Dorian strode through the Great Hall on his way to the Herald’s Rest. He was still reeling from the Inquisitor Lavellan’s confession that she had bedded the Iron Bull. Or, as he realized, perhaps it was the other way round. Still, to hear confirmation that the massive Qunari was... somewhat omnivorous in his tastes? Dorian had to find out for himself.
He’d only met the Bull once, when they first arrived at Skyhold. They had not gotten off to a particularly good start. Dorian had to admit that was his fault. He had no idea the Inquisition would have a Ben-Hassrath mercenary on retainer. The shock of facing down the enormous mountain of a warrior had sharpened Dorian’s tongue even more than normal. He vaguely recalled asking whether Bull was going to sew his mouth shut for being a mage.
“I’ll buy you dinner first,” Bull had replied sweetly. Inquisitor Lavellan had snorted with laughter, and that was that. Dorian assumed the whole thing had been a joke, not actual flirting. Since then he’d seen Bull, usually in the practice ring, sparring with Cullen or Cassandra, his huge muscles flexing, his laugh ringing through the courtyard.... Perhaps it was possible that Dorian had occasionally walked the battlements during these bouts, and purely by accident watched the way Bull’s muscles flexed alluringly as he stalked the ring. Coincidence, surely.
As Dorian walked down the steps from the Great Hall, his steps slowed a little, as the realization of what he was doing hit him. Was he really going to... what, just waltz into the place and proposition the Iron Bull? Clearly not. Dorian may have been an inveterate flirt, but he was not desperate. At least, that’s what he told himself.
Before Dorian could form a cohesive strategy, the point became moot. Bull was not in the tavern. He stood near the practice ring in the courtyard, talking to Commander Cullen and another warrior whose back was to the mage. To his surprise, Commander Cullen waved him over.
“Ah, Lord Pavus! Please, join us, won’t you?”
“It’s not Lord, Commander. That honor, such as it is, belongs to my father. I am merely Dorian, Altus mage, Scion of House Pavus, at your command.” He gave a florid bow, waving his hand grandly in the air, being sure to position himself so that Bull could get a view of some of his finer attributes.
However, when Dorian rose, he was unable to determine whether the display had the intended effect, as the unknown warrior had turned around. Dorian found himself face-to-face with another Tevinter.
“Just an Altus, is it? Merely the Scion? Too bad someone here knows what a load of bullshit that is.” The Tevinter sneered.
Bull grunted. “Dorian Pavus, meet my Lieutenant.”
The warrior rolled his shoulders and took a step closer to Dorian, coming dangerously close. “Cremisius Aclassi, Soporati warrior, at your service.” Without breaking eye contact, the man whipped his sword out, giving a crisp Tevinter salute. The blade whirred impossibly close to Dorian’s face; had he flinched even slightly, his cheek would be bleeding.
“Krem!” Bull barked.
“Sorry, chief. Old wounds twinge, you know.” He sheathed his sword and glanced at Dorian with a more neutral expression. “You have good reflexes, for a mage. Glad you didn’t flinch. Hate to scar that pretty face.”
“Glad you’re so good with your sword,” Dorian said, raising an eyebrow suggestively. When in doubt, flirt. Still, the sight of another Tevinter discomfited Dorian enormously. Krem stared him down as if he knew all of the mage’s secrets. Suddenly, all Dorian could think about were his father’s parting words. His stomach clenched.
“Ah, yes, quite,” Cullen coughed delicately. “Dorian, I’d like to ask for your assistance in helping to train our recruits. The Templars are used to dealing with Circle mages, not Tevinters. These Venatori fight completely differently.”
“Of course, Commander. I have a copy of my old battle training manual. I’d be happy to loan it to you.”
Bull laughed. “He’s not talking about books, ‘Vint. He’s talking about sparring. With me.”
Dorian blinked. For the first time, he allowed himself to truly look Bull up and down. Dorian was not a large man; he had the body of a dancer, not a warrior. Bull had almost a foot and a half on him, and was almost twice as wide. The Qunari’s forearms were almost the same circumference as Dorian’s thighs, for Maker’s sake. And his hands... something started to uncoil in Dorian’s stomach at the thought of what those hands could do to him. Lust mixed with the sour remembrance of shame that Krem had stirred in him; together they curdled in his gut.
