Chapter 1: Dragons' Fangs
There are definite perks to filling the Chantry’s coffer. Leave to travel is one of them. He feels more than a twinge of guilt as Kirkwall fades behind him, but it doesn’t stop the soothing rock of the ship. The waves cooperate, the wind pushes him out, and he breathes air not confined by the Gallows for the first time in years.
It is a good day.
And on the horizon is not Cumberland (though the gardens there are magnificent, and people-watching at the College will always be one of his favorite activities), but Ferelden and the Frostback Mountains. The templars that accompany him come not as guards but on pilgrimage. Andraste’s very tomb is said to lie in his path.
But he, of course, is going for the more physical, the less spiritual, the call of rare materials that even Hawke cannot bring him. Dragons, the rumors say, nests of them, and with dragons come dragon fangs, shed skin, bones. He will pick through the ice and the remains left in the wake of the inhuman figure known only as the Warden, and though the Chantry will benefit in coin, he will benefit in knowledge.
Blight the world, but it’s cold.
The cold-weather clothing of Kirkwall is nothing against the onslaught of howling wind, driving snow that turns to ice that turns, it seems, to blades upon the air, the eery cry of atmosphere between the peaks and the slow, unending creak of the cold. He is not made for this sort of weather, and his cap is far too thin. His only blessing is that the templars let him keep a fire burning by his breast, and that they are beset by wolves on the third day.
Stinky pelts for everybody. Lovely.
He hadn’t expected this.
It’s awe-inspiring in the oldest sense of the word, and he feels slack-jawed and almost ashamed to stand before it. The temple, this monument to a woman he’s never considered beyond the fading notes of the Chant, leaves his eyes wide enough that the cold air begins to sting and make them water.
“It is truly something, isn’t it,” a man says, and it isn’t one of the templars.
Solivitus turns to look, with a clearing of his throat (tight and constricted from the chill) and a pluck at his sleeves. “I- yes. Yes, it is.”
The other man - older than he is, further bald than Solivitus is, with stubble and a kind (if a little distant) smile - inclines his head. “We don’t get many mages this way, you know,” he says. “Pity.”
“You think?” Solivitus doesn’t always consider himself a mage - not the same as mages, anyway, a little off the normal line, a little too focused on practices of the hands and not the Fade - but it’s hard to ignore his robes or his escort.
“Well, there are things here - deeper in - that I would love to have an expert look at. I’m just a dabbler, myself.” He glances to the templars, who are ambling slowly towards the stairs. “Ah, no- not that way. Sorry. It’s better to go the rougher way - it is shorter.”
The templars halt, and Solivitus has to smile at how so unassuming a man seems to have a leash on them, by dint of his association. “You’re Brother Genitivi?” he asks, and the man - Genitivi - chuckles and nods.
“And you walk around this place without a hat on?” Solivitus tsks, then chuckles as well. “You should at least wear a coat.”
“I’ve faced worse,” Genitivi says, and Solivitus thinks he sees a wink before the group moves for one of the side passages, and back out into the howling wind.
“There are dragons here,” Genitivi says as Solivitus joins him at the head of the procession. “I would keep your eye out.”
“Oh, I am,” Solivitus returns, and he is peering for bits of scraps of hide. “Did you know the Warden? I hear they made a brilliant sweep of the place.”
“Yes, I did.” Genitivi leads the way up a tricky patch of iced stone, taking Solivitus’s hand to help him up. There’s something there, in the touch - electric, but not quite, like the addition of concentrated, processed lyrium to a mixture of roots - and then it’s gone. It smells like the Veil for just another second, a whiff of ozone and something else, something perfect.
The wind swallows it up.
There’s something very… strange about the man, and when Solivitus thinks of all the books he has read by this very man, this unassuming quiet man with a subtle sense of humor (and a wonderful arse, but Solivitus has taught himself, through years in the Gallows, not to think like that, and especially not when templars are at his heels), this man who doesn’t wear a hat and yet shows only slight shivers-
There is something that doesn’t add up, and for a moment, he nearly asks, too, if Genitivi has ever met the fabled Witch of the Wilds, and is he perhaps her brother.
But it’s the cold getting to him, and he shakes it off.
