The thing people will never tell you when they speak of the drift is that it is a great excuse to leave things unsaid that you probably should have said. It was so intimate, being with another person in a way that all the poets and lovers there ever were could only sketch the outlines of. You were in their head: they were in yours. You were two hearts beating and passing thoughts and memories between them like blood through arteries. You shared a single metal body and one purpose: you were the machine, you were each other, and the effects would never truly go away.
Dorian knew that better than just about anyone.
Stabbing pain in his chest. There was blood on the handkerchief when he pulled it away. The stab this time was of fear. But-
-shake off the pain, keep your focus. This duel’s not over, Dorian, you haven’t won yet. Deal with that cracking noise you heard later.
You’re sick. You can’t do this without hurting yourself. I’m calling it off.
They’d been part of the research team that had determined that such a thing was possible, two of the earliest members of the newly reformed Inquisition, which was comprised of an unprecedented mix of peoples from all corners of Thedas. They had united in a way the Blights and the Qunari alike had failed to unite them: their borders had opened, and their secrets were pooled together as they searched desperately for an answer to the new plague ravaging the world.
They came from all over: Rivaini Seers, Dalish Keepers, Nevarran Mortalitasi, more respectable Circle Mages, and apostates from the wilds of Fereldan, from Kirkwall, from the Feliscima Armada, from nowhere they would speak of at all. Orlais sent their bards and their university professors; Antiva sent their crows and their merchant princes. The Southern Chantry sent up their scholars and their Seekers of Truth, while the Qun sent down the Vidasala and a retinue of tamassrans. The Grey Wardens threw their weight behind the project: from Orzammar came the first Shaper to leave the Stone in their carefully curated memory, and, after a fashion, the Arcanist herself.
And, of course, there were all manner of magisters and enchanters from Tevinter. The first beast had risen up upon their shores, after all.
Thusly, the three of them weren’t the only Tevinters in the Inquisition, but they distinguished themselves from the rest quickly enough. Gereon and Dorian had always worked in the esoteric, the nigh-impossible, and found themselves right at home. Felix found, at last, the sort of work that he excelled at and made people take him seriously.
It was a hectic time. Inquisition agents went out and plundered long-dead magister’s grimoires and long-lost elvhen temples. They unsealed long-quarantined archives in the Southern Chantry, and in the Arcanist Hall, and the Darvaarad. Spirits of Wisdom were summoned: samples of the beasts were procured at very great cost.
In the end they found their answer. They called it the Titan, after a piece of near-forgotten dwarven history which predated both the thaigs and the Shaperate. It was a monster, designed to fight monsters: cobbled together from lyrium and silverite, embedded with runes, armed with swords and gaatlok canons and the deadliest of poisons besides.
At its center was a Spirit of Purpose, summoned by the Seers, and not truly bound to it so much as protected from corruption by special amulets. That provided the ability for the Titan to move, driven by will of the person piloting it.
Or, as it became abundantly obvious after the first disastrous attempts, by the combined will of the people piloting it. Even with the Spirit’s help, it was too much strain for any one person to bear up under.
Their first attempts at finding copilots were as disastrous at their attempts to function without them. The problem was neither magical nor mechanical: but copiloting the Titans required two individuals who would not mind seeing one another’s thoughts, feeling one another’s emotions. It required the ability to act as one being- not the domination of one person over another via blood magic, as was suggested as their next step, but a more equitable, natural connection.
The way two people sometimes clicked together like they were magnetized. The way they might pass mannerism and sentence fragments and jokes back and forth until they practically spoke a language of their own making. The way they might look at one another and share the thought as soon as he’s asleep …
Dorian mixed rum in with Gereon’s tea that night: the good stuff, strong and soporific. Felix gently guided Gereon into his bedroom, turned off the lights, and shut the door on his snoring. They took off running: it was Dorian who bullied the technicians into unlocking the piloting sigils and starting up the Titan’s mechanics, and it was Felix who did the fast talking when Inquisitor Trevelyan was alerted to their plans. By the time Gereon had been roused, they had already been proven right.
“And they said I would never perform any powerful magic,” Felix scoffed, one of Dorian’s smirks on his face.
