It was when the screaming stopped that the real torture began for Cullen. The minute Uldred had found her trying to uncage him and save his fellow Templars he had taken her to the Harrowing Chamber, killed his comrades, slowly, before leaving him in his cage once more. This time though, this time there were no visions, just a dull pain that did not stop the utter clarity he had now. He could hear everything. Every scream from her throat, every lie from his mouth, every time she refused him just to be tortured some more. He would have welcomed insanity to this reality.
And then her screaming stopped and he was alone and terrified.
But it wasn't long before that monster came down the stairs, dragging the mage by her hair as she tried to stagger after him.
Amell was covered in blood and Cullen could tell that most of it appeared to be her own, wounds opened fresh on her skin, much more visible than the wounds Uldred had inflicted on his mind, his soul.
"Now I'm only going to say this once," Uldred said, his words sweet, sickeningly. "Accept my offer or I will kill the Templar. I have tried everything in my arsenal and apparently you were stronger than I gave you credit for. So choose. His life, or yours. You have two minutes to decide."
He let go of her hair and she crumpled to the ground. She kept her eyes cast on the floor as she shook her head slowly, as if trying to make all of the madness around her disappear.
Then suddenly she looked up, straight into Cullen's eyes and in an instant he knew her decision. Tears streaming down her face, she said, "I'm sorry," but it was as if she were a million miles away.
She reached for the dagger on a fallen Templar nearby, and before the abomination could react, she said, "His."
And then she ran the blade across her throat.
Two minutes later the hero of Ferelden had arrived, or the man who would become the hero. He had made quick work of Uldred, somehow managing to save the First Enchanter and the Circle along with it. But she was dead and Cullen was not the same Cullen as he had been before the abominations. The hatred had grown, and somehow even thinking of Amell only made it worse. In all his life he had only met one girl who he had ever cared for like he had cared for her, and she was only mage in that tower worth saving, yet she had died, right in front of him. The blood had soaked the floor red, circling around his cage, until the moment Uldred's death had let it seep toward him, covering the place he stood. It always felt like that at the tower now, as if he was walking in her blood, it followed him everywhere, haunted his days.
He thought that leaving the tower would make it go away, that somehow he could move on, save others from the same fate that the Circle in Ferelden had faced. Cullen threw himself into his duties in Kirkwall, the anger propelling him toward discipline. It wasn't long before the Knight-Commander Meredith took notice of Cullen and made him her Knight-Captain.
The blood went away at first. He didn't picture it everywhere, did not see it embedded in his boots. But Kirkwall was never safe from madness and apparently neither was the Meredith. Still he had done his duty, never questioning.
Then it came, the ending, the explosion. And he had still not questioned her and her call for Annulment, not even when Hawke had pleaded with Meredith to not go through with it, her large blue eyes so like her cousin's that he had almost dropped his sword and sworn loyalty to her right then and there. But Hawke was not that girl, that girl had died because of abominations like the one that stood beside her. Cullen tightened his grip on the hilt of his blade, sure he had done the right thing.
Then the real fighting began and this time he was not trapped, useless inside a cage he could not open. His training and focus was totally in tune with his muscles, his sword. He was the defender the city needed, the machine the Chantry created. Meredith and he were in complete agreement that sometimes to save lives, sacrifice was necessary. Amell had known that.
Then there Hawke was again, alive. She had not fled, not abandoned her fellow mages, not even, apparently, when the first-enchanter had revealed his weakness and become an abomination. Why was she here if not for her loyalty to him? Why would she risk her life for a handful of mages, most likely corrupted by the evil that had somehow seeped its way into the Circle? Had she, too, fallen victim of the curse that mages carried with them? The siren call their magic sent to demons? With all his experience as a Templar he did not believe so. She was here trying to do what she had always done, what Cullen had always done, protect the city in the way they best thought possible. At least she wouldn't have to die for that.
But then Cullen realized that Hawke was no exception, that no mages, of any age, or of any merit, were going to survive. The Knight-Captain looked at his Commander and saw in her what he had seen in Uldred but not seen in the blue-eyed apostate. Somehow, she had become what he so hated. All the lives he had taken because of her…how many had been necessary? How many had he killed at the behest of the thing he had sworn never to fall victim to. This abomination had been issuing his orders, bending him to its will.
The blood was swirling around his boots. He had been walking in it for too long.
He turned to the Knight-Commander and attempted to remove her from her post, peacefully, but abominations did not want peace, they wanted chaos. Cullen gripped his sword and thought grimly, for Amell.