Genitivi stops them on the wide, open expanse before the final resting place, and for a moment, Solivitus determines that he’s gone mad. He’s crouched down by a fall of stones, seemingly for nothing, but then-
Genitivi returns. “Your hand?” he asks, and Solivitus offers it. Three dragon fangs fall into his nearly-numb palm. Genitivi winks again. “From the Warden. A gift.”
Solivitus waits in the antechamber while the templars go through what Genitivi has told them is a trial. He expects to have some time to himself, and he inventories the other bits and scraps he has found on the walk up. Aside from the three perfect fangs, there are bones he thinks might have once belonged to dragonlings, and much else.
And then there is Genitivi, sitting down beside him, slowly, as if his joints ache.
“I thought you had a trial to go through,” Solivitus says, pushing all of the ingredients back into his pouch. “The templars…?”
“Are gazing,” he responds with a quiet laugh. “They will be there some time, I think.”
“And you?” He tries to hide it when his breath catches, Genitivi shifting close and resting a familiar hand on his shoulder. “Have you brought more fangs? Perhaps a high dragon’s heart?”
“Nothing so rare,” Genitivi says with a chuckle. “Do you always think of the physical? A strange mage, then.”
“Just a different sort.” He looks to the door. “Could I pass through, do you think? Would whatever it is stop me?”
“It’s a network,” Genitivi says, voice low and conspiratorial, “of manmade traps, some magic and some not. There are other things there too, of course… but if you know the tricks, anything can find its way.”
There’s another spark of lyrium-chill on his shoulder, and Solivitus looks to Genitivi’s hand. There is something not right, and he fumbles with his words. “Do you know-“
“The Witch of the Wilds?” Genitivi asks, as if it were only a guess, a guess that did not send Solivitus’s heart racing (or perhaps that’s the way his calloused hand slides down his back, slipping under the stinking wolf pelt). “Perhaps. I do sometimes wonder if we’ve crossed paths.”
There’s a moment, then, when the room feels overwarm and his head swims with images unbidden- but then Genitivi shrugs and sits back, removing his hand. “There are a great many mysteries in this world,” the Brother says. “And the search of them sustains me.”
Solivitus nods, then finds it in himself to smile, to bow his head. “I think I can understand that.”
Chapter 2: A Respite
Once, attending the College of Magi was a matter of definites. A delegation would always be sent, and it would always include Solivitus, either as an herbalist or as a Lucrosian. Now it has become more nebulous. Most years, a delegation goes, but sometimes they do not. Most years, he goes, but this past year, he did not.
Of course, the yearly meetings are by rote and aren't much of anything except a trip to Nevarra, to see the gardens and eat delicacies and talk about theory and study. It's the special sessions that are by far the most important.
He doesn't get to go to that one.
He goes instead to the yearly meeting in 9:36 Dragon, and he complains the whole way about the lack of stops, rests, detours, chances for him to find rare - or even just foreign - ingredients.
The thing is, there's nobody but templars and mages and servants at the College. He knows all the faces, even with a few years' break, and it's like coming to just another section of the Circle, all feuds and gossip and oh Enchanter Beliscioux, might I work on your project, might I get you some wine, this pastry is superb, might I hold the hem of your robe as you walk in attempts to get transfers and to get status. It's fun to watch, if a bit endless.
And the pastries are superb.
He's watching it all with one in his hand and a glass of wine by his elbow when he feels a familiar stirring of the Veil (which nobody else in the grand hall seems to notice, and what does that say about them - about him - and looks to his side.
Brother Genitivi - or whatever he is - is settling in the chair just beside his.
"Well, hello," he says, trying to hide how he starts and how he leans a little closer, easily falling into the memory of the man - or whatever he is - in the Frostback Mountains, all unexpected warmth and a little something else. Mystery. "I didn't think they let anything less than a Revered Mother in."
"There are ways," Genitivi says with a fond smile. "How's the pastry?"
"Good. Excellent, even. Do you want some?" Solivitus doesn't often share food - not so much because he doesn't like to, but because it's impossible or because he's not near people he would choose to share it with. But here, now, he holds out the savory to the other man.
"Oh, no," Genitivi responds, even as his smile broadens. "I wouldn't dream of it. Besides, I'm here for knowledge, not food."