Cullen cleared his throat. Dorian realized the Commander was waiting for him to respond. As if he had a choice. Dorian was not a stupid man; he knew his position in the Inquisition was tenuous at best. If he refused, it would surely be held against him as a sign that he was not committed to the cause. “I suppose that’s not a terrible idea. Are you sure you want to spar with me, Bull?”
Bull’s grin was wicked. “It’ll be good for the troops. I have more experience fighting ‘Vints than anyone here. I know how you fight.”
Something in the way he said fight put even more thoughts into Dorian’s head.
“Ah...” Cullen cut in. “Can you be ready in an hour? I’ll assemble the troops.” Dorian wrested his gaze away from Bull to the Commander, who was now blushing an absolutely adorable shade of pink.
“I’ll get the Chargers. They’re not going to want to miss this,” Krem smirked. “Don’t worry, little Altus. I’m sure Bull will go easy on you.”
Dorian headed back to his quarters to change into armor. Vishante kaffas, he thought to himself. What the hell had he just gotten himself into? Still, it was a chance to prove his worth. He’d only been at Skyhold two weeks. Aside from helping to keep the refugees warm on their trek through the mountains, he’d not had any opportunity to show his skill.
As a young man, Dorian had trained in Procella Dracona, or Dragonstorm, a Tevinter martial art that combined acrobatic combat techniques with magic. His father hadn’t approved of how much time he spent training. You’re to be a magister, not a battlemage, Halward had said. Dorian wondered if his father simply wanted him away from the other soldiers. Too much temptation, all those lithe bodies flinging themselves about. Still, he’d kept up with the exercises even after he left Tevinter, if for no other reason than to maintain his physique.
Dorian forcibly corralled his thoughts as he strapped himself into his armor. He picked the lighter apprentice gear, as it offered the most flexibility. It also showed the most skin, even more so because Dorian decided to forgo the hideous plaideweave overwrap. One shoulder and half his chest were therefore essentially bare, and there was nothing detracting from the way the supple leather hugged his legs. He tightened the straps one more time. “They want a show? I’ll give them a show.”
On the way down to the practice ring, he ran through drills in his head. He hadn’t sparred one-on-one in years. The tactics were a bit different. Necromancy was out, obviously. As were fear-based spells. Even watered down, he couldn’t risk using them in front of an audience, especially one that only barely tolerated his presence. Plus, he suspected they would be entirely ineffective against Bull anyway. Still, his opponent was enormous. Dorian had the advantage of agility, and knew how to use it.
Dorian stumbled to a halt when he re-entered the courtyard. There was a massive crowd gathered around the practice ring. Not only several dozen troops, but the Inquisitor’s inner circle, the Chargers, and at least a few dozen other onlookers hanging over the battlement walls. Fasta vass. Well. Let’s all see what the ‘Vint can do. So that’s how it is.
The crowd quieted. Dorian descended the stairs slowly and deliberately; the mass of bodies parted to allow him to enter the ring. Cullen blinked in surprise at Dorian’s revealing armor. Maker, was there nothing that didn’t make the man blush?
“Ah... Yes. Good. Now, obviously, we’ll put some safeguards in place. Seeker Cassandra will ensure no magic escapes the ring. I trust you can control your... abilities sufficiently to not harm Bull?”
Bull barked a laugh. “He won’t need to.”
“Is that so?” Dorian cocked an eyebrow. “Awfully confident, aren’t we?” Dorian could swear the man winked at him, though, with one eye, it was hard to tell. He was dismayed to find that Bull also went light on the armor. The warrior was still wearing the atrocious trousers he favored and had added a light pauldron. Dorian found himself entranced by the pattern of tattoos across Bull’s distractingly tempting musculature.
“Whatever you’ve got, ‘Vint, I can take it.” Bull grinned.
“Ah, what he means is, Solas will keep a constant barrier around Bull, just in case.” The Commander said, nodding at the elf standing just outside the ring. “What staff do you favor?”
Dorian grinned, showing his teeth. Somehow, Bull’s goading had stirred up his competitive side. “Hmmm, that’s a good question.” Dorian made a show of leaning on one hip, one arm folded against his chest, the other propped up against his chin. He pretended to consider, running a thumb over his bottom lip as he made eye contact with the Qunari.
