in a bubbly voice. “The remaining clerics have declared it blasphemy, and we heretics for harboring you.”

Philippa's brows rose in shock as her attention snapped back and Cassandra spat, “Chancellor Roderick's doing, no doubt.”

“It limits our options. Approaching the mages or Templars for help is currently out of the question,” Josephine said with finality, punctuating her words with a sharp tap of her quill to the paper.

Philippa held up her marked hand before this got any further. “Just how am I the 'Herald of Andraste'?” she squeaked.

“People saw what you did at the temple. How you stopped the Breach from growing,” Cassandra pointed out. “They have also heard about the woman seen in the rift when we first found you. They believe that was Andraste.”

Philippa balked. “Even if we tried to stop that view from spreading...” Leliana began.

“Which we have not,” Cassandra interrupted, drawing another irritated glance from Leliana.

“The point is, everyone is talking about it,” Leliana said with a nod.

“It's quite the title isn't it,” Cullen said drawing her attention back to him and slapping her with his teasing smirk that replaced the scowl of disgust he'd harbored for the clerics. “How do you feel about it?”

Philippa found herself massaging her thumb into the mark on her palm and fidgeting as she glared at him. No one else had deemed it necessary to ask her opinion on the matter. She glanced around the room at the leaders of the Inquisition and almost found herself at a loss for words. “Unsettled,” she said, biting her lip as she stuttered out the words. "It's creepy." She wanted to scream how unfair it was to heap so much pressure on her, but that would be counterproductive. She was a mage and a somniari. She'd been dealing with unfair pressure since she was a child.

Somehow, the Commander's snort of amusement made her feel a bit better. “I'm sure the Chantry would agree.”

“People are desperate for a sign of hope,” Leliana explained in her soft voice. “For some, you're that sign.”

“And to others, a symbol of everything that has gone wrong,” Josephine added, not making Philippa feel any better.

“So if I wasn't with the Inquisition...” Philippa began.

“Let's be honest, they would have censured us no matter what,” Cullen reassured her.

“And you not being here isn't an option,” Cassandra added.

“There is something you can do,” Leliana said with a reassuring smile. “A Chantry cleric by the name of Mother Giselle has asked to speak with you. She is not far and knows those involved far better than I. Her assistance could be invaluable.”

“A Cleric wants to help? Why?” Philippa asked skeptically.

“I understand she is a reasonable woman. Perhaps she does not agree with her sisters. You will find Mother Giselle tending the wounded in the Hinterlands near Redcliffe,” Leliana explained.

Cullen's voice drew her attention to him again. “Look for other opportunities to expand the Inquisition's influence while you're there,” he suggested.

“We need agents to extend our reach beyond this valley and you're better suited than anyone to recruit them,” Josephine agreed.

“In the meantime, let's think of other options. I won't leave this all to the Herald,” Cassandra insisted, pulling some of the weight from Philippa's shoulders.

 

The sun had set while she met with the leadership and she was hungry again. She headed off toward the tavern, passing the apothecary and a pair of small houses like the one she had woke up in. Leaning against a stone half wall and studying his staff was Solas. The elf had impeccable hearing, looking up to regard her with a haughty grin as she walked by in the darkness. When he spoke, it was with sarcasm. "The chosen of Andraste, a blessed hero sent to save us all."

“Am I riding in on a shining steed?” she asked, sarcasm dripping from her own voice.

“I would have suggested a griffon, but sadly, they're extinct... Joke if you will, but posturing is necessary.” He stepped away from her, his hands unclasping from where he'd had them behind his back. He paced a few steps before saying. “I've journeyed deep into the Fade in ancient ruins and battlefields to see the dreams of lost civilizations.” She moved to stand beside him again as passion entered his voice. “I've watched as hosts of spirits clashed to reenact the bloody past and ancient wars both famous and forgotten.” He paused to turn toward her with a small smile on his full lips. “Every great war has it's heroes. I'm just curious what kind you'll be.”

Philippa was struck dumb. The way Solas was talking, he was like her. She had no idea that there were other dreamers out there, other than herself and Feynril, of course. Especially not apostates. “You fall asleep in the middle of ancient ruins?” she asked, her mind racing with possibilities. “Isn't that dangerous?”

“I do set wards. And if you leave food out for the giant spiders, they are usually content to live and let live.” From his expression, Philippa was beginning to see why Varric had decided to nickname Solas 'chuckles'.

“I imagine you find some amazing things in there... Alongside all of the demons,” she said nervously finding her hands wringing. She was unsure whether she should let it be known that she was a somniari. That was normally dangerous information for anyone to have.

