Though falling asleep had been pleasant--well rather more than pleasant, thanks to Amjad's quick fingers--his dream was markedly less so. A moment's confusion only and then as certain as the moon at night: the Fade. Dorian knew it well, despite never having to endure something as backward and cruel as a Harrowing. He'd never been taught to fear the Fade, only to master it. Thanks to that mastery, he felt the familiar weight of his staff in his hand, and the surge of mana within him. His very aura repelled those lesser spirits that might have otherwise tried to beguile or bedevil him, and his barrier took care of yet more.
Slowly, Skyhold's reflection came in to being the same way blown glass took shape, molten, featureless mana gathered up and forced outward by his will. He was no somniari, not truly--if he were a mere thought would have reshaped the Fade completely. His Skyhold wasn't a perfect replica, therefore; other things in the Fade, and even the Fade itself, still held sway over certain aspects of his perception. He found himself in the courtyard, though the grass had become brittle, jagged and bright like a child's drawing. It burst apart under his feet, motes of crystal dust dancing before his eyes. A quick scan told him that none of the other mages had found themselves here alongside him; why not? Were all Southern mages so frightened of that which lay beyond?
Surely Vivienne at least wouldn't eschew the Fade. Not for those reasons.
Then again, for those who were not somniari or those who hadn't bothered with the Fade other than to avoid it, they would have little incentive to come here. For all of Madame de Fer's strengths she had a black and white view of magery, and perhaps would have considered it simple good sense to sleep restfully like a normal person.
Which you would also benefit from, you idiot.
He made his way towards the Great Hall, though its windows irised in and out, throwing kaleidoscope shapes and patterns on to the steps below. Within, he found the wraith-like impressions of the souls that dwelt here during waking hours. The vast majority of those that lived within these walls were not mages and could never be anything but passive, receiving dreams and nightmares in turn and able to do little but endure.
Chilly uncertainty settled in his belly. Where was Cole? If nothing else, the spirit should be here. Why, the boy was literally carved from Fade stuff; nothing should have kept him from coming over to say hello. And yet...no, only impressions, bare echoes of laughter or weeping, moving stiffly and enacting the habits of their daytime selves as if ordered to do then again ad again by an overbearing choreographer.
He picked up the pace, heading for Amjad's quarters. Here, branches erupted from the floor and trellised around the entrance, greenery carpeting the stones beneath his feet. He put his hand on the latch, and only then did he realize that there was a wolf's image burned in to the wood. Its jaws hung open, the teeth glittering. He came up the stairs, the delicate shell around Amjad's magery whirling in the back of his mind. He could see it, too, here in the Fade. So artfully constructed! Far beyond the skill of any Dalish Keeper, he thought, though of course he'd never voiced such an opinion to Amjad or Aislinn. Yet it was delicate, as if time had slowly peeled back its layers like a Minrathous dancer shimmying out of her veils. Inside, he could perceive all that imprisoned mana, swirling with possibility. One day, it would crack open. He could only hope he would be there when it did.
Could it be? Is that why I'm here?
What had compelled him to enter the Fade?
Amjad rose from the bed when he entered the room proper, and his questions suddenly seemed less important. Some part of him still wondered at seeing Amjad so fully realized; it wasn't impossible, but usually untrained sensitives couldn't control their Fade selves this well. His breath caught at the way the sheet slipped from Amjad's form, leaving him nude. No matter all the times they'd made love, just the sight stole Dorian's remaining senses. Well, not all of them.
He brought his staff to bear in front of him, his other hand outstretched. A spell waited there, and a moment later he cast it as easily as if he'd merely opened his hand and let a feather drift to the floor.
"Show your true nature, if you are other than you seem." It was a good invocation, a powerful one, and it had kept him from being possessed more than once. Amjad only smiled at him, an indulgent look.
"And who else would I be, in the middle of Skyhold?"
His amatus had a point. Every mage could feel the power inherent in the very foundation of the place, old conjurings atop still older. He came a little closer, entranced not only by Amjad himself but by his surroundings, as if Amjad were one of those erotic paintings found in the drawing rooms of naughty old dowagers. He'd always quite liked those--he'd helped Amjad choose the one over the fireplace--passing his interest off as the usual nattering about art styles and ahem brush strokes one often devolved in to at boring parties.
