Connor Guerrin doesn't bargain.
On some level, he doesn't know how. A life spent isolated in his father's home and in Kinloch Hold in the middle of Lake Calenhad has meant he's never haggled over the price of a trinket or a bit of food, has never had to convince anybody of anything beyond being allowed out of his lessons, has never stared down another person and gone to combat over wants, needs, desires. The only time he has ever bargained, really bargained, was with a demon.
It did not go well.
Even now, the demon hasn't entirely left, and he is just beyond his eighteenth nameday and of an age to be Harrowed. It worries him. It makes him nervous, that soon the templars will find out about the passenger tethered to him by a thin line of promise, of agreement, that the Warden was not able to snap. That the eight years he has spent adjusting to life in the Circle (a life, in some ways, not so different from the one that came before) will have been a farce.
He knows the Warden could have killed him, and sometimes he wonders if she should have.
So he is left with this: a caged existence, but a different cage with more room than the one he was born into. He gets along with other apprentices. He excels in his studies. His mother often writes, though the templars hesitate to let the messages through. His father never does, instead sending his affection in trinkets and a silent guarantee of safety should he ever need it. His uncle has visited twice, each time with the excuse of visiting the Formari to enquire about new mabari for the Rainsfere kennels, but each time really to take Connor aside and check on him. Connor always says that he is fine.
But when he sleeps, everything is different. His dreams shift quickly between the horror of walking dead dancing to his orders to the sumptuous luxury of silks and furs and a woman or man stretched out beside him, purple-skinned or pale-skinned or dark-skinned. He has learned over the years that whatever the figure appears to be, it is only one creature. It is his demon, the one who heard him call out for help saving his father eight years before. She calls herself Entice and she whispers in his ear.
Conor Guerrin does not bargain. He simply says no.
He still dreams of kings and armies, heroes and dragons. He dreams of rolling hills he has never seen, broad glittering oceans, great galleons and powerful cavalry. He dreams of adventure.
It was in those dreams that Entice found him first, amidst forests that are more painted legend than reality. He was thirteen then, three years past the nightmare he could barely remember. Back then, there was only the vaguest sense that something had gone wrong, a faint image of his father slowly dying in his bed. He barely remembered the Warden. He barely remembered his demon.
It didn't stop her from settling around him like an old, familiar cloak, her hands skimming over his arms and whispering what a brave warrior he was.
That is how the demon works, he knows now. He has studied her kind in small isolated moments, far enough apart that he hopes the templars have not noticed. She compliments and flatters him. She works slowly. It has been five years and she has only tried to bargain five times. Each time, when he says no, she retreats. She soothes. She apologizes.
But she never leaves.
The memories have come back slowly over the years, Teagan being made to jump and somersault and make a fool of himself for his amusement, his mother cowering in deferential fear, the castle staff reduced to nothing but a shambling army to drive down the hill and against the town night after night. The nightmares began soon after the first thoughts drifted back in, and when he doesn't dream of horrors, he dreams of her.
He doesn't sleep much anymore.
His eyes are constantly ringed in shadow and his head is fogged, but another night's restless wakefulness, even under templar eyes, is better than the alternative. It isn't that Entice's touch doesn't feel good. It is that it doesn't disgust him. He knows the dangers, has lived too close to them, and yet he still flirts.
And so he does not bargain. She offers and he rejects, and she circles around him like a vulture.
He is sitting atop a great buckskin charger, clad in armor his shoulders could never bear despite the breadth they have settled into. The wind of the Fade (entirely like wind and yet entirely not) howls around him. He can't change the land that stretches below him, can't shape the flow of the dream, but he knows he is asleep. He always knows. A mage always know.
He wonders why it took his parents so long to realize what he was. There were mornings he would run to their chambers and try to knock their doors down to tell them about every vivid detail, every color and shape and story. His father would be quietly amused and his mother would send him on his way.
Now he tells nobody his dreams.
Entice rides up beside him, her horse smaller and not exactly a horse, something golden with scales covering its hindquarters as if it is part dragon. She wears opalescent sheer fabrics that cover an androgynous body, a form she adopts more readily now than any other, flat-chested but narrow-waisted, with broad shoulders but a delicate neck. She doesn't look human, but he doesn't need the visual reminder.
