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For a man who has faced both an entire tower of possessed mages and a Knight-Commander driven insane by red lyrium, Cullen finds he's embarrassingly afraid of a blank piece of paper.

Well, it's not completely blank. "Dear Mia" is written at the top, but that was the easy part, even with the way his hands shake these days. He's grown accustomed to passing off any task that requires a steady hand, and he's grateful the Inquisition has reached the point where he has his own clerk, but he can't claim that lack of practice with a pen is what's stopping him now.

He also can't honestly say he has nothing to write about. The problem is, in fact, the opposite: too many things he could say, and not a bit of it anything he wants to share with his sister. Much of it's Inquisition business that wouldn't interest her anyway, but the parts she would care most about are the parts he least wants to tell her.

For the tenth time, he puts pen to paper and tries to think of something that won't frighten her with problems she can do nothing about, or be so brief that it makes her throw up her hands in disgust. Separated by too many miles, he can still hear the exasperated sighs in her return letters.

Dear Mia,

Given all the problems we've been having with the red templars, I thought it best if I stopped taking lyrium. It hasn't been easy, and I'm having a hard time controlling my temper.


Dear Mia,

Do you remember how glad you were that I'd left the templars? Well, I thought I should continue what I'd begun, so I've stopped taking lyrium. I want to claw my skin off, I can't sleep, and I spend most of every day swinging wildly between the need to kill someone and the desire to weep.

Definitely not.

Dear Mia,

I stopped taking lyrium, and now it's all I can think about. Except for last night. I got myself a whore, and when she touched me, all I could think about was hurting her, and the more she feared me, the more I liked it.

Maker's breath, no.

Cullen drops the pen and puts his head in his hands, taking two fistfuls of hair as if he can pull a letter out of his head by force. A letter he can send, that is.


His clerk is standing in the doorway looking at him warily, and Cullen is embarrassed, not for the first time, by all the emotions he can no longer master. There's never been a witness to those rare moments when he loses control completely, but Mairyn is almost constantly in his company, and the woman is no fool. Before she was a clerk, she spent her time on the battlefield, and she must recognize how close to the edge Cullen is walking.

"Sir?" she says again. "You asked me to remind you that you wanted to review the troops before supper."

"Yes, thank you," Cullen says, eager to grab any excuse to put off the letter for another day. Guilt holds him in place, though, and he picks up his pen once more. "Just let me finish this."

Dear Mia,

The Inquisition is going well. I'm still alive.
Your loving brother,

She'll want to reach across the miles and remedy the "still alive" part, but that's all right. He almost wishes she could.