Bull’s eye tightened almost imperceptibly, gleaming.
“Lightning,” Dorian concluded.
“Mmm, good,” Bull nodded.
Dorian was handed a staff with a dulled blade. He rolled his shoulders, loosening up, then went through a few motions with the staff, twirling it to get a sense of balance. It was adequate. Barely. “Do you mind?” He asked Cullen, gesturing at a practice dummy outside the ring. “I’d like to get a feel first.”
“Wouldn’t we all?” Bull leered.
“Maker’s breath, what have I gotten myself into?” Cullen rolled his eyes, blushing. “Budge up, you lot! Give him some room.” The crowd parted.
Dorian strutted to the fence surrounding the practice ring and hopped it lazily. He turned, bowing to the assembled audience. As he rose, he whirled without warning, sending two bolts of lightning at the straw men. Dorian could tell the staff had been crafted for minimal damage. Still, both dummies erupted into flame as the shock hit the targets dead center. Dorian ignored the gasp that went through the crowd, examining the staff critically. “It’ll do,” he sighed. He turned back to the ring, waving his hand languidly behind him. The flames consuming the dummies were encased in solid ice. He snapped his fingers, and the ice became steam. The crowd tensed at the flagrant display of magic.
“Quit showing off, Dorian!” He heard Inquisitor Lavellan shout. A nervous titter trickled through the courtyard.
He found her face in the crowd, the only one grinning at him openly. Somehow, knowing that at least one person was rooting for him made Dorian feel a little better. “Must I? But I’m so good at it!” he called back. She winked at him.
Cullen stepped to the center of the ring. “Please remember, gentlemen, this is a training exercise. I’ll occasionally ask you to hold position so that I can point tactics out to the troops.” He backed out of the ring.
A blue haze enveloped Bull as Solas raised a barrier around the Qunari. In the next instant a dome of shimmering light appeared over the practice ring as Cassandra concentrated her spell-dampening ability. Dorian tested the field by sending a bolt straight up. It dissipated on impact. She nodded in satisfaction. “You may begin,” she said.
They circled each other for a moment. Dorian whirled the staff, shooting a bolt of lightning at Bull. The Qunari dodged it easily; Dorian expected as much. What he had not expected was the easy grace hinted at in the huge warrior’s movement. Dorian’s eyes narrowed. He spun his staff from one side to the other as he shifted his weight and balance. Within that movement he sent a bolt at Bull’s chest without deliberately aiming. Bull again dodged it easily. “Nice,” he growled, grinning.
Dorian tilted his head at the compliment. Inwardly, he desperately began to revise his attack plan. He might’ve looked like a Bull, but the brute had the grace of a halla. Dorian made a showy leaping spin, the motion designed to attract attention to the body and away from the magic he pooled in one hand. He landed to the earth on one knee, charged hand on the ground. Fire wards appeared directly under where Bull’s next footfall would land.
Without blinking, Bull launched himself forward, using his axe as a prop to flip his huge bulk out of the range of the sigil. This also allowed him a two-footed kick towards Dorian, who bent backwards to dodge the Qunari’s blow.
Bull landed with his back to the mage, crouching low. The bolt of lightning that would have hit his back, had he not ducked, sizzled into the barrier instead.
Dorian executed a rising handspring, using his legs to kick himself to standing. Bull nodded appreciatively at the acrobatics. He charged the mage.
It was a simple charge, though frighteningly quick; Dorian moved to counter without even thinking. At the last second he dodged to the side under Bull’s raised arm to avoid the blow and brought his hand up to the Bull’s chest. Electricity sparkled in his fingers. Dorian had channeled the energy carefully. Bull should have been repulsed several feet back; instead, his forward motion was merely halted, leaving Dorian’s hand pressed up against his chest. Apparently Solas’ barrier was more effective than Dorian had bargained for. Dorian grumbled inwardly at the elf’s duplicity.
“HOLD!” Cullen’s voice rang out. The combatants froze, Dorian’s hand on Bull’s chest, Bull’s arms raised for a two-handed cleave, as the Commander pointed out the tactics to the troops.
Bull grinned at Dorian. “Nice moves.” Dorian’s face was only a few inches from his.