"What do you want?" she asks, pulling her legs up to sit crosslegged in her saddle as her hands skim along her thighs. "You never tell me anymore."
Sometimes, he can't speak. Sometimes there are words that seem to come from his throat, but they are not his. He has nightmares of agreeing to her offers, his almost-voice saying yes while he cannot form words of his own. But because they are not his words, they are not true bargains.
But here, now, he can speak.
"I'm not going to tell you," he says, keeping his eyes fixed ahead after his brief glance to assure himself it's only her.
"Will you show me, then?" There's a purr in her voice, a smirk. He can hear the jingle of bells as she shifts, leans back. He can imagine the arch of her spine, her lifting her arms above her head to touch them to the ground - the flank of the horse - beneath her. Connor has seen it too many times to forget.
"No," he says, and nudges his horse into a trot. It obeys immediately with single-minded focus, like no horse he ever knew in the courtyards of home. Another artifact, he thinks, of the Fade - things are as they are supposed to be, or the exact opposite. There is little in-between, because why would the inbetween rise from men's minds?
"I'll guess," Entice murmurs, closer to his ear than she looks to be as she follows him. "We'll ride to the horizon until I guess right. You like games, don't you? Lonely boy, you."
He flinches. In the waking world he is lonely, isolated, exhausted. He sleeps only a few hours each night and his studies are long. And when others approach him, he folds himself away, afraid that they will see what is tethered to him in dreams. The other apprentices laugh and joke with each other, find quiet corners to kiss and slide hands beneath robes. They love and hate and live. He drifts.
"Lonely boy," the demon repeats, and she is behind him on the charger, hands sliding over his armor. They are dark-skinned now, a man's hands, and he feels stubble burn against his ear as Entice nuzzles against him. "I could fix that for you."
"I won't accept anything you offer."
"But what if it's just a gift? Not a bargain- just a gift."
Connor is silent.
"I'll show you what I can give you," Entice says, extending a hand forward. The horizon ripples. Connor has learned that dreams are bounded things. There are books and books on the Fade and he has read most of them. Beyond the trees, the endless fields, is the Fade itself beyond the constructions of dreams. It has been described to him as platforms, shifting colors, a dun palette with hints of wrong-greens on the edges, unsettling purples, colors that should not exist. The Black City floats, somewhere on the horizon always. Here there is blue sky and goat paths, but it exists for him and his eyes. Nothing can enter but demons and spirits.
Except that the horizon warps. It tears. There is a bulging in and then he blinks and it is gone.
A man walks up the hill.
His face is shadowed but Connor can see pale hair drawn back from his temples into a heavy braid. He can see richly colored robes and glinting gold embroidery. He can see the elegant staff clutched in one hand.
There is a laugh just behind him and Entice fades away.
He pulls on the reins and his horse stops. The man approaching hesitates. The shadows along his face shift with the furrowing of his brow. Connor lifts an armored hand in greeting, and he gains in return a slow nod. The wait of steps up the hill is interminable, and Connor feels his mouth go dry.
It's just a trick, he reminds himself.
But here is the wandering wiseman mage, though the pale-haired man is considerably younger than Connor first thought, and Connor is the waiting prince in need of guidance. The stories he has clung to in place of dreams and in order to shape them ring loud in his head. His hands clutch the reins of the horse tightly, and finally he dismounts in a sheening slide of armor that would have been harder and slower to do in the waking world.
The man stops twenty paces away.
"Hi," Connor says, and the words sound childish and small.
"Hello," says the man, and his voice in contrast is low and rich and accented just a little, something Connor can't place. He is tall and narrow and pale. His bearing is strong and proud, but after a moment his mouth works as if to say something but nothing comes out.
"Are you a demon?" Connor asks, the question awkward and fumbling on his tongue.
"No," the man says, and Connor believes him.
"Not that, either." The man glances around. "Somniari. You- called?"
"You called. Or- somebody called." He casts his gaze to the trees ringing the clearing and hill, to the half-existent path behind him. "Something called."
Connor thinks about the demon, thinks about the winding string that tethers him to her, and he considers telling this wandering mage, this wandering man. He considers confessing.