"You have an uncommon Fade self, you know."
Amjad looked down at himself, then held Dorian's gaze, grinning fit to show his canines. Dorian rolled his eyes, but he had meant to include all of Amjad's attributes.
Amjad crossed the distance between them, arms winding gently around Dorian's neck as was his wont. He had to stand on his toes to do it, and the position inherently involved their bodies pressed together. Dorian shifted his position, putting his arms around Amjad--staff forgotten--and tightening his embrace such that he almost took the little elf off his feet. It was beastly difficult to resist Amjad on a regular basis, but here in the Fade even moreso. Yet he hesitated, too well trained to completely throw caution to the wind.
"Worried I'm a demon?" Amjad teased, murmuring in to his ear. It sounded preposterous put like that, and the warm words aroused more than just his feelings.
"Can you blame me?" He kept his words light; if Amjad was indeed a demon, provoking it would do no good. Amjad's fingers tangled up in his hair, and the kiss just behind and under his ear made him shiver. A demon who knew him very well, then.
"No, of course not." Amjad said, stepping back and taking his hands. "What sort of trials would you have me complete? Questions you'd like to know the answers to? I'm afraid I don't know what a mage does to prove the presence of a demon."
Hm. Amjad did know the basics, though granted he wasn't as informed as he might have been had he taken up the official title of First, his talent for magery fully developed. The Dalish didn't obsess about and fret over demons the way humans often did, either.
Amjad led him towards the bed while he was still sorting through his thoughts, and he found himself allowing it out of long habit. Surely, if there was a threat here, it would have made itself known by now? What was the point of stringing him along like this? His higher mind whispered to him about desire demons striking at the height of orgasm, or after fully convincing a victim that their lover had rejected them (or any number of other cruelties), but the situation was too tempting, Amjad was too tempting. They'd never taken full advantage of the Fade before, and he couldn't help but wonder what lovemaking might be like here.
He wondered when he'd stopped referring to it as mere sex.
In the end, it was all too easy to give in.
Cullen looked up from the mess of scrolls on his desk, half unfurled and tossed about as if his office were a ship on the high seas. He had no one to blame for the clutter but himself, however, and once again he resolved to deal with it once he was better rested. If better rested never came to be, well, he needn't answer to anyone about the state of his quarters. It wasn't as if he was sharing them with anyone else.
His day had slowly turned to night with no respite. He had finally taken a moment for himself, standing up to relieve a cramp in his neck when the side door opened, hard enough to send a dusting of loose plaster down from the hole in the ceiling.
"Maker, what is the meaning of--"
Sergeant Riley stood there mouth agape, hand outstretched. A moment later, Cullen saw the elf child in the midst of jerking away from Riley's grip, only to discover he'd been forced deeper in to the office due to his efforts to escape. He had no vallaslin and his features were obscured by a rat's nest of flaxen hair, yet it wasn't difficult to guess who this might be: Calledan, recently liberated from some Maker forsaken slave caravan. The report had come across his desk just that morning.
At least Riley had the sense to close the door quietly; he thought that at any moment the poor thing before him would dive under his desk like a feral cat, hissing and spitting all the while. Calledan turned a pair of wide eyes on him; he was so terrified Cullen couldn't make out their color. He stammered something in a language Cullen couldn't understand, though by his posture Cullen guessed it was an apology.
"It is quite all right," he said, coming around to the front of his desk slowly, holding his hands out, palm up. "You must be frightened, being so newly rescued. No one will hurt you here."
Calledan looked here and there, assessing possible avenues of escape no doubt. Riley had closed the door and the main entrance stood barred. Apparently the elf wasn't willing to chance the ladder, either. Likely he would have been rather disappointed to find a bed, a table, and not much else, if he had.
"You're Cullen." The voice made him readjust Calledan's age. Despite his size, Calledan had to be at least sixteen. Cullen could well remember his own bumbling efforts to live up to manhood, his voice breaking and cracking the most whenever he'd been called upon to handle roll call or public prayers. Branson used to tell him he had all the grace of a newborn foal, especially after that incident where he'd tripped over the horn cleat on the family dock and ended up in the lake instead of in the boat. Cal had left those awkward strivings behind not only because of mere age, however; he had a certain steely, survivor quality about his thin frame and the cast of his face, even as upset as he was.