“Exactly! It is occasionally dangerous, yes. But more often it is just sad to see what has been lost. The thrill of finding remnants of a thousand year old dream? I would not trade it for anything.” Solas was certainly one of a kind. He glanced back at the Breach. “I will stay then. At least until the Breach has been closed.”

She hummed a single soft chuckle. “Leaving so soon?”

“I am an apostate mage surrounded by Chantry forces, and unlike you, I do not have a divine mark protecting me. Cassandra has been accommodating, but you understand my caution,” he almost snipped.

“The giant hole in the sky trumps any other concerns,” she said back, her own voice a bit clipped. “Anything else is an afterthought.” If she could close the Breach, perhaps her head might stop pounding.

“Yes. Who can say what this world will look like when we are done fighting for it. For now, let us hope that either the mages or the templars have the power to seal the Breach.” He must have realized how argumentative he had sounded because his voice was much less gruff.

She took her own calming breath. She really couldn't blame him. She was not altogether comfortable with the Templar presence around Haven either, in spite of having grown up in a similar environment. "I will leave you to it," she said and turned away from him.

 

After grabbing another quick bite to eat, she wandered the village, hunting for the cottage she had woken up in. After finding it, she tried her best to fall asleep, but her mind was racing with everything that had happened to her in the last week. Coupled with the pulsing migraine that refused to leave her be, sleep was not going to come.

She got up from the bed and left the hut, hoping that going for a walk might help to calm her thoughts. The city gates were open, and she slipped through them to wander past the makeshift barracks comprised of red tents outside the walls. She headed toward the lake, but didn't make it far. "Hawke?"

She dropped her hand from where it had been rubbing her brow and turned to grace him with a smile. "Commander, you're up late. Can't sleep?"

As he approached in the nearly pitch black that was illuminated by the moon and a mild green glow that was being emitted by the Breach, his eyes swept over her, taking in the fist she was holding her left hand in, and the pinch of her brow. She attempted to relax her stance, but he had already noticed. "I could ask you the same thing. Is everything all right?"

It was still odd seeing him out of his templar armor, but just then, he wasn't wearing any armor at all, which was even stranger. His gambeson was hidden beneath his cloak that hung a little bit more loosely without the cuirass beneath it, and his boots were not covered with the strapped on bits of plate he had been wearing before. She sighed. "It's nothing... A headache..." she admitted softly.

He continued to stare at her studiously, and then suddenly, his eyes widened. "Maker's breath! What you said before, about Kinloch and why you left..."

She nodded slowly, confirming what he had already guessed. "It's not likely to let up any time soon. At least not until the Breach is sealed anyhow." She lifted her hand and wiggled her fingers over the glowing mark. "Motivation for me to act swiftly, I suppose."

"I'm... so sorry, Hawke..." he paused, shuffling his feet and his hand finding the back of his neck.

Before he could awkwardly spout whatever he was trying to properly word in his head while he fidgeted, she shrugged and plastered on a smile. "I've apparently been sleeping for a week, so I'd say it's time for a sleepless night or two. There's a lot I can't remember, so I'm going to see if I can't jog some of that loose."

He nodded curtly, his lips pressed together. Then he seemed to suddenly remember something. "I actually have something for you," he said, tipping his head toward the collection of tents where he was apparently sleeping.

"For me, Commander? You shouldn't have," she joked as she followed him back to one of the larger tents.

He dipped inside, holding the flap open for her. Once she stepped in, he let go of the canvas and she got a good look around as he moved toward the rear of the wide open space to grab something. He had his own smaller version of the war table in the Chantry atop a table that was also laden on one side with piles of parchments. The opposite side of the entrance was where he kept his armor, mounted on an armor stand, his sword and shield on a weapon's stand beside it. The tent smelled mildly of leather, faintly of templar, and mostly of the pomade that Cullen used on his hair. She didn't know the exact ingredients, but she could pinpoint beeswax, honeysuckle, and citrus as she stood in the space concentrated in it. In the back of the tent there was a blocked off section where he slept, the bed peeking out around the section of canvas. The rest of the large tent was empty of personalizations.

He came back out from the hidden section and in his hands was her staff. She gasped as he held it out to her. "After I found out you were alive, and things died down, I went to the Temple and tracked this down. I thought you might appreciate something familiar."

She took the staff from his hands and the thrum of magic that she was used to vibrated up her arms. She hummed in appreciation. "Hello, old friend..." She smiled, genuinely this time, and glanced away from the dimly glowing runes. "Thank you, Commander. This... it means a lot."

His smile echoed hers. "You're welcome."

She snorted and shooed him. "Now go to bed, Commander. There's no need to worry about me."

He rolled his eyes and let out his own snort. "Yes, mother."

With a small wave goodnight, she backed from his tent, her staff still in her hands and headed back toward the village and her own bed.

