Chapter 1: Into the Unknown
Gwen leaned back into her chair and raised her arms until she felt a satisfying crack.
“Hey Rin pass me Enchanter Greenwich's book on desire demons please.”
With a huff the tiny fairy lugged the book over, dropping it on the table before perching herself on top of Gwen’s head.
“Hey don’t you think it’s about time you went to bed? You’ve been at this for a while.”
“If I didn’t know any better Rin, I’d say you were scared of someone catching me past curfew.”
“Well if they finally got sick of your antics and made you tranquil, I’d be hard pressed to find some other person who I’d find half as interesting to talk too. Or who could actually see me, for that matter.”
“Aww you make me feel so special.” Gwen said as maidenly as she could.
“You are special to me, stupid.” Despite the insult Gwen knew Rin meant what she said. Rin had told her that after she was no longer satisfied with merely observing humans and the like, that she spent decades searching for one she could actually communicate with.
“I’ll head to bed soon; I just want to do a little more research. If the rumors are true my Harrowing will be in a couple of days.” While Gwen was fairly confident in the many aspects of magic, not knowing the exact details of what takes place during the test was more than enough to put her on edge.
“All that research won’t do you any good if you fall asleep in the middle of the test.” Rin pushed herself off and was now floating in front of Gwen’s face. “So, Go. To. Bed.” Gwen scrunched her nose as Rin poked it while emphasizing each word.
“No buts! Go!”
“Alright, no need to be so pushy.” Gwen couldn’t help but smile any time Rin started acting like a mother. It felt nice since she has almost no memory of her mother. But she’d never admit that to Rin though, her ego was big enough as it is.
After waiting for Rin to return several books to the top shelf and a brief argument explaining that if she could fly, she would have returned them, Gwen left the library and the two started silently making their way back to the dorms.
With the all clear from Rin, Gwen scurried past the last pair of patrolling templar and silently opened the dorm door and snuck into bed while trying not to wake the other apprentices. After trying to make as little noise as possible switching into her sleepwear, Gwen found she was still too antsy to fall asleep.
“Hey Rin tell me a story.” Gwen whispered.
“What are you a child? Go to sleep.” Rin responded from her spot on the potted plant hanging from the bedpost.
“Fine I have one for you.” Rin said with a huff, she knew she shouldn't keep spoiling her but the sooner Gwen got to sleep, the sooner she could go to sleep. “It's called The Blind Girl and the Songbird.”
“Once upon a time there was a small bird who loved to sing. It would sing to its mother every day, happy of the praise it would get. One day while resting in their nest, rustling from down below caught their attention. Looking over the edge the young bird asked what were those creatures walking below, to which the mother replied humans. She was told to avoid them for they sought only to steal and harm the denizens of the forest in which they lived.
When its mother left to find food and twigs one day, the songbird heard singing coming from the forest floor. Curious to what was singing, it decided to fly down to find the source. She soon found a woman gathering elf root while singing to herself. Forgetting her mother's warning, she decided to sing along with the woman, copying her song.
From then on, every time the songbird heard the woman sing, it would fly down and sing along with her. Deciding it wanted to spend more time with the woman it decided to hope on her shoulder and sing with her until she reached the woman’s home.
When the mother returned to an empty nest, she grew more concerned the longer time went on. Noticing rustling in a small bush, she flew down hoping to find her daughter stuffing her beak with berries. As soon as she landed on the ground, a massive dog stuck its head out from the bush. Before she could react, the beast lunged forward swallowing the mother whole.
As soon as the woman and the songbird reached her home, the bird unfurled its wings getting ready to take off before the woman grabbed the bird off her shoulder. Shocked and scared the bird started calling for its mother, a mother who would not come.
Placed in a metal cage on the windowsill, and the feathers on its wings clipped the bird had no chance to escape, the only thing the bird could do was sing.
As the days turned to weeks which turned to years, the bird had begun to noticed the woman could no longer sing as well as she used to.
Every time the woman heard the bird sing, she would appear to become angrier and angrier until one day she could no longer stand it. Convinced the bird was mocking her she grabbed the bird out of the cage, clipped its wings one last time and took her to the middle of the forest leaving her there alone.