“They’ve said a lot of things that aren’t true,” Dorian assured him, handing him another flute of champagne. He had to do it carefully: he’d always been the taller of them, but he was newly aware of it now. The ceiling seemed just a shade too low, and his fingers too long: his balance was thrown off for hours after that first drift.
Years of effort, and it was only for this: a candle lit with a spluttering flame as sweat rolled down his temple… Dorian limned in firelight, with glyphs and hexes sparking to life around him, as easy and simple as breathing, looking effortless-
-Felix looking over his shoulder, asking: how are you sorting these, which pattern are you following? Each individual glyph cut out of the parchment and then moved around until the answer was staring him right in the face, that’s why they couldn’t get the wrists to turn properly.
Don’t compare yourself to me. Especial do not do so and think yourself in any way lacking.
Gereon wasn’t pleased, but he was also proud: proud of his son’s bravery, proud of the way people in the Magisterium began to take Felix seriously instead of treating him as an invalid surviving on his father’s charity alone. He might even have been proud of Dorian, for being the sort of person who could follow his son into battle this way.
It didn’t really matter, what Gereon felt. He wasn’t the one drifting. He wasn’t the one who had suddenly- though not accidentally- become Thedas’ best hope for survival.
There were, from all accounts, four beasts currently ravaging coastal cities all over Thedas before disappearing back into the sea. And there was the fifth, the most recent arrival, which had come ashore on Seheron about a month previous, and on Seheron it had stayed. Apparently when they, the Qunari, and the Fog Warriors all joined forces they could bog down the beast as surely as they had bogged down each other.
They made the crossing from Qarinus. There had been a gala the night before, hosted by his parents of course. Father had had any number of vapid things to say about duty and honor and had some backhanded compliment about how far he’d come from his days of drinking his way through every whorehouse that would offer him a line of credit.
It had rather made Dorian wish to get blind stinking drunk, and find the sort of man who would fuck him without regard for either the setting or the inebriation. He might have done just that, had it just been him, but he would never do that to Felix.
Instead they embarked the following morning, sans hangovers and having gone to their own beds, alone, at a sensible hour. The trip was a short one. They travelled with their Titan on a specially made flat-bottomed barge, accompanied by a mishmash fleet of ships: Imperial galleys, Qunari dreadnoughts, Antivan privateers.
They initiated the drift once they’d arrived at the harbor. They couldn’t see the beast- the leviathan, as they were calling them now- but they could see the smoke from the gaatlok and magefire, and could hear the roaring from the beach.
“Just like we practiced,” Dorian said.
“Yep,” Felix replied.
Dorian had left himself open on his right side- a feint, and he wouldn’t fall for it this time. Instead he caught him by surprise, and swept Dorian’s legs out from under him. Dorian laughed, delighted and-
-they sat on the rooftop and watched the sun set behind Livia’s laboratory. It was peaceful, restful, trustful. He’d never known anything like it.
I suppose neither one of us is really an only child in the end, are we?
It was a long fight. A hard fight. Two and a half hours between when they engaged the creature and when it finally fell. They were exhausted by the end of it: their legs felt like jelly, their mana depleted entirely, the arms stiff and aching at the shoulders as though they were about to fall off.
But the Leviathan was dead. It was dead, it could be killed, and they had done it.
Somehow they found the strength to raise their arms in triumph, and yell loudly enough for those who’d remained on the boat to hear. It wasn’t long before all of Thedas knew what had happened, the sending crystals provided by Orzammar already distributed to every governing body in Thedas and then some.
The Leviathans were able to be killed. It was the greatest triumph the world had seen since the Wardens managed to slay Dumat once and for all.
And who had done that? Dorian of House Pavus, with his reputation for hedonism, flippancy, and selfishness, and Felix of House Alexius, who could barely light a candle with his magic. Two Tevinters, the sons of magisters, had saved the world.
Watching the Magisterium and the various skeptics from the South choke on it was one of the greatest pleasures of Dorian’s entire life.
They learned a lot during those early years, and not just about the leviathans.
The Titans had required the synergization of disparate schools of magic theory, had required enchantments from the dwarves and technology from the Qunari. There hadn’t been such an exchange of knowledge since the creation of the Grey Wardens, if there ever had been. Dorian had certainly never found himself challenged as much as he had been with the project, and considering his previous work was attempting to make chronomancy viable that was saying a lot.