“You as well, Bull.” The mage reduced the crackling energy that was flowing through his hand.
“I didn’t say to stop, Dorian,” Bull said, his voice a low rumble. He smirked wickedly.
Dorian raised an eyebrow. Slowly, he increased the electricity flowing through his hand and into the Qunari’s chest. He could feel Bull’s breath get a little quicker, his muscles tighten. He upped the power even further.
Bull grunted in appreciation. Dorian’s eyes widened. Even with the barrier, Bull should’ve moved away from his hand by now.
“I told you, you don’t need to hold back.” Bull said from between gritted teeth.
They regarded each other, not breaking eye contact. Suddenly Dorian realized that Cullen was waiting for them.
“Any day, gentlemen,” Cullen’s voice called out pointedly. “Seeker, Solas, reset.”
They broke their positions, retreating to the opposite ends of the yard as the magical protections were released, then re-engaged.
The battle resumed with greater ferocity. Dorian was tested to his limit; though he was more agile than Bull, it was only by a little. How did the big lummox manage to move with such grace?
Dorian sprang into a front twisting flip to avoid a low sweep of Bull’s axe, aiming a bolt from his staff almost before he landed. This one narrowly missed, singeing Bull’s pauldron. Before he could congratulate himself at even that small gain, Bull had kicked back with his feet, tripping the mage. He landed flat on his back, the staff clattering out of his hand as the breath whooshed out of his lungs. Before he could blink, Bull was splayed on top of him, pinning his hands over his head.
“HOLD!” Cullen’s voice rang out once more.
“Really? Now?” Dorian protested under his breath at the humiliation of being pinned in front of everyone.
“What’s the matter? Don’t you like it?” Bull rumbled.
“Vishante kaffas,” Dorian muttered. “Don’t you ever bathe?” He tried to change the subject, as the feeling of Bull’s voice thundered through him.
Bull chuckled. “Sometimes. You want to watch, don’t you?”
Dorian gritted his teeth. He very much wanted to watch. Very much indeed. “I’d rather stand upwind,” he bluffed.
Bull grinned. “I think we’re almost done here. You’re still holding back, Dorian. Last round. Show me what you’ve got.”
“I can’t,” Dorian said, his jaw clenched. “Do you know what these Southern barbarians will do to me if they see the kind of power I wield? I won’t live through the night, Bull.”
“Ah.” Comprehension dawned in Bull’s face. The warrior broke the hold, giving Dorian a hand up. Dorian stretched a bit, then retrieved his staff, bending slowly to give himself time to think. This wasn’t even close to a fair fight. Dorian was trained in only one form of combat and could only use a handful of the spells at his command; Bull had several fighting techniques at his disposal, plus a lifetime as a warrior.
He turned back to Bull. To his surprise, the warrior held up his hand, calling for a delay. He approached Dorian.
“You’re a necromancer.” Bull kept his voice low and his face neutral.
Dorian’s shoulders sagged a bit. “I prefer ‘Mortalitasi’,” he hissed.
Bull clapped him on the shoulder and nodded. “Look, we gotta give these guys a good show. And you know I have to win.” He murmured the words into Dorian’s ear.
“Like that was ever in doubt?” Dorian said sourly. “This isn’t exactly an even match.”
“That’s because you’ve got one hand tied behind your back. I didn’t realize before. Look, you know Mind Blast? Fade Step? Energy Barrage?”
“Yes, of course,” Dorian snapped. “But I can’t -”
“Whoa there, killer. Believe it or not, I’m on your side, ‘Vint. Follow me, and we’ll both come out looking like winners.”
“Well whatever you do, hurry up,” Dorian said. “The mood here’s getting a little chilly.”
Indeed, there was a palpable air of tension as the crowd watched the opponents confer. Although the Chargers looked mildly confused by the delay, the Inquisition troops, especially the Templars, had looks of open hostility trained on the mage. Even the Inquisitor’s smile had dimmed, although that seemed to be more out of concern than anything else.
“Commander, permission to address the troops?” Bull’s voice carried through the courtyard.
“Granted!” Cullen called out, his eyebrows raised in curiosity at the unorthodox request.
“Inquisition troops! Chargers! Listen up!” Bull strode slowly around the inside of the ring. “The spar is one-one. Me and my little mage here are evenly matched.”
