~Years later~

Neria's friends wanted to get a look at the young to-be-Templars who had come for a tour of the Circle, especially out of their armor as they are. As a group of them walk by the young teenage girls pretend to be busy in the halls. With the way all of a mage's excess energy is focused into their magic, mages tend to be skinny and physically weak unless they really work at it. But these young men Neria's got to say are pretty darned fit. Shame, that they are the Templars ruins it, and these are freshly brainwashed by the Chantry, typically flighty and ready to attack with the littlest provocation.

Most look at the mages like they will burst into abominations any moment, wary and mistrustful, which is very amusing. While some give looks of haughty scorn, which makes her want to light their pants on fire. A few though wink back at the female mages who were giving purposefully lingering looks.

Suddenly one of the last young men in the group stops to look at her. He cocks his head to the side.

"I recognize you..." He says with a kink in brow. "We met years ago in the Knight Commanders office didn't we?"

A young Templar speaking to her? He is very tall, about sixteen, curly reddish hair, with kind brown eyes and a smile...quite attractive too, she'd recognize him, he is somehow familiar actually...

He gives her the salute reserved for the Knight Commander.

"Oh! You're the boy in the office I met my first day!" She laughs remembering that time long ago when she was new to the circle. "You've gotten so tall."

"Yeah," He laughs, "You're not so tiny anymore yourself."

Meanwhile Cullen is thinking who would know the scrawny, dirt smudged little elf he met would grow to be so pretty, and how her bright smile is sure contagious. He wants to say something else to her, keep her smiling, but then they hear a throat cleared suddenly.

"If I am not interrupting something..." The young Templar jumps when he sees it's one of the Sisters standing by observing them.

"I was j-just, uh...leaving." The young Templar stutters in explanation lamely and dashes after his companions.

The Sister gives Neria a piercing look, and Neria can practically hear the words 'Don't go corrupting our pure young men with your witchy wiles' go unsaid. Neria refuses to be intimidated by it, and the Sister walks on.


The next day the young initiate Templars, continuing their tour, pass by the door of a large circular classroom. In there were practice dummies scattered around the front of a gathering of upperclassmen mage apprentices. The Enchanter presiding singles out a student and asks for a demonstration.

It's his elf friend, Nai...no, Neria, that steps forth. Neria closes her eyes and her expression smooths. With his senses he can feel the veil thin. It sends a chill running down his spine. Her form begins to glow faintly then a fiery nimbus surrounds her. It illuminates her face and hair and when she opens her eyes, concentrating hard, even those are brightly reflecting the light. She raises her hand and then there is a devastating crash as the dummies before her are blasted backwards even as they explode in fire.

His Templar brethren shift uneasily. Some of their hands twitch to were their blades would be had they been armed. The Enchanter however nods and smiles in approval. "Quite good Neria, a very successful cast, 8 points to your group. However class, does anyone see where improvement could be made? No? Notice the delay in harnessing the magic and focusing it. You must aim for that to be instantaneous. In those seconds, you are draining mana needlessly. When you tap the magic, do so as if..."

"At ease gentlemen. This is daily routine in the tower." The Captain said finally. "Little is likely to arise."

"Ser, if I may, why are mages allowed to learn such magic?" One of Cullen's friends asks.

There are many murmurs of agreement. Cullen is wonders too, if magic is already dangerous on its own...

"An understandable question. Mages with such skills are invaluable in battle, initiate. Also, the more mages practice and control their magic to the fullest, the less chance there is for mistakes. Using magic strengthens the mages will, highly necessary to avoid demonic temptations and forced possessions. If you strive to excel in your training as is your duty, you will be well equipped to handle such attacks, should a mage choose to use their power for ill."

His friend salutes, "Yes, Ser. Thank you, Ser."

"Let us continue." Their Captain says and the group walks on.

By the end of that year Cullen had taken his vows and drank of the Lyrium. He was now a Templar in full and proud of his achievement. For the next four years he was sent with different parties of more experienced Templars to do his duty of tracking down stray mages and striking down those gone deviant. He was excited for this to begin, to leave the practice grounds and chants and books to use his sword for the Maker's cause.