Happy to be back in the forest the bird tried returning to the skies only to be met with failure. Scared and alone the bird tried singing, hoping its mother would hear it and come to the rescue. But no matter how much she sang no help came.
Convinced she was going to die the bird let out a gentle weep, wishing she would have listened to her mother all those years ago. A noise behind her had caught her attention, closing her eyes she started singing a low tune, waiting for whatever was behind her to kill her.
All of a sudden, she felt a pair of hand scoop her up and lift her. Scared that the woman had returned the bird tried flapping its wings hoping to fly away, but was once again met with failure.
“Poor little thing, are you alright?” Said the unfamiliar voice.
Surprised at the strange voice the bird turned to see a young girl with bandages wrapped around her eyes. The young girl started gentle petting the animal discovering it was indeed a bird, but felt no obvious injuries explaining why the bird could not fly.
“My uncle knows a great many things, perhaps he could help you.” The young girl said and started slowly making her way out of the forest, unaware at how scared the bird truly was.
After being scolded for wandering around the forest alone, the uncle explained that the bird’s wings had been cut and could not fly until they grew back. Satisfied knowing the bird was going to be alright the girl returned to her room and placed the bird in a makeshift birdhouse on the side of her bed.
“Lucky for you little one your feathers will grow back and you can return back to the skies where you belong.”
As the time went on the bird noticed that the young girl could not see and felt a strange kinship, as she could not fly.
One day after being inspected by the uncle the bird turned to see the young girl with a smile bigger than she had ever seen on the girl. She was then gently grabbed by the girl and was taken to the forest where the two had met some time ago. The memories of the first woman came flooding back and she was convinced she would be abandoned again.
“Well little one it's time to spread your wings and reclaim the skies once more.” The young girl said raising the bird up above her head. “Don’t be afraid I’ll be here to catch you if you fall.”
Looking down to see the young girl still smiling, the young bird decided it no longer had to be afraid. Unfurling its wings, it leapt from the girl's hand and flew, just like it had done with its mother all those years ago. Happy with is new found freedom, the bird landed in the girl’s hand once again and sang her a song as thanks.
“What a lovely song, I was afraid you’d never sing again.” The girl said, placing the bird on a nearby branch.
The bird hadn’t realized the first time they met was also the last time she sang. Then why was the girl so kind despite the fact she didn’t sing for her.
“Goodbye little one.” After a small pat on the head the girl turned and started making her way back home. As soon as she exited the forest, she felt something plop down on top of her head. Before she could even react, she heard a familiar melody. Reaching her hands up she felt the bird jump into her hands.
“So little one I take it you want to live with me huh?” The bird gave her a confirmation chirp which made the young girl laugh. “Well I suppose proper introductions are in order then, my name is Gwynevere, what’s yours?
As far as the bird new it didn't have a name so it gave a low chirp in response.
“I suppose you couldn’t tell me even if you had one. How about I give you one? How does that sound?” The bird jumped around and started chirping loudly in her hands. The young girl laughed again, which the bird found she enjoyed hearing.
“Alright then, how about Le...”
Gentle snoring distracted Rin from her story, and she found Gwen sleeping soundly in her bed.
“Well I suppose you won’t remember this story when you wake up, so there was no harm in letting you experience it a bit early.” She said to a slumbering Gwen. “Sleep well.”
Sticking her head inside the class room, Gwen scanned the room until she sensed her mark talking with the professor.
“Neria! Lunch!” Gwen yelled, maybe a bit too loud.
“Miss Amell need I remind you that this is still a class room and you should conduct yourself with a modicum of restraint.” Came a stern response.
“My sincerest apologies Enchanter Harrill.”
“Yes, I hardly doubt that. Thank you for your help today Miss Surana, enjoy your lunch.” He paused before shooting a glare at Gwen. “As difficult as it appears it may be.”
“I’m happy to have been able to help. See you tomorrow.” Neria gave a quick bow before joining Gwen at the door.
“What took you so long? I’m starving.” Gwen whined as she grabbed onto Neria’s arm.
“Quit your complaining, I have no idea how Rin puts up with only having you to talk to.” She jested as she led them to the dining hall.
“If I could only tell you girl.” Rin quipped from her usual spot atop Gwen.