He holds his tongue.
The man sighs and bows his head a moment, frowning. The ground trembles, the sky warps. Reality bends in on itself for just a moment, and then they are on level ground and the horse is gone. Connor's armor clings to him like so many fragile moths' wings, and then disintegrates, drifting to his feet and leaving in its wake pale grey robes.
"You're a mage, aren't you?" the man asks, and Connor nods, staring wide-eyed. "Your name?" he presses.
"Connor," the boy-mage says weakly, feeling unprotected in cloth. "What did you do? Where did everything-"
"I feel safer this way." He casts his gaze about again. "There is nowhere a demon can hide that I don't know of, now."
It's true; there is only an expanse of muted green, grass that is not grass, and the trees have all fallen to so much ash in the wake of what must have been a great fire. Another wave of the man's hand and there are two seats, reclining chairs. Connor searches for the word, because it is Tevinter and he does not know enough about the world.
Klinai, the air whispers, and he lowers himself down onto his.
"What's your name?" Connor asks, looking up.
He watches as Feynriel sits, grace with a hint of awkwardness around the edges, nervous glances, tense jaw. But then Feynriel's eyes - golden, like the rest of him - settle on Connor once more and, for once, stay.
"You didn't call me?" he asks again, and Connor shakes his head, then tucks his single braid, longer than the rest of his hair even in sleep, back behind one ear.
"No. What are you?"
"Somniari," he repeats, but the word means nothing. Connor stares blankly until Feynriel sighs and presses the heel of his hand against his forehead. "A mage. Like you."
"From Tevinter?" he asks, looking to the cushions beneath him.
"From Tevinter," Feynriel says.
What had Entice said? Lonely boy - I'll show you what I can give you. Is this man a gift, then? This elegant, sculpted man who looks so strong and yet so nervous. A Tevinter magister? Because there is nothing else this man could be; a mage from Tevinter who can walk into his dreams and break them to nothing.
He swallows and blushes and toes at the ground, plucks at the upholstery of the triclinium.
"Oh," he repeats.
"Question everything, accept nothing."
Connor startles at his desk as the Enchanter taps harshly against the wood. He was drifting towards sleep, and bits of the Veil still tease at his mind. Feynriel is there. Feynriel said he would return. Connor had asked it of him, begged it almost.
Connor had all but gotten down on his knees in his dream and asked for the statuesque, enchanting man to come back, because he touches wishes and hopes and adventure in a way Connor has never known. He is far off places. He is power. He is company.
And for some reason, Feynriel said yes.
Now, Connor pulls himself up to sitting, staring blearily at his instructor. He slept longer and more deeply than he has in weeks the night before, speaking with Feynriel, questioning and answering in turn, and yet he is more tired than he has ever known before. He wonders in that spot between sleep and full understanding if that's what Feynriel is, a demon of sloth now tethered to him to.
But when he tests the Veil that afternoon during practicals, he feels only the thin, barely-there tether of Entice. Feynriel is not there. Feynriel does not feed off of him, does not cling to him. He only asks questions and searches for truths that Connor isn't sure he can provide.
He lifts a hand and fire dances along his fingers, but his aim falters as it sputters to nothing. His eyes feel heavy. All he can conceive of is sleep and another respite from Entice, another night in the presence of another.
The Fade beckons.
Question everything. Accept nothing.
Feynriel shapes the Fade, decorates it now in bright colors, sumptuous fabrics. But the spaces remain open, clear lines of sight. He rearranges the world at whim to make old hiding spaces open fields. The world shifts and dances, and Connor can barely see him exert the effort.
On the third night, he drops the walls of the dream completely and allows Connor to see the Fade for what it is: desolate expanses, spires that are organic and blood-curdling, too-few colors, coldness. The wind that is not wind howls all the stronger.
"Could you teach me how to do it?" Connor asks as Feynriel raises walls back around them to shut them away from the sprawling shifting haze and the Black City on the distant horizon.
"No," Feynriel says.
"Why not? Is it a Tevinter thing?"
"It is a lost thing," Feynriel replies with a grim smile. "I'm the only one."