It never occurred to him this duty would be the reason he must tear a women from her husband and children to return her to the tower, where she is placed in solitary confinement for one year, and driven nearly mad because of it. She escapes soon after she is released, and when Templars are sent to track her down again, he isn't sure who's side he is on.

Then there was the time he had to remove a mage toddler from his distraught family. A mageling is actually one of the most dangerous of mages, if he or she is powerful, accidental magic could kill, and children are not wise in the ways of a demon cunning. Nonetheless, it's he that feels like the villain when he tells the family there is likely no way to see their child and little brother again. He has to drink himself to sleep for hearing the mother's pleas in his head.

He is relieved when his station means he finally does something right when he finds a another mage child, this time in a dingy ally. Apparently his family makes him sleep outside because they are afraid he'll summon demons if he has a nightmare. The boy is thrilled when Cullen promises him to take him to others of his own kind, to a place where it's okay to be magic. Cullen knows he is exaggerating on some aspects of the Circle Tower and glossing over others, but anything would be better than what the boy had previously anyway. He doesn't seem to miss his old family in the slightest.

That however was short lived since soon after he was charged the task of tracking down a pair of apostate teenage girls who were signed for Tranquility. Apparently they had plans to escape once they were Harrowed, but those plans were discovered early. He found them nearly starved in the wilderness, without a clue how to survive once their rations ran out. They were captured, and on the way to the tower one attempted suicide. Upon their return to the tower both the spirited young women were made Tranquil as planned.

Another apostate was discovered selling Lyrium to wayward Templars in return for their silence and protection. He informs his commander of these crimes and all are parties involved sent to Aeonar with a sentence of ten years. There actions were against the laws of the Chantry and the Templars vows to the Maker, but still the thought fills him with pity.

Later on he came across another apostate, however this one was killed in battle. The Templar who slew him claimed the apostate used lethal force. Cullen confided to Greagoir, now Knight-Commander, that he wasn't entirely sure what the mage did counted as lethal force. Greagoir agreed with Cullen, commended him, and the Templar who struck the blow was sentenced with two years confinement. Cullen thought the sentence should be stronger, but it was the toughest Greagoir could achieve.

His fellow templars recommend to him to make the apostates think they are signed for Tranquility, and that occasionally that will get them to use Blood Magic in a last attempt to escape. The apostates looks of horror and pleas that they are mistaken, make Cullen's stomach twist. Eventually the ploy does work, an apostate, never having been to the tower, attempted to use Blood Magic as a last desperate attempt to escape, but he wasn't particularly powerful, and he and the rest of his group easily slay him.

He senses faint magic one cold winter in Denerim. It turns out to be an old lady lighting her lamp because she cannot afford oil. The Templars stationed near dissuade him from dragging her to the tower. They say they've been watching over her for years and the ones stationed before them had as well. Cullen is amazed and conflicted, does he turn these Knights in? By now he hasn't the heart.

Also, it turns out a few of his 'brothers' in arms are not as dedicated as they ought to be. He is highly disappointed when one group he is assigned to make a habit of visiting a house of carnal pleasure and make fools of themselves over excessive drink. They try to talk him into their revelry, and mock him about how 'cute' he is when he says he's saving his first time for someone special. He joins a different party as soon as he is able.

More appalling is his discovery of a pair of Templars who had told an apostate mage they will set her free in return of sexual favors. He turns them in and they are promptly relieved of their Templar status by the Mother, and have the nerve to be shocked besides. He grows to loath the way his fellow Templars talk about how he is being assigned the boring tasks right now. Rounding up magelings and weak young runaways. The skilled apostates, which seem to be synonymous with blood mage to them, is apparently were the 'fun' is. There were only three cases of Maleficar he witnessed in those four years. Then there was a time he helped clear out an old abbey of demons possessing the corpses therein and terrorizing the locals. In that place he lost one of his first friends he grew up with.

He responds to his fellow Templars he cannot wait to be stationed at Circle Tower. Simple guarding sounds so much more appealing. The other Templars look at him like he's going mad. His desire apparently gets back to the tower though. Greagoir, looking to Cullen, strangely understanding, grants him this.

It's his first day back to the tower, this time as a guard. Slay abominations, keep an eye on the mages for signs of blood magic. Straight forward charges. No gut wrenching decisions. Although it is a bit dull admittedly.