Gwen told her about Rin several years back and although she found it hard to believe at first, Gwen wasn’t the type to come up with tall tales just for laughs. There are also many different types of creatures out there, so it would only be natural that there would be some that couldn’t be perceived normally. But then again normal wouldn’t be a word she would use to describe Gwen.
Before they reached their destination however, they were stopped by Templar Cullen. He gave Neria a quick nod before turning his attention to Gwen and clearing his throat.
“H-hello Amell.” They both knew he was had a crush on Gwen, but they both didn’t know how to let him down easy so they decided ignoring his obvious fumbles was the kinder thing to do.
“Good afternoon Cullen, how may we help you today.”
“It’s time. If you would follow me please.”
“Just my luck it would happen right before lunch huh.” Gwen mused as she squeezed Neria’s arm tighter.
Reaching around with her other arm, Neria hugged Gwen hoping to relieve some of her nervousness. “You’re the best apprentice I know, and soon you’ll be the best mage I know.”
“Thanks, Neria.” Gwen returned the embrace before turning to Cullen. “I’m ready.”
Cullen straightened his back and took a deep breath. “If you’d like you could grab onto my arm as I escort you to the chamber.” Cullen’s face had turned such a bright shade of red that Neria was certain it could cut right through Gwen’s eye mask and go directly into her brain.
Gwen didn’t miss a beat, tapping his vambrace. “That won’t be necessary Cullen, lead the way.”
“Of course, follow me.” Cullen quickly turned on his heels and started walking down the hall.
After a giggle and another quick hug. Gwen followed him, steeling herself as she walked into the unknown.”
After following Cullen into an unknown part of the tower, Gwen found herself in a room with several people who she recognized as First Enchanter Irving, Knight-Commander Greagoir, and several other templar. There also appeared to be a large sum of lyrium, more than she had ever felt before.
Irving spoke first. “Greetings Gwen, as you may have guessed the time for you to undergo your Harrowing has arrived. In order to become a full-fledged Mage within the Circle, we will send you into the Fade with lyrium where you will come face-to-face with a demon, armed with nothing but your wits.” Irving took a deep breath. “And if you are unable to overcome this trial...”
“We will do our duty Amell, and you will be killed.” Knight-Commander Greagoir interjected.
“Killed...” Gwen repeated to herself.
“Unless you wish to undergo Tranquility, but tell me Gwen is losing all your magic an option? I have faith in you.” Irving reassured her
“As do I.” Rin spoke, trying to reassure her. “And as does Neria.”
Gwen regained her confidence knowing so many people believed in her. She then took a step forward towards the source of the lyrium.
“Remember Gwen though the spirits may rule the Fade, your own will is real.”
“The apprentice must go through the test alone First Enchanter.” Interrupted Greagoir. “You are ready.”
With a nod she stepped forward reaching her hand out towards the lyrium, feeling the power overwhelm her. She heard Rin wish her luck one last time before losing consciousness.
Chapter 2: Tested
Gwen journeys through the Fade in order to pass her harrowing.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Upon regaining consciousness Gwen found herself in the Fade. She felt formless, like she was submerged in a bathtub full of water. The first thing she needed to do was find a sense of self. The longer she remained in this state the easier it would be for the demons to corrupt her.
Remembering all her countless lessons she first focused on her legs, when casting earth spells, it's important to have a strong foundation. Next came her core, the stronger the core the hotter the flame. Then her chest, where conjuring the wind is as simple as drawing a breath. She imagined reaching out her arms, letting the magic flow through them until it reached her hand and she felt her fingers pulse with raw energy begging to be released. The last placed she focused on was the center of her head, the source of healing magic and the place many believed to be the seat of the soul.
As soon as she regained her form, the Fade itself seem to form all around her as well. Being completely lucid in the Fade, she could feel the magic all around her, and her already heightened senses seemed to have been kicked up a notch as she had no problem ‘seeing’ the world around her. She appeared to be on a small island with large jagged trees sticking out from the ground and giant chunks of castle debris floating way above her.
“Alright time to find this demon.” After a few steps forward, she felt something small coming towards her. “Well that was easy.”
“Another unprepared apprentice sent to their death.” Said the small presence. “It’s not fair they do this to you, me, or any other mage.”