They spend quiet evenings together. Connor luxuriates in the company, the richness, the privacy. Entice doesn't whisper to him. There are no hands on him. There is only him, the dream, and Feynriel.
When he asks why Feynriel returns night after night, the somniari only shrugs and says,
"This is not how it is in Tevinter."
It takes weeks to tease the rest out. Feynriel does not visit every night, but Connor always awakens into a constructed dream just for him, with walls built tight and no sign of Entice. When Feynriel is there, Connor questions. Connor stretches out on the grass or the triclinium or the carpet of whatever Feynriel has made, and he looks up at the man and seeks answers.
Feynriel, he learns, is half-elven, but Connor has no impulse these days towards words like knife-ears or half-breed, only a stary-eyed enchantment and understanding of why Feynriel is so willowly, why his eyes are set the way they are, why his fingers are long and elegant. Connor learns, too, that Feynriel is not Tevinter born and bred, but comes from Kirkwall. That is where his accent comes from, though Feynriel will on occasion murmur words in Arcanum that rise and fall with all semblance of fluency, of intuitive knowledge.
He learns, finally, that Feynriel comes because in Tevinter, there is little warmth. Feynriel serves a master who teaches him to control his abilities, for Feynriel has never stepped foot inside a Circle; but that master, that magister, cannot weave dreams, and distrusts Feynriel for his power.
Feynriel is, in the end, dangerous. But he is also a little nervous, a little young, a little lonely. Connor sits with him and Feynriel relaxes where, for once, he does not need to play at competition and status.
The moon is full and heavy above them, fake and glittering.
"I've only seen it like this once," Connor says, stretched out on the ground only inches from Feynriel.
"Only once?" Feynriel murmurs, turning onto his side and looking at Connor's profile. He can see the movement from the corner of his eye. Feynriel glows in the fake night, the starlight in his skin and falling from his lips.
"When they took me to the Circle."
"But before that...?"
"I lived in my father's home, and I never left it." He remembers nights he snuck out onto the battlements or into the courtyard, looking for the moon and stars, but the torches burned too brightly or the clouds covered the sky or the moon was waning to nearly nothing.
And then the guard or a servant or even his mother, on a few occasions, would come out to bring him back in.
"Well," Feynriel says, reaching a hand out to trace the moon's outline and draw it closer still, "then this moon is for you."
"In a dream," Connor says with a small laugh.
"Dreams are real - for us, at least."
And then Feynriel leans the last few inches towards Connor, pushing himself up onto his hip with a hand braced against the patterned grass beneath them, and kisses him.
The next day, Finn asks him why he's grinning while he pulls down books on the Fade from the stacks.
"Good dreams," he responds, and if the heat that touches his cheeks is any more real than the blush that stained him pink the night before, he can't discern the difference.
His kisses feel like nothing Connor has ever felt before, hot and cold and all-encompassing. He doesn't know if it's the dream or if it's Feynriel, or if there is any difference.
He always fears that one day, he'll open his eyes and it will be Entice grinning back at him, whispering I can love you, I can be with you. But Feynriel brushes the fears away without Connor ever voicing them.
He fears, too, that one day Feynriel will find the string and tug, bringing Entice back, revealing Connor's shame.
But Feynriel's hands only touch Connor's skin and never delve below. They peel away layers, but never to the core. Connor loses himself in touches he cannot steal in his waking hours, does not want from anybody who walks around him. Nobody in the Tower has the same grace, the same golden light, the same fears.
Feynriel knows the dangers of the Fade, and he fights them back each night.
"Question everything," he breathes against Connor's skin. "Accept nothing. It's the only way to survive. Every night, demons try to come for me. Every night, I turn them away."
"You don't bargain?" Connor whispers, voice thin and throaty though Feynriel can make it not so with a tap of a finger, a lowering of an eyelid.
"No, never. Down that path lies only ruin."
He sleeps more than he has ever slept before in his life. He reminds himself of his father, stretched prone on his bed. But the templars wake him not with holy ashes but with cold water, dumped over his head, tearing him sharply from Feynriel's arms.
"Would you like me to write you a letter?" Feynriel asks with a smile on his lips as he settles down on the mossy ground beside Connor, all bared skin and long lines.