He sees Neria his second day at the tower, although she doesn't realize it is him under his helmet. She has become a lovely young women these past years. About a week passes until one day she's walking down his hall alone for the first time. He thinks this is a good opportunity to finally say hello to her.

He lifts his visor as she passes. "Remember me?"

"Cullen! That's you? When did you get here?" She says stopping before him.

"A little less than a fortnight ago. I've been on active duty." They haven't talked in years. Yet he is pleased to find she still remembered his name.

Her eyes light up. "You must tell me all about the places you've visited."

"Oh I didn't go far, Denerim the farthest."

"Well then, is it a grand city? Are there really birds as big as a house that live atop the bluffs nearby?"

"It certainly is an impressive city, Ferelden's finest. The giant rocs are not quite as big as a house, but they can carry a man!"

Neria looks fascinated, her full attention is on him and it makes him shy. "I mostly just seen a lot of trees and hard dirt to sleep in."

She smiles. "Well, I've got to get to my tutoring class, otherwise the little hellrats will turn the classroom upside down. We have a bet, if I'm late again they will levitate my desk onto the top of the bookshelves and I'll have to teach from up there!" The two laugh at the young apprentices antics.

"You tutor? Already?" Wait, she's still wearing apprentice robes, so she isn't a full mage yet. "Oh right, you have to go, another time maybe..."

From then on she always smiles at him when she notices him in the corridors. It makes him feel nice. Especially since many of the other mages make him either feel out of place or not human for being so ignored as he is, and what with how disheartening it is to have the littler mages squeak in fear if he makes eye contact with them.

It is not a conscious act on his part, but he likes knowing where Neria is. His eyes are always drawn to her when he guards the library, and he seeks her out at meal times among the throng. It's easy because she always stands out to him. He supposes it's because there's nothing else to focus on, so he focuses on her because he knows her.

He often finds himself eavesdropping in on her conversations. If only the mages knew what secret boxes of gossip Templars are. No one paying attention to the silent suits of armor. He notices certain quirks of hers, besides the way she always chews on her quills and her friends refuse to borrow hers, around her friends she is lively and clearly the leader, in a group she is unfamiliar with, she is a little more shy.

She mostly spends time with another apprentice named Jowan. Jowan seems like a bit of an idiot to Cullen, but the two are best friends. There is something about him though that Cullen doesn't like, he doubts Jowan's strength of character. Jowan's picked on by a few of the others males occasionally. Apparently they find him to be a bit of a 'geek', and tease him for hanging out with girls so much. Neria always steps in and puts a stop to it, even if it requires unladylike language.

Cullen is proud on her behalf when he finds out she is in all advanced courses many years above her experience level. She is also a tutor for other apprentices in Nature magic. Despite this she needs not study more than the average student does, and he finds her reading novels of adventure and fantasy more than old tomes.

Cullen's opinion of Neria seems to rise more all the time.

His dorm mates tease him about the way he's always watching the elf mage. Whenever they see him looking at her, they adopt exaggerated enthralled looks and stare at her too. He denies all of their claims. His friend Rowan in particular is worse than a young girl about the whole thing. Cullen wonders if he may be sweet on a mage himself. One of his dorm-mates, Paul, thinks his comportment a gross breach of conduct, but Cullen has never been well acquainted with him, he's a bit too...enthusiastic about hunting mages in Cullen's opinion.

But as days past into weeks he thinks they may have a point. Okay she's pretty. Well beautiful, if you ask him. By now he knows each and every feature of hers so that he could easily draw a portrait of her. Something about her draws him. Does he have a crush? He isn't sure, he's never had one before.

"But how do you stop it from going all over the place." Neria asks. Her and her friends Layla, Adrienne and Jowan are studying in the library.

"You practice Neria." Layla rolls her eyes.

"It would help if I knew what to practice. You all just like seeing me get zapped."

Neria tries again. A second later her whole body is shaken down to her very bones, even her teeth chatter as a jolt of lightning shoots through her instead of at her target. "Yeow!" She helps.

Her friends burst out laughing.

"Okay there's something you're not telling me. I'm studying with Brandon from now on." She grumbles grabbing her things.