"Well, perhaps later," Solivitus says, and sets the pastry down in favor of taking up his wine. "Are you doing research, then? I think mages write enough books about themselves. Ourselves."
Genitivi chuckles, crossing his legs at the ankle. "Maybe. But I find I want to know everything first hand that I can."
Solivitus watches him, then turns back to watching the crowd, the patterns there. There's something in Genitivi's expression that he can't place, intense and bright and almost devouring, but he ignores it in favor of leaning in and pointing to a young mage with curling red hair and a beaked nose.
"She," he says, "is from Ansburg, and she's likely going to be recruited into the Wardens. See how she's keeping apart, and not chasing after any of the older Enchanters? Ansburg," Solivitus chuckles, "is a shit hole these days."
Genitivi hums, fingers trailing on his knee. "And so why wouldn't she be trying to get out of it, if she didn't have prospects elsewhere."
"Exactly." Solivitus sips his wine, and it goes warm, straight to his belly. "Exactly."
"Do you watch people, then?" Genitivi asks, and Solivitus glances over to find himself being watched.
"Sometimes. A Formari who isn't Tranquil has a weird sort of place to stand. People tend to think I'm just odd and harmless."
Genitivi chuckles, his hand coming to rest on the arm of Solivitus's chair. "Is that so? Oh, I think I know that sort. It's like looking in a mirror."
Solivitus guides him through the rest of the group, pointing out the quiet relationships and the louder ones, the templars who are interested but won't show it, the templars who would rather hang them all. They take a stroll through one of the gardens, too, and Solivitus names every plant that could be of use - and Genitivi points out a few that he hadn't considered.
The templars seem to think a well-known Brother is good enough guard for an herbalist, and they have more moments alone than Solivitus expects.
"It's a shame," Genitivi says as he finally accepts the half-eaten pastry that has long gone cold but Solivitus has steadfastly held onto, "that they keep you locked up so much these days. I've known mages in the past who I could have sat in a room alone with all day, learning what they know."
"You haven't written many books on mages," Solivitus points out, feeling a little flash of pride at the way Genitivi licks his lips after a bite, the way he swallows almost greedily.
"No, I leave that to the mages," Genitivi says after wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "But that doesn't mean I don't want to know."
"Is that why you're here? And not tending the pilgrimage?" It's a question he's been wondering all night, and as he stretches his legs out in front of him in the small sitting room with the roaring fire, the window that's clear and looks out on a lovely sky he doesn't get to see enough of in Kirkwall, it's a question he desperately wants an answer to.
Part of it is that the question also asks, do you have to go soon? and Solivitus isn't quite ready for the intoxication of the evening to end.
"Oh, there are others to take care of that now," Genitivi says, licking his fingers clean as he finished off the treat. Solivitus tries not to be too obvious in watching, and then decides against it, letting out his grin and the sight.
Genitivi grins back, for just a moment.
"So you're here," Solivitus says, raising his eyes to the man's face.
"I'm here," Genitivi answers, crossing the space between them and settling his hands on the arms of Solivitus's chair. "Hungry for knowledge as ever."
"And anything else?"
The older man chuckles, a touch of one finger to Solivitus's wrist sending a wash ofVeil through him, enough to make his eyes go wide and his lips part in a hazy sort of smile.
"Perhaps something else," Genitivi murmurs, leaning in to taste lips instead of words.
The templars don't give them enough time, and Solivitus thinks he's fumbling more with his robes than Genitivi is with all the laces of his pants and shirt and boots. His head isn't quite on straight yet, still spinning with the memory of the heat and the persistent feel of other on every inch of Genitivi's skin. He hasn't made him out yet, but that's just fine - it just means he'll need to see him again.
There's another metal-clad knock on the door.
Solivitus runs a hand through his thinning hair. "So that's-"
Genitivi chuckles. "Unparalleled. Or irritating, depending on if you mean what just happened or what's about to happen."
"Both," Solivitus grumbles, and Genitivi slides a hand over his shoulder, plucks at his robes.
"There's a week yet," Genitivi reminds him. "And beyond that- you are in Kirkwall, yes?"
The door knob turns.
"I am, yes."
"There are things there I have yet to see," Genitivi muses, as he steps away and smiles at the templar who opens the door.