Months have passed. It has been half a year, in truth, but Connor has lost track of time, stretched tight between studies and sleep. He exists in constant revolution, fire and dreams, anxiety and the soothing touch of rest.
He wants nothing more than something tangible in his hands, something that Feynriel has touched and breathed onto and held to him. He wants nothing more than a waking, physical token, and Feynriel can feel it now just as surely as Entice ever could.
The difference is that Feynriel can feel it through closeness, through trust.
Connor shakes his head, though. "It's not like the templars would let it through. Imagine, a letter, from a magister-to-be."
"Some people would say I'm a magister already." Feynriel laughs, and what was once a tense sound full of uncertain assumed pride is now sheepish and low and welcoming, and Connor can't help but run a hand along the mage's side, watching the play of skin against star-held skin. They play at forms - or at least, Feynriel plays at his. He is made of moon dust and wind and all sorts of things that cannot make a man, but he promises Connor with every exhale that this is what he looks like.
More or less.
"Some people?" Connor asks.
"People who do not understand how Tevinter works, but think that the powerful hold the power."
Connor is beginning to understand Tevinter. Feynriel has built him colonnades, plazas, great temples and towers and homes. He has seen and learned the name for impluvia, tiled pools just inside any great home that catch the rain and sit sparkling in the sun through a gilded gap in the roof; for peristylia, gardens at the back that form a small cloister, a safe haven. He knows cuts of robes, imported fabrics, the dream-flavor of so many spices from Seheron. He tastes cinnamon for the first time in sleep, when Feynriel kisses him and lets it permeate them both.
He knows now, too, the machinations of magisters, the jockeying for position, for status, for influence. Feynriel is powerful and dangerous, but he is young and still learns how to play the game. He is too kind, he confesses. Too shy.
Too good, Connor murmurs in his ear.
When his Harrowing comes, he has almost forgotten about it.
It starts with templars watching him more closely in the halls. He hears whispers - sleeps too much, distant, lost. They notice changes in him that are inconsequential, but he can't say that he meets a magister every night and dreams of adventures and intimacy, bright suns and soft skin. So he smiles and nods and acts as if everything is just the same.
But he sleeps more.
He is with Feynriel when it happens. They are walking through an open plaza with beautiful mosaics stretching out beneath their feet; Feynriel has dressed him in Tevinter fashions and Connor swears he can feel the weave of the fabric against his skin, every detail vivid and concrete in a world that is otherwise eternally shifting. Feynriel takes his hand, his thumb brushing along Connor's, and Connor feels his heart skip and flutter like it always does.
And then the feeling fades. It becomes insubstantial. Feynriel is disappearing and the tiles crack apart beneath his feet; for a moment he thinks Entice has found them, or a great demon of pride, and he calls out. He stretches out a hand. Feynriel can only shake his head and swallow hard, and Connor realizes with the sickening, familiar drop that he is being roused.
But it is too early.
Templars, three of them, stand around his bed and he stares up into the darkness at their faintly glinting armor with wide eyes. Images of the Fade still danced in front of him as one of the men hauls him to his feet. Another hands him his robes. He fastens them over his smalls and undershirt, then lets them lead him, stumbling, out of the apprentice's quarters. His feet feel the cold of the stone too acutely. Where everything was vivid in Feynriel's constructions, here everything is painfully stark. There are doors to hide behind, corners, hallways instead of fields. The stairs are spiralling and narrow. He thinks he'll be sick.
And even if he isn't sick, the templars will kill him. They're taking him to be made Tranquil. He knows it to the marrow of his bones. They have found out. They know of the demon; they know of the magister. They know of moons and kisses and moans lost to the dark, of sheets stained in the morning and wrinkled from his clutching fingers. They know.
They lead him to the top of Kinloch Hold, and he wonders if perhaps they will simply behead him and throw his body from the windows of the crowning chamber.
But the windows are welded shut with great lines of flux that stand out brighter than the iron of the frames. It would take a great deal of force to throw him from the Tower, and so instead he focuses on the danger of sharpened steel.
And then he focuses on the First Enchanter.