He challenged the others just as much in return. They all did, arguments and competing theories and politics colliding together until enough had stuck to make a cohesive whole- and one no one entirely understood either.
First of all there was the drift.
At first they thought that the copilots for the Titans had to both be mages- and yes, Felix absolutely did count as a mage, thank you very much. Then there only one had to be a mage. Then they realized that the Templars could use the lyrium to channel their abilities through the Titan the way mages used their magic, and it turned out that you didn’t need a mage after all. Dwarves, surprisingly, turned out to take to piloting more smoothly than any other species: and for a while there they thought at least one pilot had to be a mage, or a Templar, or a dwarf, but then an augur had the idea to try two people who were neither of those things.
Apparently, Imhar the Clever had guided her. Dorian was skeptical of that part, but could not deny that Svarah Sun-Hair and Amund Sky-Watcher made a very effective team.
From there it was just a matter of finding two people who were compatible enough to work as a unit. The connection needed to be natural. Many thought that it needed to be a love match as well, which Dorian should have perhaps anticipated, but instead he found himself very annoyed by the presumption.
He knew what his reputation was like. He knew what sort of rumors his association with House Alexius inspired- he’d heard them repeated from even his father. It didn’t help, that many of the first pairs of copilots were couples: Cassandra Pentaghast and Regalyan D’Marcall, Svarah Sun-Hair and Amund Sky-Watcher. People from Tevinter were smug about it, after a fashion: ah yes, they’d finally found a place where such defects could be put to use. People in the South thought it was terribly romantic, in much the same way as they found the others romantic, which was almost worse. The Qun accepted it as the reason why they had such trouble finding copilots: there was no love like it permitted under the Qun.
Dagna had new freckles just under her eyes. There was a strand of hair that had escaped her bun and was flopping in front of her face as she spoke, it was all unspeakably-
-skin tan like fine whiskey, cheekbones shaded, lips curl when he smiles.
You should tell her. Even if her answer is not the one you want, at least you’ll know what it is.
For the sake of Felix’s reputation, Dorian was always swift with corrections when it came up, but the perception had settled into the public consciousness and refused to be budged, even after others began making headway: Alistair and Sharelmi Tabris, for example, had the same issue as he and Felix did, being neither related nor involved. And then there were Adaar triplets, who threw off the calculations about how many pilots of Titan could have, as well as causing no end to consternation for the Qun, who had thought that they were simply biologically unable to pilot Titans, somehow.
He heard rumors about what was happening in Par Vollen. He heard that when she learned of the Adaar triplets, the Vidasala had immediately tried to throw together individuals who were related by blood but had never known one another before, and then individuals who had been raised by the same tamassran but had been separated since late childhood. Neither metric worked: Dorian was unsurprised. If it were that simple, there would have been no need for Felix and himself to step in.
And then, of course, there was the matter of the Titans themselves.
Each Titan they created, they created around a specific Spirit of Purpose, who could join together two (or more) people in a Drift. It imprinted upon them: the longer it remained with them, in the Titan, the more personality and shape it possessed, until it, and therefore the Titan itself, became inseparable from the pilots. They could not merge with any other team, even if the people in question were compatible with one another.
None but the pilots and a few select enchanters were allowed into a Titan’s helm, so as to not warp the Spirit. That might have been responsible for the imprinting, but Dorian could not find it within him to be upset, because it kept Gereon out.
He would not have taken well to the discovery that their Titan’s spirit had taken the form of Livia Alexius. He was already on the verge of a breakdown from the fact that Felix was out there risking his neck. When it was announced that they would name the Titans and without thought he and Felix both blurted out Proud Defender- or Livi Alexa in Tevene- he very nearly had some kind of fit right there in the briefing room.
Gereon was so fragile, emotionally: in many ways, he wasn’t nearly as resilient as either Felix or Dorian. He hadn’t known that when they’d started either.
The leviathans were not merely ravaging beast capable of leveling a city. They were poison.