Dorian spluttered. “Your little mage? I beg your pardon!”
The Inquisitor, bless her soul, laughed with abandon. It quickly spread, especially since Bull grinned at Dorian openly. The tension in the crowd abated somewhat.
“Now,” Bull continued, still circling the ring. “I’ve been fighting Tevinter mages most of my life. You may not believe it, but Dorian here is holding back. You’ve already seen the best that most Venatori will throw at you and then some. But my formidable opponent still has some tricks up his sleeve. And he doesn’t seem like the modest type.” Bull paused for laughter, which came easier this time. Dorian played to the crowd, bowing gallantly as Bull wrapped up his address.
“I’ve asked Dorian to showcase some advanced techniques. Under normal circumstances, this would be out of the question. Too dangerous. But Dorian here has a level of control I’ve never seen before. You are about to see some of the finest Tevinter spellcraft there is. I am honored to be able to fight at this man’s side.” Bull readied his axe and nodded to Seeker Cassandra and Solas.
Dorian blinked. He hadn’t been sure what Bull had in store, but open praise had not been on the top of the list. The shimmer of the barrier glowing against Bull’s skin snapped Dorian back to attention. Bull nodded.
Dorian cast Mind Blast directly at the Bull’s feet, simultaneously creating a barrier of pure force a few yards behind to catch the Qunari. Bull went flying backward, thudding against the energy Dorian put in place to protect him from the practice ring fence, which surely would have shattered under his bulk. He landed on one knee, launching himself at Dorian with a triumphant laugh.
It was too late. Even Bull’s superb reflexes were no match for Fade Step. Dorian passed through Bull’s body, dissipating the spell as he spun around to face the warrior once more. He released a massive burst of energy from his chest, the sigil burning brightly as pulses of energy raced toward the Qunari.
Dorian guessed that Bull had some way to counter the attack, but he didn’t wait to find out. He launched himself sideways through the air in a series of flips and kicks, propelling himself forward with extra bursts of magical force. He landed directly behind Bull’s broad back, to bring the blade of his staff up to slash at the man’s kidneys.
Once again, Bull was too quick. Dorian found himself being hoisted through the air by his own staff as Bull countered the move, grabbing Dorian’s weapon and heaving it like an axe, bringing the mage crashing to the ground on his back, knocking the wind out of him once more. Even as he flew through the air Dorian was dimly aware that Bull was fighting against the momentum of the swing; Dorian’s landing was much gentler than it should have been. Before he could process the thought, Bull swung Dorian’s own staff at him, the blade stopping within inches of Dorian’s throat.
They froze like that for a moment; Dorian gasping for breath, Bull looking down at him with... was that admiration? The mage couldn’t be sure, seeing as he was concentrating on moving air into his lungs.
Bull stabbed the staff into the dirt and leaned a hand down to help Dorian up. “Nicely done, little ‘Vint.”
There was a smattering of cheers and applause as Bull hoisted Dorian to his feet. Krem trotted up to them. “Good bout, Chief. And you’re full of surprises,” the lieutenant said to Dorian. “Dragonstorm, eh? Nice. Glad to see you’re not just an overblown peacock.”
“I’m glad you approve, Cremisius.”
“It’s Krem to you, Dorian.” With a nod at Bull, he strode out of the ring.
Dorian narrowed his eyes, unsure if that was an insult or a compliment. Bull clapped him on the shoulder. “Well, you got Krem’s attention. You’re a good sport, and a better fighter. I like that. Let me buy you a drink tonight.”
“I’ll think about it,” Dorian wheezed. “If I haven’t punctured a lung.”
Lavellan scampered up to Dorian. “That was amazing! I knew it was the right decision to let you stay.”
“Thank you, Inquisitor,” Dorian bowed his head. “I’m glad I’m not a disappointment.”
“Now, to important matters. You do know how to play Wicked Grace?” Lavellan grinned up at him.
“Ah... yes, Inquisitor.” Dorian was confused.
“Oh good. Vivienne and Solas absolutely refuse to play. It makes away missions so boring. I hope you like field work. You just volunteered for rather a lot of it, I’m afraid.” The Inquisitor reached up and patted one dusty cheek impishly.
“Fasta vass.” Dorian muttered, not for the last time.