The knight-commander is there, too, and a host of templars. There is a bowl of lyrium. He watches silently, lips parted, eyes wide, as Irving explains what will happen.
Back to the Fade.
It isn't a punishment and he tries not to smile as they bring him close to the bowl. The heady Veil-scent of lyrium teases at him and draws him forward, though he has only tasted it twice in his life. He tries to focus on the test of it, the time limit, the threat of a demon. But what stretches before him is not a tenuous trembling life or the uncertainty of his power but the promise of being in the Fade once more.
And this time, he is free to walk.
He can't create but he can see the Fade for what it is, and he navigates it the way that Feynriel has taught him to, one foot in front of the other, ever away. Question everything, accept nothing, and when he is met by a demon he susses it out quickly. It is not Entice. It hungers for him and he falls back; there is magic on his lips and fingers and a pleased whisper of Feynriel's name, because without Feynriel, he isn't sure he could have done this with so much ease.
Before he rouses again to templar approval and a new, almost private room, Feynriel appears and whispers Bene, eil dilector¹ in his ear.
It passes in cycles of night and day, Connor stirring from his bed only reluctantly the mornings after Feynriel has come to him. They are close, entwined in dreams and in thoughts. Feynriel walks the streets of Tevinter and finds trinkets he thinks Connor would like, and then recreates them in the Fade. Connor tells him about the apprentices he is given to guide, about the howling wind outside the tower during Guardian storms. Feynriel corrects him to the high name for the month, Pluitanis, and checks his pronunciation.
They speak in Arcanum before a year has passed, for the smallest things, and Connor tries not to feel a pang upon waking that he will never have cause to speak it aloud on this side of the Veil.
Time passes. It passes in spurts and starts, long silent stretches, moments of too much. He receives letters from his mother. Teagan visits again and comments before he leaves that Connor has become a man, that he has changed so much, and that his family is proud. Eamon sends a leather jerkin, as if Connor will soon leave the Tower.
He asks after research in Tevinter, or near enough the border. There was some in the years stretching before, but Orlais groans under the impulse for war and the borders have closed. Something is happening across the Waking Sea. The templars are tense, the Sisters terse. The senior enchanters tell him nothing. Feynriel, too, tells him nothing - only that things are moving, and to wait.
He has danced with Feynriel in dreams for nearly two years when his patience breaks. He has kissed his smiling mouth and his tears, has felt every inch of his skin, tasted every ounce of his lover, but none of those touches stay when daylight comes. He can only sleep so much. He can only lose himself so much.
And that is when Entice returns.
She comes in her true form, all bells and purple skin and Fade-flame, bare, clawed feet cracking the plaza floor. Feynriel has not appeared, not yet, but Connor waits all the same in a dream that echoes what Feynriel builds for him. He rests on the cushions of a klinia and eats dream-figs, tastes cinnamon on his lips. He daydreams until the moment when he feels his demon tug along the tether between them.
He watches as she reclines on the ground beside the low table with fruits piled high.
"Tell me what you want," she murmurs.
Question everything, Feynriel's voice breathes, his instructor's voice repeats, accept nothing. But the words feel foreign. He has spent so much time in waking dreams, seeing them built and destroyed, and lives his life in a world far from his own, that he tells himself he knows.
He tells himself that he knows how to bargain.
Entice takes Feynriel's form and Connor glares. He takes up a bowl of diluted wine and casts it onto the mocking pale gold body, staining it rose and red. He rolls to his other side, though it feels awkward and he hears Feynriel's voice chiding that it is the wrong side of a klinia to rest on, and that he looks silly. He hears friendly laughter, intimate laughter, and wants with all his heart to hear it in truth.
"No, not you," he says, voice strained and rough and proud. "Him."
"You would like me to bring him to you?" The hand that touches his hip is purple once more, obvious and undisguised. "I can do that. I can do that-"
"Not call him. I want to see him. I want to touch him. I want to fall asleep beside him and then still be beside him."
Entice hums and leans down, breathing chill against the shell of his ear, "I can do that."
"Then do it," he says, stomach twisting and eyes closing.
"Ask it of me," Entice whispers. "Say it aloud."