"Neria you've got to see - mmph." Jowan's hand clamps on Layla's mouth.

"Tell me." She says.

"You'll find out." Jowan returns.

"Tell me now!" Neria hits Jowan with a book.

"Augh! Help...Stranger danger!" She whacks him again.

Finally after more messing around then studying, the three apprentices part ways to their classes, with her off to healing.

She is first as usual to finish the assigned project and packs up her things. As soon as she steps out the class someone bursts into laughter. Across from her in the doorway is the Templar Cullen, who reels in his laughter sharpish. "I-uh, sorry, but you're hair..." He's so embarrassed he has to be the one to point it out. Oh very gallant Cullen, laughing at her.

"Wha..." She pats her head and feels what must be her bangs sticking straight up into the air. "Andraste's flaming-! Erm, excuse my language that's Anders rubbed off on me. Maker I'll kill them. And there I was telling jokes in class, thinking I was so funny when everyone laughed, everyone was laughing at me. You're a real friend at least." She darts off hand flattening her hair.

He feels good about himself the rest of the day.

Walking through the halls one day suddenly he is shoved forward to go toppling into someone crossing the adjacent hall. That someone is none other than a certain elf mage. It was Rowan who shoved him, he just knows it. Maker, he can feel his ears are already going red.

"I am so, so sorry. My idiot friend...uh tripped." Oh no, she was holding a drink and now it's splashed her chest. Now he's really mortified. "Here, use this." He quickly pulls out a kerchief and gives it to her.

She looks behind him but there is no one there. "Oh." She says curiously. "It's alright, I, erm, don't much like purple anyway." She says assuring as she dabs her purple robes. Then she clicks her fingers, the spot dries before his eyes, although it does leave a faint stain. "How have you been anyway Cullen?"

She's very close to him. He is so used to wearing his armor he feels very exposed, he notices his heart is beating awfully hard and he can't seem to get anything out of his mouth for a pause.

"I've been..uh, fine. J-just great, really." He finally manages. It wasn't this difficult to talk to her before, what is wrong with him?

She nods. "That's good." Another pause. "Well, I should go or I'll be late for class and you have your duties."

"Uh, yes, alright. See you."

That night he thinks over that encounter, after laying into Rowan, who swears on Andraste's grave he did not see the drink, it's now obvious to himself finally, he's been smitten.

As she is reading late one night Neria begins to hear a patter on the window. Is that..? Yes it's rain! The first rain of the season! She quickly gathers a change of clothes, stuffs them into a knapsack and stealthily sneaks out the dorm.

It's after curfew but she easily evades a few ever watchful Templars until she's at her usual secret passageway that eventually leads outdoors. It's one she found when she was ten. She doesn't think even Anders knows of it. Neria hurries down the tight passage and opens the last door. She inhales a deep breath of the crisp fresh air, the unique sent of rain in the breeze.

Then, Neria's heart stops when she feels a grip on her forearm just as she is about to step outside. She twists around completely horrified.

"Oh Maker... it's just you Cullen." She relaxes when she sees it's her friend and her hand falls from her heart. He wouldn't turn her in...would he?

The Templar looks terrified too oddly. "What are you doing?" He says hoarsely. His eyes dart to her backpack.

"It's not what it looks like." She waves her hands in a no gesture. "I'm just going outside, to take a walk. These are just a change of dry clothes, See? I do this all the time. You're not...going to turn me in...are you?" She looks at him sadly.

"Neria...if I was any other Templar, you would be made Tranquil tomorrow's very morning." He looks sick at the thought and her hear warms for this kind Templar.

She sighs. "I know, but I need this Cullen. I've been doing it for years. How did you discover me?"

His eyes shift away from hers. "I uh...I sort of...I ch-check on you sometimes when I'm stationed nearby at night, just to see if you're all right. I-I hope that's not weird." A hint of red comes to his ears.

She pauses, surprised. "I...No...Thank you Cullen. That's sweet."

He blushes even more.

"Walk with me." She says and smiles.

"In the rain?"

"Yes." She laughs. She takes his hand and tugs him after her.

