He’d lived in the tower for seven years and had passed his Harrowing, the final test required to retain his powers, a few months before. He’d hoped that the ritual would allow him to prove his trustworthiness but the Templars that guarded the mages for the Chantry still shadowed him. They seemed to take the one time he’d swum for freedom across Lake Callenhad just after he’d been taken from his family as a sign that he was a troublemaker and seven years’ worth of submission hadn’t been enough to dissuade them.
Tonight Anders intended to do something he’d never told anyone he could and escape the constant pressure of that distrust and surveillance. Templars patrolled the halls and checked the rooms of all but the most senior mages all through the night. But there was one place they never went.
The moment the patrol closed his door he sprang from bed, listening to their boots scraping the stone floors as they moved away. He judged by the sound that they had passed the nearest curve and slipped silently through the door of the room he shared with five other novices. His bare feet made no noise as he flew down the corridor to the nearest stair and pattered down to the ground floor. The apprentice’s quarters were nearby but he still had the chaperones with whom to contend.
But he’d done his research. He’d chosen this night because the two apprentices intended to be watching the youngest mages, those not yet tested by the Harrowing or made Tranquil because they could not control their power or resist the temptations of demons, had a secret of their own. They were lovers and the youngsters knew they snuck off to indulge themselves when they believed everyone to be asleep. Anders had been cultivating the friendship of the newest arrivals at the tower, knowing they’d lie awake for many nights after they were taken from or, worse, given by their families.
He peered around the corner at the bottom of the curving stair, his hands flat against the reassuring stone. It spoke to him, gave him strength to get past his nerves. But he didn’t have long to wait. Soon enough he heard the door scrap a little as it opened and the sound of a young woman’s throaty, desirous laugh floated to him. He gave the two a minute to find the classroom nearby then left the stairwell and nipped quietly into the apprentice’s dorm.
Though it was nearly black inside, Anders knew his way well enough. He’d lived here for the past seven years, the darkest time of his life. And there were plenty of nights he’d had to get up and go to the bathroom.
He passed beds where children slept, some snoring gently, some restless. In the farther reaches of the room where the older mages slept, the young people about his own age who were not quite ready to face the test, he could hear the rustles and giggles that had made staying here bearable for him. At times he missed the rough-and-tumble play that the teens had enjoyed. He’d taken the Harrowing as early as his mentors would let him because he had mistakenly believed that he’d get more freedom from the constant oversight once he’d proven himself.
In doing so he’d traded the series of large rooms filled with bunks for the nominal privacy of a smaller space he shared with five older men. But he’d learned plenty about sneaking around the tower at night from them. It was a pastime the novices all enjoyed at one time or another and their lessons were proving quite valuable.
Anders slipped through the rooms to the place he wanted. The bathing rooms for the littlest kids, the ones who showed their power as early as five or six and so came to the tower at such a tender age, happened to lie at the opposite end of the tower from the entrance. He’d spend weeks pacing out the layout of each floor that he could access, as a way to fill the endless time of confinement that stretched before him. He’d run his fingers over half the blocks and flags in the tower, learning where each was.
A lock of his dark blond hair tickled against his forehead. No matter how often he confined it some always managed to escape to hang about his temples. He blew it off with an irritable puff. Now that the moment had come his nerves redoubled their effort to convince him that he should just accept his fate but placing his left hand on the solid stone walls pulled some of their determination into his spine. Enclosed in this little space he had the silence he needed to concentrate. He had to act.
Anders released his greatest talent, his biggest secret, into the wall. He could feel where the outsides of the enormous blocks bore the pressure of the earth that comprised the small island on which the tower had been built and which basked in the moonlight and fresh breeze that he so wanted to feel on his own face. As his right hand traced the tiny seams between the fitted stones he formed his request to them.
Like it had since he was a child, the rock responded. The block under his left hand began to slide as he had asked, grinding a bit against its neighbors as it eased out into the night. Once it rested on the ground he moved his hand to the stone to its right, the one around which his fingers had been moving. That one, too, complied with his wishes and began to turn.
It took half an hour but Anders convinced several more blocks to turn in their beds. They’d been slumbering so long that they welcomed his contact, his request. When he thought the opening large enough he thrust his head and shoulders through, wriggling his hips past the sharp corners where masons had done excellent work, and eased his feet out into the night. For a moment he simply lay in the verge of grass between the tower and the little beach the children had enjoyed until his first escape had ruined that, too. Then he returned to the wall, thanking the stones for their help and asking them to return to their usual positions.
It took even longer to coax the block back to where they’d lain but eventually the outside of the tower was again a seamless, impenetrable barrier. Anders smiled, imagining the consternation of the Templars when he was discovered missing. He rubbed a hand over his friends, thanking them again and promising that he’d return. He knew he’d be caught and likely punished severely for his daring. But as long as he kept his little secret he could enjoy their frustrations and wait for another chance. He could hope.