His breath staggers and stills, and the burn of it pains him though it is only imagined. The world smells of Feynriel, Fade and Veil and wine and figs. He thinks of how Feynriel's lips fit against his, how his hands feel stroking along his side, taking him in hand. He thinks of every moment they have shared but not shared.
He wants to walk the streets of Minrathous at Feynriel's side with a longing so strong it tears at him and threatens to shred his soul to pieces.
"Please," Connor whispers. "Please," Connor bargains.
And then the dream collapses.
The Fade roars and howls and Feynriel descends into the center of the platform Connor is sprawled out on in a cracking and billowing of robes. His face is contorted in fury, his usual staff a blade instead. Connor stares up at him, every inch the long, lean warrior, the knight come to strike down the dragon, and Connor can only whisper his name.
Entice shrieks as the plaza rips from the ground and turns to sharp shards before disappearing in bouncing echoes. The klinia is no more and Connor feels only Fade-earth beneath him, sucking at him, trying to draw him down. The tether is taut between him and his demon, growing in strength, in girth. What once was a fine filament spins and expands until it is a tendon, until it is a rope, until it is too strong to sever.
Down that path lies only ruin.
Feynriel thunders above him, the Fade reconstructing itself until Entice is pinioned, is speared through each limb and dragged apart to breaking. She shrieks and curses and howls ice into being, but Feynriel casts it aside. He creates walls to shield himself, draws lyrium from nothing to fuel his power. Connor watches in rapt horror, because this is what he's about to lose.
They fight in ruins, in fields, in prisons and in great halls. The demon creates as swiftly as she can, but Feynriel is just as fast. He is faster. He anticipates, he moves, he is a blur of power while she shifts forms with every breath as she escapes and runs, only to be struck down again.
It ends with Feynriel's booted heel digging into the demon's spine, or what passes for one in this world of nothing-stable, and he holds the tip of his sword against the tether. Connor has never seen it before, only felt it, but now it is red and pulsing and sickeningly grotesque, as big around as a man's forearm.
Feynriel raises his arm.
"Stop-" Connor breathes, because he doesn't remember ever living without Entice and isn't sure the bargain was wrong. Feynriel will disappear with the morning. Entice could have held him forever, even with the lie he knows it would have been: her fingers in his hair feeling like Feynriel's, her lips tasting of cinnamon as she teased the memories from his thoughts.
"Why?" Feynriel asks.
"Because I want this-"
"Accept nothing," Feynriel growls. "No. Why?"
"Because she offered me you-"
"Because I don't want to wake every morning to have lost you."
The confession is not a confession in fact; they both know it, they both have spoken of love in little jokes. But Feynriel freezes in that moment. Connor pushes himself to sitting and watches his lover's throat bob.
"I can't do it anymore," Connor adds.
"You don't have to," Feynriel whispers, and with a great swing cleaves the tether in two. He pivots, drawing a scream from Entice as her back warps, and then his sword is embedded between her horns.
She disappears like so many pieces of drifting silk, and Connor feels more empty and isolated than he has ever felt.
Feynriel gathers him up into his arms with hesitant hands after that, weapon cast aside and world rebuilding around them. There is soft grass, a brilliant moon, and starlight in Feynriel's eyes, fingers, lips. Connor shudders.
"You don't have to," Feynriel repeats against Connor's brow. "The Circles fall. The Chantry is losing its hold. And when yours tumbles to nothing but stone, I will be there to bring you home."
There will be a brilliant moon there, but it will not be half so magnificent except in that it is real, that he will sit on a balcony above glittering fountains and dirty but inlaid and carved stone floors, and that Feynriel will be beside him. He will go to sleep in a bed of silks and furs or maybe just wools and cottons, and Feynriel will be beside him.
Tears slide down his cheeks.
"Will you? Will you?"
"I will. You have my word." And Feynriel smiles, lifting a hand and inscribing it into the very material of the Fade.
Connor accepts, because while Tevinter is filled with ruins and the Circle of Ferelden will join them soon, he doesn't so much mind that path. He itches to place his feet upon it and walk along it, outside of a cage and guided by a moon that is his.
¹ Bene, eil dilector - Arcanum/modified Latin for, "Well done, my love/my delight."