Chapter Text

Philippa scoured the Fade as often as she could force herself into dreams. The work was slow with the impressive demonic presence that flocked to her and her new mark. The mark seemed to amplify her power in the Fade, her conscious dreams gaining a focus she had never been capable of before. It helped in chasing away the demons that tried to prey on her, but it was no help in figuring out exactly what had happened and where her memories had disappeared to. The Breach had chased off any helpful spirits that might have been in the area.

Cassandra had dragged her from bed the morning after Cullen had returned her staff, and insisted they leave that same day for the Hinterlands. Philippa was exhausted after only managing to get a brief couple hours of sleep that had been interrupted by demons at every turn. She was glad that she didn't have much to actually plan or think about. Cassandra had wobbly looking horses that had been loaded down with supplies, and Philippa merely needed to dress and pick up her staff to be ready to go.

The first week of riding was a learning curve. Philippa had never ridden a horse in her life. Cassandra spent the first three days riding ahead of her, Varric and Solas before turning with a noise of disgust escaping her lips to bark tips on how to ride. Her exhaustion did not help with keeping her seat. If she did not maintain a nearly constant conversation, the rolling of the horses' gait would almost send her to sleep, her head lolling to her chest. Ridiculously enough, when they bedded down for the night, her headache and her nightmares kept her from getting much rest, and she was easily awake for several hours after they settled down.

When they finally reached the Hinterlands after about a week, there was already an established Inquisition camp on a cliff overlooking the minuscule village named the Crossroads. A few scouts ambled around the camp and one approached them with a wide grin. She was perky and freckled, with light brown hair, and friendly pale green eyes. The dwarf spoke casually but clearly. She was all smiles and stepped around everyone present to speak first and foremost to Philippa. “Herald of Andraste! I've heard the stories... Everyone has. We know what you did at the Breach. Everyone's a little nervous around mages right now, but you'll get no back talk here. That's a promise. Inquisition Scout Harding, at your service. I... all of us here will do whatever we can to help.”

“Harding, huh?” Varric asked, a devious smirk on his face. “Ever been to Kirkwall's Hightown?”

Harding cocked her head towards Varric, a frown on her face. “I can't say I have, why?”

“You'd be Harding in...” Varric paused as Cassandra glared at him while he referenced his most popular serial novel, Hard in Hightown. “Oh, never mind.” Philippa caught the joke, smirking as she turned her head from Cassandra's view.

A disgusted noise rose from Cassandra as it did most often when Varric opened his mouth. Philippa grinned and turned to Harding. “I'm starting to worry about these stories that everyone's heard,” she said as Harding began to smile again.

“Oh, there's nothing to worry about. They only say you're the last great hope for Thedas.” Harding said with a devious gleam in her eye.

“Oh, wonderful,” Philippa rolled her eyes and Harding snorted softly before regaining herself.

“The Hinterlands are as good a place as any to start... 'fixing' things. We came to secure horses from Redcliffe's old horsemaster. I grew up here, and people always said that Dennet's herds were the strongest and the fastest this side of the Frostbacks, but with the mage/templar fighting getting worse, we couldn't get to Dennet. Maker only knows if he's even still alive. Mother Giselle's at the Crossroads, helping the refugees and wounded. Our latest reports say that the war's spread there too. Corporal Vale and our men are doing what they can to help protect the people, but they won't be able to hold out very long. You'd best get going. No time to lose.” Harding's report was concise and a bit emotional.

If the war was happening below at the Crossroads, they needed to get down there and make sure that Mother Giselle was safe. She thanked Harding and her small group headed down around the path off the cliff to the Crossroads where Mother Giselle awaited her. When they reached the perimeter of the small village, Cassandra called out from behind her and sprinted ahead. “Inquisition forces they're trying to protect the people!” Solas sprinted past her much like Cassandra had and began to sling spells like he was fighting demons. But these were no demons. A fight had broken out in the village between a few small factions of mages and templars, indiscriminately fighting anyone in sight. It was chaos. Both Cassandra and Solas attempted to shout the fighters into submission, but after almost being hit by two fireballs and nearly stepping on an ice mine, Philippa dodged the swipe of a templar's sword and started to fight back. The only other templars Philippa had ever fought were the ones in Kirkwall that had blindly followed Meredith's annulment order. She did her best to maintain the same less than deadly force she had used in the courtyard, but just knocking these enemies back was not going to stop them. She tried aiming low to knock back or stun some of them, but the typical move was useless against templars because of the slight dip in their shields that helped prevent splash damage from spells aimed toward the ground in front of them. She noted the stance on every shielded enemy. She switched, regrettably, to a more deadly tactic.