The word mage caught Gwen’s attention. “You’re a mage too?”
“Well I was, until the templars determined I failed. Take too long and they become afraid something else will come out.” The presence then grew into the size Gwen recognized to be a person. “You can call me Mouse.”
“That seems like a fitting name, I was surprised when you approach me you were so small.”
“It’s easier to hid in that form, other spirits inhabit this island and not all of them are friendly.”
“And you mean to tell me you are?” Gwen crossed her arms.
“My chance to escape has long since passed, but you still have a chance to return safely to your physical body.” Mouse then shifted back into his smaller form. “I’ll follow behind you, the demon that is hunting you lies further ahead.”
As Gwen continued forward several small wisps of electricity appeared along the path and shot bolts of lightning at her and Mouse. Holding her hand up she formed a barrier that blocked the incoming attacks, which were weaker than she expected. Channeling a fireball in her free hand, she dropped the barrier and threw the spell into the center of the wisps, engulfing them in flames.
“Impressive mage, at this rate you’ll be back in your body in no time.” This was the first time Gwen could freely cast her spells without the risk of injuring her classmates, so she decided to enjoy it while she could.
After several more wisps and zero help from Mouse, the two of them found themselves in a clearing. Gwen felt something further ahead and whatever it was, was angry and it knew she was there. “Let me guess, the demon I’m supposed to face is up ahead.”
“I suggest you prepare yourself; those wisps were nothing compared to this demon.” Mouse warned.
Before continuing ahead Gwen heard what sounded like metal banging together from her left. Deciding to investigate she followed the path which lead to and intense spirit.
“Another mortal thrown into Fade unarmed to fend off a demon. Such a cowardly test those mages created to prove ones worth.” Spoke the spirit.
“What are you? You feel different than the other beings I’ve encountered so far.” Gwen asked.
“I am Valor a warrior spirit, I hone my weapons in search of the perfect expression of combat.”
Looking around Gwen saw plenty of weapons displayed but there appeared to be no raw materials. “How did you create all of this?”
“The same way you conjure fire and lightning, these weapons are not forged with hammer and anvil, but with my will alone.”
“Can you make me a staff I can use against the demon?”
“Of course, but you’ll have to earn it, face me in a duel, if I find you strong enough, I will give you one.”
“And if you don’t?” Gwen was pretty sure was his answer was going to be.
“I will kill you, but at least I won’t feed on your essence.”
“Figured as much, alright Valor I accept your challenge.” Compared to the wisps, fighting him would provide a better benchmark of how powerful her abilities were. Valor grabbed a sword and shield and took a position a about 15 yards in front of her.
“Let us begin!” Valor shouted before charging at her.
Fade or not Valor’s sword was very real and very dangerous. She shot a bolt of lightning aimed at his chest, unfazed he raised his shield and absorbed the blow.
“Those tiny wisps pack a stronger punch than that!” Valor taunted.
In order to beat him she needed to get past his shield. The best way to do that is to draw him in and knock him off balance. After firing a few more bolts as to keep up the appearance of an all-out assault, Valor finally reached her and raised his sword high above his head. Steadying her stance, she reached both her hands out and concentrated a barrier around them and met his strike. The impact knocked them both back but Gwen recovered faster, expecting the blow. As this was probably her best opportunity, she reached her hands forward once more and summoned a stream of fire, engulfing him completely.
“I yield! I yield!”
“I’ll take the staff now please.”
“You’ve more than proven yourself worthy, I wish you luck in the battle ahead.” Taking the staff, Gwen and Mouse started making their way back to the clearing when they felt a different spirit further up the path.
“Careful a demon lies ahead, not the one you need to face but a dangerous one nonetheless.” Mouse said while moving behind Gwen.
“So, you are the mortal being hunted, and is the tiny spirit supposed to be a snack for me?” The demon spoke in a low monotone voice, almost as if it was struggling to stay awake.
“Let us leave, there is nothing to be gained from conversing with it.” Mouse was still positioned at a safe distance..
“Yes begone, surely you have more pressing matters to deal with then bothering a sloth like me.” Gwen remembered learning about sloth demons, and she knew how powerful they are. She needed to tread carefully.