"I am. And you must be Calledan. The Inquisitor's clanmate."
"Amjad told me about you." Calledan said, poised on his toes as if he might need to flee at a moment's notice.
"Did he? Good things, I hope."
Calledan gave him a plainly hostile look instead of answering. Clearly some defiance had survived, despite years of suffering under a Magister's yoke. Cullen leant against his desk, trying to convey an easy manner. Showing tension would be a mistake, as a slave might well interpret any such cues as the precursor to...well. It didn't bear considering.
"Why are you out and about at these hours?" Cullen tried, "are you troubled?" A stupid question, really; of course he would be. Still he didn't have much to work with, and he only hoped he could keep Calledan from bolting out in to the night.
"Can't sleep. What about you?" He asked pointedly.
"Sleep can be...elusive, when you have my duties. Josephine would say I have "poor work-life balance." Partly a lie; nightmares had as much to do with it as work did.
He wondered if he should offer Cal some of the candy from the bowl at his elbow. He worried it might come across as a test of some kind, though when Calledan's stomach rumbled audibly he did so anyway. Calledan fixed him with a mistrustful stare, and now that the initial panic had worn off he could see that Calledan had eyes the color of a drake's scales, foiled, gleaming green.
Calledan grunted, looking between him and the bowl as if trying to decide if he could make off with the contents before a punishment came down on his head. A moment longer and he scuttled forward like a spider--hesitating for a moment only at the shock of soft carpet on his bare feet--cramming candy in to his mouth with both hands.
"You'll make yourself sick," Cullen told him, his spirits dampened by such obvious need. When was the last time Calledan had eaten a full meal? Disgust at Venatori barbarism made him suppress the urge to gag; he could imagine all those hungry nights with nothing but dust in his mouth. Calledan paused and backed away as if he'd been given an order, and there was a wary quality to his hunched posture. "Look, I was just about to go to the kitchens. Why don't you come with me?"
"You...you can just go and get food? Whenever you want it?" Calledan said, so incredulous it was as if he were being deliberately lied to.
"In Skyhold, everyone eats their fill. Including you, if you'd like."
"...this isn't a trick?"
"No," Cullen said, trying not to show how the words had hollowed out his insides. "I think you'll find Skyhold to be overall a safe place."
Calledan considered him for a long moment and Cullen stood solid under the scrutiny; he figured he owed Calledan that much. Calledan nodded then, apparently deciding he liked whatever he had divined. Cullen came forward to open the main door, throwing the bar and hauling on the knob; the door liked to stick in the frame every time the weather changed. He walked out in to the night air, and thankfully Calledan followed without protest.
"You write?" Calledan said as they negotiated the staircase.
"What?" He asked, then realized Cal must have seen the missives littering his workspace. "Oh, I do. The Chantry teaches its templars letters and numbers, at least the basics. And you?"
"No. Why would I?"
"I apologize. I wasn't sure..."
"I wasn't that kind of slave," Cal said, his voice hard. "They didn't care for anything but my blood and my body."
Something about the phrasing made Cullen stumble, then come to a shaky halt. Sweet Andrastae, not now. He could hardly let himself panic in front of Calledan of all people, so newly freed. Certainly Calledan hadn't enjoyed all the benefits he had, time to heal, a new role he could be proud of....a shudder went through him and he blinked, looking around as if just now realizing they were on their way to the kitchens. He felt Calledan's gaze on him, was too aware of it, in fact. Could those keen Elvhen eyes see the tremble in his hands, the harsh flush to his cheeks? Certainly he didn't look equal to his title; he couldn't have.
"Amjad told me to talk to you," Calledan said, a repeat of what he'd offered by way of explanation back in the office. But this was different, the tone was different, as if Calledan was just now understanding the why.
"I'm sure he did," Cullen heard himself say, lifting his hand to wipe at his brow. "I...don't know what it is to be a slave, but I...empathize. Let us leave it at that for now."
He set his feet on the path again and blessedly Calledan followed without question. He'd already intended to spend his night tucked up beside the ovens, letting the warmth sink in to his joints, joints that were more and more stiff, more and more painful, with every passing day, with every swallow of lyrium. Why not let Calledan enjoy it too? He wasn't so private as to exclude someone in need from his little rituals. With the lightest of hands, he guided Calledan through the Great Hall and down the passageway to the baker's station.