As a mage realized she was fighting against them as hard as she was fighting the templars, he charged at her, his staff swinging wildly. It whirled in the air, sparks of lightning arching down the shaft. She dispelled his barrier, taking away his protection and then immediately followed with a mana drain. The lightning died and he faltered as she siphoned his mana. She touched the head of her staff to his chest. "Can't you bloody see we're here to help?" she shouted angrily.

The mage faltered, but from her periphery, Philippa watched Cassandra slice another mage diagonally from shoulder to hip. The mage she had stopped in front of her saw the act as well and raged. He swung his staff upwards to knock hers from his chest. Then he twirled it with ferocity, aiming for her head. She blocked with her own staff, and used his own mana to power the force spell to knock him back. She could see in his eyes that there was never going to be a way through to him, so she flinched and in a split second cast an immolate spell at his feet. It burst and the flames spouted under him, enveloping him in a wreath of fire. She backed away as his charred body fell towards her. She had killed before in defense of herself and her family, but this felt different. There was a desperation in the air, exacerbated by the Breach and the absolute fail that was the Conclave. Philippa could see now, why the Inquisition was a necessary thing. Someone needed to fix this madness. If she could, she would do her best, and perhaps find some answers along the way.

Varric approached her as the fighting died, and several Inquisition soldiers that had been fighting to bring order to the Crossroads swept in to clean up and tend the wounded. "You doing all right, Charmer?" She leaned on her staff and nodded. He patted her elbow and moved off to join Cassandra as she had words with some of the soldiers.

Cots dotted the property, most full of the injured and dying. Philippa was tempted to lend her own assistance, but she saw soldiers shying away from the few mages who were there trying to help. A middle aged woman in cleric's robes knelt beside the cot of one such soldier and soothed his fears. “Turned to noble purpose, their magic is surely no more evil than your blade.”

Philippa felt a small sprout of hope that at least someone in the Chantry was not looking at all mages like they were a plague on humanity. She approached slowly and softened her voice. "Mother Giselle?" she confirmed as the woman stood from her crouch when the man calmed down. She was dark skinned beneath her white and red robes, her matching hat concealing her hair. Her lips were large and protruded outwards. The expression behind her brown eyes was kind but closed off. It seemed to be a common expression among the clerics she had come into contact with over the years.

"I am. And you must be the one they are calling the Herald of Andraste," Giselle responded in her very thick Orlesian accent.

“I wouldn't exactly say that myself,” Philippa said as she secured her staff to her back and wrapped her arms around her waist, hugging herself.

Mother Giselle smiled briefly. “We seldom have much say in our fate, I'm sad to say.”

“So you think they're right?” Philippa asked in surprise, hoping she was reading the Mother incorrectly. She was barely accepting the fact that she was forced to back up the probable lie. She was not prepared to speak with anyone who actually believed it.

“I don't presume to know the Maker's intentions... for any of us. But I did not ask you to come, simply to debate with me.” Mother Giselle explained, piquing her interest.

“Then why am I here?” Philippa asked in exasperation.

“I know of the Chantry's denouncement and I am familiar with those behind it,” she said leading her towards a small house nearby. “I won't lie to you. Some of them are grandstanding, hoping to increase their chances of becoming the new Divine. Some are simply terrified.” She paused, stretching out a hand to stop Philippa as well. She turned to face her. “So many good people... Senselessly taken from us.”

“I'm pretty sure the horror of the Conclave is on my list of top worst things I've seen,” Philippa agreed with a shudder, remembering the burned husks of people in the temple.

“Fear makes us desperate, but hopefully not beyond reason,” Mother Giselle said with another warm smile. Philippa turned her gaze on the village as people cleaned up after the battle. “Go to them. Convince the remaining Clerics that you are no demon to be feared.” Philippa lifted her hand and clenched her fist that had minutes ago been responsible for burning a man to death with magic. How could she convince anyone she was not to be feared? She had been feared by people since the day she had thrown Leon across Lothering's courtyard. “They have heard only frightful tales of you. Give them something else to believe.”

“That won't just make it worse?” Philippa asked, giving voice to her fears.

“Because you are a mage?” Mother Giselle asked insightfully.

“Among other things,” she agreed, rubbing her palms together and dropping her hands to her sides again.

“Let me put it this way,” Mother Giselle began. “You needn't convince them all. You just need some of them to doubt. Their power is their unified voice. Take that from them and you receive the time you need.”

Philippa was less than convinced. “Exactly how is that going to work? I flap my hand in their faces and say 'look at me I'm divinely touched'...?”

“I honestly don't know if you've been touched by fate or sent to help us, but I hope. Hope is what we need now. The people will listen to your rallying call, as they will listen to no other. You could build the Inquisition into a force that will deliver us... or destroy us.” Mother Giselle paused to allow her words to sink in, her