He cannot resist that, so he steps out into the night with her, mourning his gauntleted hands. Her hand looks so dainty and soft in his. She laughs some more as the rain begins sprinkling them both. How on earth she can laugh he doesn't know, he's already chilly in his armour while she's in her bed robe.

"I know it's a huge risk, but I feel so much more alive out here. I think it may have something to do with my affinity for nature magic, or would it be the other way around? Isn't the moon beautiful? You just can't see it clearly through the old windows..."

The moon indeed is bright and full and large hanging low over the lake with the clouds above it. He looks back at her, her face illuminated in its glow, the rain making trails upon it. "Beautiful...yes." He says softly.

She smiles at him. When he smiles back Neria notices a dimple on his left cheek, it's quite adorable. The moon is gradually hidden behind thicker storm clouds and they are soon drenched in the downpour. Then the mage walks near the stormy lake and tilts her head back and closes her eyes. Suddenly the wind seems to whip around her, swirling her wet long hair and robe. Slowly the wind raises her into the air until just the tips of her toes touch the ground.

Cullen lunges and grabs her and pulls her down. She looks at him, surprised, he looks fearful again.

"No Neria, please, that's apostate magic."

She frowns at him, and he feels dejected. "Cullen there is no apostate magic. It's all just simply magic, that was something I discovered myself I could do, it just happened."

"Maybe we should go back inside." The Templar says looking back at the doorway.

"Yeah, maybe we should." She concedes. She gives the heaving lake one last look before turning back to the door. Cullen is relieved, but then she stops under the doors awning.

"Wait inside for me, I've got to change."

"Oh, of course." He closes the door and tries his best not to think about her undressed just behind the door. Or the way her thin wet bed clothes clung to her shape.

She opens the door again and steps inside, her wet hair now tied back, revealing her slender neck. They walk to the apprentices quarters silently. The silence doesn't feel awkward at all and for that he is happy. She seems content too. Finally they arrive at her quarters.

"Goodnight Cullen. That was fun." She says with a smile.

"Fun? I was a nervous wreck." He shakes his head wryly. "Sleep well Neria."

But nerve wrecking or not, it was a very good night.

A month passes of Tower routine. One morning Cullen is sent by the Knight Commander after a rumor of blood magic. Upon his return he is greeted with the news that that very night he is to attend the apprentice Neria Surana's Harrowing.

He suspects both Mage and Templar are being tested, either by the Maker or his superiors. He is sure he wasn't so obvious about his affections for Neria as to alert even the Knight Commander, but Templars do gossip like old wives, there is little else to do standing around all day, his plight was bound to get out he supposed.

All day he can do nothing but worry. He wants to tell Neria, she is so painfully, blissfully unaware, sitting there in the mages lounge playing cards with a group of other apprentices, while he is again a nervous wreck on account of her. He wouldn't even say no to a little of that brandy he knows is in the cups of the youths instead of grape juice.

However that night she is brought into the Harrowing Chamber and she is calm. It seemed he was more stressed out about her Harrowing than she was. She peers at him with eyes steady and determined, and he feels better. Of course, this is a rite of passage among the mages, he considers, a great achievement for them, not something for the cowardly. If so many before her could do this it, then surely could Neria Surana.

It is the quickest, cleanest Harrowing he has ever seen. She passes out again in weariness after awaking from the lyrium induced sleep and Greagoir orders one of the other Templars to take her to her quarters. Cullen feels a flash of jealousy as well as resentment to his Commander. Yes, Greagoir surely knows, for Cullen is standing nearest to the mage, it would make sense if he were to carry Neria to her bed.

The Templar carrying Neria is well known to treat mage apostates unnecessarily harsh, once even given a stress leave of absence due to his paranoia. Cullen follows him stealthily at a distance, wishing to be assured of his friend's wellbeing. Once she is in bed, he returns to his own quarters.

He notices out of the corner of his eye Neria dart around a bend. She doesn't head towards the library though. Where then? Perhaps it was a cover? It's around midnight, the time she snuck off last time. A few shortcuts later and he waits hidden by an arch in the hallway by the secret exit on the off chance she will pass by. He has come here many times waiting for her, but he hasn't caught her yet, plus he usually had to leave after an hour or so lest he be missed.