They had assumed that it would be something of the sort, of course. The very first avenue of thought they had pursued as to the nature of the beasts was that this was a new form of Blight. They’d been careful with the samples. There were wards and decontamination procedures and healers who checked them all over after every peek at Leviathan parts. They’d been careful when they constructed the Titans. The helms were sealed tight, waterproof: you could take a walk on the bottom of the ocean floor in them. They had, on occasion, done just that.
But somewhere along the line, someone had made a mistake. Something had gone wrong, and Felix became ill.
He didn’t want to let everyone down. And Dorian, who had been in his head, who knew exactly how important his place in the Titan program was to Felix, had not wished to take it away from him.
They didn’t know what it was, then. No one knew what blue poisoning was back then. They thought it was some lingering case of the flu at first, but Felix continued to sicken, and then they thought it was perhaps a more serious malady. Dorian should have told the healers. He’d made the decision to- but before he could pluck up the nerve for it, the warning bells went off. A leviathan was attacking, and the Proud Defender was needed.
After this fight, he thought. After this fight, I’ll get him to the healers.
It was a long fight. A long, terrible fight against the largest and fastest leviathan Thedas had yet seen. They fought for five hours, managing to severely wound the beast.
Then Felix collapsed, and Dorian fought on alone until the job was done.
Whispers in the corridor. ‘Shame he wasn’t a complete null. He could have found some honor in the Tempalrs.’ ‘He’s lucky his father didn’t sell him. Incaesori fetch a good price, even if they aren’t powerful.’
The words are spoken into a cloud of smoke. ‘Did you hear about Tecludis? They’re saying he had an accident on his honeymoon, but I heard something went wrong with his parents.’ ‘Was it that ritual again? The one that changes you?’ ‘Probably.’
“He would never have sold you, or hurt you. He’d tear the world apart before he let anything hurt you.”
“I know. That’s what I’m afraid he’s going to do.”
Your father shouldn’t hurt you either.
There were people who had taken the appearance of the leviathans as a sign of divine wrath. That wasn’t surprising: there were many in the South that blamed the Blight on wrath incurred by magisters, or by magic in general, after all. What was more surprising was that Gereon would turn to them in his hour of need.
The Venatori promised him a cure, in exchange for information about the program. Felix discovered it, and managed to get a message to Dorian out through Dagna, who hadn’t been barred from visiting him on his deathbed. Dorian confronted Gereon with the evidence while she took copies of it to Inquisitor Trevelyan- a woman he knew would act decisively with the information, rather than turn it over to the Council.
The meeting went as poorly as could be expected. It ended with Gereon being dragged away in chains, and Dorian being left to light Felix’s pyre alone with a list of things which should have been said while there had still been a chance to say them.
He left the funeral in a daze, walked into the nearest tavern and let it knock him flat. That was his life for a time.
Then his father caught up with him, and dragged him home at swordpoint. That was his life for a while too.
He had not anticipated how much it would hurt, no longer having Felix around. He’d mourned for Livia, and it had been nothing like this: like some part of his soul had been carved away, and the resultant jagged edges were necrotic and diseased.
He supposed that was because of the drift.
The thought crossed his mind, idly, and he waved it on without much in the way of contemplation. Somehow or another though, it stuck. It stuck, and other things stuck to it. Memories of Felix began to mingle with memories belonging to Felix. He found that his notes were littered with mathematical shorthand, that he began to think in logical notation and arrange things into sets.
Part of his soul might have died, but it was becoming obvious to him that some part of Felix’s still remained with him. He was living for two now, which meant that it was time for him to stop wallowing in self-pity and actually live .
The blood magic was just an impetus to leave in a hurry, really.
Dorian did not return to Qarinus for nearly five years, and when he did, it was only to laugh. His father wanted to build a wall. A wall. To keep out the leviathans. Instead of having the Titans fight them. They were calling it the Wall of Life. Could there be a more perfect metaphor for what was wrong with the Imperium than that?
His giggling was rudely interrupted by the appearance of Inquisitor Lavellan. She’d been in charge of Wycome, for the Inquisition- he and Felix had been stationed there while she was getting things up and running. Her hair had gone white, one of her hands was gloved, and there were more lines on her face- wrinkles, not vallaslin. Other than that, she was the same as ever, from the Inquisition armor she wore down to the way she sat down across from him without so much as a by-your-leave and stared him down.