“So, Mr. Sloth do you have anything I could use against the demon hunting me? The sooner I defeat it the sooner I can get out of your hair.”
“Hmm well I suppose I could teach your little spirit companion to take on a more powerful form like myself.”
“I’m sensing a but coming.”
“But I’m much too tired to be doing anything like that.”
“Well I guess I’ll just hang around here and talk to you until you have the energy to teach my friend.” Gwen knew she was playing with fire, but she wanted every advantage that she could get her hands on.
“Do not test me mortal, I could just as easily consume you instead of the demon hunting you.” Sloth shifted from his laxed position to a more aggressive one.
“I’m not some run-of-the-mill mage Sloth, if you want to fight, you best be prepared to lose.” Gwen summoned her staff and slammed it down, cracking the ground beneath it.
Sloth took in the opponent in front of him and returned to his laxed position again. “Fine, if teaching the tiny spirit will get you to leave then so be it. Come forward and pay attention.”
After several attempts, Mouse was able to change his form into that of a bear, though Gwen still insisted his name was still Mouse.
“Alright Mouse I think I’ve spent enough time wondering around, it’s time to face this creature and leave this place.” While excited at the prospect of leaving, she has grown used to being in the fade, but she’ll have plenty of time to explore it fully when she dies and she has no plans of doing that anytime soon. After walking back down the path, they found themselves at the giant clearing they saw earlier.
“Alright demon show yourself!” Gwen felt bubbling heat rise from the ground and take form of a demon.
“Ahh so it has come to me at last, soon I shall travel the land of the living with your body!” The demon bellowed.
“I’m the only leaving here today and I don’t plan on sharing my body with you.”
“You’ll be mine, body, mind, and soul.” The demon then turned its attention to Mouse. “So, this mortal is your latest offering Mouse?”
“I’m not offering you anything, I don’t have to take orders from you anymore!” Mouse then shifted into his bear form.
“We shall see!”
The demon fired a ball of fire at Gwen. With staff in hand she was able cast her spells more efficiently and summoned a barrier to absorb the blast. The use of fire confirmed Gwen’s suspicions that she was dealing with a rage demon. Based on what she studied, a rage demon, while still a threat wasn’t one of the more dangerous ones in the fade which made her curious.
After firing several more blast to no avail, the demon summoned multiple wisps into the battle.
“I guess I should be surprised you would play fair, Mouse deal with them while I focus on the demon.”
The demons only plan seemed to be to shoot fire and claw at her barrier, which thanks to her staff was even more powerful. When the demon came again to strike its claws, Gwen dropped the barrier and jumped back, leaving it to flail at the air. With this opening she shot out a cold blast of air freezing it in its place. Not wasting anytime, Gwen slammed the staff down sending a fissure of earth crackling right at the demon, causing him to explode on impact.
“You did it! You actually did it!” Mouse appeared before Gwen in his human for. “When you first appeared here, I knew you were different but I didn’t actually believe you could best the demon!”
“Best him I did.” Gwen knelt down and picked up a chunk of ice and examined it before tossing it aside. “So, what was that thing about offerings again?”
“I... regret my part in helping that demon but you need to understand how difficult it is to survive in here, that’s why I helped you fight back, to atone for my past mistakes.”
“I suppose you want something from me too, for your help?” Gwen began putting the pieces together.
“I have no doubt you’ll prove those templars how wrong they treated people like us and become a powerful enchanter like the world has never seen before. And with your help, I think I know a way for me to join you and finally leave this place.”
And there it is.
“You know Mouse I’m starting to think that rage demon wasn’t the test at all.” Standing up she turned and faced Mouse.
“W-hat do you mean?”
“The templar already know how powerful we are so a simple test like this wouldn’t prove anything. After all, when dealing with your kind it comes down to a battle of willpower doesn't it?”
“They were right about you.” Gwen felt mouse shift and take on a huge monstrous form. “Any bumbling fool can kill; the true dangers of the fade are preconceived notions, ill placed trust and pride. Keep your wits about you mage, true tests never end.”
As soon as the spirit disappeared, Gwen felt her body grow tired and once again lose consciousness.
Almost done with the prologue, one more chapter(which should be out soon) to go then its off to adventuring. I'm going to change the story up a bit but nothing too crazy. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it. :D