He has however noticed Jowan sneaks around too. But he wonders if he is just overly suspicious because he is Neria's close friend. He tries to stop himself being paranoid and following the apprentice.

His heart skips as Neria does finally pass by. In shadows he followers her until she steps into the last room.

"Hello Cullen." She says, and then looks over her shoulder as she opens the door to the outside, a little smirk on her lips.

He jumps. How did she know he was there? "Sneaking off again?" She got the jump on him but at least it means she is not unaware, he could have been another Templar, she's learned a new trick since he caught her last time.

"I'm a mage now, they can't Tranquil me. Besides, we are allowed out the tower as mages." She sticks her the tip of her tongue out at him.

"Only Enchanters and up after curfew, and not outside without permission from the First Enchanter." Cullen recites the rules he knows by heart. She just chuckles at him.

However, his recital of the rules brings to mind an unpleasant thought. He, as a Templar, isn't merely a guard for her safety and the safety of others, he is essentially her jailor. It never occurred to him, he always took the whole situation as is. Now a whole slew of questions arise. Does she hate Templars? He knows many mages do, seeing in them the oppression of the Chantry and the general distrust of mages across Ferelden. Is there a part of her that hates him? He is only doing his duty...

He blurts out "Do you-? I...do you-" But he can't finish. "N-never mind."

She looks curious but leaves it be, although he knows she wants to know what he was going to say. Neria steps up to the edge of the lake and puts her feet in the shallow water, shoes and all.

"You...erm, know not to go all the way in right?" The dark water drops off swiftly into rough currents. Many would be escaping mages have drowned that way.

"Yes, Cullen," she says in a jesting long suffering way. "The waters are very treacherous around the tower," she says assuring him of her knowledge. He looks appeased.

Neria picks up a flat stone and attempts to skim it across the lake. It plops in the water immediately.

"Skipping stones?"

"I just read about it in a book, The Adventures of River Running, I thought I'd try it here. Its a really great book, I already want to read it again, have you heard of it?"

"I haven't read much fiction." He admits.

"Then you must! He has all kinds of adventures; I think you'd like it..." He watches her as she strains to find another suitable rock in the sliver of moon light.

"W-why don't you use your lights?" He says as he steps up to her.

She looks up. "Oh, well I didn't for you." Then she looks like she feels somewhat awkward. "Most Templars aren't very comfortable around magic...well you know."

"I don't have a problem with magic at all." Cullen assures her. "Magic is a gift from the Maker. Though, like all power it comes with a price." He says gravely. "I've always liked your lights; they hover around you like fireflies. You'd like fireflies-"

Neria is looking up at him with admiring eyes and a little smile and his heart swells. Then she reaches up on her tiptoes and gives him a small kiss on the cheek, right where his dimple would be if he smiled.

She says quietly, "Stay sweet, Cullen."

...Oh Maker, she kissed him.

Then she holds up her hands and a light forms in her palms, she gives it a soft quick blow and it floats away. Then the little ball of light seems to gain a life of its own and dances and hovers around her. She does this twice more. "I invented that spell myself, so I'm flattered you like them. It's an alteration of the lights in the library." She says with a smile.

She quickly finds another rock. It hops once this time.

"It's all in the wrist movement." He takes a rock and sends it skimming seven times. "See?" And Cullen, gathering his all his nerve, removes his gauntlets and he takes her hand, its even softer than it looks, and he folds her fingers around the rock in just the right way. "Now bend your wrist back." He demonstrates, "And set it free."

She loses the skipping stone just right and it skips neatly thrice.

"Nice!" He picks up another rock just right for her. "A little more power this time." And he cannot help but make sure their fingers brush again.

After a few more tries, Neria has it down quite well and she is pleased with her achievement. The young Mage and Templar soon retreat back to the tower so as to not press their luck, and they laugh at the way her shoes squish and squelch all the way through the halls. Her laugher makes him feel lighter. And, he hopes he is not imagining it, but her looks into his eyes linger longer than they had done before.

He goes to bed that night feeling like the world can't get any better.

...And then, everything is ruined by that Jowan. Cullen's never liked him.




A/N I'd love to continue this, but I have nothing else for now. I would love to hear whatever you think about my little story.