Dorian considered getting up and leaving without saying anything, but he had no doubt that she had planned for that, and he would not like whatever it was.
“I presume this isn’t a social call,” he said, skipping over the pleasantries entirely.
“Nope,” she confirmed. “I need you to come back.”
“What for?” he asked. “I’ve heard that the Inquisition is scuttling the Titans, and even so, I’m useless to you without my copilot.”
“Our funding might be scuttled, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a need,” Lavellan said. “This Wall of Life is useless, and you know it.”
Dorian shrugged. Everyone knew the Wall was a crock of shit, even if they tried to tell themselves and others otherwise. It wasn’t exactly something that could be hidden. The Wall around Wycome, for example, had been breached less than a week before. The official word was that there had been some defect in the construction, some impurity in the metals used, and that the walls elsewhere were sure not to suffer from the same effects, but he didn’t think anyone actually believed that. Rather, they believed that without the Bloody Champion sailing in from Kirkwall, that there would be nothing of the city left.
“Still, I don’t see what that has to do with me,” he said. “Unless you’ve got a spare Titan laying around somewhere, I’m stuck.”
“Not any more I don’t,” Lavellan said. “But what I do have is the Proud Defender. She’s been repaired, and retrofitted, and she’s ready to go.”
“Except for the part where she’s missing half of her piloting team,” Dorian pointed out. “Felix is still dead, last I checked.”
“Yes, but, funny story,” Lavellan said. “It turns out that you don’t need both of the original copilots to run a Titan. You only need one, and a new drift-compatible partner. ”
“Well, then you’re still out of luck,” Dorian told her stiffly. “I don’t think I’ve room for anyone else in my head.”
“I’ve spoke with the Defender’s Spirit,” Lavellan continued, undeterred. “Livi is willing if you are.”
“I am not,” Dorian snapped, and stood.
“How do you think this is going to end, Dorian?” she called after him. He ignored her.
Inquisitor Lavellan was not a woman content to be ignored. She followed him out of the bar and into the streets- nearly deserted. Qarinus was a ghost town: those with means had relocated further inland, and those without worked on the Wall they knew would not protect them.
“How do you want this to end?” she tried again. “Do you want to stand around here and wait for the leviathans to step on you, or do you want to take the fight to them?”
Dorian chuckled bitterly. “For what purpose? Take a look around! It doesn’t matter what I want, or you want, or anyone wants, it’s already over!”
Dorian turned on his heel, and ducked into a side alley.
That wasn’t the Inquisitor.
Dorian poked his head back around the corner. Lavellan was still standing in the middle of the street, the only person in view, but she was holding a sending crystal, projecting Dagna’s image into the street.
There was no way she could know that some part of Felix had cleaved to him and never let go. She probably couldn’t even have known that Felix had had had feelings for the dwarf. That didn’t stop the feeling that he was being manipulated with cheap emotional ploys.
It was a struggle to keep the anger off his face, and to step into main street once more. It was what Felix wanted him to do, however.
“Hello Dagna,” he said. “Make any new breakthroughs today?”
That had been Felix’s thing, greeting her as such. If she found it strange to hear the words leaving Dorian’s mouth, it didn’t show on her face, which was shining in excitement.
“Boy did we ever!” she enthused. “We’ve found the Breach!”
“What,” Dorian managed. “The…Breach?”
“Yeah, you remember? We all thought that there must be some kind of thing that the leviathans were coming through? Well, actually it’s more like a tear through the Veil, but not the Veil, because it doesn’t go to the Fade…”
“You’re leaving out the best part,” Lavellan interjected mildly.
“Oh, right!” Dagna said. “We think we know how to close it!”
Dorian could not find the words. He wasn’t entirely sure how he was still standing upright. Perhaps Felix was helping him with that as well.
From over the sending crystal there was a loud crash.
“We’ll let you get back to work,” Lavellan said, and cut off the connection.
“You might have lead with that,” Dorian croaked weakly. “Maker, sealing the Breach would-”
“Save the world,” Lavellan agreed. “So you can see why I want all hands on deck for this one.”
“Gather your things and meet me by Anani Square,” she said. “Our coach leaves in an hour.”